Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review #103: Tales of VS

 Just a speck away from recommendable.
 It worked for Square-Enix and Final Fantasy, so Namco just had to try their hand at a fighting game spin-off from their own venerable, if somewhat  underrated on the west, franchise. While Dissidia went for a rather unorthodox approach, Tales of VS is much easier to grasp, but it has its fair share of shortcomings.

 For starters, this is a Japanese exclusive game, and I don't know a lick of Japanese, which means that I don't have the slightest idea of what the hell is going on, but there are 9 different story modes, each one lasts about 2 hours, presumably more if you don't skip every fully-voiced scene. Buyer beware, while you can be almost fine as long as you get some menu translations, and a translation for what each stat is, you'll be missing out on a lot of customization options that could, possibly, make the game much more entertaining.
 Battles take place over arenas filled with many platforms and, sometimes, hazards, such as rolling barrels or laser beams from the sides, and they support up to four players. Stages are rather dull, and despite the hazards, lifeless, but the 2D backgrounds behind the platforms are taken from various dungeons or landmarks from Tales games. Good news? Characters play almost just like they did on their original games, albeit limited to a 2D plane if they came from a 3D Tales of game. Besides jumping up and down, you get normal attacks and Artes. You can assign up to 4 artes on each character, they earn more as they level up(More on this later), and these consume TP(A secondary gauge below your HP bar). Then you also get guard, that protects against normal attacks, but you receive full damage from spells, and a magic guard(Guard plus down on the pad) that blocks magic but leaves you open to physical attacks. Lastly, items may pop up on the stage, and these range from healing items to damaging spells, and every time you pick one up, it's stored until you press triangle or lose it when you die.

 Characters are divided into two major classes, Warriors and Mages. Warriors are, by far, the best type of characters, as their artes are executed as soon as you press circle plus a direction on the pad. Mages, on the other hand, must take their sweet time casting the spells before they go off(But they deal major damage). First issue with this? Mages are completely useless in single player games, the CPU will gang up on you, and your ally won't even try to cover you as you chant your spell, so if you want a mage, have your ally CPU use it while you protect him. Then there's the fact that the camera doesn't cover the whole arena, while you get markers showing you were, offscreen, an enemy, is you will be running against the border of the screen, not knowing what awaits you. Very annoying. Even worse, the CPU loves grabbing items, you will find yourself chasing your running enemy every single time, and it behaves like this on every difficulty level. The cherry on top is that you won't even know where your enemy is running to, as the camera doesn't cover the whole arena, many times the item is offscreen, which also means that the CPU has the advantage of knowing where everything is.
 While I think most people would enjoy customizing each character, I would've preferred something more defined. Customizing means that you have to grind for experience points, to unlock the full moveset and raise individual stats, and for gold, to get weapons, armors, rings and skills for your character. Playing Arcade Mode with an underleveled character and a stronger partner means that you'll fight against two CPUs that match the level of your highest level character, making grinding for characters that don't have an story mode a bit of a chore. Speaking of Story Mode, these play out on a map, and while your main objective is to head towards the banners, there are crossed sword icons, touching these means engaging in a fight... These battles, at the beginning of the mode with your level 0 characters, are very challenging, so you are better off clearing a couple of main objectives in order to unlock the first items on the store for your characters, only then do these become fair. Stan's Story Mode is particularly annoying, as he gets no partner, but has to fight against two CPUs at all times, they will gang up on you and they will wreck you, specially early in the game when you have no equipment.

 As for content, you get 35 characters, the roster is pretty diverse, even if Legendia and Eternia only get one representative each. Even though this is a Japanese exclusive game, if you've been following the games that reached stateside, you will be familiar with 24 out of these 35 characters. Besides Story Mode, you get Arcade Mode, Survival Mode, Free Battle Mode and Special Battle. Special Battle has 20 challenges for you to complete, making you play as a set character with special conditions. Then there's the unlockable Tales of Wallbreaker, a 2D minigame, with its own roster of unlockable fighters, in which you try to break any of the two walls surrounding you and your opponent by throwing him or her against the walls. Fairly entertaining for such a small treat.
 Graphically, characters look very neat, with an stylized cell-shaded look that actually works pretty well. It's a very colorful game, and most animations are pretty cool looking, with a couple of odd looking ones sadly, bonus points for each character getting the Artes that he or she used in his or her game. As for the music, it's all taken from the games the characters represent, and the Story Mode scenes are fully voice-acted.

 Overall, it's a good game, but unless you are planning on playing it with real people, expect to be annoyed frequently. Sadly, the only way to unlock characters is to dredge through Story Modes, and then you have to grind battles in order to earn Experience(for that one character that you want to use) and gold to buy them their own equipment and skills... This game could've been so much better.
 6.0 out of 10

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