Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tales of Vesperia: An Exercise on Character Development

In the last few weeks two JRPGs were released for the XBOX 360. Unfortunately on our end, the Asian releases of Tales of Vesperia and Infinite Undiscovery are much later than its US releases. The only time we folks from Asia get an early release for a JRPG is when Microsoft Game Studios is publishing the game. We recently got both games and are playing through them right now. But let me share my thoughts regarding Tales of Vesperia. Note, that I haven’t finished Tales of Vesperia yet...I’m only 30 hours into the game so my thoughts on this may not be complete.


WARNING: LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD FOR FINAL FANTASY 7: CRSIS CORE AND TALES OF VESPERIA.



Prior to playing Tales of Vesperia, I picked up a PSP to finally play Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core. At the height of my Playstation fanboism, I remembered making a promise to myself back then that when the announced FF7 prequel comes out on the PSP, I will definitely get one on day one. Well guess what? Life got on the way and when it did come out my interest for the PSP and Crisis Core wasn’ t enough for me to shell out that much money. Anyway, I eventually got a PSP for myself and the first game that I picked was Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core.

Now why in the world did I bring up FF7:CC when I’m supposed to talk about Tales of Vesperia? My reason lie with the character development in the game. I always liked the Tales Series ever since I first played Tales of Phantasia for the PS1 (in pure Japanese...yeah I was nuts). After that I loved Tales of Destiny and thoroughly enjoyed Tales of Eternia. I noticed that the Tales series normally doesn’t get that much recognition from western reviewers. They end up branding the characters as stereotypical cookie-cutter JRPG personalities...as if other genres don’t offer the same kind of stereotype. While Final Fantasy does have the same amount of cookie cutter heroes and villains, it gets a free pass because of the strength of its franchise name. However, I feel that in more recent Final Fantasy titles, character development, apart from the main male and female leads, take a back seat.

And that is what I saw in FF7:CC. To be honest, I haven’t finished FF7:CC yet because I stopped playing once I got my hands on ToV but I am quite far in the game, nearing the end. While it was endearing for me to see Cloud and Tifa in Nibelheim, the real focus of this game was supposed to be Zack. And I love Zack’s character. The contrast between Zack and Cloud (after CC) is startling. I really liked the bashful, shy Cloud rather than the aloof one from Advent Children. But Zack needed more screen time...I wanted to learn more about Zack other than he’s a do-gooder on a mission. There are small snippets of memories whenever the roulette is turning but I do wish that it was integrated more into the game rather than the battle system. I love watching the CG of FF7:CC but somehow I felt that the game was relying too much fantastic looking sequences rather than have more plot for their characters. I certainly would have wanted to know why Sephiroth just snapped so easily in Nibelheim when he seems to still have his wits together after they left the Nibel Reactor. Was it the lack of sleep from all that researching that drove him mad? Was it Angeal and Genesis? Was Zack too annoying? What was it the gravity of knowing he’s a monster? I really wish Square Enix made it clear that Sephiroth didn’t just go mad.




The undying fangirl in me screams..."More Zack character development and less posing!"
Oh yeah...Zack > Cloud!

When I switched to Tales of Vesperia and I realized just how different the Final Fantasy and Tales Series are from each other. Final Fantasy relies heavily on presentation and eye candy. The game wants to WOW you and that isn’t exactly a bad thing. But when great characters are tosses aside to play some kind of love story or simply because the other guy has a cooler pose, I think Square Enix should rethink how they make Final Fantasy. Before this whole 3D and CG stuff, when FF was still a bunch of sprites, the game relied heavily on character dialogue more than some convoluted plot that spells the world’s destruction. People were drawn to those 2D sprites because the dialogue and stories of these characters make them resonate with the gamer. When I speak of dialogue, I do not mean introspective sequences but those that involve the whole party talking with each other as a group.

Tales doesn’t have a shortage of these party dialogues. I played all the PS1 Tales games and I remember that those games also had heavy character dialogue. Sometimes the characters don’t talk about the world but they talk about petty stuff and thereby revealing more and more of who they are in the process. And for me, that is the best thing going for Tales of Vesperia.

I liked the twist for Raven and Judith’s characters. I like how Karol, the kid kicked out from every guild, ended up making his own. I like how smartass Rita eventually learned to care for naive Estellise. I liked it that Repede can’t talk (even though initially I wished that the dog would!) But the true sign that Namco succeeded in developing its characters is when I started to dislike Yuri.

Yes, I disliked Yuri, the lead protagonist of Tales of Vesperia.

Yuri starts out as your cool rebel without a cause kind of guy. He was loyal, he was brave and he was too cool for you. But as the game progressed, Yuri was a character who killed other people without remorse. Granted that the ones he killed were really corrupt officials from the empire, it makes you wonder if he actually did the right thing. Yuri’s reasoning is that he needed to kill these people because they were bad to begin with and they hurt more people than they should. No one else wanted to enforce justice on these corrupt officials who could easily bribe their way through the government. So Yuri took it upon himself to enforce justice by killing these men. Yuri’s childhoold friend, Flynn, is the complete opposite. Flynn joined the empire in hopes of changing it from within. While he is not entirely successful, Flynn knew that his actions will not yield fast results but he was strong enough to keep on going because he believed that there are still some good people in the empire and he wanted to help them change it. Yuri, on the other hand, wanted nothing more but instant gratification.

Yuri and Flynn, the difference between Night and Day.


My dislike for Yuri became evident after the talk with Pharaoh. Pharaoh made it clear that Estelle’s power is causing an imbalance in the world and every time she uses that power to heal people she brings the world closer to destruction. Estelle’s naiveté was also the reason why she accidentally killed the Duce. And for a time, she went about with her own selfish mission of dragging everyone else to meet her objectives. But despite this, Yuri refused to acknowledge what Pharaoh has said. If Pharaoh simply killed Estelle, the world would be safe and the peril but Yuri refused this.

Hence, we are presented some kind of irony in the game. It’s ok for Yuri to kill corrupt officials who harm his fellow people but Yuri will not sanction murdering Estelle even if her naiveté and power can eventually bring the world to its ruin. Some people say that the difference lies in the intention of the person, which is why Yuri kills the bad guys because they fully know what they are doing while Estelle doesn’t. But on my end it certainly didn’t seem like it. Yuri was content to play the role of judge, jury and executioner all by himself but at the same time he turns a blind eye to the potential danger that his friend possesses.

In the end, I was more inclined to side more with Flynn’s point-of –views rather than Yuri. While its cool to sometimes think about going rogue and be a vigilante, in the end it means nothing because you are also propagating the violence and injustice that your enemies do. In fighting fire with fire, no wins. Flynn, in the end, was the stronger character. He never gave up on anything, even if Yuri did. Sure, he may resemble a knight in shining armor or prince charming, but his character is certain made of stronger stuff than fluff.

There are a lot of injustices in this world which we cannot change on our own. Yuri thought that he could be the one man army to do the dirty work that no one wants. And I strongly disagree with that point of view. Yes, I have felt and seen the injustice in the world, specially in my own country but I do not agree with taking matters into my own hands. The true challenge is being able to be an example of justice without bending it to your own will.

Whoa...imagine that...I actually ended up thinking of the whole theme of justice...exactly what Namco wanted. Yes the saving the world part is inevitable for any JRPG but most of the time the theme is lost in the process of saving the world. But in ToV, I still remember and everytime I see Yuri acting high and mighty, my mind was screaming ‘Hypocrite!’.

Now that’s character development at its finest. I look forward to completing the game (if I’m not too busy) and let’s see know Namco will conclude the theme of this game.

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