My Final Fantasy: Day 5 with Tales of Vesperia

Happy holidays, all. In between navigating the holiday shopping crowds and baking enough sweets to give even Santa a stomach ache, I found some time to continue my quest.

This is an experiment. Not only will it be a lesson for self-improvement- a way to prove that I can see a difficult, time-consuming task through to its end- but also a chance to see how I’ve changed. Are the same games- the same experiences- that I once loved and look back with nostalgic stupor what I still enjoy in my entertainment? This is a journey of self-fulfillment, enlightenment, and escapism. This is the climax of my coming-of-age tale. This is my Final Fantasy.tales cast second

Day 5, Time played: 10 hours, 14 minutes

It’s funny the way one’s attitude towards certain things change. Take, for example, vegetables. There are some that, at a time, I absolutely despised; say, spinach. No matter how it was prepared, I just couldn’t handle the flavor, texture, scent, and the so on and so forth…After some time, though, I’ve grown to like spinach, and include it as part of my regular repertoire. On the other hand, I’ve spent most of my life as a guacamole fiend (yes, I left the vegetable metaphor). Growing up in Texas, Mexican food is as common as blue jeans, and guacamole is a “must” accessory. Over the past few years, though, I’ve actually grown repulsed by the green, avocado mush. For some reason, even the slightest taste activates my gag reflex. Needless to say, it upsets me. Alas, I have to roll with the punches, and in the grand scheme of things, culinary or other, my food preferences lie pretty low on my Maslow pyramid (or I guess it would be more correct to say “higher”).

Also residing in the areas of less importance in my hierarchy of needs is how I feel about my favorite game genres. Lately, the turn-based RPG seems like a shell of its former self (specifically, the menu-centric turn-based JRPG). The combat system that dominated the JRPGs of the mid-nineties, and endearingly referenced in the title of my blog, now feels like an antiquated design that has become difficult for me to actually play any more. But in a case of, “it’s not you, it’s me,” I don’t blame the combat system of so many role-playing classics. No, I blame my own diminishing attention span. I blame my growing desire for action-oriented designs that actually force a synapse in my brain to fire. Yes, it’s me.

XIII was one of the great attempts to innovate turn-based combat, while still respecting its roots.

XIII was one of the great attempts to innovate turn-based combat, while still respecting its roots.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a few interesting approaches to the turn-based system in various role-playing games. Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XIII, and The Last Story (along with plenty of others) each introduced new takes on the established design. I feel part of developers’ desire to innovate what was once the status quo stems from the feeling that there are others like me. I’ve become disillusioned with my old friend. We’ve spent so much of my life together, but seem to have gained different interests. He, as always, believes every fight should be a strategic battle, where each side takes their turns in proper order. Of course, he argues that such a design allows for more tactical combat, where each move is calculated, and battles are decided more by data analysis than reflex speed. He scoffs when I remind him a similar military strategy eventually disappeared from history. I feel I’m not the only one who has had to have this “conversation.” Sure, there’s something beautiful in the old-school simplicity, and I never want the genre to disappear. The random encounters and slow, frequent battles require a level of patience that serves as its difficulty curve, as opposed to muscle memory. But random encounters are tiring, and the endless menu scrolling in battles just doesn’t create the most exciting moments in games. I play games for fun, and the traditional turn-based JRPG is just not much fun for me, anymore.

Though, no matter how much time passes, it seems like I'll never grow tired of Chrono Trigger.

Though, no matter how much time passes, it seems like I’ll never grow tired of Chrono Trigger.

Why am I saying any of this, though? Only to praise the tried-and-true Tales combat design. Ironically, it was the action-oriented battle system that made me skip checking out the franchise for years. What was once the reason I was disinterested in the Tales franchise, I now find enticing. Like spinach, my tastes have changed, and I relish in the quick-paced, almost brawler design of the combat in Vesperia. The combo system is addicting, and dare I say, makes grinding enjoyable. Boss battles can get a little hectic, and in the jumble of enemies, strategy sometimes flies out the window in a desperate attempt to keep myself from having to reload the previous save from 15 minutes ago. If there are any shortcomings, I suppose they would involve the loss of strategic depth in battle. Planning item use and strategy takes a back seat to building up combos and recognizing the flow of the dance of interchanging attacking and blocking. There’s little feeling that the swapping of hits overtly portrays any sense of  an underlying turn-based system as other real-time RPGs do. I suppose the slow, drawn out strategy that turn-based combat allows is the appeal of the old-school design, but there’s also something to be said for trying for a best of both worlds.

So, another discovery was made during the process of playing this game. What was once great, can become tired, and what was once undesired, can be exactly what can reignite a spark of interest in a genre for me. I’ll be away from both the computer and my Xbox to celebrate the many festivities ensuing in the next few days, but will be back with another letter from the front lines later this week. Until then, enjoy some of the most wonderful time of the year. Cheers.

See ya, festive cowboys,

The Active-Time Blogger


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