I don't believe anything summarizes the strange relationship Tales of fans have with Bandai Namco quite as well as this Twitter interaction. Tales of Vesperia, a 9-year-old game, was announced earlier in June to be receiving the Remaster treatment. It’ll be coming out to PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch. But why is this game so important to the fans? Because Tales of Vesperia is, to this day, one of gaming’s biggest “betrayals” in their eyes.
This may be a strong term, but for the sake of our story, let’s run with it. We all know cases similar to this. The backlash of No Man’s Sky, the disaster of Aliens Colonial Marines, the tragedy of Silent Hills, our industry is filled with tales such as this. Be it under promising or overpromising on the delivery of a game, I’m sure everyone in gaming has a story or two like it. But Tales of Vesperia has a rather bizarre history.
Let's fly back to late 2000s, a simpler time where the Wii reigned supreme in casual hands, memes weren’t abstract and I had finally ditched the long hair (photographic evidence has been destroyed). It had been a few months since Tales of Vesperia was released and fans were quite content with it. Not often did the “Tales of” franchise get the Western Dub treatment. Three titles in the main series were never released to North America and those that did had cherry-picked localization. Tales of Symphonia, for instance, was only released in the West for the Gamecube, even though the game is available for PlayStation 2 in Japan. Abyss and Symphonia (the ones I’m most familiar with) had only the main dialogue translated and fully voice acted, leaving side content like the Skits - these little moments of dialogue between characters using 2D anime-style portraits - completely voiceless, even though the Japanese edition had those with full voice lines. Even the opening trailers had different soundtracks (Tales of the Abyss had an instrumental version of “Karma” by Bump of Chicken, while Tales of Symphonia had a completely different track). But with Vesperia, Bandai decided they weren’t gonna mess around.
The game was going to FULLY translated, including the Skits (Vesperia would be the first in the entire franchise to have these in the Western version and set a precedent to all following entries). Even the intro trailer was blessed with a fully translated and sung version of the original song “Kane wo Narashite” called “Ring A Bell” which, on a side note, was performed by the same artist who did the original Japanese version and that is a rather nice touch. Fans rejoiced at the news, cheered and cried as they listened to "Ring A Bell" over and over, never getting sick of it, combos were pulled off masterfully, everyone rejoiced at playing a pipe-smoking ninja dog (Repede is real and he is a good boy). Life was good and all was well until news of a PS3 version of the game started to circle the web. Many were confused, others were happy. In the distance, the rumbling fires of the console wars could be heard as the dedicated warriors sharpened their proverbial weapons to defend their choice of gaming, but before the storm could even take shape, more news came to light: Tales of Vesperia, the PS3 edition, would feature extra content.
The announcement showed Flynn (a character you only get control of for a brief moment in the game) as a full party member, as well as the addition of Patty Fleur, a new character that was only hinted at in the story. The cast was shown performing new Artes (the series’ signature skills and spells) as well as Mystic Artes (Special Finishing Attacks) never seen before in the Xbox version. Weapons, quests, characters, plot, lore, all manner of things were added to the game. This brought a lot of excitement to folks. After all, who wouldn't be ecstatic of new content for a game you love? However, soon enough 2 things became clear in this entire story.
The new content was PS3 exclusive. The PS3 version would not be coming to the West.
Nobody saw this coming. This was not a piece of DLC or an expansion to the game to be released at a later that, it was PS3 exclusive content. It's not insane to believe consoles would have exclusive items, but one would expect it to be a hat or skin for the characters, not the mountain of shiny new stuff Bandai had announced. It seems like a crazy move, a divisive strategy. Japanese fans were a little surprised that the "Tales of" franchise suddenly had an Xbox exclusive game, only for the company to turn around and change their minds a year later. Western fans finally got the full localization they dreamed of, yet Bandai decides to add exclusive content to a console version that would never make it to the west? Imagine ordering a sandwich and your friend orders the same sandwich, but gets extra patty and sauce with it plus an ice cream cone, all for the same price. You demand the same thing, yet you're told you can't have it because of reasons. Feels pretty unfair, right? Turns out this whole story gets less weird with some digging and a little bit of theorizing.
The Xbox 360, as many people know, was not a huge seller in Japan. Competing with Nintendo and Sony in their own turf wasn't easy even for Bill Gates. Most of the games offered by the 360 didn't mesh well with Japanese audience: racing games, car simulators, shooting action stories. The games made in the West always had this cultural focus on Western audiences. However, some people will remember that the 360 had a variety of RPGs that came out just for the console: Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, Star Ocean: The Last Hope and, of course, Tales of Vesperia.
The 360 didn't sell well for a while. The Tales of franchise, however, is a local darling, developed by a veteran national company and with an excellent track record with each entry in the franchise. Prior to Vesperia, all the other games were available in Nintendo or Sony consoles. Suddenly, Bandai Namco announces the new entry, but it was only coming out to the 360. What do you do if you're the Japanese Tales of fan community? You buy over 100,000 copies of the game and just as many Microsoft consoles. This might sound trivial, but Vesperia was the 2nd best-selling Xbox 360 game in Japan, losing only to Blue Dragon, another JRPG that was an exclusive release, selling over 200,000 copies in less than a year.
Based on this, we can guess WHY the game was initially announced exclusively on the 360, though we do not have confirmation of this theory; helping a struggling console sell copies in a foreign country. It's not a bad theory and years after the storm, a spokesperson for Bandai said on Facebook that the game was initially an exclusive to drive Xbox 360 sales. However, later she admitted to being wrong, saying she assumed that was the reason, but had nothing to back it up, so our theory continues to be just a theory. As for the lack of translation, well, I might have a rather boring reason for it. Translating a game of that magnitude costs a lot of money and puts everyone under an incredible amount of stress, especially after the debacle of the PS3 exclusive content and the image of the company in the West being slightly tarnished. It's not surprising they immediately decided not to translate the content. Besides, we do not know what sort of deals were struck or what contracts were signed behind doors, legality is a tricky thing especially when intellectual properties and public relations are involved. But to me, the question “why didn't they do it?” is less interesting than “why are they doing it now?”
If Bandai is going to Remaster any of their games, there are tons to choose from. Why this one in particular? At the time, it seems like the company wanted distance from the subject. “Yeah, not that one,” they say. Bandai never shied away from the idea of remastering/translating previous entries and there are lots of their games in the series that can only be accessed through certain “means”. I believe the change of heart is a way to end this bad chapter in their life. Many hadn't forgiven the company for what felt like a huge betrayal on their part. This leaves a mark in one's history. I believe Bandai has been striving towards a better public image over the years but still had people digging up the dirty past of Tales of Vesperia. With the Definitive Edition coming out to all modern consoles, this is Bandai Namco taking a deep breath and bravely saying “You know what? Yeah, that one.” We don't see many companies doing that. For decades fans have begged Nintendo to release Mother 3 to the West, going as far as making their own fantastic translation and offering it to them, only to fall on deaf ears. Though in this case, a similar story has happened with a happier ending; fans of the game have spent years working together to create a translation pack of the game that could be downloaded online, to give Western fans the chance to play Vesperia in full. Emphasis on “could”. Once the Definitive Edition was announced, the translation group removed the patch online, leaving a polite and somewhat heartwarming message on their website:
"As such, we have decided to withdraw our fan translation patch. This translation was always intended to allow the English speaking Tales fanbase to fully enjoy the PS3 exclusive Vesperia content, and it has served this purpose well for a few years now. But with this announcement it is no longer necessary, so we are no longer going to distribute the patch."
It just goes to show how dedicated these people are and how much they want to support the game and the developers.
I can say I’m excited to play this version. At the time, I believed Tales of Vesperia was a good entry in the franchise, with fun combat and a great cast of characters, though its plot left much to be desired. Then again, I was also 17 years old and I’ve grown a majestic beard since then, which makes me instantly wiser. I look forward to revisiting the game with a fresh pair of eyes, perhaps even review it once it's released. It’ll also keep me occupied while they work on the new entry, and with Tales of Berseria and Vesperia in hands, I’ll be plenty busy for the next year.
Now if only Bandai could give Eternal Sonata the same treatment, that'd be grand.