You have to like a game where your pet dog smokes a pipe. That’s always been my motto. It’s also a good sign you’re playing a Japanese Role-Playing Game. Perhaps one called Tales of Vesperia.

I seem to get some odd games to review, but I enjoy some pleasant surprises as a result. I had thought this game would simply be poor voice acting and Dragonball Z-styled long pauses.

And it is very JRPG at times, with J-pop style rocking guitar intro music, wide eyed characters expressing emotions by having icons above their heads, crazy half-animal, half-human creatures and so on. And yet, it’s surprisingly good.

Following the same formula as Final Fantasy, particularly FFVII, Tales of Vesperia is a fairly by-the-numbers genre game. You have an ensemble of quirky characters, with Yuri the obligatory slightly edgy coming-of-age boy, Estellise the annoyingly cute love interest, Repede the faithful sidekick and Karol the pesky younger brother. The stereotypes are all represented.

That said the voice acting is some of the best I’ve heard in this type of game. Whilst I didn’t recognise any celebrity voices, whoever it was delivered the dialogue very well, with sarcasm, and emotion coming across, and the funny bits are actually funny.

You have the usual world map, cut scenes, bosses, monster battles, weapon enhancements and special attacks. Yes, you’ve seen it all before. But it’s no bad thing.

With a good story, and generic, but very well presented characters, playing it by the numbers actually works in the games favour. You know what to expect, and you get it, but the presentation and style make the game worth playing.

Graphically, things have taken the World of Warcraft philosophy, keep it cute and bright, rather than a complex hi-fidelity approach. The game looks very similar to cell shaded animé, with cut scenes often being a combination of animé and in-game footage. The minor cut scenes where characters banter are often done using a ‘Brady bunch meets animé' faces-in-boxes style.

This reflects the games target audience, which is ages twelve and over. As such there’s no brutality, no visceral chainsaw deaths. There’s a more innocent feeling to everything, from the wide eyed expressions of Estellise, who ventures outside the city for the first time, to the cute enemies and cartoonish citizens that inhabit the world.

Your characters gain experience in the usual way, fighting the baddies as you come across them to level up. You can avoid the battles however, as you can see where the enemies are on the world map and run around them should you wish to simply get from one destination to the other. I loved this feature at first, having gotten a bit over countless battles in Final Fantasy VII last time I played. However this soon turned out to have been a bad idea on my part, as when I got to my first boss battle, I was well under skilled and got schooled. So then you have to leave the area, go back out to the world map, and grind monsters till you are ready to beat the boss.

The battle system itself is a continuation of the ones used in previous Tales games. At least that’s what Wikipedia says. Honestly I’d never heard of the Tales series. Whilst it is good to get the opinion of a genre-faithful player, it’s often worth jumping in to a series halfway through, to see if it’s still something you can pick up and play independently of the rest of the franchise.

In reality the battle system is all live action following typical JRPG philosophies, but rather than being turn-based it plays more like an action game. Timing replaces turns, and you still get that ‘your move, their move’ feel, just with added freedom. The staple melee, spells and heals are all here.

With four characters in the action at once, fighting is fast and quite fun, though It took me a while to figure out the various weapons upgrades. Each character has differing specialities, which whilst no surprise, at least lets you set up your group to suit which ever boss you are attacking.

The story progresses quite quickly. Twist and turns are inevitable, and probably compulsory, if any game is to hold your attention for 40-60 hours. I have to take issue here. The game is good, potentially great, but as someone who works a 40 hour week (sure, most of it is spent on Facebook) I simply don’t have that kind of time to invest. I enjoy the style of game, and the story, but I tend to lose interest simply due to not being able to play it on consecutive nights.

Then again, the target audience is arguably younger than me. Yeah OK, a lot younger. If you’re on school or uni holidays, this is a great time sink. Or if you have kids, it’s a good distraction while you get on with other things. The art style and direction will appeal to the younger audience, and there’s very little content to offend, so is suitable for school kids.

I won’t give away too much of the plot, but to get you started, someone steals a magic stone called a blastia, which controls the cities lower area defences. Yuri sets off after the thief accompanied by Repede his dog, and Estellise. Once out in the world adventuring, the initial plot unfolds into something much larger, and you realise the game is going to be longer than you thought.

If you are looking for some JRPG action, you could do a lot worse than Tales of Vesperia. It’s easy to play, has a good story, some well presented characters, a neat art style, and is accessible to all ages. Did I mention you have a sarcastic pipe smoking dog?