By the time you get your hands on a boxed copy of Tales of Vesperia, it'll be nearly a year since the game came out in Japan. It has repeatedly disappeared and reappeared on release schedules over the last 12 months, with our exclusive demo on issue 38's cover disc the closest anyone has got to playing it.
It's a mystifying state of affairs, especially when you consider that firstly, there couldn't have been a hold-up due to lengthy translation duties as the US version was released mere weeks after the Japanese launch and secondly, this is one of the best JRPGs to grace the Xbox 360.
But whatever clandestine reasons delayed the Tales series debut on the 360, let's just be happy that it's finally arrived on these shores and we can enjoy the ride.
To the newcomer, it might feel like there's about 30 million different Tales games out there, give or take (Vesperia is actually the ninth in the series' 14-year history). But like Final Fantasy, each game can be approached as a brand new entity with no prior knowledge needed.
And while Vesperia doesn't add anything significantly new to Namco's most successful of RPG templates, it is far and away the most refined and beautiful Tale Namco has ever told.
The game's graphical splendour is inevitably the first thing that strikes you. Everything looks suitably shiny, from the animated cutscenes to the gameworld and battle sequences. And there's a great sense of stylistic continuity between these constituent parts.
The cutscenes have been created by Production IG, the studio responsible for last year's futuristic police thriller Ghost in the Shell, a movie based on a bestselling Japanese manga series (Spielberg has just picked up the rights to do a live-action version). You'd be hard pushed to find a more lush Xbox 360 game from Japan (although Eternal Sonata does run it close).
Battles in this Tale have been tweaked to feature scenes where passers-by occasionally become embroiled in the action, which is a nice idea, but the melee style of play remains fundamentally unchanged and intact.
There's no slow turn-based combat here - right from the off, the action is quick and relentless, encouraging button combos almost like a beat-'em-up, but also equipping you with items that can be brought into effect by pausing to trigger an inventory window.
Your party's levels can also increase or decrease depending on how you perform, so there's always the incentive to put on a good show - other than merely for the sake of self-preservation.
Battles can be avoided simply by being careful to dodge aggressors as you run through the gameworld, but such is the entertainment value offered by Vesperia's combat that you'll more likely seek to instigate battles than prevent them from kicking off. Conflicts can even be played through with support from friends via a local co-op multiplayer mode (co-op play is only possible during battle, mind - there's no multiplayer wandering).
If you're looking for clichés you'll find plenty of them here - from the androgynous protagonist Yuri, to the overblown story of magic and global mayhem - but that's not really a fair way to approach Vesperia.
It is, after all, tastefully held together with a surprisingly humorous script, and set in a world that's so finely crafted it feels like a privilege to explore it. JRPG fans can't go wrong here.
A tale worth telling to JRPG fans everywhere
- Looks as pretty as the prettiest anime
- Fights are engaging and quick
- Excellent multiplayer battles
- Too many JRPG clichés
- Doesn't really do anything new