Tales of Vesperia is a rare blend of a character-and-story driven anime style JRPG. Unlike a great deal of JRPGs, Vesperia manages to remain true to being what it is while never truly loosing the feel that it was attempting to maintain. One of the main points that it does well is that it is, at it's heart, a JRPG which never once keeps story and gameplay on two sides of a fence. Unlike your typical JRPG which has gameplay mechanics and story completely separate (storyline deaths, wounds that can't be cured until much later, ect), it actually includes various gameplay sequences within the story itself. For example, there is an entire quest line where the party is needed to create an item which will cure a poisoned tree. So, the party sets out to create a panacea bottle, a general, all purpose healing item which removes any status effect and an item that you will use frequently later in this game.
The battle system in Tales of Vesperia is one which breaks many a rule of the typical turn-based, stand in a row and beat each other senseless style of combat that the Final Fantasy series has made popular. Your characters and your enemies are still locked in a ring which, at times, is somewhat restrictive, but is something that will become somewhat minor. The battle system itself is somewhat clunky at times and a little difficult to get used to at first, but once you've gotten used to combat, and you will do so through this game, you'll find that it's fluid. Some mechanics that introduced later in the game, such as a "fatal blow" system as well as various Mystic and Burst Artes are an excellent inclusion that makes battle varied and tricky at times.
One more point on combat: Boss battles feel like boss battles in that they're incredibly challenging, but still winnable. There were multiple times where I was scrambling in combat to get my characters back up to finish the fight when I had only one still alive and at around 5% HP. There are points when the boss will make you cry and points when you'll be screaming and trying to run away.
Puzzles are a somewhat rare thing in Tales of Vesperia. While I'm not much of a puzzle person, they were still solvable, though still challenging.
As I said earlier in this review, the story is one main strongpoint of this game. In typical JRPG fashion, the story is very linear and your characters are set. As far as I can tell, there's only one ending in this game and no real decisions that you can make in this game. Strangely, I didn't care in this instance. Normally, I have a major problem with any game which has RPG in it's genre which doesn't allow me to... actually play a role. However, the story kept my interest from start to end as I was watching the characters grow and develop from the beginning to end. Relationships form in the party and the characters begin to change as the story unfolds. Battle comments and even side conversations change as the story develops.
There are points where I found myself saying "this would make an awesome anime series" and sat back and watched as the story unfolded before me. Never once was I bored with the game. Never once did I find myself irritated with stupid character developments. Hell, I even found most of the characters likable, the villains hate-able, and even got to the point where I disliked a great deal of allies, but didn't much care because it was the sort of hate where I knew where they came from and it made sense.
For the most part, the graphics are cell shaded and have a very anime feel and the cut scenes are even drawn in an anime style. Normally this would detract from the actual gameplay itself, but, in this case, it's precisely what the developers were going for and fits well with the feel of the game, so it works perfectly.
As far as JRPGs go, it's actually a very good game in and of itself. If you like JRPGs, this game belongs in your library. If you normally don't, I suggest giving this one a look, perhaps via rental or whatever. In the long run, Tales of Vesperia gives you a well thought out story with an anime feel that never truly breaks from what it is, and pulls it off well.