What I liked:
• Yuri, of course. The moment my friend showed me the scene of him killing Cumore I knew I had to get my hands on a 360 to play this game. Tales protagonists tend to be kind of dimwitted, moralistic, and/or immature (not to imply that's a bad thing--it paves the way for the character development to come) and it was amazingly refreshing to have one who was intelligent, confident, and not above killing in cold blood. Yuri has morals he holds close to his heart as well, to be sure, but it's his methods that separate him from the rest of the Tales heroes. What's great is that he has absolutely no regrets about what he does and is perfectly willing to own up to his actions; something also amazingly refreshing. Definitely my favorite Tales protagonist.
• Judith, who followed closely after Yuri as my favorite character. She was also a very refreshing character; she's the second main badass muscle of the party who loves fighting as much as Yuri, but it doesn't stop her from being good-natured, kind, compassionate, and comfortably feminine in and out of battle. And in this day and age where women's sexuality is still subject to some form of demonization (be it in real life or fiction), it was great to have one who was both aware of and confident in hers and never perceived negatively or even as a "bad girl" for it. She's just all-around awesome. I didn't expect to love her, but boy, did I ever.
• Really, the whole party and their dynamics were great. Karol sometimes annoyed me, but he wasn't a bad character by any means.
• The graphics. This is the prettiest looking Tales game yet. The Tales games of the past have mostly prided themselves in their lush anime FMVs, while their in-game graphics were less remarkable. Here, it seems they've finally found their footing. The in-game graphics are gorgeous--it almost looks like an anime itself. They, admittedly, aren't always perfect, (Yeager in particular looks downright strange rendered in-game compared to how he looks in the opening video) but on the whole it looks excellent.
• The voice acting. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast, though Yeager sounded off.
• The approach to darker themes such as Yuri's vigilantism and Don's passing (really, its approach to death and murder in general). Maturely handled and very unlike the series. Dark themes aren't anything new to the Tales series, but they tend to be presented melodramatically, and here it was more...I want to say subtly handled, especially regarding Don.
What I didn't like:
• The obligatory world-saving plot. It's a staple of the series, and my absolute least favorite aspect of it. It's been used long since past its exhaustion point, and, frankly, it was already past exhaustion point the earliest at which it was used. A world that can be fixed by moving continents or fixing barriers simply isn't a world I can care about or believe in, and the games continue to insist on using some variation of this formula. It's even more frustrating within the context of Vesperia, because it's a game that's repeatedly capable of handling some compelling and mature subject matter, and yet confines itself to another world-saving plot in the end. Which brings me to my next complaint...
• Not enough was done with Yuri's vigilantism. It was a huge selling point of the game for me, and while I loved the things the game did do with it (and I'm more than a little thankful that they didn't have Yuri realizing the "error of his ways") I still can't help but feel that it didn't pursue it enough and, consequently, felt like potential gone wasted in the end.
• The lack of consequence following Estelle living. What effect did the whole experience have on her, specifically? It was obviously a traumatic one, but you wouldn't know it from the next scene she's in, where she's all back to normal. How did it feel for her to be in control again? Did she feel strange, violated even, having this man control her like that? Does she have nightmares from the experience? Is she trying to recover from it? Again, wasted potential for some good character development.
• The final final arc. It wasn't abysmal, just too short and rushed to really allow for the conflict to sink in (especially after the last arc where a much more dramatic conflict was present), and, yes, a bit of a cop out. That last arc might as well have not even happened. And it was very...typical of the series, right down to the sympathetic final villain. I did like that he ended up living in the end, though. That was different.
• Hastily resolved character/plot points. Yeager's death springs to mind, but I also thought the explanation of Raven's character came and went bizarrely fast.
• ...really, the whole plot in general. The Tales games have never been big on story, but here it especially bugged me because, again, it had the potential to do much better. (Looking over my points again, "wasted potential" seems to be more the key crux of my complaints.)
• The music. Aside from the music used in Dahngrest, I was mostly "eh" on the soundtrack. It wasn't intolerable, but it was the weakest I've heard of the games.
Overall: A very enjoyable game with a likable cast of characters that's unfortunately marred by a weak (if passable) story and unsatisfactorily resolved arcs.
And that's 5 (Symphonia, Abyss, Destiny, Eternia, Vesperia) U.S.-released Tales games down, 4 more (Symphonia 2, Legendia, Phantasia, Radiant Mythology) to go. I think I'll give Legendia another shot next.