The most refined Tales game to date.
The Tales Of franchise has always been an under appreciated JRPG series. The way it handles its battle system and world design are so unique it’s impossible to find another series like it. Now, to celebrate the series 20th anniversary, Tales of Zestiria comes to Playstation 4, Playstation 3 and PC. And while the game has its shortcomings, it’s definitely something special.
Zestiria follows Sorey, a young energetic boy who dreams of discovering the secrets of the world, all the while trying to find a way to bring humanity and Seraphim (spirit) kind together again. During a city festival he discovers he has the potential to become the Sheppard, a person with the ability to communicate and combine with Seraphim.
Now, armed with nothing but a sword and a smile, he sets out with his best friend Mikleo to stop the looming evil and bring about peace to the world.
The initial story is as basic as they come, being highly generic in the outset. But once the first few story arcs are over the plot starts to go to places completely refreshing for the genre. What starts off as a simple “save the world” plot evolves into something more morally challenging and thought provoking. It’s just a shame it takes a few hours for the story to really open up.
Luckily the journey to the good stuff is made a lot easier due to the wonderfully likeable characters. Each character immediately stands out as a colourful personality with interesting quirks. For example, Lailah refuses to talk about her past, but instead of shying away she tries her best to distract everyone in hopes of them forgetting what they were talking about. It’s weird but surprisingly funny. Each character has their little moments that make them more than cliché cut-outs and more like real people, especially the main protagonist.
There have been so few protagonists that are as fun and psychologically interesting as Sorey. He’s a young and easy going, ambitious yet down to earth, and all he really wants is for everyone to relax and just have fun with their lives.
He tries his best to help everyone with their troubles, but as the game goes on he starts to bare the burden of realising he can’t help everyone, and that trying to be a hero might put you in more trouble than it’s worth. It’s fascinating to watch a simplistic young man grow into a slightly more stoic adult over the course of the game, and it’s a little upsetting to see such a happy person lose his innocence.
The whole game deals with the concept of responsibility and accepting you can’t do everyone on your own. It’s incredibly refreshing to see such a dark and morally questioning story in a reasonably light-hearted franchise.
Story’s not the only thing that’s been given an upgrade, the combat mechanics have been largely reworked to make battles even better. Battle areas are gone. Now when you challenge an enemy, the game seamlessly transitions into battle and you fight them there and then. Combat is largely similar to past Tales Of games, but with a few large changes.
Gone is MP, instead all attacks use up Action Points that recharge whenever not attacking in battle. Moving around and guarding make Action Points recharge faster, timing a quickstep at the right time can reward you with bonus Action Points.
This makes using special moves less daunting and invites experimentation with the combat system, particularly with the new Armatization feature.
Armatization is a skill only a few characters can use. It involves combining human and Seraphim to make one super powerful being. Soray, as the Sheppard, has this ability and uses it to great effect.
Activating the ability combines the stats of both party members and transforms the character into a god-like being with a striking resemblance to a Djinn Equip from Magi. It makes battles a lot more entertaining with awe inspiring moves being used with quick succession.
However Armatization also makes battles a lot easier. Using the mode makes the character attack
focusing on one element, meaning that if the enemy’s weakness is fire you can just use Mikleo to attack with water and wipe the floor with his bow. It would be fair if there were a requirement to using the mode, but there’s no cost, so long as you have one Special bar full (and you will always have at least one special bar full) you can activate the mode instantly.
While going into god mode doesn’t immediately make the game easy, it does take a large chuck of the challenge out of the game.
When not busy slaying foes in combat, Zestiria has a vast open world to explore. Similar to Tales of Xillia, the game gets rid of the over world in exchange for small field zones that all connect. This makes the game feel more like an actual journey where every step matters, however it does make everything feel a lot smaller. There’s something about travelling over a large map while wind instruments play, and it’s sadly lost in this.
Another thing lost in Zestiria is good draw distance. On the PS4 version there was an insane amount of pop-in when out in fields. Towns and most dungeons looked fantastic, but large open spaces look like they’ve come off the back of a Playstation 2 game.
The game makes up for it a little by having a consistently smooth frame rate (apparently something to praise these days?) and short load times. But it’s a bit of a letdown seeing such beautiful interiors smashed together with downright ugly outdoor environments.
Looking past its few flaws, Tales of Zestiria is a marvellous Tales game. It takes everything the series is famous for and puts it all together for one massive celebration of the series. It’s the type of RPG that once you pick up, you’ll have trouble putting it down for days.
Should you play Tales of Zestiria?
Thanks to Bandi Namco for supplying a review copy