Tales of Zestiria – Review
There are not too many video game franchises that have been able to reach the 20 year mark of their life, and keep a consistency that fans can continue to love and look forward to like the Tales of series. The series started with Tales of Phantasia and continues to deliver slight variations of itself. Fans of the series have their favorites and their not so favorites, but many of us continue to love and enjoy the series. We have now been following the series for 20 years and the most recent western release, Tales of Zestiria, is meant to be the culmination of all those years. So how does it stack up against its predecessors? Let us find out.
This will divide players into two camps because it is very much the classic hero’s journey. Usually current Japanese RPG’s will circumvent around the “need to save the world” motif for say the first ten or so hours, but Zestiria dives right in. Sorey, the main character is obviously placed on the pedestal as the shepherd who will save the world. He will quell the malevolence that is born from the hearts of man, he will face a journey full of adventure, and danger as he is tested time and time again.
It would be easy to write off the classical aspect of the story as a mere cop out, but we do not think this would be fair. The story seems to be conscious of its classical story elements, and given that developers mentioned that Zestiria was going to take the series back to its roots, it makes sense. This makes the story easy to follow, but also has the pitfall of making its plot twists obvious long before they are revealed. There are also the cliché moments of triumph and failure, but as yawn worthy as this sounds, Zestiria still felt like a nice warm hug by a familiar blanket on a cold day.
We think this is because the classic story still had its predecessor’s cherished elements like humorous skits and the development of each of the characters from their cliché beginnings to the slightly more complex and ultimately beloved endings. Even Sorey, who staunchly stays the typical shounen hero (“I must become strong”… “nothing will stop me”…) had his charms. What is nice about the use of this classical setup is that you’re not bogged down with the typical slogging that RPG’s can get you stuck in while your hero and band of followers all take their turns having their time in the spotlight.
As you would expect in a Tales of game, it is entertaining. As we mentioned, they do somewhat follow the stereotypes that anime fans will be all too familiar with. However, they evolve and these evolutions are endearing, whether it be seeing the mostly random Lailah wax poetics about what it means to give yourself to the hero’s journey, or the moment the hot headed Mikleo becomes the only one who is calm – they are all given time to shine. You’ll have your favorites. You will have moments when you want to yell at them, and its all part of what makes Zestiria a fun play through.
This is where things are shaken up a bit more. The game finds itself embracing the big world maps that have become a staple in many western role-playing games in the past five or so years. It’s not a big shift for those who aren’t familiar with the Tales of series but those that are this may be big. This shows that the developers are slowly embracing a more standard gameplay style. The one thing that was a bit irksome about the big maps was that the game still relies on the save points system. This isn’t necessarily bad if you’re overtly cautious. We know to save often, but did find that sometimes we just wanted to explore without the worry of losing progress.
We did lose about an hour or two at one point because we bumped up the challenge settings and got into a fight while we were out searching for more herbs. Luckily, though if you are playing before work or class, there is a quick save, and it works just fine for those inevitable moments in which you find yourself deep in a dungeon and needing to stop for a while.
This happens where you’re standing, which is different from the previous style of combating in pre-established mini arenas. This adds a sense of immersion to the experience, but it is somewhat annoying when an enemy comes behind you and your stuck fighting in the corner of a cluster phobic area. The camera swizzles around like crazy and at times we had to rely on the semi-auto attack set up and hope that we were doing damage and not going to die. This can make fighting a little irksome since you lose the ability to see what’s going on and may run right in front of a powerful artes. We did this a few times while playing Sorey, but luckily we had the ability to armatize with Mikleo before things got too crazy.
This brings up the Armatization system of the game.
The way the rule works is that in order to have seraphim in the party, you have to have a human companion for them to be linked to. This means that at certain points of the game, you’ll be stuck with just Sorey and one seraphim of your choice. The gameplay style heavily relies on this dynamic, as you’ll find your characters are beaten to a pulp on boss fights. Luckily you can rely on Armatization, the ability for both the human and the seraphim to combine forces and your attack power and defense go up two fold.
Some players may not like how often you’ll have to shift over to this gameplay style; especially toward the end of the game when switching in and out, both Armatization and seraphim becomes a regular thing. The good news is that sometimes the seraphim artes won’t be your meal ticket out and it’s better to just grab Sorey and stab everything. AI allies are a mixed bag in fights as well. Sometimes they’re decent and other times you’re yelling at the screen. We couldn’t help but wish that Zestiria was given the same amount of strategic manipulation the Tales of Hearts did when it was released back in the fall of 2014. It would have cut down on the moments in which we felt like we had to babysit the other two characters.
The graphics and sound:
This is where Zestiria shines. The PlayStation 4 version isn’t going to be winning any awards for its graphical prowess, but that’s fine because the game was initially created on the PlayStation 3. The graphics have been pushed up to 1080 p and stays at 30 frames per second. From what we read, the PlayStation 3 version dealt with laggy moments when there was a lot going on, but we did not have any problems on the PS4 version. The 1080 p helps to make the art and color pop that much more, but what’s also nice is watching the anime cut scenes, especially when you see the sky shine in the background.
Ultimately, JRPG fans should embrace this game, especially those who are able to get it on PS4. This is the series’ first venture onto the current gen consoles and it’s not bad by any means. As far as comparing Zestiria to other Tales of games, We will say that it is not the best but it’s still fun. If we were to pick one Tales of game for beginners, we would easily choose Tales of the Abyss. If you are a current, gen player and do not want to bother going back to previous ones to enjoy the “better” games, we would not discourage you from buying Zestiria.