Tales of Zestiria Review
Tales of Zestiria is part of the Tales series by Bandai Namco. While I haven’t played a Tales game since forever, Tales of Zestiria is a good game and I feel like it’s an excellent re-entry point of the series for me, especially so as some of it’s mechanics are so refreshing to me it feels more of a revamp than a simple rehash.
But I will confess, the biggest reason why I even play this game is that it FINALLY features Japanese voices, the first time ever in the series.
Sorey had been living with fellow seraphim ever since he was a child. Seraph-they are technically what humans regard as ghosts or spirits, something they normally can’t see. One day, when a princess came to his village, it led to a series of events where Sorey went to a nearby city and officially became a Shepherd-heroes who are contracted with a powerful seraph, and in return use his body as a vessel. Using his abilities to connect with the seraphim and the spiritual world, it has thus becomes his duty to purify malevolence born from humans’ negative emotions, and the be–all and end–all of the journey-to defeat the Lord of Calamity, something which will take him literally across the whole continent of Glenwood. For the extremely naive, sheltered Shepherd, it is a journey of finally witnessing the dark sides of humanity-a journey where it forces Sorey to make some agonizing choices and sacrifices.
Even for a RPG, Tales of Zestiria has an extremely interesting concept and settings. The whole journey feels a lot more spiritual than it is physical, for one, the “monsters” are called Hellions-and they aren’t just physical beasts, but monsters manifested from human sins (the game calls it “malevolence”), only people with high spiritual resonance like the main character and the seraphim can see them in their monstrous forms. You will be spending the bulk of your time purifying (aka fighting) these monsters. Using it’s concept to it’s advantage, it’s an interesting spin to an otherwise, an already established monsters-fighting facet of RPGs in general. There are some very obvious plot devices just so that the story can be pushed into that “JRPG fantasy” gimmick though, but despite so, this is definitely something praiseworthy about the game.
As for the actual execution of the story, it has the standard Japanese storytelling-style, in that it has a slow buildup, but huge emotional payoffs, a pattern particularly common in JRPGs with a more traditional style. Being a Shepherd, while it is your duty to purify malevolence, it is also just as much your duty to help the seraphim if any of them needed assistance. It is interesting to see how Sorey and co. effects the world around them while lending a helping hand to both the physical and spiritual worlds. The inclusion of political aspects in all these is also an intriguing factor too, and we all know how drunk on political power these fictional characters can be sometimes.
Characters are great in Tales of Zestiria in the way that their personalities mesh well with each other, even if some of their interactions can be a little cheesy at times, but hey, what can you expect from a game with a traditional JRPG influence huh? But other than that, I don’t really have much problems with how the characterizations are presented. Some characters like Edna (aka Best Girl) got my attention just from her quirks while some characters like Alisha got my attention from her backstory, which revolved around the more political aspect of the plot. I don’t know why, but princesses in fantasy games struggling in politics has really become my thing as of late. While some characters like Rose complements Sorey as a foil. Just as with any Tales games, the frequent pop-up dialogues help you get into the group dynamics and individual personalities, and in this game, it helps that the conversations can only be initiated from meals, save points or Discovery Points which gave it a bit more focus rather than just initiating conversations anywhere.
Other than dynamics, character development for Sorey is slow but progressive, and definitely rewards the gamers who really went through his journey from the beginning to end. One major controversy however surrounds the developer’s treatment of their heroines. To avoid spoilers, I really can’t say much, but let’s say that your actual playable heroine is perhaps far more different than you may have thought. Even now, it’s still an extremely debatable aspect of the game. I wasn’t used to it at first, but was fine with it after a little while.
Now gameplay for Tales of Zestiria is surprisingly expansive, I admit I haven’t been following the Tales games since forever so I’m kinda lost in how the gameplay had been evolving over the time. But similarly, the battle gameplay is action orientated and the combos can be interchangeable with both physical attacks or special skills/magic (in this game: martial artes, hidden artes and seraphic artes respectively). Tales of Zestiria expanded on this idea however by implementing a sort of rock-paper-scissors system into it. Depending on if you’re a human, seraph or in armatization mode (which I’ll get to in a little bit), each of them only possess 2 out of 3 type of attacks. Humans only possess martial/hidden artes while seraph only possess martial/seraphic artes, and you can only use hidden/seraphic artes in armatization mode. It’s sort of like rock-paper-scissors in the sense that these 3 types of attacks has a triangle relationship; hidden bests martial, martial bests seraphic (and cancel casting) and seraphic bests hidden, and because you can really only use two type of attacks at any time, this would require you to actively switch around to have the best tactical approach. Just like other Tales games, Tales of Zestiria also utilizes BG (blast gauge) which can be used for a lot of things-including extra attacks and predominantly Mystic Artes-an ultimate attack of sort. Status effects like stun, paralyze and poison also brings more dynamics to the battle gameplay. Last but not least, you can change any character to control in battle and some areas like the arena really forces you to use and comprehend other character’s fighting styles.
Interestingly, this game forces you to have 2 humans and 2 seraphs for fighting (with additionally 2 more seraphs for switching). All 4 seraphs have different elements, but what you can do, is that you can “armatize” with any of them, basically a fusion of sort to give you a boosts in stats and elemental attacks. Selecting which seraph to armatize is also a good way to exploit enemies’ elemental weaknesses-and you can even do this with the directional buttons in real time combat. Overall, the battle mechanics are great, and the only complain I have is the camera control during combat, which can get a little tricky if you’re in tight spaces since you can’t exactly control it. Additionally, the transition between navigation and combat screen feels super seamless as there isn’t exactly a “separate screen” specially just for combat.
I feel like the equipment system is needlessly convoluted. You can fuse weapons and armors; and the equipment also have various skills (+4% attack, etc…), and by playing around with your equipment with various skills, you can effect the color skill symbol in the equipment grid, giving a stat an even higher boost, or possibly other merits. Sometimes, fusing an equipment would make some skills disappear too so it’s important to check the end result before going with the fusion. Honestly, I didn’t delve too much in this aspect of the game and just wing it.
Navigation also feels less irksome-monsters don’t needlessly fill up the screen and navigating through most of the dungeons don’t feel as troublesome. You can also use map actions with the help of seraphs (breaking boulders, teleporting, invincible, etc…) to navigate through areas which are normally impossible. Also, considering how this game technically doesn’t has an overworld, as every area just directly connects to one place to the next, having the ability to warp via the save points is godsend. Characters also have “Support Talents” which assists you in various ways (e.g: Making items, picking up Gald, quicken up running speed, etc…). Last but not least, there’s also the “Lord of the Land” menu. Once you have a seraph blessing a particular area, you can toggle certain merits once you purified enough hellions in the area (e.g: Enemy detection, treasure chests refill, etc…)
I also want to talk a little bit about tutorials in this game, I know the gameplay’s expansive but even then, they are pretty long-winded. Aside from the usual canonical tutorials, sometimes you can even get tutorials in the form of character interactions and monoliths-one type of Discovery Points you will find throughout your game. What this means is you will get lengthy tutorials sporadically throughout the game, even until near end-game. All the explanations are overwhelmingly excessive to be honest, and if you feel the same, it’s fine to just wing it and learn from experience.
The character models are excellent in Tales of Zestiria, even facial expressions are extremely well done. All the characters have very detailed and distinguishable designs. Even more better? There is a “fashion” menu in the game when you can change their outward appearances (which have no bearings on equipment and stats), wearing other clothes and accessories if they are to your liking. A slight problem I see with it’s environmental design is that when you walk out of town, the fields are just spacious, like literally spacious with almost nothing in between so one may feel like they’re plowing through massive empty fields for no good reason. God bless save point warping. Another slight, technical problem I found on my end here is that FPS sometimes fluctuate significantly during some specific areas-majorly Elysia and Lastonbell for me. But other than that, I find Tales of Zestiria’s overall graphics to be good, there seem to be quite a fair amount of technical complains in the graphic department, but maybe it’s because I’m playing on PC which seems to be by far the better version graphically compared to the PS3. Unfortunately, FPS is capped at 30 no matter which console you’re playing the game at. Outside of the game, the animated cutscenes look superb, as expected of ufotable I suppose.
Tales of Zestiria contains various number of different tracks suiting the many atmospheres in the game. Calm, tranquilizing melodies soothe your ears as you’re wandering around a peaceful town, while majestic tunes marched towards the whole city as you traverse around it, and heavily orchestrated tracks echoed throughout the battlefield as you step into combat (who can forget that epic dragon battle theme?). There is a particularly epic-sounding track called “Rising Up” which really feels like you’re in a war, but in high morale. Overall, Tales of Zestiria’s music are top notch and really gets you into the mood, and if anything, they won’t definitely be repetitive, considering there are like more than a 100 tracks in this game. I have to say though, I have to applaud the game’s more generally orchestrated approach rather than contemporary means as the atmospheric feel the music exudes make the game feels more of an legitimate adventure.
Tales of Zestiria is the best Tales game I had ever played in the series (I only played like 4 of them, mind you). Although it made some controversial design choices, I feel like said issues are just overblown. Tales of Zestiria is a great game overall with an unorthodox concept and setting, improved gameplay mechanics and an excellent set of soundtracks. If you haven’t play any Tales games, Tales of Zestiria is a good place as any to start.