Tales of Zestiria

(1 customer review)


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Complete Review & Description

You kinda know what you’re getting when you buy a new Tales game. In a way, it’s a series that’s kind of like Madden or Call of Duty – to the outsider, each game is nigh indistinguishable from any other, but to the diehard fan, seemingly subtle changes make all the difference in the world.

Tales of Zestiria is certainly no different. If you’ve ever played a Tales game before, you can expect more of that. The same bright, anime-style art direction; the same quirky, slightly awkward sense of humour; the same overarching, coming-of-age story about a “chosen one” saving the world from evil; the same realtime, party-based battle system. Dig deeper, though, and Zestiria carves its own niche.

The game follows Sorey, a human with the rare ability to see and interact with seraphim – a spirit-like race usually imperceptible to humans who serve to maintain order in the natural world. A fateful encounter with a warrior princess, Alisha, sets Sorey on a journey to put his unique abilities to work as the Shepherd of the seraphim, travelling a war-torn world to fend off the encroaching malevolence, an evil force borne of people’s negative emotions responsible for bringing monsters, called Hellions, to life.

It’s not hard to see the parallels to the story of Jesus in this premise, and so as you might expect, religion and faith are central themes. An increasingly turbulent world and the people turning away from the seraphim allow the malevolence to tighten its grip, making the world a darker place and eroding humanity’s belief in the seraphim further still. It’s a vicious cycle that only the Shepherd can break, hence Zestiria’s “characteristic genre name”, RPG of Passion Lighting the World.

It’s an interesting tale, to be sure, with the blend of political intrigue, high fantasy, drama, and humour that Tales is known for. It’s a shame, then, that the most central aspect – the characters – are so dull. They range from kind-of-cool-but-in-a-very-generic-way, like Alisha, to so annoying and ham-handed that they make Jar Jar Binks look suave and sophisticated, as is the case with an insufferable little rat-thing called Atakk. If you’ve ever played a Japanese RPG or read a shonen manga, you’ve met all these characters before, and even as someone who normally loves that formulaic anime approach, I found Zestiria rigid and uninspired.

A large share of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of a very lacklustre English translation. It feels like the localisation team have tried to stick as close to a literal translation as possible, resulting in a script that feels stiff and unnatural, and that made me cringe on more than a few occasions. The English voice acting is surprisingly good, at least.

Tales is a series that’s as much about raw gameplay as it is about story, though, and this is where Zestiria’s at its best. Where past games have had a tendency to go a bit overboard with systems and make the game far more complex than it needs to be, Zestiria finds a good balance between depth and simplicity.

Battles use the same core system as every other Tales game, where you control one character in realtime combat – hack, slash, dodge, you know the drill – while the rest of your party are run by AI. This time around, however, there’s the new Armatize system, which lets a human and seraphim pairing combine into a single powerful fighter, trading versatility for power and new abilities.

It’s a fun system, and one that brings a lot more variety to combat than past games, especially later on when more seraphim join your team. The only potential downside (and to be honest, I personally liked this, because I’m lazy) is that there’s very little cost to armatizing. The benefits of having one super badass on the battlefield far outweigh those of having two pathetic squibs, and the literal cost – a chunk of your Blast Gauge – is so slight, resource management is basically a non-issue, even if you armatize whenever you please.

There are a few other things at work here, and if you want to dive deeper for optimal strategy you can, but the game doesn’t really do a lot to gradually introduce new systems and sneakily train you in their use. You’re pretty much told what there is, and then it’s up to you to make use of what you please, or – if you’re playing on a harder difficulty – master the nuances in a trial by fire.

Tales has always been quite systems-heavy outside combat, too, and Zestiria really shines here. Field-use abilities, like a blast of fire that can ignite switches or burn spiderwebs, add a Zelda-like element to exploration, which is aided by map design that, while not mind-blowing, is better than what we’ve seen from Tales before.

There’s also a new equipment fusion system that had me frantically collecting as much equipment as I could carry. It’s pretty straightforward, for the most part – Calcite Sword + Calcite Sword = Calcite Sword +1 – but equipment abilities add an extra layer that will make compulsive min-maxers sing with elation / pull their hair out (cross out one, as necessary).

In addition to basic stats, almost all pieces of equipment have at least one passive skill of some sort – this could be a further stat boost, increased health or Blast Gauge recovery, bonus damage against certain enemy types, and so on. Each one of these skills has a unique name, and occupies its own space on a 5×10 grid of runes that is the equipment skill sheet. Equip a weapon, and the rune for any skills on that weapon will light up on the skill sheet; stack multiples of the same skill across different pieces of equipment, and the effect becomes stronger. Most importantly, lining up active runes on the sheet triggers powerful bonus skills – so it’s in your best interest to mix, match, and fuse away to your heart’s (or Sorey’s wallet’s) content.

And finally, there’s the Lord of the Land system. As you progress through the story, you’ll clear regions of their malevolence and assign a seraph to be the Lord of the Land, granting you various bonuses when you’re visiting that area. You can level up these Lords by getting good scores in battle or donating items, and a more prominent Lord of the Land means bigger bonuses.

Tales of Zestiria is, essentially, the same as every other game in the series, or completely different, depending on your perspective. As always, it’s a game that Tales fans will love, and haters will hate. It’s as good a jumping in point as any for newcomers, especially with a slightly more approachable battle system; just don’t come here looking for deep, compelling characters or high-quality writing.


1 review for Tales of Zestiria

  1. Phaeton

    NIce job by developers!

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