Tales of Zestiria (PS4) review
Bandai Namco Entertainment’s latest Tales of game, Tales of Zestiria is a game that tries to offer a lot to both newcomers and veterans of the Tales of series, but at times the game tries too hard and becomes frustrating to play. The game has a lot of charm, especially when it comes to how the playable characters interact with each other and the world, however, the game’s combat and the story did tend to waver the more I played and at the time it felt like a chore.
If you can’t tell from the opening paragraph I am in two minds of Tales of Zestiria. In the first few hours, I really enjoyed the game and played for hours at a time, but as the game went on the game began to lose its charm for me as I felt I wasn’t making much progress.
The characters in Tales of Zestiria are by far the game’s strongest aspect, your companions and the characters you interact with in the world help bring the world to life, from the residents of a plague hit village to knights that feel they are trapped in the middle of a power struggle for a kingdom. The impression character interaction creates makes me feel invested in what I’m doing, and honestly this game is one of the few occasions I actually feel for the various characters I meet on my travels, and that feeling isn’t limited to the good, as I found myself feeling sympathy towards some of the game’s villains.
I get the same feeling when it comes to the main character’s companions, although it is stronger as each companion is far more fleshed out. Each companion has their own quirks and personalities, and you get to see how their quirks and personalities either do or do not work with the other companions. The best example of this is with Edna and Mikleo, the seraph of earth and water respectively (seraphs are spirit-like creatures), in the game Edna takes great pleasure in messing with Mikleo with several cutscenes and skits (skits are short optional fully voiced conversations that provide additional information on character’s, the world, and more) shows Edna trying to get under Mikleo’s skin for her own amusement. Another interesting companion interaction is between Rose (a human who can see seraph) and Lailah (seraph of fire), their interaction is mostly based around trading bad joke and puns on a basis that would drive a non-pun lover crazy, thankfully for the game I’m a lover of bad jokes and puns.
I think that’s enough about the characters, let’s talk about the game’s story.
Tales of Zestiria’s story focuses on Sorey, a young adult who has spent his entire life in seclusion with seraphim (also known as the seraph, these seraphim are spirits that cannot be seen by normal humans), who raised him and his best friend Mikleo who is a water seraph. After Sorey and Mikleo rescue a female knight called Alisha, Sorey wants to go follow Alisha and take part in a festival to find the next Shepherd, the man who can save the world from the darkness created by the malevolence.
As luck would have it Sorey has the power to become the shepherd and makes a pact with Lailah, a fire seraph who decides that Sorey is worthy of becoming the Shepherd. After becoming the Shepherd, Sorey is given the dangerous task of defeating the Lord of Calamity and stopping malevolence from corrupting the world. However, the task isn’t easy as those corrupted by malevolence begin a war between the world’s two main factions: Hyland and the Rolance Empire.
To be able to stop the world falling into ruin Sorey needs to purge the lands of malevolence and replace it with a seraph that can use the power of worship to purify said land. While the task is difficult Sorey is joined by several allies. These are Mikleo, a water seraph who has been friends with Sorey since they were young, Alisha, princess of Hyland as well as a knight, Edna, a female earth seraph who carries an umbrella and despite her frail appearance is strong, Lailah, a fire seraph that leads Sorey on his journey to saving the world, Dezel, a wind seraph who only joins Sorey to further his own needs, and finally Rose, a young woman with many mysteries. While these are Sorey’s main allies Alisha does leave rather early on in the story.
Tales of Zestiria’s story is a fickle beast as it takes a long time to get going, and while when it gets going it becomes interesting the interest is then pushed down again. The story can be best described as a waveform with the story going up and down in varying degrees of frequency. There are times where I love the story, such as visiting and attempting to purify the Rolance Empire, but these good times are matched and at times eclipsed by various poor elements such as being forced to spend hours completing puzzles in the four seraph trials.
Overall I feel the story suffers from a pacing issue, and a plot that can feel disjointed. Parts of the story made me feel like I was chasing a carrot on a stick for far too long as plot points just drag on and on as if the developers wanted to make the story as long as possible. Then there is the main objective of the game, which you are told is to focus on purifying lands of malevolence and telling the occupants of the land to worship a seraph who can keep the land purified (kind of feels like forced worship if you think about it, I mean at one point you get people to worship water in a chalice), but then you are told to leave the installing of seraphim to protect the land to a side objective and focus on gaining power to defeat the Lord of Calamity.
While the game’s main story wavers between good and bad, what about the side quests/missions? They bare exist, well not in the traditional sense. There are no kill X amounts of hellions (the game’s term for monsters) or quests like you would expect from a traditional RPG, instead side missions revolve around finding a new Lord of the Land (although this is originally part of the main story) and side activities that you happen to stumble upon such as hearing townsfolk talk about say a missing child, and you deciding to look into it or not.
What side missions that do exist flesh out the game, but there are so few in the game. The small number of side missions also means you lose an additional way to level up your characters, which is unfortunate because it turns levelling into a slog.
Just like the above-mentioned story I have mixed feelings regarding the game’s combat. On the surface combat is a fun fast paced action focused system with the inclusion of character fusion, but like the story its charm begins to erode with every encounter as I eventually just found myself going through the motions of fusing with the seraph that my opponents are weak to and mashing the attack button with the occasional guard and dodge thrown in.
However, in boss battles or in encounters when the number is about two or lower combat feels amazing, fun and fluid. Every time I went into a boss fight I found myself really enjoying the experience as you didn’t need to constantly worry that if you dodge to the right will another opponent hit you. Sure in the end boss battles pretty much go the way of encounters, see what element it is weak to and fuse with it for example if the opponent is weak to fire than fuse with Lailah, but I just found myself getting a rush sidestepping an enemy’s combo attack just at the right time.
Since I’m focusing on what it is like from the perspective of a character I’m controlling, and you can have up to 4 allies including yourself on the battlefield at any one time, what is the companion AI like? Well I would say mixed, you can give them basic orders such as spread out, focus defence etc. but I found they got in the way or acted erratically as I often was left scratching my head as Rose with fuse and unfuse with her companion seraph every so often, which struck me as odd, and when it came to boss battles my companions would simply run to their deaths, in a way it funny because in boss battles I would just put my companions on defence and just attack the boss myself.
Finally, combat does have some additional issues. While in combat the camera likes to act up with it zooming in far too close when you are on the edge of a battle zone, and its decision to focus on objects like trees instead of the character you control. One final additional issue with the combat is the fact some artes such as mystic artes were overly difficult to set off, I don’t know if it was just my constant mistakes, but every time I attempted to perform it the game wouldn’t recognise the buttons I pressed.
Let’s talk about the gameplay outside of combat. When not fighting or following the story there is the item shop where you can buy new weapons, armour, fuse items, healing items etc. The items shops dotted around the world while the pretty standard for an RPG they have one issue that bugged me, and that how comparing armour and weapon stats work. If you go through the buy section you are only given an arrow saying if the piece is an improvement or not, but with no numbers you cannot fully know if is better or not, so to be able to get a better understanding this you have to click the “try on goods” option in the item shop, and in this menu you are given a proper status comparison with you being told by how much it increases or decreases certain stats. At the end of the day I wish they could have found a way of incorporating the buy item and try on goods menus into one.
On one final note regarding the item shop, the fuse menu allows you to fuse together weapons/armour of the same type to create a more powerful weapon/piece of armour, I enjoyed this feature because despite the fact the fact the items might have the same name they could both have different additional stats and the fusion ability allows you to combine the extra abilities into one item.
Away from the item shop, Tales of Zestiria like to incentivise exploration, and to that end the world is dotted with treasure chests, stunning scenery, and ancient pillars that provide you with addition AP, which is spent on battle actions.
Exploring the world also has other rewards as each character has a support talent, which offers the player numerous out of combat abilities. These abilities include healing members as you walk around, making items, pointing out chests, points of interest and pillars, finding money, and more. For those who wish to find every hidden chest etc. it is a great addition to the game.
Your companions can also supply you with special out of combat elemental abilities. These abilities, which you unlock by progressing through the story allows you to access seemingly inaccessible locations, these abilities include using the wind to jump a gap, earth to destroy boulders, fire to light objects on fire, and water to make you invisible.
Finally, I want to go back to talk about something combat related, battle actions. Battle actions are passive and active abilities that offer permanent combat enhancements. The number of enhancements you can activate is determined by the amount of AP you have, which is gained from finding pillars, levelling up, and completing objectives. Battle action enhancements include auto guard (automatically guarding up to five times in a fight), aerial recovery (recover more quickly after getting knocked into the air), appealing guard (an aggro ability that makes enemies attack you more) etc.
Graphically, Tales of Zestiria looks gorgeous on the PlayStation 4. With distant views looking like paintings and characters that are easily disguisable from the colour rich and almost cartoon styled environment. However, there are some problems. Distant enemies move in a stiff almost robotic manner, and distant objects such as walls seem to constantly update their texture in a very immersion breaking fashion as you begin to get close to them.
Music wise the game is solid, as each piece of music works with the gameplay and story to create powerful emotions, for example when something bad happens the music reflects this with a slow sombre melody that enacts feelings of loss and reflection. While the music creates the scene it does have one minor issue and that is the fact it sometimes plays over voiced cutscenes making it difficult to hear conversations.
The English voice acting in Tales of Zestiria is in my opinion perfect with each actor delivers his or her lines with the right level of sincerity. Now, I know a lot of people who play JRPGs detest the idea of having English voice actors for some reason so you will be happy to know that you do have the option of Japanese audio with English subtitles.
Finally before giving my conclusion I just want to point out that on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, Bandai Namco Entertainment has disabled the share button. This means that you cannot take screenshots, videos or stream gameplay straight from the console.
Tales of Zestiria is a game filled with fantastic characters and beautiful world, but it is let down by a story that takes too long to get going and a combat system, which while initially fun becomes a chore.
+ Fantastic cast of characters
+ Beautiful world
+ Lots to find and see in the world
+/- Combat jumps between engaging and button mashing
– Story takes far too long to get going
– Very limited number of side missions
|Bandai Namco||Bandai Namco Entertainment||JRPG||16+||PS4, PS3, PC||October 16, 2015|
Author: Aaron Meehan
Hi, I’m the creator of SG Gaming Info. When I’m not working on my writing or creating content for this site’s YouTube channel, I like to relax and enjoy character driven story games.