Tales of Zestiria

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2015 (US), Oct. 16, 2015 (EU)


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PS4 Review - 'Tales of Zestiria'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 3, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Players delve into a grand storyline and discover the zest of adventure with new characters, magical lands and action-packed gameplay that the "Tales of" franchise is known for.

The Tales franchise has seen quite a resurgence in North America. A good chunk of the games released in recent years actually consists of older titles that have been translated. Tales of Zestiria is different in that it was announced for English release at launch. It's an interesting experiment, since the English release is being ported to PS4 and PC, while the Japanese release in January was exclusive to the PS3. There's a lot of experimentation in and out of the game with Zestiria, and that experimentation sometimes fails.

Tales of Zestiria tells the story of Sorey, a human raised among the Seraphim, magical beings who can't be seen by humans. When a chance encounter with a knight forces Sorey to leave his village, he discovers that the outside world is plagued by Hellions, evil creatures infected by a substance known as Malevolence. To combat this, Sorey takes on the role of the Shepard, a legendary hero who uses the power of the Seraphim to battle the Hellions. Along with his allies, Sorey must hunt down sources of Malevolence to destroy evil and bring peace to the world.

The characters are fun and enjoyable, but the storyline is rather scattered. A major character is introduced and then vanishes from the plot for a good portion of the game. Plot points are introduced and then dropped while other plot points come out of left field. Beyond a certain point, I was more engaged with the characters' jokes than the plot. The core plot is weaker than Tales of Xillia or Tales of Xillia 2, though the cast helps carry a lot of it. I enjoyed the wacky characters but was disappointed by how the interesting conflicts that the Shepard was supposed to face were sidelined.

Zestiria's combat system is an evolution of the system used in Tales of Graces f. Rather than traditional Technique Points, you'll have a Spirit Chain, which is effectively a stamina bar. Every attack uses up SC, with more powerful attacks taking up more SC, and it's replenished when you dodge, block or move. There's an interesting balancing factor since low SC actually increases the damage you deal. You'll have to decide how aggressive you want to be and how much you're willing to risk not having SC when you really need it.

This is important since there is a sort of rock-paper-scissors element to combat. There are regular physical attacks, special attacks and magic spells. Physical attacks can interrupt magic spells, magic spells can absorb special attacks, and special attacks can interrupt physical attacks. Mastering these triangles is important because interrupting enemy attacks is a great way to protect yourself and your allies. You need to think about which attacks you're using, especially when going up against a powerful foe. Be foolish with your special attacks, and you may turn an enemy into an unstoppable behemoth.

This is further emphasized by the weakness system. Similar to Xillia, enemy elemental weaknesses play a big part in combat. Enemies take significantly less damage from their strong elements, but if you attack them with their weaknesses, you do more damage and part of your SC is refunded. The Armatization mechanic supports this. Sorey and a later character can fuse with other party members to gain a more powerful form with specific elemental attacks.

When combat is working well, it's a delight. You're constantly moving, attacking and swapping forms to keep things fast-paced and interesting. The combat gets a little repetitive in that once you figure out a good attack chain for an enemy, there's little reason to deviate from it. Lower difficulty levels can be button-mashed through fairly easily, though this has always been a weakness of the Tales franchise. The Tales franchise has always excelled at fun and exciting combat, and Zestiria is no different. It actually boasts one of the stronger combat systems in the franchise.

One disappointing change to the combat is the further de-emphasis of different characters. Much like Ludger in Xillia 2, the Seraphs are there to be sidekicks and fusion fodder, so their play styles are limited, and they're pretty worthless in multiplayer. The game is shameless about the fact that you should use the protagonist most of the time. It's an unfortunate trend in a franchise that had previously been quite friendly to multiplayer. Hopefully, the upcoming Tales of Berseria reverts to a more classic style.

Rather than taking place on an independent map like all other Tales games, combat in Zestiria has battles occurring on your exploration map. In theory, this is a cool idea, but in execution, it's awful. The biggest problem is that the camera is terrible in any cramped or indoor environment, frequently failing to show things around you, getting caught on walls and making it difficult to keep track of enemies. This turns most interior dungeons into frustrating slogs.

Zestiria's attempts at a more open world doesn't benefit the game, either. More time is wasted wandering back and forth in largely barren and dull areas. There are some cool places to explore, but Zestiria generally feels like it bit off more than it could chew. Xillia had a more straightforward and linear set of areas, but they were better utilized. It feels like an attempt at change that just didn't work out. Any "open world" illusion is quickly dashed by barriers that leave things feeling quite limited. I would've been happier with classic combat and dungeons.

Something I enjoy more is the equipment and skill system. Rather than the linear upgrades found in other Tales games, you have a smaller set of customizable equipment. You'll get multiple pieces of loot that can be fused together to form more powerful weapons. The weapons can also unlock new skills on a Skill Board that provides access to extremely powerful abilities. To some degree, this system is overly convoluted, but I enjoyed crafting weapons and unlocking new skills. It's easy to become more powerful, but I think that's better than the dullness of getting a new sword that is +12 damage instead of +8. Likewise, leveling is more simplified. You gain a very small amount of bonus stats while leveling up, but the primary reason to gain levels is to gain bonus abilities and level up your equipment. It makes grinding less important and also means that you can take on higher-level enemies sooner.

Unfortunately, Zestiria is an unimpressive port. The original Japanese version was a PS3 exclusive, and it shows. While the PS4 version runs more smoothly, the graphics and visuals look decidedly dated for a "next-gen" game. It looks about on-par with Xillia, and a number of enemies have been recycled from that title. The cut scene direction seems poorer to me. Xillia had some stiff character models, but Zestiria has some extremely awkward-looking scenes. The voice acting is OK, with a mixed set of good and bad acting. Japanese voices are available for those who prefer them. The soundtrack is all over the place; I loved the battle music but found the environmental songs to be uninspired.

Tales of Zestiria is a perfectly competent but unremarkable Tales title. It's fun to play and has a solid cast of characters, but the experience is dragged down but a lackluster plot and poor level and area design. It tries some ambitious things but generally to its detriment, and at the end of the day, it's a B-tier Tales title. If you're in the mood for a good JRPG, Zestiria fits the bill, but don't expect anything outside of the norm.

Score: 7.0/10

More articles about Tales of Zestiria
blog comments powered by Disqus