Video Games Review: Tales of Zestiria (PS4, 2015)

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the JRPG Tales series, developers Bandai Namco Studios and tri-Crescendo have returned to their bread and butter for the 15th iteration in the series, Tales From Zestiria. Where 2011 and 2012s Tales of Xillia games attempted a one off trip into a modern setting, Zestiria draws the gap on any disparateness by presenting a thematically similar game to many of its predecessors.

Our story commences in a small village inhabited by the Seraphim – a race who restore balance in the world and can only be seen by people with resonance in them. Sorey (part human, part Seraphim) and Mikleo, discover an injured princess named Alisha while exploring some nearby ruins. After helping her recover at their home and seeing her off, the two boys discover that she is now being hunted by a malevolent threat known as the Hellions, a race that feeds off of negative emotions. The two follow the princesses path to her home town where Sorey is gifted with the power to banish Hellions, thus transforming him into a Shepard – an ancient guardian whose kind hasn’t been seen in centuries.

The game follows on from there and has you succumbing to Sorey’s new found fame and power by helping citizens. It picks up when the the ‘Lord of Calamity’, the ultimate force of evil that plagues the land rears its ugly head and it falls on Sorey to stop him.

The story doesn’t really do much in the way of capturing your imagination the way a tale of demons and ultimate power and ancient races really should. The Hellions save much of the proceedings because it’s a lot more underwhelming when Sorey and co. are on screen. The dialogue is bland and cut scenes drag on and on with redundant exposition. It has some sweet things to say about comradery and friendship and there is a running theme in the Tales series on racial harmony but you do have to wade through a lot of tedium to uncover it all.

Characters are all rather ordinary too. Sorey is a one note boy scout and Mikleo is like the worst friend ever by constantly putting Sorey down while he just laughs it off. Everyone is diverse enough but most of the characters simply exist to move plot point forwards or fight. Which is acceptable enough because you’re going to be spending a lot of time doing it.

If you’ve ever played one of the Tales games before, combat has deviated somewhat. When you entered an encounter in one of the earlier titles, the game would cut and switch to a different screen for battle mode. Now all of your fights take place within the same environment as your exploration. Yes there is a transition that presents different menus and controller inputs and a small radius which you have to stay in but it’s much more immersive this way. 

Combat can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be and it has a very relieving number of options for JRPG newbies like myself. For instance you can alternate between auto, semi-auto and manual, relinquishing control during battle or doing literally everything yourself.
You tap O multiple times to attack using ‘artes’ maneuvers and moving the thumbsticks lets you dodge. This will get you in the fight and will easily dispatch weaker enemies but when it comes to the heavies of Zestiria, you’re going to need to be a lot more tactical. Pressing X lets you pull out stronger ‘mystic artes’ moves and later on you can even enact ‘Armatization’ which fuses two characters and lets you wield magic and stronger attacks.

All of this is useless however if you just carelessly mash buttons. There are gauges to watch like the Blast Gauge and Spirit Chain gauge that deplete with everything you do during battle.
The best way to stem the tide of every seemingly inconsequential stat is to scour the land for loot chests, earn rewards and level up, because friend, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in menus if you want to complete Tales of Zestiria.

You can apply buffers and perks to just about every conceivable facet of your characters. Earrings and other pieces of fashion add to your recovery rates and your attack/defense and your artes can all be tweaked so you can handpick what combos you want to use during combat. You can lose a fair chunk of time in each menu trying to finely tune each characters abilities but it is entirely necessary and quite in depth.

Tales of Zestiria was originally released in Japan for the Playstation 3 and later ported for the Playstation 4 in other countries such as Australia. The reason I mention this is that it shows. It has the smoothness and clarity of a PS4 game but it lacks in detail. Internal environments have no discernible traits at all resulting in a dull, lifeless venture while outdoors there isn’t much to see – a handful of buildings here, some shrubbery there and then vast amounts of nothingness. Luckily Zestiria offers a big open world so there is the occasional break in monotony.

Character models are nice enough as they appear to be pulled straight from an anime, which is fitting because many of the cut scenes take on that form and are nicely animated.

The real highlight of Tales of Zestiria though is the music. It has a wonderful orchestral score that permeates the entire game ascending and crescendoing at perfect times. It makes the longer journeys easier to trek through. And when I say longer, I mean it. Zestiria’s story clocks in at around 35 hours while a total completion may take up to 50.

Tales of Zestiria has attempted to reinvent the series after 20 years and to a degree it has been successful.  Supported by some solid combat, fantastic music and a healthy dose of strategy Zestiria will satiate fans of the genre. People seeking a nice looking, well written game with a big map filled with an abundance of content may be disappointed.

Review Score: 6.0 out of 10
Highlights: Beautiful Score; Plethora of combat options;
Lowlights: Last-Gen graphics; Boring story and characters; Lifeless open map with not a lot to do
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios & tri-Crescendo
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Released: October 16 ,2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4