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Tales of Zestiria review

Tales of Zestiria (1)

Although many might assume turn-based battles dominate the realm of role-playing, action-driven combat has a resilient foothold on the genre. Long before Mass Effect and Kingdom Hearts married plotline with sections of energetic pugnaciousness, franchises like the Ys, Star Ocean, and the Tales series demonstrated just how fantastic fluid, fast-paced, battles could be. Unlike the other IPs, real-time combat is the rare continuity in Bandai-Namco’s series, with both setting and characters habitually shifting across each subsequent entry (save for Xillia, Tales’ sole two-part entry).

Of course, if you scrutinize Tales’ fifteen game legacy, you’ll discover a few, faint thematic elements that extend across the franchise. Notably, the recent release of Tales of Zestiria revisits the compulsory coexistence of two races, with humans and the spiritual Seraphim serving as the main two factions. The bridge between these two worlds is Sorey, a good-natured young boy who was raised in a village of Seraphim. This upbringing endowed the protagonist with a high level of resonance, allowing him to see and interact with the other culture- a trait that’s uncommon for most humans.

Tales of Zestiria (2)

Naturally, when negative sentiment throughout the world spurs the vicious Hellion, a pandemic threatens the entire world. It’s here, that another of Tales common refrains emerges, with the game offering religious allegory. As such, Sorey must become a literal and figurative Shephard who’s tasked with guiding a populace away from the personal ills that threaten to accumulate, and eventually eradicate, humanity. Fortunately, there’s enough Eastern-centered contemplation to keep Zestiria from becoming a preachy primer in the fundamentals of Christianity.  As such, players can expect the title to wax philosophical about environmentalism, existentialism, and well as the virtues of collectivism.

Sorey is seldom alone during the heroes’ journey, accompanied by allies like his best friend Mikleo, serious-minded Alisha, or the perpetually optimistic Rose. Initially, your sidekicks might seem like little more of a collection of JRPG tropes, as evidenced by the easy application of adjectives to describe each one.  But the Tales games has always been one of the better franchises at simulating relationships, whether in the optional, but indulging small-talk sequences known as skits, or the glimpses of internal dialog that are able to transcend the outward exhibition of omoiyari.

Tales of Zestiria (3)

Although Tales of Zestiria delivers a protracted prologue, once players pass the four-hour mark, they’ll be contented by the game’s cast. Sorey might not display distinction from the legion of role-playing protagonists who came before him, but he is undeniably likeable. Given his amiable nature he’s able to form an easy, heart-warming bond with many of his cohorts. What’s more, his unique upbringing endows him with enough naivety and a hint of outsider status- ensuring empathy from most players. Like any commendable RPG, relationships deliver arcs- and save for Zestiria’s tendency to interrupt these when party members come and go, the storytelling is largely commendable.

Being a Tales game, narrative is complemented by the return of an amended Linear Motion Battle System (or LMBS), ensuring that the game’s cadence never becomes too laidback. Wisely, Zestiria’s design decisions ensure there’s a sufficient amount of depth to combat, without sacrificing accessibility. At first, you’ll be able to effortless four-chain combos on enemies, but before long, Spirit Chain energy becomes a factor. Depleting this resource can leave a party member vulnerable, compelling players to either guard, use the new sidestep maneuver, or just temporarily retreat during encounters. What’s interesting is that your character is most powerful just before your Spirit Chain exhausts, creating some intriguing risk/reward scenarios.

Tales of Zestiria (4)

Role-playing tenets like physical and magical attacks are contextualized as Artes within Tales, and with Zestiria, characters gain a nice arsenal of these abilities as they persevere.  While conquering common enemies might be a cakewalk on even the title’s higher difficulty settings, boss battles are the consummate test of skill. Here, Zestiria not only expects mastery of the RoShamBo-system of Martial, Seraphic, and Hidden Artes, but also tests your knowledge of elemental advantages. While it might seem like a lot to take in, the game judiciously adds each new mechanic, ensuring players won’t meet a perplexing stopping point.

Unquestionably, Tales of Zestiria’s best modification is the addition of Armatization, which allows Sorey and Seraphim to fuse together, joining stats and opening up a new arsenal of Artes which deliver a bevy of visual rewards. Beyond getting an offensive advantage against bosses, Armatization also offers other possibilities, allowing for party heals and even revive fallen party members. What’s especially satisfying is the dearth of limits on the ability. Except for the removal of fused characters if you’re defeated, players are free to make the most of the aptitude, ensuring encounters are consistently enjoyable.

Tales of Zestiria (5)

Previous Tales entries have following role-playing tradition, typically confining players to narrow paths. Zestiria attempts a more unrestricted approach, extending open areas for players to explore. In execution, the ambition is noble, with the game evading the feeling of linearity. But often areas can be a little too meager, with only the occasional treasure chest to spur exploration. The other side effect is that Zestiria’s dungeons feel a bit too sterile, simple, and short. These areas should have been a series of crests that punctuated gameplay; instead they often feel a bit too pedestrian. The other drawback with dungeons revolves around the game’s camera, which can provide an ineffective perspective when indoors.

Visually, the PlayStation 4 version of Zestiria divulges its origins at a last-gen port. From occasional pop-in and combat that’s locked at thirty frames per second, it’s apparent that the developers favored parity over now-gen prowess. On the upside, the game’s aural abilities are strong, offering sufficiently stirring melodies and voice-work in two languages. Although the English dub is solid, purists will want to play in Japanese to ensure the accuracy of character lip-synching.

Tales of Zestiria (6)

Overlook the lackluster, Japan-only release of Tales of the Tempest, and you’ll find that Bandai-Namco’s Tales series is one of the most reliable, role-playing franchises. Although there’s no interconnected storyline, each new entry explores familiar themes while advancing its rewarding combat engine. Pleasingly, Tales of Zestiria is no exception, extending a rousing, rewarding expedition that has very few problems during its extended playtime.

Tales of Zestiria was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.

Tales of Zestiria
Platform: PlayStation 4, also on PlayStation 3, PC
Developer: Bandai Namco Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release date: October 19th, 2015
ESRB: Teen
Price: $59.99 (PS4), $49.99 (PS3, PC)

Although many might assume turn-based battles dominate the realm of role-playing, action-driven combat has a resilient foothold on the genre. Long before Mass Effect and Kingdom Hearts married plotline with sections of energetic pugnaciousness, franchises like the Ys, Star Ocean, and the Tales series demonstrated just how fantastic fluid, fast-paced, battles could be. Unlike the other IPs, real-time combat is the rare continuity in Bandai-Namco’s series, with both setting and characters habitually shifting across each subsequent entry (save for Xillia, Tales’ sole two-part entry). Of course, if you scrutinize Tales’ fifteen game legacy, you’ll discover a few, faint thematic elements…

Review Overview

Gameplay - 85%
Story - 80%
Aesthetics - 75%
Content - 85%
Accessibility - 80%

81%

GOOD

Summary : Memorializing the twentieth anniversary of the franchise, Tales of Zestiria maintains the merits of Bandai-Namco series, bonding story, strife, and symbolism is a thoroughly rewarding manner.

User Rating: 4.14 ( 6 votes)

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert ‘DesertEagle’ Allen is Tech-Gaming’s resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

23 comments

  1. I started read one review of the game that started like this:

    “This is the first Tales series game I’ve ever played. That’s not to say I was avoiding the series. I have a copy of Tales of Symphonia lying around here somewhere and I fully intended to play it at some point. I just had a number of games ahead of it on the queue – various Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests, and Disgaeas – and I never got around to it. So, into the deep I go.”

    it’s not a small site. Its the U.S. arm of Eurogamer, but I had to quit. Is it that hard to find someone who has played a single Tales game before. WTF to game reviews do in their spare time. if a movie critic reviews the latest Avengers movie, you can bet they’ve seen the previous ones.

    • Reads like a Steam review, not a real website. I guess anyone can be a reviewer, now.

    • I saw that too. USgamer.net right?

      The worst part was this: “When I brought up that Zestiria was going to be my first Tales game, someone on Twitter told me that the entire series was “Anime: The JRPG”. I can back up that statement.”

      Why does the writer think we give two shits about Twitter opinions? And Anime: The JRPG basically means nothing. It borrows from the style of anime? Yeah, 95% of Japanese games do.

      The dude is amateur hour at its worst. I’m glad Robert tries to take games and the audience seriously.

  2. I’m not going to try to defend the USGamer review, only offer the perspective of someone who runs a website.

    Most smaller sites don’t pay their staff. The incentive is they get to keep the game. Right there that narrows down the writing pool significantly. You need a person basically willing to work for free, invest 50 hours, and can write. (If there’s an untapped pool of these people please let me know)

    That’s why Robert here covers most of the JRPGs himself. He played and reviewed the previous games and has 50 hours to invest in something he likes or loves. But finding someone else in that position is tough. These games are niche.

  3. Some of those screenshots are garbage.

  4. Deagle, you should really think about getting on Metacritic and getting a Patreon going. You’re reviews are better than most others and you should be making a bit of money from your readers. Plus maybe you could get rid of those popup on iOS.

    • Definitely Metacritic because either the video game reviews are written with a SJW slant, aren’t written well, or are in another language. Plus a lot of the games you cover don’t get tons of reviews.

  5. Very good review. The one thing you didn’t mention was the crafting system (I know probably a decision about review length)

    But I ask because some people seem to like it and others don’t care for it.

  6. I was going to pick this up on PC but heard it has a 30fps cap. So the PS4 version runs at 60 fps?

  7. Tales games are good for the first 10 hours then I always lose interest in them. I’ve owner 5 and finished none.

    So this isn’t any different.

  8. Good review. Haven’t played a Tales game since the PS2 days, but I might have to give this one a try.

  9. Even though this is on PS3, Id love to pick up this and a shiny new PS4. How’s the game world feel?

  10. Really good review. Can I ask you religion?

    • I’m almost certain Rob goes to the Our Lady of Eternal Loli Church and prays on his knees seven days a week.

      😉

  11. One thing that kind of drives me crazy that the review omitted- you have to go all the way out to the main menu if you want to change languages.

  12. Robert, I love your writing style and how you really seem to love and understand Japanese games. I don’t think most outlets really understand them.

  13. First 5 hours were a bore but now I’m enjoying the game.