Tales of Zestiria is the fifteenth installment in the mainline series. The game begins with Sorey and his best friend Mikleo exploring an ancient ruin where they discover a human girl: Alisha. Sorey is also a human, raised as a boy in a tribe of Seraphim, angelic guardians humans cannot see. When Hellions, monsters bread from malevolence, appear after Alisha, Sorey and Mikleo embark on a quest to save her.
Furthermore, the world is being plunged into darkness from a being known as the Lord of Calamity. Sorey turns out to be the legendary savior of humanity, The Shepard, and is tasked with vanquishing said darkness from the land of Glenwood. His journey brings him to new towns, investigating dark occurrences, and unearthing the bigger truth. Phew, that was a lot to take in wasn’t it?
Zestiria is one of the slowest beginnings to any of the Tales games. It crams way too much information and backtracking in the starting area. However, past the five-hour mark, everything starts to fall into place. The cast is great, the vignettes in-between each area are better than the overall story, and there’s plenty of humor to boot. Unfortunately the pace can’t be kept as it starts to feel padded toward the latter half of the game. Overall it’s a decent story, despite a handful of clichés.
In terms of combat, there are a few big changes to the mechanics in Zesteria. For starters, battles no longer load into a set arena. Instead, touching enemies will begin combat right in that area. There is a short load after the results, but it makes everything feel quicker regardless. All actions also now share the same meter in the form of the Spirit Chain, which can be replenished by taking the defensive for a few seconds.
Party arrangement has also been adjusted. Sorey and his human squire (the names of which will be shielded to avoid spoilers) are the center of combat. They can also summon one Seraph each for four total heroes. Seraphs are elemental and can be exchanged in battle for strategic purposes. For example, enemies weak to water should fear Mikleo. Sorey and his squires can also unleash Armatization, a DBZ esque transformation that combines humans and Seraphs, for quick boosts of strength.
These changes switch focus to action rather than meter management. Chaining combos and swapping Seraphim on the fly is exhilarating from one battle to the next. The difficulty can be daunting at times, requiring some tactful movements and a good use of grinding, but settings can also be adjusted for those having too much trouble. It’s simply the best combat in the franchise to date.
The downside lies within the stats. Everything levels now from heroes to gear to even titles. Equipment is Diablo like in structure as different types of the same thing can have varying stats and abilities. It essentially strips away any form of intricate character progression for loot management. It’s an interesting idea for the series that if good, may have made for a compelling mechanic. However, the best stuff is still in shops and non-generated chests making the system feel useless.
Let’s dive into design for a bit. While some of the environments are breathtaking in scope, it’s ruined thanks to a lack of detail. From big areas to smaller ones, there’s not a drop of design within. Not only that, the world feels like it’s rendered completely opposite of the characters. It’s like watching Roger Rabbit. On that note, at least the characters look and sound good despite some bad lip-synching and animation. The series has yet to capture the Anime charm in action, except in the hand drawn skits and beautifully animated cut-scenes. It feels like a rushed port to the PS4 to appease Westerners who have long since abandoned the PS3.
The one thing that could have benefited from this port was native game capture. Guess what though? Bandai Namco has blocked it. Screenshots won’t even be taken for Trophy acquisition. Ahem, that is to say except for one area later in the game that’s essentially a battle arena for Sorey alone. It’s mind boggling to say the least. A greater rant brews within this writer, but let‘s save that for another day.
On a more technical note, the loads are great. Not just in-between battles, but story bits too. It’s a seamless, impressive feat for the series. The music is decent enough, with a few outstanding tracks. The best feature in the game is the ability to quick save anywhere, which is always a nice thing to have especially in long dungeons. And it may be padded in some respects, but there’s a lot of value here in terms of content.
Tales of Zestiria holds the series back in light of its upcoming 20th Anniversary in December. It’s an uneven adventure filled with half-baked ideas. The fun, enigmatic cast and stylistic combat help Zestiria from completely falling off the RPG radar though. It’s a good, but not great entry in the Tales franchise.
Score: 3/5 Stars
Special Notes: The publisher provided a review copy. This article was originally published on October 26, 2015 via my Examiner account before the website shut down. It was also Examiner’s official review for the game.