Developed by: Bandai Namco Studios, tri-Crescendo
Published by: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Reviewed on: PC (Also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4)
Tales of Zesteria is about two friends, Sorey and Mikleo, who, after a chance meeting with a woman named Alisha from outside of their village, venture out to explore the world and learn about its history. After a while, Sorey becomes what history has called a Shepherd, who’s basically someone who is meant to be incorruptible and pure that can purge a great evil known as the malevolence. It can be described as negative energy born from ill intentions and bad emotions. When too much malevolence gathers monsters are attracted and are sometimes even created where the source of malcontent lies. It’s up to the Shepherd to purify the malevolence in the world and put a stop to a great menace to the world known as Heldalf, “The Lord of Calamity.” Heldalf’s goal is to send the world into chaos by starting a war between two great nations in order to breed more malevolence until it engulfs every living thing in the world. So it’s up to Sorey to go out and gain the powers of the four elements, water, fire, earth and wind by teaming up with the spirits known as Seraphim and use their power to stop Heldalf from achieving his goal.
The story itself wasn’t particularly phenomenal as I thought it would be going into this game. You become the embodiment of good and you have to essentially defeat the embodiment of evil. Not everything has to have complicated plot and if you go through the game and pay attention to the pieces of the backstory, you do get a sense as to how the world became what it is when you set out for your adventure. You even discover how Heldalf became the evil entity that he is in the game.
Still, Zestiria’s story feels heavily borrowed from many different other games and stories like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sorey is basically the Avatar who learns to wield great power by harnessing the powers of the four elements. The earth Seraph who joins you is basically a slightly older looking Toph. I also couldn’t stop thinking about Mass Effect’s Commander Sheppard. Like the latter, Sorey often wonders if he’s making correct decisions, even though only one or two choices are actually left to the player and they have very little consequence compared to Mass Effect. Back to the amortization thing, Dragon Ball Z’s fusion aspect kept coming to mind. In addition to those parallels, the game is heavily inspired by the legend of King Arthur. Sorey becomes a Shepherd by literally pulling a sword from a stone in a town called Ladylake. You also visit places like The Galahad Ruins, the Temple Wind Temple of Guinevere, and a town called Pendrago.
Even with the borrowed elements, this is the first Tales of game in a while where I genuinely liked everyone. This made watching the skits that are sprinkled throughout the game that much more enjoyable. Especially watching them shoot the breeze about random things from the events of the game’s main story to random things they notice about the world, to even teaching you about the mechanics used to actually play the game. Also, Heldalf is probably the coolest looking enemy I’ve seen in an role playing game in a really long time.
Tales of Zesteria is actually the fifteenth entry of the series, yet it does plenty of things differently from its predecessors. For one thing the main battle system received a change. For the most part it still runs the same type of battle system like in earlier games such as Symphonia and Vesperia, however the camera controls are completely different. Instead of the camera being pulled out for a side view, the game swings the camera primarily behind the back of the controlled character. Instead of moving left to right primarily, in most cases you’re moving up and down. Free running is still an option by holding down a button to allow you to move in any direction. Later in the game you also get the option to leave free running on and holding down a button to return to the linear movements.
Aside from the different battle perspective, the game still plays like any other Tales of game in the series. You get one button to attack and another for special attacks and spells called artes. Instead of the screen changing into a battle arena to fight your enemies, a section of the present area gets quarantined off and you fight your enemies immediately. You can use the environment to your advantage in certain situations. For example, using an area of effect spell on cornered enemies in a narrow space can inflict massive damage to the enemy party. It’s a two way street however, and if you find yourself cornered, you might have a hard time getting around an enemy. There may times where the camera will work against you, especially since during battle the right stick is used to dish out strategic commands to your teammates. The screen only changes when you reach the post battle segment where the game tally up your Experience Point, Gald and Grade totals.
There are still some restrictions that happen while playing that game. In this game there are two types of party members: humans, and seraphim. There a mechanic in the game called armatization, where the seraph and human can fuse together into a new being. When fused together, new and more powerful attacks are available and the two characters’ stats are combined in order to get a massive boost in power. Since the option of armatization needs to be made available at all times, at least two humans must be in the active party at all times. The limitation is that you can only have two humans playable in the whole game out of a party of six. So you’ll be playing with those two humans while only switching the other four seraphim who represent each of the four elements. You do still have the option to switch to play as any character you want, and later in the game you get the ability to switch computer controlled characters in mid-battle.
Graphics are fine in the game. It was originally a PlayStation 3 game that got ported to the PlayStation 4 as well as PC on Steam. There is nothing breathtaking about the graphics if you’ve played previous games like Vesperia or Xillia. If Zestiria is the first game in the series you’ve played since say Symphonia, then the graphics are going to blow you away, especially with the in game cutscenes being nearly seamless. My own computer did experience some slow down in towns where there were lots of people on the screen at once. Also any cutscene and even skits in these towns slows the flow of dialogue to have several seconds in between sentences, but reducing the graphics settings naturally increased the asked if the game. This comes at the cost of some jagged edges and pixels. Music in this game is pretty great. Throughout the game, or if you decide to buy some of the DLC costumes, you can actually change the battle themes songs. It is unfortunate about the opening cinematic theme song being removed from the North American release because of issues licensing the song “White Light” by Superfly. Tales of games have a great history of having amazing intro songs for their games, but if you have the Steam version there are ways to get the original opening to play by editing the game’s files. PS3 and PS4 users are unfortunately stuck with the edited version.
Whether you’re a fan of Tales of games or new to the series, Tales of Zestiria is an amazing addition of the series. The learning curve can feel a bit steep in some places but once you get the hang of the game, it’s a blast. The game also has a New Game plus mode after beating it so you can go back and replay with better stats. It’s about a 45-5o hour game, but you’ll want to go back to replay the game multiple time once it’s over.