Tales Of Zestiria Review (PS4)
*Disclaimer* The guest reviewer received a review code from Bandai Namco PR. This does not affect his judgment
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Developers: Bandai Namco Studios, tri-Crescendo
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: October 20th, 2015
– You’ll be shepherded to some fun, at least –
The “Tales of” series could easily be described as the “fast-food” of JRPGs. When you pick up any Tales of game other than your first, you know what you’re getting into: a game with cliché storylines and Anime tropes for characters, along some of the best Action-RPG combat on the market. All of these points carry forward in Tales of Zestiria, the newest release in Namco’s series, making it another middle-of-the-road JRPG in a middle-of-the-road JRPG series.
This title has us following the adventures of Sorey, a young man who has the power to see “Seraphim”, a race of supernatural beings that can only be seen by a select few humans. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Sorey takes on the title of Shepard in order to defeat the Lord of Calamity, so that he can save the world from malevolence that threatens all existence. Along the way, he meets a colorful cast of characters that join him on his quest to protect the world from evil.
So, heard it before? The overarching story is passable, but it’s also painfully predictable. I was not drawn into the game’s world in any way, especially in comparison to other Tales of games, like Tales of Symphonia. This also isn’t helped by the fact that, though Zestiria is more “open-world” than some of its sibling titles, its areas are sparse. Exploration is rarely rewarded – aside from the occasional treasure chest – and the areas themselves, while graphically engaging, are plain and lackluster in design. Compare any town in Tales of the Abyss to one in Tales of Zestiria and you’ll more than likely find yourself disappointed. Oh how I long for the days of JRPGs with engaging art design!
That being said, more than any other game in the series, Zestiria has terrible pacing issues when it comes to the game’s plot. It takes a full 20 hours (give or take) for the main story to get anywhere near interesting and everything before that feels like filler. It got to the point where people around my house would watch me play the game and wonder why it looked like I hadn’t made any progress. The story does pick up to a degree near the game’s end, but even that wasn’t to expel the feeling I got that nothing was happening throughout most of the game.
Luckily, the poor pacing is salvaged by two aspects of Zestiria. The first is the game’s characters. Sorey is a likable protagonist, as is the party that follows him. The interactions between the different characters, be they in cutscenes or the fully-voiced skits, are engaging, and at times even laugh-out-loud funny – Mikleo and Sorey’s conversations in particular are hilarious, and feel like conversations I would have with my own sibling. These great conversations are helped by the fact that the English voice actors do a commendable job in their delivery – though Namco has graciously provided Japanese voice acting as well, if you wish to use that instead.
The other aspect that saves Zestiria’s predictable, poorly paced plot? As is true with any other Tales of game, that would be the combat of course. I may be remiss in saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway: Tales of Zestiria has the best battle system of any Tales of game I’ve ever played. Zestiria uses the Fusionic Chain Linear Motion Battle System, which is the coolest name for combat I’ve ever heard. The action is fast and furious in this particular Tales of title, but some changes have been made.
For starters, MP has been replaced by the Spirit Chain (SC) gauge. SC fills up over time, but blocking or dodging enemy attacks at the perfect moment causes the gauge to fill up quicker, or give you more SC points so you can link attacks further, gain conditional character boosts, or deal higher damage. Artes are divided into multiple categories dependent on button usage (as well as if you’re a human or a Seraph).
But wait, there’s more! Armatization lets Sorey and one other character fuse with a Seraph partner, turning them into a powerful singular unit that unleashes hell on enemies with the particular element a Seraph is tied to. This brings a new layer of strategy to Tales of games – while previous games in the series gave players a damage boost for using elemental weaknesses, Zestiria all but demands you to swap out Seraphim on the fly in order to harness elements to their fullest potential. It’s the only way to do any real damage to enemies in this game.
As an aside, much ado was made by Namco about battles taking place directly on the map, but to be honest, I hardly noticed the difference. This is because every area in the game was an open area with not much going on. The sparseness of the game world made it so that it felt like the entire map was one large, flat battle arena. It was a bit of a letdown, to be honest.
The best part about Zestiria’s combat is that it’s what you make of it. If you want to go in and mash buttons to do flashy effects, you can bump the difficulty down and do that. If you want to exploit the game’s combat systems to their fullest potential, you can do that too! The game is balanced well enough that you can choose either method and still enjoy yourself. It also offers thorough tutorials for each aspect of the combat system, even rewarding players with SC points for reading them.
+Fantastic Combat System
With all that said, we’ve come to the end of the review. Should you play Tales of Zestiria? That depends. I found the blistering fast combat and characters to be engaging enough to bypass the boring overarching plot. But this game does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to JRPGs. If originality or uniqueness is what you’re looking for, give this game a pass or merely a rental. For everyone else, Tales of Zestiria provides a fun but flawed JRPG experience.
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