As a fan of the Tales series ever since Symphonia came out for GameCube, I jumped at the opportunity to play and review this latest installment. However, is this just another standard game in the series or is it different enough to stand up on its own?
The Tales series of action RPGs is known for colourful maps, naive characters, a battle system that works for both laid-back gamers and diehard fans, and cliche but somewhat interesting plotlines. Zestiria's plot doesn't differentiate that much from the stereotypical setup of a big bad guy (the Lord of Calamity) that wants to destroy the world to end all suffering. It also follows a saviour-type protagonist (Sorey) who slowly comes to learn his own true abilities along with the help of his friends. One thing that differs slightly from other Tales games is the concept of purifying towns and restoring their "Lord of the Land". This is done by clearing out the "malevolence" (scary purple mist) in the area by taking down some kind of boss that's emitting it. When complete, you have the ability to set benefits that are activated when you explore that area such as having treasure chests respawn after some time. Another difference from other games is the introduction of Seraphim, a race that cannot be seen by regular humans. Only a select few characters can see them which results in some quite humorous cutscenes.
The battle system differs from most Tales games which is illustrated by the limited number of party members that you'll gather through your journey. Only two humans compose your party and each one is joined to a seraph of a chosen element. There are four seraphim in all, each with their own personalities and stories to tell. Picking the right seraph to join the battle is important when taking on enemies with certain elemental weaknesses. To bring the action up a notch, there is also the concept of armatization. By pressing L1, the human and seraph combine to create a powered-up version complete with long flowing blonde hair. Attacks do more damage when armatized and your total HP combines thus making this feature a must when battling large foes or bosses.
Equipment can also affect how well you fight in battle more than previous games with the introduction of the skill board. Finding, buying and fusing equipment with attributes that align on the character's skill board enhances specific abilities such as elemental attacks, attacks against certain monster races and the chance of inflicting status ailments. In my playthrough, I preferred to focus on the traditional Tales strategy of optimizing arte shortcuts while focusing on combos and using elemental attacks wisely. I didn't spend much time on setting up equipment to my advantage as it seemed way too onerous to maintain.
On the PlayStation 4, the overworld is extremely colourful and really pops off the screen. If you have ever played a game in the Tales franchise, you are probably expecting this and you won't be disappointed. However, there is a notable lack of variety in the scenery. It doesn't stray far from serene grassy hills, desert plains and typical castle villages. I would have liked to see a snowy winter map, volcanic foothills or underwater ravines such as those that make an appearance in other JRPGs. The dungeons themselves are even less to look forward to. I got so bored of running through endless mazes of underground tunnels that spotting a glowing red herb in the distance made me giddy. Herbs are strewn around maps somewhat sparingly and are used to enhance attributes such as HP and strength. Apart from herbs, there isn't much else to look for other than treasure chests which disappointed me after the bountiful harvesting points found in Tales of Xillia. Using Sorey's field abilities to light torches, break boulders, jump chasms and avoid enemies does break up the monotony, but these events aren't common enough. The music is quite standard with orchestral pieces that portray the grandness of the world while you travel. Some of the dungeons do a good job of mixing it up by adding instruments such as electric guitars and drums which really makes you feel like kicking some monster butt.
Other than the overworld and dungeons being underwhelming, there are a few other things that bugged me. The camera can be a real pain when trying to fight enemies, especially in tight underground tunnels. I found myself countless times trying to slash away at an enemy that I just couldn't see. Previous games didn't have this problem so it baffles me how it was this bad. Also, when an enemy attacks you from behind and you defeat it, you end up facing the opposite direction. This really threw me through a loop when I was trying hard to maintain an understanding of where I was on a map.
Finally, the side-quests are few and far between. I actually didn't know that any existed until I talked to my pal Rose and found that she had a lot to say. I've always found it fun completing fetch quests that involve me having to research where a particular item is located in order to complete it, but these types of quests are almost non-existent here. That being said, the disappointingly small number of side-quests are more tied in to the main story and character development which some fans may prefer.
This DLC was available for free when I first started Tales of Zestiria. It's a three to five hour long chapter that has you playing as Alisha, the princess knight who makes some appearances in Sorey's story but was mostly seen running off to attend important matters. The ending of the main game left something to be desired so I was hoping this DLC would give a bit more closure. Alisha quickly meets the rest of the party, sans Sorey. Rose promises to take her to where Sorey is so that Alisha can learn what happened during their final encounter with the Lord of Calamity. For some reason, Rose is a jerk to Alisha right from the start which I found very strange to the point where I was convinced that Rose was being played by an impostor. As you travel with her through more dull underground dungeons and grey ruins, you come to understand that she is the real Rose and she was acting that way to try and toughen Alisha up and help her through her problems that weren't resolved in the main story. Going back to the scenery, there was one part where I exited the underground dungeon to find a colourful cliffy area and got excited, but unfortunately this was short-lived as I soon saw the entrance to a drab 11-floor ruin. I would recommend the DLC simply for the story and to get a bit more closure, but the environments really could have been better. It would've been great to explore a distant snowy peak for this small adventure... but, what can you do?
Tales of Zestiria offers something new in the form of a unique, more element-focused battle system and an interesting new race. However, this is about as far as the game went to hold my interest. Therefore, I can only recommend it for those who are already big Tales fans and just want more of the series.
- + The new Seraphim race is an interesting addition to the world of Tales
- + Armatization is a satisfying battle mechanic
- + Environments are quite beautiful
- - Story is uninspired as it doesn't deviate much from the standard Tales formula
- - Scenery severely lacks variety
- - Overworlds quickly become tedious