Also On: PS3
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Tales of Zestiria might not be the best Tales game you’ve ever played, but it certainly seems like a solid refresher on why I’ve enjoyed the franchise in the past. Returning to the old-timey fantasy roots of the series after Xillia’s futuristic romp, the game focuses on the ties between humans and Seraphim’s, as you take on the role of lead character Sorey, a young man who can see and interact with ghostly Seraphim, magical beings that exist in the same realm as humans, but are generally invisible to all. Of course, this is explained in typical RPG fashion, wherein Sorey goes from being a unique youth to a world-saving hero, but as far as RPG protagonists go, the genre has seen a whole lot worse than the charmingly heroic Sorey.
Sorey and his ever expanding cast of teammates seek to duke it out with the Lord of Calamity, responsible for the ever growing malevolence encroaching upon the world. The overall story and plot isn’t exceptional in the slightest, and likely won’t leave much of a lasting impression. But the voicework is solid, and there’s some legitimately humorous sequences and banter scattered throughout the tale that are worth seeing. Along with that, the additional cast that accompanies Sorey on his journey is generally entertaining, but again there’s no real standouts here, making this one of the more lackluster assortments of protagonists in the franchise thus far.
Thankfully, there are elements that stand out in Tales of Zestiria when compared to the rest of the series. The open-world exploration is certainly one of those things, with gigantic maps to explore, along with hidden chests, resources, and points of interest to uncover. The overall world map is pretty large, and the individual areas within that map are equally huge, so there’s a lot of ground to cover here. And Tales of Zestiria looks pretty good overall, with brightly colored areas of various design, along with quick load times and minimal technical issues present.
Also, the combat system is pretty engaging and helps keep frequent battles from growing stale. Sorey can make use of his Seraphim companions in various ways, the biggest of which allows him to power-up via Armatization. While in this state, you can unleash a combination of powerful strikes and magical artes, along with making use of a pretty exceptional healing ability and other functions. The Armatization mode is limited, but can be quite powerful and useful in a pinch. It is restricted to some degree by the need to build up charges through normal combat, but it adds some much needed flair to the standard Tales combat formula, and is fun to unleash when needed.
The rest of the combat system feels mostly on par with other modern Tales games, with various abilities called Artes that provide both physical and magical special attacks tied into an MP pool, along with standard strikes that can be combo’d together with AI controlled partners. You can freely target enemies in a small 3D setting during combat, and can even opt to either freely control your character, or switch between auto and semi-auto functionality. There’s a decent amount of options at your disposal here depending on how comfortable you are with the Tales series, easing newcomers into the experience quite nicely.
Unfortunately there are a couple of areas that Tales of Zestiria struggles with, namely pacing and dungeon design. Pacing isn’t much of an issue until you advance, but there are moments where you seem to be doing an awful lot of backtracking, and get arbitrarily locked out of the fast travel system. There’s also some weird intervals that consists of short yet frequent story bits that break up the gameplay a bit too often, which sort of pulls you out of the overall flow of the game.
The dungeons, by and large, are fairly compact but needlessly padded with lackluster puzzle designs and forced mechanics that aren’t really used or necessary elsewhere in the game. I can understand wanting to make the game more than traveling from point A to point B and battling a bunch of monsters in-between, but this isn’t the best way to handle that. Occasionally the dungeons can be downright frustrating, enough so that you’ll question your overall commitment to finishing the game.
All in all, I think Tales of Zestiria is a bit of an uneven experience when compared to the rest of the series, but I certainly found myself more engaged here than I ever was in Xillia and Xillia 2. A lot of that comes down the open-world and combat elements in Zestiria, both of which are pretty much on point and enjoyable additions to the franchise. I also vastly prefer the setting, which feels far more appropriate for a Tales game than Xillia ever did. Obviously, if you’re a Tales fan, I think this is worth a look. If not, I think there’s enough going on here to make Zestiria worth checking out, but I’d go into this with your expectations held a little low. It certainly isn’t a stellar RPG, but it’s a fun romp through a good looking world that’s worth wasting a weekend or two on.