Tales of Zestiria is an enjoyable role-playing game despite its flaws. The cast is interestingly developed in animated short stories and the main quest; while the game has some of the best English voice acting for a Japanese role-playing game, despite its cliched narrative. The combat is fluid and entertaining, encouraging the player to chain attacks with fluid animation. The animated cutscenes produced by the Japanese animation studio behind the Fate series, Ufotable are beautifully polished with crisp visuals and animation.
Tales of Zestiria’s story is cliched despite its fleshed out characters. The game follows a group of heroes destined to defeat the bestial Lord of Calamity in an attempt to be rid the world of malevolence. The Shepherd acts as a bridge between the human and seraphic communities, being one of the few people in the world who can see and interact with seraphim. Players take control of the chosen Shepherd, Sorey, and his party of seraphim and human allies. Without spoiling the events of the narrative, the game slowly begins to evolve into a grander tale as the group becomes torn in the middle of a war between the Hyldian and Rolance kingdoms; although, some may be deterred by the game’s poorly paced introduction.
Tales of Zestiria’s cast is surprisingly original and well-developed. Each character grows by their own narrative arcs that intertwine with the main quest. Edna is a playful earth spirit seraphim searching for a cure to save her brother from his dragon curse; Rose is the kindhearted leader of an assassins guild seeking justice for crimes against humanity; and Alisha is the princess of the Hyliad Kingdom and Sorey’s squire, facing conflicting loyalties between her oath and her country. Sorey himself is an earnest but goofy human raised by seraphim, enthusiastic towards adventure and archaeology; and tasked with being the shepherd that must lead humanity away from a path of malevolence.
Characters are gradually developed in the main story but come to life in the animated short story panels. Players can access these scenes at save points, providing commentary on a recent development in the narrative, a gameplay mechanic or a joke between two or more characters; adding a greater sense of unity between party members often overlooked in Japanese Role Playing Games – where the only well-developed characters are the antagonist, and main male and female protagonist.
Despite being the first game in the Tales series to release on the PlayStation 4, the game’s graphics feel slightly outdated. Visual effects in battle are spectacular as streams of light fly around the screen and characters slash and throw at or leap towards enemies; but the game’s overall environments feel like they belong on the PlayStation 3 – which isn’t much of a surprise considering the game was a PlayStation 3 exclusive in Japan and ported to the PlayStation 4 in the West.
Significant events of the story are also beautifully animated as if it were from a high-budget Japanese animation. Animated cutscenes capturing key events of the story, such as (Spoiler Alert) the battle between the Hyliad and Rolance kingdoms, are well-polished and produced by the famous animation team behind the Fate Stay/Night Unlimited Blade Works series, Ufotable. Fluid animation, sharp visuals and colour reinforces narrative developments while being incredibly entertaining to watch – especially the game’s opening theme that plays whenever the game starts up.
The voice acting of Tales of Zestiria is also decent, with characters showing more emotion differentiating themselves from one another than most games in the genre. Edna is softly spoken, sarcastic and cynical; Lailah is playfully polite and well-spoken; and Mikleo is articulate and inquisitive. Namco Bandai has added the Japanese dubbed version for those who dislike English voice acting in Japanese Role Playing Games.
Tales of Zestiria’s combat is fluid and active. Players initiate combat by coming into contact with an enemy, meaning that some encounters can be avoided entirely. Once initiated, players can move around a small defined space and chain the three types of skills: seraphic, hidden and mystic artes. Seraphic artes are standard attacks that automatically become a combo if chained; hidden artes expend more mana than seraphic but deal more damage; while mystic artes act as a character’s trump card, being used at the end of a combo.
Blocking also restores a character’s mana and health and the player can manoeuvre around the battlefield by sidestepping, backstopping or dodging; creating a fluid rhythm in combat between using seraphic, hidden and mystic artes, blocking and dodging. The game rewards the player for chaining attacks by increasing their grade for the encounter, greatening the chance of a rare item, or more experience points and gald, the game’s currency. Mystic artes are also visually appealing, cutting to an animated close-up of the selected character shouting out their ridiculously named skill before defeating their foe.
As Sorey, players can also fuse with a partnered seraphim for a short period of time, equipping him with their given element in what is known as armortisation. Each amortisation incorporates a different fighting style and design inspired by the selected seraphim and their elemental power. Fusing with Mikleo grants Sorey a water enchanted bow and arrow, and is seen poised striking from a far; armortising with Edna equips Sorey with colossal gauntlet and a glowing white garnet, changing his fighting style to that of fists, leaping towards enemies and crushing them in the palms of his hands. Fusing with a seraphim can heal both combined members while saving the party in a pinch — especially with Sorey’s stats combining both his and the selected seraphim.
Players can also customise their party, choosing which seraphim to use in battle both in the overworked menu and in the middle of combat. Switching seraphim grants Sorey with short stat bonuses or skills, allows a weakened seraphim to recover their health on the sidelines, and is needed when facing an enemy that’s vulnerable to a particular element.
Each character has their own fighting style effective in different circumstances. Laila’s throwable explosive paper is sufficient for long and medium distanced attacks but she’s near defenceless in close combat; while Sorey has a very small attack range but is the strongest of the group.
Outside of combat, players can customise a character’s outfit with costumes, hairstyles and equipment. Players can increase a weapon’s or piece of armour’s proficiency rank in battle, greatening the selected weapon or equipment’s attack and defence.
Equipment can also be fused at vendors to create better equipment — fusing maximum ranked equipment increases the chances of a rare item with unique passive skills known as incantations. There are five different types of incantations in the game based on the core elemental powers (fire, water, earth, wind and light); and each can be stacked by having the same skill, such as a 4% increase in damage dealt by hidden artes, on more than one piece of equipment.
Players can also customise the world around them by the lord of the land mechanic. As the game progresses, Sorey discovers lost seraphim and spirits who have succumb to darkness, who once cured, can become the lord of a given land. In doing so, the player can jump between save points in the lord’s domain; enable a variety of positive bonuses including a slight increase in experience points; and offer items to the seraphim, increasing the selected lord’s blessing level which unlocks more boons. There are also hidden creatures in the world that if found, enchant an item with a specific incantation before teleporting to the closest lord of the land.
Tales of Zestiria is an entertaining role-playing game. Sorey and his party are well-developed in the iconic Tales side-stories and main quest, despite the cliched narrative. The combat is incredibly enjoyable and fluid, rewarding players who concentrate on chaining artes, blocking and armortising. While it is a shame that Namco Bandai didn’t properly polish the game for the PlayStation 4, having graphics that belong on the PlayStation 3, Ufotable’s sharp animation and the game’s side stories accessed in save menus bring the characters and world of Tales of Zestiria to life. Regardless, this is definitely a game that fans of the Japanese role-playing genre should invest in.
This review was first published on Press Start Australia on the 2nd of November 2015.