Does the finished product justify the next-gen leap? We jump into Glenwood to find out.
If you can judge a game based on its beginning, Tales of Zestiria is probably one of the most frustratingly dull games in recent memory. The very beginning of the game finds our heroes Sorey and Mikleo exploring an ancient ruin that wouldn’t look out of place in Sonic Adventure where they come across a human girl, who we later learn is Alisha. Sorey and Mikleo – after a megaton of backtracking and unfathomably dull environments – set on a quest to save her from those pesky Hellion monsters ‘bread from malevolence’.
I’m not sure I’m alone in thinking Tales of Zestiria takes an absolute age to get going. The fact that for the first hour you’re more or less walking around a ruin that has about as much life as a bar stool doesn’t help proceedings. I understand it’s meant to be working as a kind of tutorial, the sheer volume of information thrown your way here though is rather overwhelming, and the game would be better off padding out the early moments to ensure it all stays in your head. You’d be forgiven for thinking the game was a text adventure at some points.
On top of all this, the world is being plunged into a scurge of darkness from that pesky bastard the Lord of Calamity – CITV new show idea! – and well it turns out that Sorey is unbelievably the saviour of all humanity known as The Shepard, tasked with the simple task of removing all darkness from the land of Glenwood, which leads him to investigating dark occurences and unearthing a possible conspiracy regarding the darkness. Huzzah!
The game has barely started.
Then all of a sudden, it kind of starts. After around about five-six hours in, you start to get pally with the cast – who are terrific – the story is loaded with humour and well, it’s a cliche but if you dig the series as a whole – this being the fifteenth entry – your interest will have always peaked before this review had even started, right? Well by the end the padding comes back into play and annoyingly the final act can’t live up to the strong middle, but with changes to certain areas such as the combat, Zestiria is different enough to maybe appeal to the action faithful whilst playing its RPG cards far more naturally.
The battles don’t take place in an arena anymore, which is one of the biggest changes in the combat. Instead, you just have to touch an enemy and the combat will begin in the place you’re confronted. The Spirit Chain is where all actions are shared, which regenerates by staying defensive for a short time. The combat is as ever refined, simplistic and fun, full of bright swishes and shouting out the name of the attack you’re about to do is something that never gets old. I should start doing this in real life. ‘PLACING CARD IN THE CASH MACHINE. HIIIIII-YAH!’. Anyway, you’re also able to summon Seraphs, one each for four total heroes for Sorey and his human friend (which could potentially be a spoiler, so won’t reveal here). Seraphs can be exchanged, being elemental, in battle. You can also combine with a Seraph to create Armatization for an instant strength improvement. The focus here then switches to focus, rather than managing meters, say. Chaining combos is brilliantly good fun and makes you feel somewhat invincible, even if the difficulty can sometimes get the better of you. No doubt this is where Tales shines brightest, and is the best combat the franchise has seen so far.
If there was a downside? Everything levels up. No, EVERYTHING. From the heroes, gear everything has varying abilities and stat levels which creates loot management and seemingly makes that more important than character progression, which is wildy frustrating. The downside lies within the stats. Everything levels now from heroes to gear to even titles. Everything that’s worth having though is in the shops, along with chests. Ergo, the system is a bit needless.
In terms of looks, no doubt in depth Zestiria is gorgeous, full of colour and vibrancy, all of which is hampered by such little detail and lack of design. The world Zestiria inhabits almost looks like it shouldn’t fit the fun full of life characters that live inside it. It’s like they don’t match, which is very strange. Saying that, the detail issue can boil down to the characters with some troublingly bad lip syncing and animation. In trying to appeal to the anime horde it loses some of the charm of Tales, even if the cutscenes are framed and animation beautiflly. From a visual standpoint it’s got nothing on its nearest rivals which is a damn shame, as you would hope a series that’s been going on as long as this would have plenty of show off. Instead we’re left with enormous but bare bones environments that look like they’ve been designed for mobile gaming processing powers. Zestiria simply looks like the series still belongs on the previous generation, which gives the game a whole ‘rushed for next-gen’ kind of feel (which it was, really, being ported to PS4 for Western audiences upon release). Something two years into availability, we shouldn’t be worrying about anymore.
If you want to put a positive spin on this though, it means the loading times are pretty much non-existent, allowing you to get straight into the action. The cut-scenes appear without a fuss and the lack of detail in your surroundings allow for levels go load almost instantaeously, which is great for a game of this size.
You’ve also got the option to save anywhere with the Quick Save feature, small but every handy in the huge dungeous you’ll find yourself in. Again, they’re padded to give it that ‘RPG’ experience, but it doesn’t neccessarily stop them from being fun.
Tales of Zestiria then is kind of a mixed bag. It’s enormous and full of great characters, but you can’t help but have a sour taste in your mouth when exploring, as you know the game could have so much more life than is on offer. The plain grounds, walls and towns that populate Zestiria hold the series back, and leaves it feeling somewhat, unfinished?
Still, the cast are enjoyable enough to warrant spending your time with and the combat feels fresh and exciting. I certainly enjoyed Tales of Zestiria, but if a little more care was put into its overall aesthetics, it could have been a real must have.
Instead, it’s merely a good entry in the franchise.
Tales of Zestiria
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Tales of Zestiria is out now PS4 (reviewed), PS3 and Steam
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a code from the publisher.