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Review: Tales of Zestiria

The Tales franchise is extremely popular in Japan but doesn’t have the same success in the West. Where Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Tales are the big players on the market in Japan, it looks like the Western world has enough with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest lately. Tales of Zestiria is the 20th game in the franchise and the perfect excuse for Bandai Namco to show players why the Tales franchise belongs to the top.

Welcome Sorey

A new main Tales game means a new hero. In Zestiria you control Sorey, the prophesied Shepherd. Sorey grew up between the mysterious Seraph. These creatures remain invisible for the majority of human beings and have a spiritual connection with their god. Everything goes without problems in the world of Sorey and his friend Mikleo, until the Lord of Calamity showed up. This evil creature unleashed his feared Hellions upon the kingdom and wants to destroy the entire world.

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Sorey and Mikleo unite with Princess Alisha to start the epic quest to save their kingdom and possibly the world. It’s not a very innovative or creative story and it’s a story we’ve seen before in the Tales franchise. That doesn’t make it bad however. The story leans heavily on themes as friendships, relationships, politics and economic values. It certainly has some ties to our world and you’ll recognise some of the elements of the story in the real world. Zestiria manages to keep the story interesting and thrilling until the end. Unlike other role-playing games, this one has a story worth following.

The combat goes deep

Besides the story, the actual gameplay is what makes the Tale franchise such a great one. The combat is never easy to learn in a Tales game and this isn’t different in Zestiria. There’s a lot going on during combat and you’ll have to take a lot of things into consideration while fighting. Let’s try to explain the basics first.

First of all, it’s important to take a close look at the gear you’re wearing. Unlike other games, the gear in Tales often comes with some extra benefits. Sure, better armor will help you defend against stronger monsters and better weapons inflict more damage but there’s more. Every item also carries additional skills. You can try to combine certain skill or stack them on top of others to create extra advantages during combat. Finding out what item to combine with another isn’t easy and takes some of your time. After some time in the game however, you’ll be checking out the additional skills without any problems.

 

A great Tales entry

 

The combat is still a free-flowing Linear Motion Battle System, which means you’re character will automatically attack the enemy when you’re facing it. At first you might think that running around is enough to take down the enemy but soon you’ll learn you’ll need to invest in extra skills as martial, hidden and Seraphic artes. Artes are special skills you can assign to your action buttons. Some will protect you in the open world, while others will give you the opportunity to respawn during combat when you get killed. The artes play a very important role in combat and are crucial for your survival. The best thing about artes is that they transform the combat every time you use a different arte. This means the combat remains exciting until the very end since you learn new artes during your adventure.

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There are a lot of things to maintain and upgrade for successful combat but once you get the hang out of it, it feels like a second nature. The combat isn’t the most easy to learn but it’s a rewarding system without a doubt. The game feels fresh until the end thanks to this deeper system.

An interactive anime

The entire game is created to mirror an anime experience so it seems. This was clear from the very start of the game where we saw a ‘season trailer’ accompanied with some electric guitar music. It feels and looks epic and it gets you motivated to start playing the game.

Just like any good anime game should have, you can switch between English and Japanese voices. This is only possible in the menu and not mid-game. Switching to Japanese voices is great since the English voice over during the introduction was of a very low quality. Lucky for the gamers, the actual conversations are voiced better. That being said, we like the Japanese voices a bit more since it feels more like it should.

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The dialogues are kept light and are easy to follow so you’ll always understand what’s going on and what needs to be done. Like in anime, not every conversation has to be taken seriously but this has its charm. The dialogues are great and are filled with little jokes to keep it enjoyable. A majority of players will most likely skip the dialogues but they will miss out on some great narratives for sure. The dialogues are often followed by great, anime-like, cut scenes to suck you into the game even more.

Fantastic music

Tales of Zestiria has a fantastic orchestral soundtrack. The music manages to boost the action and the story to new heights. Thanks to the soundtrack, everything feels more epic and bigger than it might have been without it. It reminded us of some of the best soundtracks we’ve heard in games. Just like Final Fantasy, the music isn’t just a nice extra; it really transforms the overall experience into something better.

Some small flaws

Not everything is great about Tales of Zestiria however. The main issue are the graphics. Since the game was developed for PlayStation 3, it doesn’t look like a native PlayStation 4 game. This means you’ll have some pop-ins during your sessions in the open world and the frame rate tends to drop sometimes. The characters and enemies are well designed but don’t look that amazing. It would have been better if the game was a true current generation game for sure.

The environments feature some nice details but are too plain overall. It’s nothing bad and it doesn’t ruin the gameplay experience but it’s a shame the developers didn’t add more beauty to the world of Zestiria.

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Conclusion:

Tales of Zestiria is a great JRPG with an interesting plot, great characters and interesting combat. It’s a shame the technologic issues stand in the way of true greatness, including the lack of beauty in the environment. Zestiria can be considered one of the best in the Tales franchise however. It offers an epic experience thanks to the anime approach and might be one of the first to attract a bigger audience in the West. If you’re looking for a great new JRPG, this is one you need to consider getting.

8/10

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.