Once more into the Tales.
Considering the massive number of Tales games that have been released, it really is surprising that this JRPG series is not more well known outside of Japan. This is especially true when considering that Tales series is counted alongside the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series in Japan for popularity. Still, despite this relative lack of interest from UK gamers, Bandai Namco keep on bringing the new games over here, much to the joy of the established fan base. The latest title, Tales of Zestiria, aims to attract some new players into the Tales fan base with a launch on the PlayStation 4 and a more open-world feel.
The massive open-world environments, certainly go some way to giving Tales of Zestiria a more western feel. But the implementation doesn’t quite hit the spot. The large open areas are surprisingly lacking for things to do, and it is easy to lose ones way or not know where to go next. They are also somewhat bland on the visual side, something which is surprising for a game that is otherwise very nice to look at. The dungeons of the game are much more linear in their layout, with plenty of puzzles to engage the player.
Still, despite the possible misstep of the open-world environment, returning Tales players will know that it is the marvelous combat system and often quirky and likable characters that are the real stars of the Tales show. Of course, there is also the story…
Players take control of Sorey, a human character who has been raised by the Seraph, angel-like creatures who are invisible to most humans. It turns out that he is The Shepherd and, along with his childhood friend Mikleo and the Princess Alisha, must save the world from evil. So far as stories go, Tales of Zestiria may seem pretty familiar, possibly even biblical. Indeed, the references for the entire game can often be found in history, religion and mythology, which is no bad thing. You don’t have to look too deeply to find moral statements about saving the planet and being a nice person, but it is fairly easy to ignore these and just get lost in the fantasy tale.
The main characters are, as always, interesting and enjoyable, offering both humour and a healthy dose of seriousness. The relationships between them are enjoyable to watch develop. The bonds between the characters are more than just a “let’s be friends” situation though as the binds actually allow the characters to communicate and even develop the powers required to fight their demonic enemies.
The action-based combat is highly enjoyable. There are a lot of mechanics introduced to the player through pop-up tutorial notices, and these notices will go on for quite a long time, suggesting a system that may well be overwhelming for newcomers. However, the early game will lean more towards simple button mashing, and the introduction of the many mechanics come fairly easily. For the newcomer that sticks with it, the mechanics are easy to grasp.
Physical attacks, magical attacks (Artes), combos and the like will all be familiar to players of the previous Tales games. Spirit Chain energy applies a limitation to how much the player can do before they become vulnerable, and standing idle will replenish these points. New for Tales of Zestiria is the chance to fuse certain characters together with Seraphim, giving them a wider range of skills and even going so far as to combine their health, which can be a lifeline if a character is nearing death.
Customisation is plentiful in Tales of Zestiria. New weapons and armour can imbue the character with new skills, skills are stackable to become even more effective, and there are plenty of other options to tweak for that all important advantage. It is even possible to tweak the way the AI controls the other characters in the party, leaving an incredibly deep system for those who like to get the most out of their group.
Visually, Tales of Zestiria is bright, colourful and easy on the eye. Aside from the environmental blandness is certain areas, Zestiria really is good looking, although it does feel a little dated in comparison to many current generation games. The game includes both English and the original Japanese audio tracks, and the localisation into English is generally done well. But, as is most often the case, playing with the Japanese voices feels more natural.
Tales of Zestiria may make a few mistakes along the way. But the game remains an incredibly enjoyable JRPG that is surprisingly accessible to newcomers. Brilliant characters and a great combat system ensure that this latest entry in the Tales series is one of the best, and a solid choice for any JRPG fan.