Review: Tales of Zestiria (PS4)

tales-of-zestiria-review-banner-gma

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3

Extras:

  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Tales of Zestiria
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (12.41 GB)
Release Date: October 20, 2015
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $129.99 (Collector’s Edition)
ESRB Rating: T
Tales of Zestiria is also available on PlayStation 3 and PC.
The PlayStation 4 Collector’s Edition was used for this review.
A copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.
PS Nation Review Policy

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2015
– Best RPG (PS3)

In the first game of the series to hit the PS4, Tales of Zestiria is set in a world that is overrun by an evil Malevolence. Throughout the centuries, humans lived side-by-side with the Seraphim: invisible magical beings that provided their blessing to purify Malevolence and keep it at bay. When times came where the Malevolence became too strong, a new Shepard would come to save the world and destroy the cause of the Malevolence — the Lord of Calamity.

Gameplay:
If you have never played a game in the Tales series, they’re mainly 3D action RPGs with very competent fighting systems that use a mix of physical and magic-based combos (magic is referred to as Artes throughout the Tales series). Usually the games will have a cast of main characters where you control one specific character and lead a party to the end of the game.

What really makes the Tales series special is that the developers always manage to take a game and add just enough new things to make it a totally different experience, while keeping certain things that make each a Tales series game. Another special thing about the series is that the stories between the games, the main characters and their personalities, and the world they create, are completely different. While many of the themes and character archetypes are similar across each game in the series, each world in every non-sequel game has its own unique set of lore, laws, and properties.

Tales of Zestiria introduces quite a few changes from its predecessors. While it retains the whole open world setting as the last three games, this world seems much more integrated and fluid. I’m not quite sure that the game is much larger than the others, but it does have much larger expanses between towns and dungeons. The leveling system and learning new skills are much more like previous titles prior to the two Xillia games, in that titles will grant you new skills as you level them up.

Concerning the open world nature of Zestiria, this is the first Tales game (that I’ve played at least) that allows more interaction with the world in general. While others have puzzles where you push a box or mine for a mineral, Zestiria is the first that made me feel like I’m able to really interact with the environment.

Zestiria_Screen_01

At any time outside battle, Sorey (the main character) can swing his sword and affect different things throughout the world. Later on, you’ll get four additional actions that add an almost Metroid-like component to the game in that you must have a specific action to access parts of the world.

Gaining new actions will have you coming back and opening up whole sections of the world that had been inaccessible. This whole component of the game is a big deviation from past games, but I think it is a wonderful addition and adds a whole new level of exploration.

As far as the gameplay goes, one major difference is that for the first time you have a partner that follows you throughout most the game. Early on in the story, you discover that Sorey is special in that he has the ability to see and interact with the Seraphim. This is referred to as resonance in the game, and different people have stronger levels. Some people may only be able to hear the Seraphim, while others are able to see, touch, and interact with them as normal people.

In the beginning of the game, your main partner Mikleo, a Seraphim, follows you around the map. However, you will run into different human partners who take the place as your main companion in addition to the Seraphim, who become more like support characters.

… if a Seraphim is KO’d in battle, they’ll regenerate …
When you gain human companions, you will also gain other Seraphim in your party and they become partners with you in battle. I was a bit disappointed that, though you can switch characters so that you can play a specific character exclusively in battle, you cannot change your party leader and walk around as that person like in other Tales games.

While you aren’t directly tethered to your Seraphim partners in battle, like you are in both Xillia games, you are connected to them and can combine with them during battle. As you gain new party members, the Seraphim can be paired with human partners. Also, in battle, you can quickly change Seraphim by hitting the directional buttons. Each has their own specific elemental ability so you’ll want to change them depending on what type of monster you are battling.

Seraphim are different from humans in many ways, but one unique feature is that if a Seraphim is KO’d in battle, they’ll regenerate. This really adds a whole new facet to the battle gameplay, in that you can use the Seraphim to revive your human characters.

There are quite a few nuances and details to the battle system and while I can’t go into all of them here, the main battle system seems quite similar to Tales of Xillia. However, it somehow seems like the camera isn’t as good as in the previous games. Even though there’s a setting to redirect the camera behind the player, it doesn’t seem to always work. Oftentimes I ended up staring at a close up of an enemy’s arm or part of the scenery that blocks out the whole screen.

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Another huge difference in the battle system is that the attacks and Artes aren’t directly mapped to the different buttons as they were in past games. Now, you mostly use only the Circle and Cross buttons with the analog sticks to change the attack. Your regular physical attacks are all mapped to the Circle button. You can do up to four combinations of the Circle button and move the Left analog stick to change the attack.

It’s rather quite confusing and sometimes difficult to actually pull specific attacks off, because they’re in a type of slightly complicated grid. You also have no direct control over what physical attacks are mapped to which control, so you have to pull off the precise timing for a specific attack.

For example, not hitting any directional button, you can hit the Circle button up to four times to do four different attacks. Each time you hit the button, the next attack will change. Now, for the complicated part: To pull off the next level of attacks, you must not move the Left analog on the first attack, but then you must point the Left analog forward for the subsequent attacks to pull off the various maneuvers. For third and fourth tier attacks, you must start by hitting the required direction plus the Circle button, and you must continue that direction in subsequent attacks to pull off the maneuvers in the lower right hand part of the grid.

All of the various physical attacks are portrayed in a grid so you’ll have to pull up the grid to see what combinations of Circle and Left analog + Circle that you’ll have to do to pull off the attack. Unfortunately, you cannot alter the grid or re-order attacks, so you’re pretty much stuck with the combinations the game chooses for you.

… a pretty detailed and customizable strategy menu for battles …
I much prefer just mapping the different skills to the various buttons and having the shortcuts like in the other games. This game makes it really difficult to spam your favorite attack over and over or to use a specific elemental attack against the correct enemy.

On the other hand, the use of Artes is much more like the previous games. Artes can be freely mapped to the Cross button and Left analog stick direction. There’s also a different set of Artes that you can map while you’re combined with a Seraphim in battle, and these can also be mapped as you wish. As mentioned before, you will gain Artes and Skills throughout the game by leveling up and by equipping and leveling Titles.

The main battle system has you moving in a linear pattern to an enemy so that, from whatever point you are in relation to the enemy, you will be locked in a linear movement towards or away from them. This allows you to jump back to avoid strikes, and then move forward again for attacks. You can hold down one of the trigger buttons to freely move your character, just like in Xillia or other Tales games.

Much like those other Tales games, you have a pretty detailed and customizable strategy menu for battles, so you can control what each person in battle does. If you want each character to pick a different target, you can do this.

Zestiria_Screen_04

The battle strategy system in the Tales games are top-notch and highly effective. You can even set all of the characters to auto mode, so you don’t even have to do battles. It’s possible to set an effective strategy, set everyone to auto, then sit back and collect the experience, Gald (currency), and spoils from battles.

The Hit Points (HP) and Spirit Chain (SC) gauge work pretty similar to other titles in the series. The SC is broken into segments and each time you perform an Arte, physical attack, or dodge maneuver, it takes points off your SC gauge. Each of these attacks have their own SC cost and once your SC reaches zero, you can no longer attack.

As in previous titles, each time you get hit while guarding, you’ll regain some SC. The cool thing about the battle system in Zestiria, is that your SC will automatically recharge and will recharge even faster if you hold down the block button. Also, free running doesn’t diminish your gauges in this game, so it’s really simple to run away and guard a bit to recharge.

Instead of having a CC (Combo Count) system, Zestiria has a Blast Gauge (BG) which will fill up as you fight. BG is used to pull off special attacks as you’re performing combos. When it’s at its max and you’re combined with a Seraphim, you’ll pull off a Mystic Arte when you activate your Blast. Also when you’re combined with a Seraphim, you’re able to use one BG point to perform a smaller special skill, such as healing yourself, healing others, or doing a slightly more powerful attack. Equipping different equipment and titles will grant certain characters more or less max BG, so you’ll need to keep an eye on what you equip.

… Support Talents are very, very useful …
Zestiria does have an Action Point (AP) system where you gain a fixed number of points and can spend them in a Battle Actions menu. Traditionally, in other Tales games, each character would have their own set of these abilities that you could spend points to turn on or off. In Zestiria however, you have one menu for everyone, and this affects a whole spectrum of skills and abilities.

For example, one of these battle abilities allows your character to guard automatically (at the cost of Grade rewarded), one allows your character to take longer strides in battle when you quick dash, while yet another will turn off the linear battle system and allow you to always free-run without holding down the trigger. There are approximately forty-one different abilities, and since the different ones require a different number of AP, you will need to choose which ones to activate and deactivate for your own customized play style.

Another new feature is the different abilities each of your characters have, which are called Support Talents. These talents are unique to each character and allow each of them to equip a single talent. Through use, proficiency will level up and the more they’re leveled, the more effective they become. These Support Talents are very, very useful and I really hope they become a standard feature in future games.

As an example, Snack Preparation allows a character to periodically prepare snacks that can be used to boost abilities and recover both your HP and SP gauge. In the past this was handled by cooking, but now the character will cook random dishes which will produce a lot of the same foods that appear in other titles. The foods give a battle bonus which is specific for each dish.

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I really found the food/cooking in this game to be a godsend. Different foods replenish varying levels of HP for your whole party and as an added bonus, making food is free! So, after a tough battle or if your characters are a tad under-leveled, you can use food to get your party fully healed up.

The next really useful Support Talent is Remedy Preparation. This is much like the Snack Preparation, but instead of cooking, your character will produce items for you automatically! So, your character will automatically randomly generate items you have discovered previously. This feature saves an immense amount of time and Gald for buying items.

You can set this on a character or two and they’ll start generating Peach Gels and Life Bottles – I’ve even had one character create an All-Divide! This is normally a very rare item that halves everyone’s damage dealt, so it makes it easier to beat tough enemies that are normally able to kill you in a single stroke.

Just a few other abilities that are worth mentioning are Treasure Detection, Point of Interest Detection, Luring (increases the chance of running into a specific monster type), Stealthy Feet (lowers aggro with enemies), and Item Ordering (alerts you when an item is in stock in a specific shop), among others. Characters will learn these abilities at certain points and will also teach specific abilities to others by staying in inns.

… an immensely effective way to beef up your characters …
The treasure in Zestiria is much different than the two Xillia games, but does have a similar component in that treasure chests regenerate after a period of time (given that you have set the specific Boon for a given area). The treasure in this game is mainly treasure chests that now have four different varieties, three of which now require keys to open. You retain a key once you find it, so once you find the key for the specific type of chest, you can open those specific chests throughout the rest of the game.

The other treasure worth mentioning is herbs. In past games, you’d find herbs very sparingly since they permanently increase your character’s stats. Here you’ll find herbs scattered throughout the map and they also regenerate! They are an immensely effective way to beef up your characters in addition to grinding and leveling.

Along with the new features, Tales of Zestiria does have quite a few of the features that are hallmarks of the Tales Series. Skits, which are often humorous interactions between your party members, are now discovered in designated areas such as save points, inns, and discovery points. This makes it much easier to view all the skits and much more difficult to miss them.

In past games, I was always obsessed with the fear that I missed the little icon at the lower right-hand corner of the screen that indicates that a skit is available. Now, I feel much more at ease since I know that most skits only appear at those designated areas (with a few exceptions).

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Turtlez, which were first introduced in Tales of Graces f, make a return in Tales of Zestiria. Along with Katz, these are a running gag in the series and they appear as people who are dressed in turtle or cat costumes. They look like real people dressed in costumes, but they believe that they’re a different species.

Titles are now equipped in the equipment menu and are upgradeable. As you fight in battles, your Title will be upgraded as you go. The Titles in this game have a direct effect on your character stats and they also cause your character to learn different Artes and skills depending on the Title you have equipped.

Grade is now used more throughout the game rather than just at the Grade shop when beginning a New Game Plus. After you fight a battle, you’re awarded Grade points based on how well you performed. This is now used to select “Boons” that are used in each area of the world.

Each area has a cumulative bucket of Grade based on the battles you have won in that area – so your overall Grade for the entire game is distributed by area. As you earn more levels of Grade, new Boons become available for the area and you are then given points to activate Boons of varying costs.

… the developers integrated the quest system into the whole partner system …
These are abilities granted by Seraphim in an area (referred to as a Lord of the Land). Once the Lord of the Land has granted his/her blessing, you will have access to Boons for that specific area. So if you are in an area that is dominated by Malevolence, Boons will not be available until you’ve purified an area and it’s blessed by a Seraphim. One example of a Boon is that warping between save spots will have a lower cost in Gald.

Side quests are also a huge part of past Tales games, and they make a return in Zestiria. In Zestiria, they seem to drop a bit of the explicitness of titles like both Xillia games. Now, side quests seem to happen between the main story destinations, so you’ll have to go around and look for them to find them.

For example, if the main storyline tells you to go to one city to do something, you can travel around to past cities and see if there’s anything going on. It’s also really neat how the developers integrated the quest system into the whole partner system. So if you’re unsure what to do, talk to your partner and you’ll see different conversation points that directly correlate to the main quest or side quests.

The conversation points that have to do with side quests will either have a purple star or a bubble with an exclamation point. When you look around the town and world maps, you’ll sometimes see these icons on the screen which indicate that there’s a side quest event. Quest icons are also visible on the fast travel menu, so make sure you check it periodically.

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One thing that kind of troubled me about the side quests is that there’s no record of them in the game menu. As mentioned before, both Xillia games had an explicit menu dedicated to them, and you could clearly see whether you had completed them or not. Unfortunately, in Zestiria, it’s not as clear, so you’ll get to some point and the purple star will be gone and there’s no record that you ever did the quest. So, this means you have to pay particular attention to the conversation points and make sure you don’t progress too far into the game before doing everything there is to do for a side quest.

There are many, many other new features and Tales series hallmarks that are different in Zestiria, but I can’t go into them all. However, quite a few of the series features make a return here, while others are changed in surprising ways.

As far as the rest of the game goes, the another more notable feature is the weapon, armor, and accessory fusion. In Zestiria, you do not have to collect materials to upgrade your equipment. Instead, you can fuse two of the same types of equipment item to create a more powerful version of that item. I both love and hate the whole fusion aspect of this game.

The part that I really like is that it gives you something to do with all the extra equipment that you pick up throughout the game. Equipment can also be exchanged for Grade via a Lord of the Land Seraphim.

… the overall world and nature of the stories is always different …
Fusion allows you to create more powerful versions of your favorite equipment and each individual weapon/armor/accessory has its own set of up to four available skills. There are fifty possible skills in all and each type of equipment has a different number and combination of skills, which leads to the aspect of Fusion that is frustrating for me.

When you fuse equipment, the various skills attached to each of the two items will carry forward to the product item. In other words, the four slots of each item and whether or not they’re equipped with a skill, will be carried over into the new fused item. So, if item one has slot numbers one and three loaded with a skill, and item two has all slots open except for slot number two, the final weapon will carry over all three skills from the two initial weapons. However, if there are skills in the same slot on each weapon, they’ll combine to form a new skill which will be sealed.

When a skill on a weapon is sealed, the weapon title appears blue in the weapon list, and the sealed skill can be trumped by a non-sealed skill. If two items have sealed skills in the same slot, then the slot will be empty in the resulting fused item. You can unseal an item by leveling up its proficiency. You do this by equipping the item and doing battle until the proficiency for the equipment item levels up.

The fusion in and of itself does not bother me, but it’s the system that’s so confusing. I still cannot figure out the system for which two different skills produce a third skill. With fifty different skills, it’s impossible for me to remember what is produced by combining two skills.

Zestiria_Screen_08

When you’re equipping skills, there’s a really handy grid that shows what skills are equipped for each weapon. You can clearly see your whole skill grid and what skills are activated. However, when you’re trying to fuse the skills this grid is not accessible, so you have no idea what’s what until you exit the fusion menu and check each skill to see what is happening.

Some of the skills on your equipment are extremely useful and you’ll want to combine and retain them, but it’s just an added annoyance to not have the visual skill grid during the fusion process.

Probably my favorite part of the game is the story above anything else. As I’ve mentioned before, it amazes me how intricate and detailed these stories get, and it further amazes me how much different each story is between the titles in the series. Sure, there are recurring character archetypes and themes throughout, but the overall world and nature of the stories is always different.

The characters in Zestiria are really enjoyable. I usually become quite attached to the characters in each Tales game, but in the past, some of the protagonists were whiny and annoying. However, in Zestiria, I found all of the personalities to be fun and engaging.

… it is pretty disappointing to see so many pop-ins …
I really love the whole aspect of the unseen world, Seraphim and Hellions – evil manifestations of the Malevolence, and your main enemies. Also, I really feel that the developers added a sense of exploration into this title with all of the various ruins you can explore.

Surprisingly, I did manage to get one of the bad endings, which is fairly new for a Tales game. You meet the antagonist fairly early on in and it’s actually possible to beat him and complete the game much earlier that you’re supposed to which really surprised me.

I actually spent what seemed like a half hour battling him, whittling down his health until I defeated him. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I saw the bad ending and the game let me save after the battle. When I reloaded the save, I was right back to where I was, but the boss was gone.

There didn’t seem to be any special item or trophy for beating him early which was a little disappointing. It will be interesting to see what happens when I complete the whole main storyline. I really wanted to beat the game for this review, but the hours just seem to melt away while I’m playing — it’s just so much fun.

Zestiria_Screen_02

Visuals:
Like other parts of the game, the visuals in Tales of Zestiria have both good and bad aspects. This is definitely the most graphically advanced in the series to date, but it also suffers from some minor graphical performance issues.

While these don’t really detract from the game, it is pretty disappointing to see so many pop-ins and slowdowns in frame rate. The title was originally developed for the PS3, but was announced for PS4 and PC shortly after the original version was announced for localization. So while I didn’t expect Zestiria to be a full-fledged next-generation PS4 game, I did expect that the graphical performance would be at least as good as or better than Tales of Xillia 2.

Unfortunately, along with the extreme pop-in and frame rate drops, there was some slowdown in some of the battles. I’ve played every Tales game on the PS3 and the battle system is always top-notch and never has any slowness, so this was quite a disappointment. While the frame rate drops in the battles tends to be fairly rare, it does happen at times, but I haven’t had it actually impact my battle outcome.

With that said, the pop-in and frame rate dips outside of the battle system don’t bother me too much and they really don’t affect my enjoyment of the game, but it does kind of bother me that it even occurs in the battle system. I don’t think these issues really affected my gameplay, but it’s a disappointment nevertheless.

One other thing to note that is extremely frustrating, is that the entire PS4 Share functionality is disabled for about ninety-nine percent of the game. So, you cannot take any screenshots or video without an external device. While it’s the publisher’s right to limit the Share ability, having it disabled for such a great amount of the game seems ridiculous and unnecessary.

Aside from those issues, Tales of Zestiria is just great looking with lots of detail in the monsters and the scenery in the game.

… a fantastic game that’s totally worth playing …
Audio:
One of the best parts of this game is the audio and use of surround sound. The game supports DTS and sounds great on my system. The music is wonderful and also includes selections from previous titles when you equip certain costumes on your characters.

I really like the added touch of being able to turn the special battle music on and off for each character’s costume too. If I want to hear the music for Tales of Zestiria, the game gives the option of turning the costume-specific music on and off.

Both Japanese and English voice tracks can be selected each time you load the game and I found the English to be very good. The voice actors really make each character seem very lifelike and they do an all-around great job.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Zestiria does not have an Online multiplayer component, but like all of the recent Tales games, you can play up to four players locally in the battle modes. Unfortunately, I don’t have anyone to play these games with, but it’s nice that they still allow four players to do battle. I would imagine that it could really make some of the bosses much easier to beat if you had actual players playing the other characters instead of the AI.

Conclusion:
Overall, Tales of Zestiria is a fantastic game that’s totally worth playing — especially for fans of the Tales series. So far I’ve spent about one hundred hours playing and I still have not completed the game.

There are tons of side quests to do along with the main quest, many dungeons to explore, and optional bosses. This game is just chock-full of content as you’d expect for a Tales game.

While there are some unfortunate issues that I have with the game, they aren’t enough to really affect my enjoyment (no crashing, freezes, or glitches). Sure, the battle system, fusion system, and minor graphical issues leave some things to be desired, but I think the story and the overall fun of this game makes up for any of those issues.

Since each of the games are totally different stories and don’t depend on previous entries, you don’t have to worry at all about playing previous titles. New players can feel free to begin with this game, as well as go back to play previous titles in any order, and it won’t matter at all.

The bottom line is that Tales of Zestiria is a fantastic entry in the series and I highly recommend it for newcomers and fans alike.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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Written by Jason Honaker

Jason Honaker

A software developer for over 15 years, originally from St. Louis, MO and currently living in Seattle, WA. Started gaming in 1979 on the Atari 800 8-bit PC. I play all sorts of games, but am partial to RPGs and 3rd person brawlers and shooters.

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  • Cyberjin

    I’m in few hours in..
    I do experience the camera problems often, it really ruins the fun :/

    • Jason Honaker

      Did you set that one setting in the settings menu for the camera control? I forget the exact setting name. You can also pause the battle and set the camera distance and pitch too. But yeah, it’s a problem. One thing that helps later, you’ll get a free run ability that kind of helps a bit more too.

      • Cyberjin

        sorry I forgot to reply
        I did, it didn’t help a lot.. I hope the future Tales games will improve this and other things I have an issue with xD