Yesterday night marked the closing of another one of my great Tales adventures. Normally, I don't do such over the top reviews for many games, but today things are going to be a bit different. Leaving behind my regular style of LP'ing and doing an old classic "write a review" for this game, Tales of Zestiria brings a breath of fresh air to a series that left me disappointed with it's last installment, Tales of Xillia. In this review, I'll break the game down into several segments, consisting of story, gameplay, quality, and replayability, and judge the game on all of these criteria.
Though Tales games have always had a great story, like Tales of Graces F (I still rank it's story much higher in the franchise), Tales of Zestiria's story didn't do it so well for me. It was very cliche'd with the concept of "I am the chosen one out to destroy X bad guy with no real reason other than he's a bad guy". Which to me came off as incredibly disappointing. Over time, you learn of the bad guy's intentions but it still feels forced on the cliche of "chosen one out to destroy hero". But the world story and the lore associated with it, and the message that it's trying to get across, is much better in terms of execution.
The land of Glenwood is currently under an Age of Chaos. An incredible force known as "malevolence" is spreading throughout the Glenwood continent, turning ordinary humans into monsters called "Hellions". The story opens with a young boy named Sorey (Soh-ray, not Sorri like I had first pronounced it) traveling and discovering ancient ruins. It is his calling and he is chasing it quite adamantly. Along with Sorey, however, is his "partner-in-crime" and seraph, Mikleo. We'll discuss seraphs later down the line. The two are studying the "Earthen Historia", which is a record of all of the events that transpired in the Continent of Glenwood ever since it's creation, dating back to even before the Age of Chaos. As they leave from the ruins, they find a young girl incapacitated near the exit, and Sorey's gentle heart helps him to discover that the young girl is named Alisha.
Now, the newly formed trio exit into the land of Elysia, where Sorey and Mikleo have spent their entire lives growing up, under the protection of their grandfather, Zenrus. This was the first time for me personally where I felt the world was really really beautiful, and it was made apparent as I was walking up to where Sorey and Mikleo lived. However, the peace is broken when Alisha is determined as a human outcast in a land full of seraphim. As such, Zenrus decides it would be best for her to leave. However, Sorey insists on going with her, because he wants to see the outside world and he wants to see and discover new ruins across the entire world.
As you play and discover the world of Tales of Zestiria, you'll find a record of all of the events that happened during the Age of Chaos, called Iris Gems. The function of these Iris gems creates backstory for the main antagonist, who is named Heldalf. Heldalf is, without spoiling anything, the source of all malevolence in the world, and it is up to "The Shepherd" to stop him. As Sorey is visiting the local town of Ladylake, where Alisha takes Sorey and Mikleo, an incident occurs in which the Royal Sanctuary is invaded by strange hellions. Sorey goes to take the ceremonial sword out from the shrine, and it is here where we meet the Fire Seraph, Lailah. Using her power to quell the hellions, Sorey takes the sword in his hand and decides to become the Shepherd in this time of chaos.
Throughout the world, you'll meet different kinds of seraphim. There's Edna, the earth seraph, and then Dezel, the Wind Seraph. All of them play an important part in the story. Then you'll also meet........Rose. Ugggghhhh.
While I actually enjoyed having Alisha in my party and having her fight alongside me, Rose is utterly annoying, and she's a bona-fide Mary Sue. She has the innate ability to talk to seraphim right from the get-go, a skill called attunement. She utterly replaces Alisha in the long run (I don't know if this is true or not. There seem to be screencaps on the Internet that you can have Alisha in your party before endgame, so I don't know if this is true or not), she has the ability to Armatize, a system we'll explain later, and is just....uggh. She's just uggh. I wasn't happy when my adorable, lovable princess got replaced by this cliche'd "can't be exposed to malevolence" goody-goody two shoes Mary Sue skank.
As you're going along and along in the world, discovering ruins and beating up monsters, you'll unlock more records of the Iris Gems, and ultimately, you'll see the stance on where Heldalf, the Lord of Calamity, stands. He proclaims a world of suffering and agony would be better than to feel the wrath of disappointment in failure. Which is a neat concept in this game that I didn't go back to before: we all generate a slight bit of malevolence. Even in real life. We're not all perfect human beings. We make choices that we regret in the end. But it's how we survive from those disappointments in failure that makes us stand up against the forces of malevolence ultimately taking over. So just remember, everyone, the next time you kick a puppy and don't apologize, you'll turn into a wolf hellion ten feet long with teeth the size of the Empire State building.
That's all I will explain of the plot for now. It really wasn't the strong suit in the game, despite how many different branching "paths" there were. The talk of malevolence, the Lord of Calamity, yadayada, it pretty much all goes back to one cliche'd storyline.
Whew. There's a LOT to cover in this section, so bear with me.
Tales gameplay is always their strong point in their games, and Zestiria is no different. It capitalizes on all of the things they've done well in the past and fixes all of the things that they've done wrong in the past. The pace feels a bit slower in comparison to Graces, but faster than Xillia. You can't just spam willy-nilly all of your best abilities and be done with the fight. Fights actually take strategy and time to complete. Let's first start off with the structure of combat.
Before, I said there were a couple of seraphim that join your party. They can form a pact to be your companion in battle. This is an interesting take on the approach of Tales games, because this essentially means you can only have 2 "actual" "party members" fighting. The rest are Seraphim who you can change on the fly to exploit the enemy's weaknesses.
Everything is conveniently handled between 2 human party members and 2 Seraphim party members, basically. One thing that Tales of Zestiria gets a strike against, however, is the default "move up to move towards your enemy, move down to move away". I hated the linear battle system from Xillia, and it's one of the reasons I detest the game. However, Zestiria remedies this situation with a new mechanic: Battle Actions.
The new Battle Action mechanic replaces the innate abilities that you get from previous installments, like Graces. There's really a lot of handy actions that you can do here. The "1-2-3" guarding system is replaced with it's own unique Battle Actions. Free Run can now be assigned to a Battle Action, so that now, you can free run with the Analog Stick as opposed to being stuck in a linear path, which doesn't make sense on a 3D battlefield. I have never understood why they had to go with that particular approach on this series of games.
Before, I talked about Armatization. Armatization is a unique mechanic where you can fuse your human and seraphim partner together to amass a ton of damage.
A new mechanic called BG (Blast Gauge) makes this possible. It stops the spamming of Mystic Artes in the previous installments and provides new mechanics to a fight. During a 1-hit, 2-hit, or 3-hit combo, you can hold the RT or R2 button to create a Partner Blast, which is a simultaneous attack with your seraphim partner that deals a lot of damage, a Blow Blast, which boosts your own parameters, or a Chain Blast, which allows you to keep attacking. it's a really interesting mechanic that they added in, and it balances fights a little bit more by letting them go a little bit slower.
There's a good amount of difficulty in Tales of Zestiria, unlike what other people have been saying all over the Internet. Granted, the trash mobs you fight are supposed to be easy, but the tense hellion fights and even some bosses are all surprisingly difficult, not like from Xillia, where I beat the game on Hard mode first try. Hell, I even had to take the difficulty down to Easy mode on the final boss fight because it was so aggravating and hard.
The Mystic Artes are as over the top as ever. I love Aqua Limit as my favorite Mystic Arte. I can't tell you how many times I've almost fallen over in my chair because I was punching the air so hard.
Another close favorite of mine is Flamberge. As you can clearly see.
Different from other Tales games is the weapon and armor equipment/skill system. Sometimes the highest boosting Defensive armor or those nicer pair of shoes won't always be the best thing to equip. You'd be losing out on some precious skills if that were the case. Now, you actually have to think about what kind of armor to bring into battle, as well as how your skills are going to balance with your other party members. There's over 40 different skills to choose from, and if you can successfully use 2 or more skills together on 2 or more pieces of equipment, you'll get a boost. Then, you can line up skills horizontally or vertically (the hardest to do in my opinion, but reap the best benefits) for even more bonuses.
Another new edition to the Tales of Zestiria universe is the "Lord of the Land" system. After each battle, if you have restored the blessing of that region through a particular side quest (or episodes, as the game calls them), you'll get a Grade for your battle. That grade goes towards the "Lord of the Land", who oversees multiple different types of services for that particular region. You can have enemies appear on your map, you can save a character from being killed altogether, and lots of other benefits.
Ultimately, Tales of Zestiria's gameplay does not fail to deliver. It hit the mark and improved from the spammy fast style combat from Graces F, and ramped up the difficulty from Xillia and Xillia 2. There's lots of different things to do in the gameplay department, and all of it comes together full circle to create a truly amazing experience.
Still trying to get that G-Union on at least one character....*grumble grumble*
However, the game isn't without it's faults. Mainly trying to battle in a corridor and the camera hits a wall....and then all you can see is just pure nothingness as you flounder about, trying to find your position and where you are at in regards to the battle. It can be really irritating sometimes.
Like all Tales games, it has it's fair share of anime cutscenes, of which there are quite a few, especially concerning Glaivend Basin. They were all drawn and made by the company UfoTable, who in my opinion gets a very high ranking from me.
Unlike the most recent Tales games, like Graces or Xillia, Zestiria is much more vulgar, down to earth, and even has a lot more blood and graphical violence.
The fact that it is more vulgar makes it more mature, reaching a broader audience than just someone who decides to censor themselves. That, in my opinion, makes it generally more approachable to someone like me, who likes a more mature type of background.
Regarding skits, there are quite a few skits in the world. There are about 100 skits total in the game, and it's up to you to find them all. They are all trademarked in Tales fashion, with a sort of VN style where you see all of the characters and the one talking is always brighter than the others.
Another thing that really bothered me with the skits was Rose's eyes weren't perfectly center all the time during skits, which was incredibly weird and awkward. Another reason why I hated Rose so much. The skits are all humorous at heart and serve to lighten the mood before a big battle, or to delve more into the lore and backstory of the characters, or even to start new Side Quests. Like I said before, there's at least 100 of them, if not more, so there's always going to be a skit out there that you'll miss.
From a quality and presentation standpoint, it's honestly really good. But then again, the anime cutscenes and skits have always been a staple in Tales games. The fact that there are more of them, however, is a step in the right direction.
When I finished the game, as with all modern games nowadays, they give you the option of New Game Plus. Which is cool, everyone does that. Yay. But, I still have this itch in the back of my head that says I can truly have Alisha in my party before finally defeating the Lord of Calamity. I don't know if this is truly possible, but there are a couple of choices that you can do in the beginning of the game that have a chance to swerve the outcome of your actions. I wish this was experimented with a little better, because aside from those very few choices you have to make, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of everything else. Which is a bit disappointing. So yes, there is replayability, and yes, there exists the possibility of having an entirely different party in future runs.
Now, it's time for the final wrap-up. In this section, I'll detail if this game is truly one for you, and if you should decide to play it or not.
Would I recommend this game?:
Absolutely. It's a masterpiece game while, not perfect, is very very good and exceeds the expectations of its predecessors. If you're a die-hard Tales fan like me who is looking for a change of pace and scenery, then this is for you. If you are starting off on a new adventure into the world of RPGs, this may not be the one for you, as the combat system and execution are all very confusing and deep at first. Hell, it even took me a while to get used to Tales of Zestiria's combat system after playing Graces F for so long. If you're looking to dish about $50 for this title, then absolutely get it, because it's definitely worth the $50. As opposed to $60 games nowadays that only run for 7 hours, this title gives you a lot more for your money and is probably much better.
Overall rating of the game: 8/10. A great game.
Now let's finish this review off with one of my favorite tracks of all time in the game: