Amazing Role-Playing With Tales of Zestiria

Hi all! A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to nab a review copy of the latest entry in my favorite JRPG series of all time. It’s Tales of Zestiria, and it doesn’t disappoint!

One word of warning: I’m going to be super obscure when it comes to naming characters and I’m going to be super light on spoilers if there are any. This means that the artwork you see in this review was specifically picked by myself so as to avoid spoiling anyone.

Plot Synopsis: The game begins with a young explorer called Sorey and his best friend Mikleo, a Seraphim of water exploring some nearby ruins. They rescue a girl, Alisha, and bring her back to their home in the village of Elysia.

Alisha likes to kick some ass and it’s worth playing as other characters to improve your skills in battle!

Plot: So like I said above I’m going super light on spoilers, so I’m going to be vague. The plot is excellent and isn’t as sappy as Tales of Graces, which was an excellent game gameplay wise. The plot actually reminds me a bit of Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Vesperia in terms of how dark it gets. That isn’t to say that there aren’t funny moments to go along with the serious moments. There is one point in the story where I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe while crying at the same time.  There were multiple points where I cried from the emotional impact of scenes as well, and given how many stories I’ve experienced it’s rare for a game to be able to make me do so.  I’ve read other reviews of this game by other people, who prove they are incompetent because they felt that the plot falls flat in the later half. However these people obviously only played the main story skipping every side quest available and skipping many skits. If they hadn’t done so and actually played the game properly they would’ve found that the story only grows stronger as it progresses.

There is one point I want to make clear right now is that I played the game with the original Japanese dubbing instead of the English dubbed version. I was impressed at the localization team’s ability to take jokes from Japanese and convert them into just as appropriate jokes in English.  There are a couple reasons I played with the voices in Japanese, one because the animation isn’t out of sync occasionally, and two because some rare jokes just don’t make it through properly.

Michael loves it when someone looks good in blue, and Sorey pulls it off magnificiently
Michael loves it when someone looks good in blue, and Sorey pulls it off magnificiently

Characters: So other than Sorey, Mikleo and Alisha, the rest of the cast is amazing. Character D is hilarious and loves to crack jokes at inappropriate times. Character E on the other hand is impulsive and acts on instinct. Character F loves to make terrible puns, of which I was quite impressed at how they do so in battle while explaining newly met enemies.  Character G is a grumpy person with a heart of gold and a soft spot for doggies, which made him an instant favorite of mine. Character H on the other hand is the party troll who loves to needle other members and be generally snarky. Character I on the other hand is cruel and loves to toy with others.  Sorey and Mikleo  are great foils to each other and Alisha is an earnest, but naïve young woman.

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Gameplay: Here’s where the game starts to shine from other entries in the series. First off it takes the combat system from Tales of Graces, which prior to this entry was my hands down favorite battle system of all time, and combines it with the elemental aspect system of Xillia. The battle area is taken directly from the world map. If you start a fight on a narrow bridge you’re movement in the battle will be restricted because you have to work around that exact same bridge. The battles are also essentially seamless transitions as well. This can cause some very rare issues where you and an enemy are stuck in a corner between trees and rocks and so the camera get’s a bit wonky, but it’s an easily solvable issue that only happened to me twice.

The game's skit's add plenty of backstory and depth to the various characters. Plus they are funny as hell!
The game’s skit’s add plenty of backstory and depth to the various characters. Plus they are funny as hell!

Adding to this is the fact that the battle system looks really simple, but is very far from being so. The system is so complex that 100+ hours into the game I’m still learning how to properly use certain aspects of the system to my advantage.  Being overly aggressive in this entry will cause you to quickly get your butt handed to you. You need to balance being defensive to build up the spirit chain gauge to unleash attacks and charge your blast gauge for extra powerful abilities. In addition you need to save those blast gauge abilities to unleash incredibly powerful Mystic Artes and for healing yourself or other party members. This is all while being able to switch between any party member at will in battle. Sometimes you’ll need to switch out to exploit enemy weaknesses or to heal a specific status ailment. No one character can do everything, and you need to learn how to effectively use everyone to be able to survive past the first few hours of the game.

Further complicating the system is the fact that you need to be aware of what type of attack an enemy is using. If you attack an enemy by using a Hidden Arte while they are casting a Seraphic Arte, not only does it not damage them very much, it hastens the casting time significantly and increases the damage of it. This can lead to you killing yourself because you are rushing blindly in and button mashing instead of taking proper action. Hidden Artes trump Martial Artes which trump Seraphic Artes.  In addition each character can only use two of the three types of artes. So if you need to interrupt a Seraphic casting quickly and don’t have access to Martial Artes, you need to switch to a different character who can interrupt it.

Alisha isn't just a badass spear wielding girl, she also looks good!
Alisha isn’t just a badass spear wielding girl, she also looks good!

Furthermore you are able to move quickly around the battlefield by quickstepping to either evade incoming attacks, side stepping for vertical and back stepping for horizontal. In stepping for projectile attacks, or to get closer to an enemy. If you evade with the correct timing not only do you nullify the attack, you increase your spirit chain and blast gauges significantly. This is in addition to the ability to free run around the battle area.

Finally being flashy and skillful in combat earns you increased Grade after each battle and helps you to unlock later features and options for future playthroughs. Taking no damage with any character in battle or getting 150+ combo hits in are going to significantly improve your skills in battle and unlock better abilities for you to use.

There is one downside to the gameplay and that is the fact that the game doesn’t allow for the PS4 to record or take screenshots of the game except in a few specific areas that are incredibly rare. However this is such a minor nitpick on my part that I don’t really mind it all that much. This restriction is due to copyright and licensing issues.

Our spunky protagonist from some early concept art!
Our spelunking protagonist from some early concept art!

Art: This game has animated sequences done by ufotable, who readers of my Anime Sunday columns will know is my absolutely favorite studio for Anime. There is a reason for this and that’s because their animation is the best in the industry and they do a fantastic job with anything they are a part of. Playing in this game is like playing in a world made by ufotable and it’s amazing. The artwork from beginning to end is top notch and I’ve rarely seen such a beautiful game that has just as good gameplay from beginning to end.

Music: The musical score in this is just as amazing as the artwork.  In addition the Japanese voice acting is superb and fits each of the characters perfectly. The English voice acting on the other hand is abysmal and should be avoided like the plague if at all possible. There is another thing I found slightly lacking and that is the opening animation sequence’s usage of the theme song “White Light” by Superfly’s instrumental version. I really wish we could’ve gotten the full version rather just the instrumental. Again these two complaints are merely a very minor nitpick.

Overall: If you love JRPGs, and specifically the Tales of series, you absolutely must play this game. It’s one of the best JRPG’s I’ve ever played and it’s a very strong contender for best JRPG of all time in my opinion.

Update 11/27/15: Added thoughts on the English Voice Acting. 

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