Throughout the ages, many Shepherds have worked to rid the world of Malevolence. Within the Age of Chaos a new Shepherd is born. Join him as he works to rid the world of Malevolence once and for all.
Tales of Zestiria is the latest release in the long-running Tales of series. Zestiria follows the story of Sorey as he becomes the new Shepherd and vows to defeat the Lord of Calamity and help purify the world. He’ll need to harness the power of the four elements to do this, and that will require the assistance of the Seraph.
Zestiria starts out fairly slow, at least for what I’m used to in Tales of titles. In the first several hours you’ll mainly be watching cutscenes and running from point A to point B, fighting maybe a dozen battles. It’s not until you leave Ladylake – the first true town – that the game starts to pick up a bit more. Despite this slow-feeling start to the game, it still manages to pull you in and will keep you there until you finish it.
Having grown up among the Seraphim, Sorey is able to see and communicate with them. Most humans aren’t able to do this, however, and go about their daily lives not even realizing when a Seraph is around them. Mikleo – his childhood friend – is one of these Seraphim. They spend their days exploring ruins, however after one fateful day of finding a human within the ruins, everything starts to change. They end up meeting Lailah, and it’s then that Sorey becomes the new Shepherd. Throughout his journey, he’ll meet 5 other Seraphim companions, but only two other humans will ever join him.
It’s fairly relevant that you only ever get 3 human party members. One of the big “features” of the battle system is the fact that in order to have four participants in a battle you need to have 2 humans. One of the humans, Alisha, is almost never around – only for some parts near the beginning and one small section near the end of the game. The other one, Rose, will be stuck in your party (along with Sorey) for the entire rest of the game. Should Rose or Alisha not be in your party, you’ll be stuck with two battle participants. The other two spots of the party can be swapped out on the fly though, allowing you to switch between your Seraph companions to make the most of an enemy’s weakness.
Zestiria manages to maintain that typical Tales of battle system, while still adding new things. The previously mentioned system of having 2 humans, 2 Seraph in your party is very much like the linking system of Xillia. Well, if you could only link with certain members and two people were constantly stuck in your party, and you could only have 2 people in at once if you lost that other person. Aside from that, you’ve still got your typical combo system, artes, and mystic artes.
When you start really delving into the artes, you’ll likely start to get fairly confused. There are three base types of artes (aside from mystic artes). These artes all align with weaknesses, with one type being weak to the next in line. For those wanting to truly master the combat system, you’ll really want to master these differing types of artes.
Mystic artes remain largely the same. With use of the Blast Gauge (BG) system, you’ll be able to pull off these powerful attacks either on your own or while armatized with your current Seraph buddy. Solo mystic artes will require 3 BG as a base, with armatized mystic artes requiring 4 BG. You can make these cheaper through various battle actions though, so it’s definitely in your best interest to make use of those actions when you can.
For those who played Xillia 2, the armatization system may remind you of the powerful mechanic Ludger had. Since Xillia 2 though it has been vastly improved upon. Armatizing with a Seraph requires at least 1 BG, and doing so will merge both members into one. This will also combine their stats (including current BG) and gain access to powerful attacks and combos. I found the best course of action was to usually just spam your O attacks, although there are occasions in which the X artes are better.
When you first armatize, a gauge will come up in the top right. This is your cumulative damage since you armatized until the gauge runs out. This cumulative damage includes the other two party members. Once empty, you can still stay in this armatized stage, however BG gain will be a lot slower. Despite this, sometimes it may be in your best interest to remain armatized, as you get access to some of the more powerful healing capabilities this way.
Switching between the Seraphim serves other purposes besides just letting you exploit weaknesses better. Should a Seraph die, you can switch over to another one and that switched out Seraph will start to recover from the death, albeit a bit slowly. You can also switch them out to just help them recover their health, or as a strategic move to get them out of an incoming enemy attack.
One mechanic I was extremely sad to see missing was the ability to set alternate artes. While the main arte setup is fantastic – you can check the chain of O attacks, and either let your X attacks just be chosen automatically or set them up yourself. What is missed, like I said, was the ability to set up these alternate arte attacks. This would allow you to setup commands to other party members, particularly in the case of ordering them to heal. With this missing, I was left with the choice of either controlling the healers or letting them heal on their own. Luckily you CAN use heals (so long as you have some BG) while armatized, but it’s still quite frustrating staring at your HP, needing a heal, and your Seraphim are off casting some other arte.
For anyone looking for a greater challenge, you will want to learn to control all of the characters. Why? Because the Malevolent Crucibles exist. These challenging areas will put you to the test, either with a solo character or with your choice of a Seraphim to team up with. For those who played this on the PS4 version (like I did), you’ll also find one major thing of note in here – these are the only places in the ENTIRE game that have broadcasting enabled!
Making a somewhat return from Xillia, you have the ability to quickly travel across the map. Unlike in Xillia though, Zestiria can only do it via save points and it will cost you a percentage of your gald. While it’s not overly awful that it is only available at save points, there are definitely some points where you just wish that it was available from anywhere.
Grade does make its return into Zestiria, and it is definitely worth your time to obtain it. Luckily, unlike in certain other Tales of games (looking at you, Symphonia), you can’t actually get negative Grade in Zestiria. You get points depending on what all you did in battle, with the best points coming from defeating powerful foes with a mystic arte without using any items. Of course, the biggest hits you can take on your received grade is dying, but as I said you can never actually get negative grade from a battle.
After you complete the main story in a particular region, you’ll either automatically be introduced to a Lord of the Land or will have a quest to find one. Lords of the Land serve a couple purposes – they’ll be able to grant boons for that region, and they can accept normin to increase the level of enemies. To unlock more boons, you’ll need to earn Grade. As the Blessing Level of each Lord of the Land increases, so does their options for boons. These boons can help you out in various ways, although you can only equip as many as you have points! This ties into getting your New Game+ bonuses as well – the higher the blessing levels in each region, the more points you’ll get for the various New Game+ perks.
Several map collectibles make their return from prior Tales of titles, and there’s also the addition of one more thing to find – the normin. These are small, hidden creatures that are spread throughout the land. Luckily, you’ll get the Support Talent “Normin for the Win” (initially on Edna, though Lailah can also learn it) which will help you locate these sneaky buggers. There are 50 in total, with each one being aligned to a different buff that can be on equipment.
Speaking of equipment, I hope you’re ready for an absolute nightmare to even figure out. While I didn’t fully understand it after beating the game, I did at least get a basic grasp on it. You’ve got your typical equipment pieces, that’s all well and good. These equipment pieces will have various effects on them which will give you buffs. Same-type equipment pieces can be fused together to enhance these pieces and create the nightmare of figuring out the system. From what I had managed to figure out about it, any abilities that share a slot in the two equipment pieces that are fusing together will create a new ability. The created ability is from somewhere in the chart, depending on where the two fused abilities were in relation to each other.
Fusing these equipment pieces well becomes the key to really understanding the system of Zestiria. You want to have a setup so that you can get stack or union bonuses. Triggering these stack and union bonuses will give you vital benefits, sometimes even enabled what would normally be a long-outdated piece of equipment to become relevant again. Sometimes the offered benefit will change depending on how high the stack is, so you should plan accordingly to make the most of it.
Each character will have a setup of Support Talents available to them, with more available to be learned through resting at the Inn via Skits. These offer various benefits, though the biggest ones are helping you find various things on the map and getting you some snacks. Snacks are extremely helpful with both healing you, your SC (the replacement for TP, the Tales of equivalent of MP, which normally restores over time in combat depending on the actions you take and if you attack into a blocking enemy or not), and giving you a one-battle buff. Resting at Inns provides a larger benefit, giving you the ability to eat a meal that will last a set amount of battles, and letting you watch a large variety of skits.
Should you want to delve into the Battle Actions then hunting down the various landmarks and monoliths hidden around the world should be a high priority for you. Whenever you find one of these, you’ll be given one SP that you can then use for equipping Battle Actions. You can also get SP from leveling up. These Battle Actions help tremendously with the flow of battle, giving you benefits such as letting you switch your controlled character on the fly and making your mystic artes cheaper to use if you meet the requirements.
Skits are just as funny as ever and help provide that typical Tales of humour. You’ll get an extra insight into what your characters are thinking at the time. The majority of skits are only viewable at save points, landmarks (provided you have the correct team when you find it), and while resting at Inns. They’re definitely worth seeking out though, if only for the hilarity factor.
Should you ever get lost as to what you need to do, you have a couple ways to figure this out. One way is a method that is returning from Xillia 1 and 2 – pressing the R1 button. This will give you a general summary as to your next destination. You can also talk to your other human companion – typically Rose – and they’ll give you a list of things you have the option to do. The icon next to each option indicates what type of event it is, though given these often provide added enemies to challenge and more skits, they’re all worth doing if you’re able to.
Something Zestiria definitely did well I felt was the seamless transition from the overworld into battles and cutscenes. Battles occur wherever you were when you found the enemy, which sometimes can lead to some awkward camera situations, especially if there is any kind of doorway in the way. While cutscenes aren’t AS seamless as battles, they are still pretty seamless. The main thing that did irritate me with this was that Sorey and whoever was with him at the time on the map would slow down to a walk to enter the cutscene, making it look a bit awkward. I was definitely impressed by the general battle transitions though, and hope that more action-type RPGs can take this sort of approach.
One of my biggest disappointments I had while playing the PS4 version was the sheer amount of lag/slowdown I suffered. While it was fine for most battles, there was definitely a lot of occasions where a noticeable lag spike would happen. This lag was at its worse whenever I would armatize with Mikleo, as for some reason his shots would just bring the game to a crawl until they finished. This made it incredibly hard to combo off with him, and even harder to try and combo into a mystic arte. Other than with Mikleo, the main spots it became really noticeable in combat were when a lot of enemies would try and spawn in at once. Playing on the PS4 version, I was definitely pretty disappointed to encounter such bad lag.
Fans of the Tales of series will find a lot to love in Zestiria. While the equipment system is a bit of a gigantic mess to figure out, the story will give you that usual Tales of feeling. Skits prove just as hilarious as ever, and the battle system is just as easy to learn, impossibly difficult to master. With it being available on PS3, PS4, and PC, it should be quite easy to find a system to play it on. Unfortunately, I did suffer some serious lag/slowdown while on the PS4 version, which really hurts the flow of battle and your ability to combo at times. Regardless, I still highly suggest the game to fans of Tales of titles. Those who are newer to the series might find it easier to play titles such as Xillia though, since the equipment system really can be incredibly confusing.
Tales of Zestiria Review Score
Tales of Zestiria is available now on Amazon, PS4, PS3, and Steam.
I would like to thank Bandai Namco for providing me with a PS4 copy for review.