Alright, I have finally beaten a game that I have a personal history with (read my paragraph long rant about how I lost 26 hours worth of gameplay on Facebook for more info). But nevertheless it's time to finally review a RPG game I have had a lot of fun playing.
Tales of Zestiria. Which is actually the first game I ever played from the Tales franchise (this is the 15th game and they revealed that the 16th game is coming out next year). Now, according to the Tales franchise veteran fans, Tales of Zestiria is actually not the best game in the series (in fact it's considered the second worst game in the series, the first being Tales of Xillia 2). But the thing is, I thoroughly enjoyed this game. Is it perfect? No. Far from it. But I had fun playing it and the story was okay.
For those of you who don't know anything about the Tales franchise, they are a series of Action-RPG games famous for a unique combat system where every party member has several different combos determined by pressing the attack button and pushing the left analog stick in various directions in tandem. Aside from that main gimmick, as well as homages to various parts of the lore (such as the Zestiria team finding a book that was written by a character from Xillia), the Tales games are unrelated to each other, often having a self contained story. So no, you won't be confused because you didn't play the all the games in the right order.
Moving on to this game's story. Basically, once upon a time there was a young man named Sorey. Sorey is special for two major reasons. One, he is one of the few humans in the whole world that see seraphim, invisible angel-like creatures who were, at one time, worshiped as deities. And two, because of the aforementioned ability to see seraphim, Sorey becomes a Shepherd, powerful peacekeepers/warriors who basically serve as humanity's most direct connection to the seraphim. After earning the title of Shepherd, Sorey and his friends go on a adventure to save the world from a evil energy called Malevolence, meeting new friends and foes along the way (basically every anime ever).
Alright so I am going to talk about my biggest gripe about this game. The concept behind Malevolence. Malevolence is generated when a human or seraphim feel any kind of negative emotion. And when enough Malevolence builds up, the human or seraphim in question turn into a monster known as a hellion, which are based off of various creatures from European mythology (dragons, trolls, werewolves, etc). But what exactly is my problem with Malevolence? The fact that it comes from ANY negative emotion, including minor ones like pride (if you want to call that a negative emotion) and annoyance. Basically, if Malevolence stems from ANY negative emotion at all (and what the story considers negative emotions are questionable at best) the entire planet should be nothing BUT hellions.
My second gripe with the story is with the villain.
Heldalf... Alright first let me say his design is really cool. He's a half-man, half-lion dude with black and purple (PURPLE!!!) robes. But my problem with Heldalf is that, story-wise, he doesn't FEEL like a threat. His plan to end the world is just stockpiling Malevolence en masse, and going with the above gripe, if he just waited (and he can, since he is cursed with immortality), pretty much the entire population would become hellions. Although his origin story is very creepy and sad at the same time, he just didn't have the "big imposing disaster maker" vibe needed to make him threatening. What I think they should have done to make Heldalf a better villain is make so instead of Malevolence being the primary cause of transforming people into hellions, make it so Heldalf is the ONLY form of hellionizing people. By removing the concept of Malevolence, the story would require Heldalf to take a much more active role in the story, and, in my opinion, make him a better villain.
Aside from Heldalf and Malevolence, how do I feel about the rest of the cast? Well...
Sorey is actually a pretty decent hero in my opinion. He is a pure-of-heart archaeologist with a love of exploring ancient ruins and researching ancient civilizations. Game play-wise he is a swordsman with decent stats all around and a wide variety of attacks (fire attacks, ice attacks, earth attacks, the list goes on and on). So he is very versatile. Also, Am I the only that thinks that Sorey looks like the Breath of the Wild incarnation of Link from Legend of Zelda? Surely not.
Mikleo here is that guy that Alola Ninetales reminds me of. He is a seraph (the singular for seraphim is seraph) that specializes in water and ice attacks. Also, according to his neighbors, the reason his weapon of choice is a staff is to offer Mikleo the reach he needs to win sparring matches against Sorey because Mikleo is actually the shortest male party member in the entire game. Which is perhaps the funniest reason for having a particular fighting style.
Alisha... I have a love/hate thing for Alisha. First, I LOVE her fighting style and combos, she has incredible reach thanks to her spear, and is just as versatile as Sorey. What I DON'T like about Alisha is whenever she is on screen they play this absolutely cheesy music that sounds like it was pulled straight out of a soap opera. Something else that bugs me is that Alisha is a party member for the first quarter of the story, but has to leave because of story reasons. And what's worse is that there is actually a paid DLC post game quest-line starring her which is literally the only way to play as Alisha again without resorting to New Game+ (once you beat the game you get a New Game+ feature where it will replay the story, but all your equipment and levels are transferred to the new save).
Next is Edna. Edna is AMAZING. Edna has the highest defense in the entire game, making her an excellent tank. Edna also gets access to the best healing spells in the game. AND everything that comes out of her mouth is solid gold. Also, random fun fact! While it is true the Tales games are mostly unrelated to each other, the upcoming Tales of Bersaria has Edna's older brother Eizen as a playable party member. Which is awesome and sad at the same time because Eizen got cursed (the curse turned him into a viscous man-eating dragon). And finally, Edna gets bonus points for fighting with a parasol. Literally. That's her weapon of choice.
Next up is Rose. Rose is interesting. She is pure-of-heart like Sorey but she has a job as an assassin. Now, Rose is my favorite character to play as since she is fast, as really good combos, and is almost as versatile as Sorey and Alisha. Only problem is her defensive stats are garbage so if you ever play as her, DON'T GET HIT AT ALL. Also she has the most hilarious facial expressions during the optional cutscenes called "Skits" that you can view at save points, inns, or landmarks. A lot of people actually hate Rose because out of the main cast, she gets the least amount of character development.
"Lailah, Lailah, Classify-la, all the species, all the phyla." -Lailah, 2015. Lailah is basically what happens when you turn Sans from Undertale into a human, let him have a child with a Firebender from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and turn that child into a seraph. Why do I say this? Lailah LOVES making puns (Lailah preparing to fight a bear-like hellion: "TEDDY or not, here we come!" Lailah after finding a haunted art museum: "We better CANVAS a search of the area!" Lailah after Sorey asks her about the previous Shepherd: "The Shepherd went missing for months. Turns out he was on the LAMB!"). Also, she has fire magic. Although, I don't recommend playing as her, since she is VERY fragile and her best attacks require you to get dangerously close to the target.
And last we have Dezel. Well, actually no, there is one more party member but he joins super duper late into the story and revealing the identity of that character would be a spoiler in and of itself (all you need to know about THAT party member is that he has the exact same stats and fighting style as Dezel). Dezel is a seraph on a quest for revenge because another seraph killed his friends and forced him to rebuild his band of mercenaries from scratch. He also has a cool looking hat. Dezel is actually very good in terms of gameplay since he has the highest Attack stat in the game and has decent defensive stats, so he's kind of like half-attacker, half-tank.
So that's it for the main cast, but what about the game-play and graphics and music?
Well, the game has a surprisingly large open world. Now you will notice how the game looks like it could easily be mistaken for PS2 era, but it is in fact a PS4 game. So the graphics are somewhat outdated. However, the game also has anime style cutscenes that are absolutely BREATHTAKING.
Something I will applaud Tales of Zestiria for is it's soundtrack. While the regular battle theme sounds kind of generic, the opening theme song is the epitome of epic. And the music that plays during the Elemental Shrines is awesome as well. And Zaveid's theme is just downright catchy. The only song I don't like is the aforementioned soap opera music that is apparently Alisha's theme due to how cheesy it is. Speaking of Sound, the voice acting in Tales of Zestiria is surprisingly good. Granted, I only played the English version because I cannot speak Japanese at the moment. But the English dub was good. Shout out to whoever voiced Zaveid in this game. He really breathed life into the character.
And last but not least is Game-play. There are a lot of things I love and a lot of things I don't like at all. First, the good. Tales of Zestiria features a fun, action-packed RPG-meets-Smash-Bros feel. The reason why I say that is how directional inputs can heavily change the kind of attack your character does. Furthermore, attacks are divided into three categories: Martial Arts (melee attacks), Hidden Arts (Special attacks that only humans like Sorey and Rose can use), and finally, Seraphic Arts (magic spells that can only be used by seraphim like Edna and Mikleo). However, enemies can use all three of these attacks as well. But there is a kind of rock-paper-scissors mechanic. Basically, Martial Arts beat Seraphic Arts, Seraphic Arts beat Hidden Arts, and Hidden Arts beat Martial Arts. Basically, see an enemy use certain kind of attack and counter it with the stronger attack type. Additionally, There are five elements in the game: Void (aka no element at all), Fire, Water, Earth, and Wind. Each Enemy will have various resistances and weakness, and hitting an enemy with the right element will deal extra damage (you can see what the currently targeted enemy is weak to by holding down R1 on the controller).
A mechanic unique to this game (NO other Tales game have this mechanic) but Sorey, and later Rose, can combine with the seraphim party members into a single entity through Armitization. It's in my opinion a really cool mechanic but admittedly a little overpowered since it adds the seraph's stats on top of the human's. Example. If Sorey has 500 Attack and Mikleo has 500 Attack, and those character Armitize, the resulting form will have 1000 Attack. Also, every combination of Armitize has a powerful healing spell by default (Armitize Water will always restore you to full health if you cast it in time).
While the game does feature an open world it also has various dungeons. A common complaint about this game, and RPG's in general, is that they are too linear. But I myself never have a problem with linear game design. Something I DO have a problem with is the fusion system. Every weapon and armor piece has passive skills. If you have any duplicates of anything you can fuse them together. Doing this increases the power and usefulness of that item, but it changes the skills. My problem with the fusion system is that the passive skill changes seem to be completely random, but THANKFULLY you can completely ignore skills and focus on improving your party's stats. Unless you are playing on Chaos mode, in which case the game REQUIRES you to exploit the fusion system to get the best passive skills in the game. I don't really like the passive skill system simply because it's overly complicated. And not in a good way. Valkyria Chronicles was complex in a good way since that game is a strategy game and have to be complex by default. But the complexity feels out of place in a action-RPG like Tales of Zestiria.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Tales of Zestiria. I give this game a 8/10. If it had a better villain, and a easier to understand fusion system, and made Alisha's theme ACTUALLY good, it would have been a perfect 10.
P.S. In case you are wondering why the game is called "Tales of Zestiria" it's because "Zestiria" is derived from "zest", meaning "great enthusiasm and energy" but also meaning "passionate". Very fitting, since Sorey And Mikleo are very enthusiastic about ancient civilizations, and the entire team is mostly motivated by their passion. Minus Dezel. The only thing keeping him going is his obsession with avenging all his friends who were murdered by a rogue seraph. And Edna. Edna only came along so she can find a way to turn her brother back to normal (SPOILER ALERT: She never does because the curse is irreversible). So no. Zestiria has nothing to do with food since "zest" also means "something with a lively taste". The More You Know! *twinkle*