Tales of Zestiria was supposed to be a return to form for the long-running series, and therein lies the biggest problem. Going back to a medieval setting, even one that so ham-fistedly uses Arthurian lore, was welcome after the bizarre science-fiction-but-still-a-fantasy setting of the two Xillia games. But instead of looking to the past, the series desperately needs to move forward and innovate.
To say that Bandai Namco's Tales series has stagnated is an understatement. In some ways it has even gone backwards in terms of gameplay design, and this realisation saddens me to the core. Longtime fans of the series will still have fun with Zestiria
, so if you've thoroughly enjoyed the several previous games then you'll be pleased to know nothing much has changed.
However, if like myself you've felt a sense of decline in quality then keep reading.
doesn't waste any time in throwing you into your role as Shepard, a messiah-type figure who is both feared and revered by the people. Gifted with the ability to battle and 'purify' a demonic race called the Hellions, this race is born of The Malevolence, the physical manifestation of anger, hate, fear... Think of the changes Dark Side forces users undergo in the Star Wars
universe and magnify it a thousand fold.
The Shepard can also see and interact with a 'good' race, the Seraphs. Normal people can't see these funkily-dressed magical beings. This was not always the case, but now they can only see them with help from The Shepard and the Seraph who he has formed pacts with, and thus our hero gathers a mixed bunch of characters from both human and Seraph races and off they go on a jolly adventure!
Except for a chap called The Lord of Calamity, who basically wants to plunge the world in to chaos and turn everyone in to a Hellion - pretty evil stuff. The Shepard and company have a divine mission to stop this evil doer and save the world, standing the way of them doing this are two warring nations, neither of them good or bad, although the leadership of both could do with replacements with less odious personages.
So, as you can tell the story is typical Tales
fare and the twists follow the usual routes this series always takes... I've become convinced that the developers have a very short to-do list when it comes to writing the stories for these games, and that they just print off the same list for each entry and make minor changes.
I haven't checked, but I'm almost positive that the pool of voice actors are the exact same from the last three or four games... I don't want to confirm this mainly because I have a feeling that I would never be able to listen to the voice actors in anything else without their future performances being stained by the Tales
Hackneyed story aside, how is the rest of the game I hear you cry!
The open landscapes are rather pretty at first glance, and then I started to notice how empty they were, how utterly bland the repeating textures are. The areas in this game are massive for the sake of being massive. There is no worthwhile content in them and to be honest you can just run through the majority of them without engaging in combat because the levelling process feels trivialised, and only becomes necessary when you run in to an enemy you can't just mindlessly zerg down.
Combat hasn't changed too much either. You still mostly mash two buttons whilst pointing an analogue stick in different directions to trigger different Artes. In this iteration you can only pair up with the opposite race, so two pairs of human and seraph. With a pair you can trigger something called Armatisation - basically a pair becomes one and by their power combined they can unleash amplified damage on their enemies, even if it is just repeating the same few moves over and over again.
I also ran in to a problem with the camera during combat. I would repeatedly get stuck in a view where the camera would be tight on my character and pointing at the ground, meaning that I couldn't see anything going on the battlefield.
You can further customise your stats and combat options by equipping different pieces of gear. Each armour piece comes with different perks, each perk has its own place on a grid, if the perks across all pieces of gear line up in a variety of different ways (rows, columns and stacks) you get extra benefits that vary greatly. Whilst this mechanic has potential it never truly delivered anything for me. Not once did I notice an increase (or decrease) in combat ability from one gear combination to another.
franchise is in dire need of revitalisation, because as it stands I think I am done with it until an entry produces something remarkably different. There has been one too many instances of bland environments, paper thin characters and rehashed story lines for me. For those long-time fans who aren't sick of essentially playing the same game over and over again with each new entry, add two points to the score below. For the rest of you this is one to avoid unless you haven't played a Tales game since Symphonia.
+ The rather excellent opening movie and accompanying song.
+ It can be very pretty, in a bland way.
+ There is no Teepo like character, Google him at your own discretion.
- Unnecessarily featureless large areas.
- Vapid and familiar characters.
- button mash-y combat.
- Yes, I've said bland a lot, but it's the best word to describe this game.
SPOnG Score: 5/10