Tales of Zestiria is a Namco Bandai Bandai Namco JRPG first released on the PS3 in 2015 and then on the PS4 and PC in 2016. The game stars the Shephard Sorey and his companions on their journey to rid the world of malevolence and the Lord of Calamity.
I usually don't go into the actual business part of gaming, but Zestiria demands it. The game has its own flavour of preorder DLC and I don't like the nature of it.
Beyond the usual fare of regular DLC in the form of costumes and worthless item packs, the game has two ”preorder” DLCs. One is a side story and the other are some attacks. In spite of buying a new copy, I was only privy to the latter one. This is because the codes are timed and the one for the first DLC went out about a month after release. The attack pack is still good for a few more years. I wonder why.
Pictured: Bamco's forthcoming DLC practices.
It's really contrived. I guess it's sorta nice for the inital buyers, but it's still content ripped out of the game's normal dev cycle. Also, I'm pretty sure the PC players never got this ”deal” either. The same probably goes for digital buyers of the Playstation versions.
That would be the end of my rant, but alas, I couldn't get the attack pack. For some stupid reason, the box didn't come with two PSN codes. No, it's a registration code for Bamco's awful website that was very annoying to traverse. And just to top it all off, their store was closed for repairs. All this reallly soured my first impressions. So did all the ads for Berseria (and its DLC) on the game's detailed info page on the PS4 dashboard!
Zestiria manages to nail the anime aesthetic. Models and sprites are colourful, distinct and rather expressive, making for some nice cutscenes. The mouths on the 3d models could use some more work though. They have a tendency to animate like they would in 2d, which just looks weird.
The main cast is colourful and easily distinguished via silhouettes alone, which is always great. The enviroments aren't as lucky, lacking essential details that would sell the visuals completely. A few dungeons make use of recycled textures as well, which doesn't help.
The fancy anime cutscenes manages to evoke some really nice atmosphere thanks to the lighting, something I doubt the actual anime adaptation manages to do. Check out the spiffy intro to the game and it's horrible bitchin' rock song.
On the whole, the story is rather lightweight, lacking moments of incredible drama. There are of course good parts of the main story, but like any good JRPG, it does at least manage to uphold a fun and lighthearted tone throughout.
Sorey is our main character, a human raised in a village of Seraphim, which are a race of magical beings invisible to most humans. After a Hellion (corrupted monster) attacks, Sorey sets out with his seraphim brother Mikleo to explore the world and figure out what's going on. It's a simple hook, but quite effective, letting your desire to explore the game synch up with Sorey's desire to learn about the world.
They soon find another seraphim who enters into a contract with Sorey, letting them combine their powers via Armatization, thus making him the next Shephard. This being the title of the person destinied to fight the Lord of Calamity, who's corrupting the world with malevolence.
It's close to a ”chosen one” narrative, but Sorey is the driving force of the plot, so I give it a pass. He wants to explore the world, keep his village safe and decides to become the Shephard in the heat of the moment. Technically, he can only do that due to his upbringing alongside seraphim, but that only further cements him as a worthy candidate, since regular people have lost faith in the existance of seraphim.
From that point on, Sorey goes from town to town, killing bosses to lift the local curse and finds new seraphim to add to the party along the way. It's nice enough, but it's lacking some distinct story beats. There aren't many overarching characters (villains or otherwise) to interact with and the state of the world barely changes, in spite of what one would think would happen.
Certain details are very easy to gloss over and when the game expects you to know them, it can get partially confusing from time to time. The sidestories are are presented weirdly. They're introduced one by one, and then put on ice for HOURS before you get to resolve them. It's not exactly bad, but I think I prefer sidequest stories you can end at your leisure. I halfway forgot about certain side characters when they decided to show up again.
The main plot is a bit aimless, but the writing is on point. There is an absurd amount of chemistry between the main characters. Everyone cracks jokes at eachother's expense and bounce off eachother wonderfully.
Dezel tries to teach the party about nature and not to kill everything they see, Edna bullies Mikleo with sass and makes puns, Lailah is jumps between acting ladylike and being a loon, Sorey and Mikleo geek out over ruins and Rose just radiates positive attitude and and endless hunger for good food. They're a great gang.
Outside of regular cutscenes, the game has skits, in battle dialogue, field dialogue and post-battle dialogue, which really lets the cast flex their vocal muscles. Not only does it cement the character's traits, but it's also really funny. That's rare in a game, and deserves note.
I'm not sorry.
Combat took a while to get used to, but it's pretty nice. The weird thing is that it's based around the Y-axis, meaning that you only move forwards or backwards (unless you free move, which doesn't recover SC). It's confusing, but it does mean that co-op (for 2-4 players) can control the party without much camera hassle. Sadly, due to battles taking place in the overworld and not a dedicated arena, the camera has real tendency to get stuck on walls anyway. It's also a pain to readjust, since the right stick is used to issue commands.
Your battle team consists of two humans and two seraphim, with the other ones serving as backup. I like the characteristics that separate them in combat. Humans have martial and hidden artes, while seraphim have martial and seraphic artes. The game runs on a rock-paper-scissor between these types of attacks, meaning that using the wrong one leaves you in a bind and using the correct one does so for the enemy.
If seraphim die, they can regenerate after a while and if a human die, you can instantly revive them via Armatization, if you have enough Blast gauge between the two characters. This fusion combines their stats and allows for bigger finishers, but limits movesets and replaces martial artes with hidden artes, which can backfire if the enemy uses loads of spells.
I like the balancing done here, even if fusing if often the best option. Hell, just using it for defensive purposes is vital.
Attacking eats up SC, which is recovered by not attacking or using a defensive move. Blocking is good, but battles are usually too chaotic to allow decent use of the strictly timed dodge. The AI also can't block, making them easy pickings in later fights.
Another thing that sucks the big one is the game's desire to swap out your active seraphims to match the cutscene. It's really confusing, not to mention annoying. I almost prefer dying, because then you can reset with your desired party. You can swap in battle, but it's easy to get a screen full of boss before you get that far. It sorta ruins the rhythm of things.
I also managed to fuck with the control types and the current leader, making me unable to move a few times. It was my fault, but I shouldn't be able to remove my own input that easily. Something about the button setup is just wrong.
I feel like the game undersells how important weaknesses are to exploit, or rather, how you do it. Sorey's standard moveset includes attacks that work against specific races of enemies, which took me forever to realize, in part because the game is absurdly complex under the hood. Same with how attack chains into spells work.
The core combat is rather simple. Attack, block, spam weakness exploits, heal, armor up during bosses and whatnot. But I get the feeling that the mechanics designer was given a whole month and loads of recreational drugs to JUST GO NUTS.
The game has so many small mechanics that they made tutorial stones into collectibles you find throughout the whole game! No mechanics are locked down until you find the corresponding stone, but it's still ridiculous. I couldn't even begin to explain everything, it's that complex.
And wouldn't you know it, you don't need ANY of this extra fluff for the normal difficulty. Just attacking and healing works perfectly fine. A few redundant things are acceptable, but there's just SO much needless crap they want you to care about. It's like they're pretending that combat is deeper than what it actually is.
But then there's all the stuff outside of combat. Equipment levels, title mastery, support talents, battle actions, Normin setup and the goddamn item fusion system. I didn't even try it properly once, it's that scary. They expect you to buy randomly spawned items in shops and then fuse them with identically named wild ones dropped by enemies with skills determined by the current Normin of the area so you can stack them on yourself in 3 different ways for like 50 different equipment effects!
Did you get all that?! I sure as hell didn't! It's worse than Persona fusion! And just like before, just fusing what you can is enough and going further is a hassle. Makes me kinda scared of how much of a grind the harder modes are.
Frankly, going back to PS1-era levels of equipment complexity would only do the game favours.
The game opts for some rather gigantic areas and even allows for a bit of optional dungeoncrawling every once in a while. The size is a bit bothersome (which is why Berseria has a hoverboard thingie), but there's at least warping between save points.
But there are skits and shinies in all areas, so exploring comes rewarded. And due to the kind nature of Holy Bottles, you can easily scare away enemies weaker than you. It's a nice feature that turns the game into a boss-rush JRPG (kinda like Wild Arms 3), but I can't help but feel that encounters aren't properly balanced and spaced out. There came a point where I almost forgot that regular enemies were a thing and wondered why the current cave was so empty.
The post-game was the only part that really bothered me balance-wise. They ramp up the levels of enemies much faster than normally, and the exp payout doesn't really scale properly to the challenge. As such, I gave up, not wanting to start exp grinding for the first time.
But I did manage to stomp some of the bonus bosses before reaching that point, so it wasn't all a wash. They even put in some some nice dialogue stuff in the post-game, which I didn't expect. Usually, post-game content really cuts down on story material. Goes to show that Bamco really value the Tales of games being voiced.