The Tales series has seen its share of ups and downs over the years, but by the fifteenth entry one would expect a certain amount of innovation from what has been an otherwise unchanged franchise since 1995. To be fair, the Tales games have always been fundamentally strong and their charming art style and dynamic combat-system has unquestionably attracted the now nearly-extinct JRPG crowd. I’ve been a Tales fan since Tales of Phantasia ported to the original Playstation in 1998, and while I haven’t played each consecutive sequel, I’ve kept up with most releases during the Playstation 3 era.
Tales of Zestiria marks the 20th anniversary of the Tales series. After fifteen releases, the Tales series is finally showing its age, and Zestiria may very well serve as the perfect example of why JRPGs no longer have the same appeal they once had. Aside from the absolutely superb Yakuza 5 and Xenoblade: Chronicles X (and a few other exceptions), there haven’t been that many memorable Japanese titles in recent years. Tales of Zestiria feels like it was developed by a team stuck in a time bubble, unaware of how much the RPG genre has evolved over time. There’s an uncomfortable sense of deja vu while traversing Zestiria’s bland scenery, a sense that the entire game was created by following a checklist of Anime cliches and archaic mechanics. As a result, Tales of Zestiria is no different than any of the shovelware JRPGs that have been recently localized, which is particularly disappointing considering that PC gamers are finally seeing more Japanese titles ported to their platform.
"After fifteen releases, the Tales series is finally showing its age, and Zestiria may very well serve as the perfect example of why JRPGs no longer have the same appeal they once had."
Zestiria’s narrative has an exhausting start. It takes at least a dozen hours before the story picks up and becomes even remotely interesting. As with everything in Zestiria, the plot feels recycled and unoriginal. The game takes place on Glenwood, a fictional continent divided between two warring countries: Hyland and Rolance. Negative emotions of humanity are gradually transforming humans into evil creatures. This “malevolence” can also turn inanimate objects into monsters called “Hellions”...ugh. Then there are the Seraphim, humanoids and animals that can only interact and be seen by humans with enough resonance in them. The few that can interact with the Seraphim are called Shepherds, and have historically been the ones to step forward and bring peace to the land.
As you already probably expected, you play one of these Shepherds. You’re the flawless, selfless hero who sets out to save the world from Hellions. Shepherd Sorey is unquestionably the weakest protagonist in the entire Tales series. He’s a hero-stereotype filled with as much personality as the barren continent of Glenwood. The plot is uninteresting, boring, and worst of all, the dialogue makes it nearly impossible to sit through the dozens of hours it takes to complete the tale. Even when things pick up after the first twelve hours or so, it’s impossible to become invested in any of the characters and you find yourself skipping through countless lines of cringe worthy dialogue just to get to the action.
"Even when things pick up after the first twelve hours or so, it’s impossible to become invested in any of the characters and you find yourself skipping through countless lines of cringe worthy dialogue just to get to the action."
Fortunately, the action is where Tales of Zestiria still offers some redeeming qualities. The combat is similar to the Star Ocean titles with a bit of Ni No Kuni mixed in. It’s nearly identical to previous entries, but for some reason, it feels much stiffer and less engaging in Zestiria. The only difference is that the battles take place in the same space where the enemy is encountered, instead of opening in a new battle window. It gives the battles a bit more immersion, but doesn’t do anything else beyond providing aesthetic coherence. Combat can be fun and flashy, but it technically boils down to two button combinations, one of which is dedicated to a modifiable “arte” attack, while the other is just a classic button-mash combo. You can also transform into Shepherd mid combat and deal greater damage with new attacks, but strangely enough, the Shepherd phase is less fun than your regular mode due to attacks failing to properly connect with enemies, making it seem like you’re flailing around at air most of the time.
"It’s also nice to see another JRPG being ported to PC, but honestly, I’d rather have the older Tales titles ported and some more effort put into optimizing the port properly for the PC platform."
There isn’t much to Tales of Zestiria. It’s like every Tales game before it, minus good storytelling, characters and intriguing visuals. The world of Zestiria feels empty and sterile, and it boasts some of the most generic scenery in a Tales game to date. I was really looking forward to Zestiria as a big fan of previous entries, but I can’t say I enjoyed much of this dreadful adventure. To make matters worse, the PC port is locked to 30fps (and yes, there is a 60 fps workaround, but it creates more problems than fixes) and it lack any decent graphics options. If you’re an absolute die-hard Tales fan, Zestiria “may be” worth checking out, just don’t expect the same level of quality seen in previous offerings. It’s also nice to see another JRPG being ported to PC, but honestly, I’d rather have the older Tales titles ported and some more effort put into optimizing the port properly for the PC platform.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC