Tales of Zestiria (1)

Genre: RPG
Year: 2015
Developed by: Bandai Namco, tri-Crescendo
Published by: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Windows
Feeling Like: Extended theatrics

There’s nothing worse than a bad play. If you’re watching a movie, or binge watching a TV show, there’s an exit strategy. You can pause, or leave. Not so lucky with a theatrical production; the tickets are usually more expensive, so you feel obligated by your sunk cost to stick it out and maybe it will get better?

It won’t. These people are right in front of you trying their hardest, only for you to realize that there’s nothing slower than time itself during a horrific production you swore got good reviews, but now you’re thinking might have been for a different show. Had to be.

Japanese RPGs are the the plays of the video game world. There’s nothing more tedious than a bad one; they’re overly complicated, overly bloated and overly long. It’s like you’re reading a book, but have to unlock each subsequent chapter by re-reading the first chapter 12 times before you can move on. Tales of Zestiria isn’t one of those, but it’s hardly a good starting point for anybody but the most dedicated JRPG fan.

Rule of thumb: any Japanese video game or TV show that has an awesome intro has already reached their zenith. Sailor Moon, the Japanese version of the X-Men Cartoon and, yes, Tales of Zestiria. It starts with an awesome guitar riff, incredible animation and frantic action that cannot possibly get you more hyped up for the game.

And then it starts slow. Very slow.

If you haven’t played a “Tales of” game before, they’re essentially JRPG comfort food. Never quite deviating from their popular formula, you’ll usually find yourself in the middle of a fantastical world filled with colorful characters, warring factions and beings that may or may not be obsessed with some kind of incredible power. Sounds like…well, every fantasy story ever told, but there’s more to it than that.

Tales of Zestiria (2)
Oh really? Like what?

The trademark battle system is the Tales’ series calling card. No menu or turn based combat here, it’s chaotic action complete with combos, cooperative attacks, button mashing and free roaming along the battlefield. It can really get your blood pumping and there’s heavy emphasis on dodging attacks, countering enemy moves and busting out some insane Dragonball Z-esque final strikes. Tales of Zestiria has all of these in spades, but it was too technical for my liking. The system of combining two characters into a more powerful one was visually stunning and greatly advantageous in battle, but I never got a handle of when the best time to do it was. I eventually never wanted to spend a single moment fighting where I wasn’t controlling battle shiny angel beings that are supremely powerful and had awesome moves.

The loot and equipment system also stymied me. Equipment could be upgraded, but then also synthesized with other armor to create more powerful armor. But I was receiving so much loot in every dungeon that eventually it stopped becoming a reward and felt more like a chore when I discovered a treasure chest contained yet another helmet for me to add to the pile to examine and figure out if it was worth my time to equip/sell/combine. Boo.

Tales of Zestiria (3)
The world is pretty, but sparse

The complaints keep on rolling; the second half of the game is unforgivably paced, with drawn out fetch quests and little indication as to where to go. I never understand why every single one of these types of games need to be 40 hours plus, when there’s usually less than 20 hours of real gameplay. To make it worse, fast travel was often disabled for no reason at all, and I didn’t find any kind of horsey or car to ride in. This is the kind of game where you play a podcast to drown out the boredom.

The less said about the Water Temple, the better. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; insta-fail stealth sections are my least favorite level/mechanic in any game, ever. And this ISN’T a stealth game, so I don’t know what the hell that was doing in Tales of Zestiria but I can’t imagine anybody found it fun.

Tales of Zestiria (4)
True to Anime openings, this scene never actually occurs

You may find yourself asking, “Did I click on spot number 607 or something? Did Henry like ANYthing about Tales of Zestiria?” Well, here’s the thing.

I liked quite a lot about this game.

Let’s start out with the obvious, the character models are absolutely gorgeous. As long as you’re alright with standard anime tropes, the banter and skits between the cast are a delight to watch and listen to. You really do feel as if you’re a travelling band of warriors getting to know each other, having internal struggles, creating friendships and journeying to the far ends of the earth. Edna, the fiery little girl with a parasol and a punch, steals the show in every scene she’s in.

Some of the story beats are unforgettable in the right ways. The big battle between the kingdom and the empire (another mainstay in JRPG lore…) and the reveal of the greater threat at stake is vicious, a little melodramatic and heavily impactful. Had the game had more of these kinds of scenes and less fat, we’d be looking at a completely different game. Ditto the ending, which combines a thrilling end boss sequence and satisfying conclusion to the plot.

This is my longest write up on the 500 so far, and for the type of game Tales of Zestiria is, that’s appropriate. I didn’t even go into detail about the protagonist, Sorey, or his friend Mikleo or the rest of the cast and how their story is painstakingly told through thousands of lines of text. Or how many secrets there are, or enemies to fight, or NPCs to talk to, or towns to explore, or side quests to perform, or mysteries to unravel, or the gargantuan amount of information and world building and minutiae that inhabits every square inch.

Tales of Zestiria (5)
Somehow they’re all both overdressed and underdressed…

At times, it was incredible, but often it felt like a bad road trip that had me driving in circles. Why didn’t they focus more on Rose and Alisha? Why the painfully dull pacing in the second half? Why that unforgivable Water Dungeon? Regardless why, Tales of Zestiria deserves spot 405 and you’ll find out why the other Tales games deservedly receive much higher spots.

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