Article first published as PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Tales of Zestiria’ on Blogcritics.
Though it was originally only released on the PlayStation 3, Bandai Namco’s Tales of Zestiria is the first of their Tales of series to be released on the current generation of home consoles. The Japanese import has now been released for both the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 in Europe and North America. Surprisingly, Bandai Namco’s lesser known Tales of series has beaten both of Square Enix’s iconic roleplaying game franchises, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy to the PlayStation 4. Though Tales of Zestiria is a dual PlayStation 3 and 4 release, it is surprisingly quite at home on the newer PlayStation system.
Amazingly, Tales of Zestiria is actually the fifteenth title in the series that began all of the way back in 1995. More similar to the Dragon Quest series than Final Fantasy, the Tales of games almost always feature a high fantasy setting. Like the Final Fantasy games, the main Tales of games are rarely sequels, and Tales of Zestiria is really nothing like its predecessor, Tales of Xillia 2. Though last year’s North American release, was a surprisingly dark entry, the newest chapter returns to the classic hero’s tale theme, in a bright, and vibrant anime setting.
Tales of Zestiria is the story of a young man named Sorey in the land of Glenwood. Adopted by the Seraphim, Sorey wants to bring peace to Glenwood by uniting the humans and the Seraphim, as the mythical Shepherd, and defeat the darkness corrupting the world. As with most Tales of games, Zestiria draws parallels in its narrative with real-life racism, but successfully avoids coming off as too heavy handed, with its message delivery. All too often RPGs, especially Japanese ones, build in overly complicated, and cumbersome backstories. While deep enough to be immersive, Tales of Zestiria’s mythology never feels overwhelming.
Tales of Zestiria has really found a sweet spot in its design where it’s accessible but still honors its Japanese RPG roots. This is really evident in its combat system that has a lot under the hood, but isn’t overwhelming. For the most part enemies are all visible on screen, allowing players to avoid some encounters, or try to get the jump others. The combat arena mirrors the appropriate environment, and the action all moves in real time. While some abilities or artes do have cooldown timers and draw resources, other, more basic attacks can be executed at will. The rest of your party will act according to their individual settings.
While Tales of Zestiria isn’t an open world romp, the areas are large enough for off-the-beaten-path treasure hunting, and the game never really feels too guided. As a matter of fact, hunting down some of the quests can occasionally be a little confusing. A character will often explain what needs to be done through the game’s dialogue, but it’s then up to the player to actually figure out how to accomplish it. Speaking of dialogue, the vast majority of it is voiced, but occasionally it’s only represented with onscreen text bubbles. Tales of Zestiria can be played in either English or the original Japanese, with an option as the game starts up.
Tales of Zestiria is a remarkably accessible JRPG, particularly considering it’s the fifteenth entry in long running series. The production values are pretty good, with a significant amount of voice work, original soundtrack, and vibrant animation. Some of the environments are a bit sparse, but overall, the game is fairly immersive. Hardcore JRPG enthusiasts might find the game a little too vanilla for their tastes, but more mainstream gamers will probably be pleasantly surprised. It’s too bad that Tales of Zestiria probably won’t find much of that audience. If you’re looking for a game to recommend to JRPG newcomers, though, Tales of Zestiria will fit the bill nicely.