Well here we are with another one of these so soon after the last one. It just shows at how much I’ve been loving the game releases this month, its hard to believe I already have 10 hours in this game but I do and there is a reason for that it’s great. The Otaku in Japan who hate this game... well we’ll get to that shortly. Really although I’m no where near done and as such I won’t have a definitive placement for the game on my Tales of... Ranking just yet I can already say its threatening Xillia’s number three placement, however I got to say Abyss and Vesperia seem very secure in their second and first spots respectively. Anyways lets get on with the main event.
1) Alisha: Lets get the big one out of the way here. One of the biggest stories surrounding this game before release was the odd anger directed at the game as it focused around the character Alisha. As such I was very curious to see really what the deal was with Alisha. Based on everything you would expect, she should be a blow away character, something stand out, and amazing why else would all the Japanese Otaku care so much? Instead we are treated to a perfectly fine character: dedicated, sweet, kind, and loyal. However quite frankly nothing unique at this point.
Really I don’t personally see the big deal about her, frankly she is merely one of many amazing characters. Indeed she isn’t even the stand out character of the early game; for me that goes to the fourth party member Lialah who is just down right fun to be around and improves upon every scene. Hell once Agnes comes around Alisha seems almost boring... Again once I play more I’ll write a more comprehensive post regarding Alisha but for now I really don’t get the controversy surrounding this character.
1.5 Disclaimer) For the sake of full disclosure I did come in biased. Fully armed with presuppositions based on the pre-release media, however now having played the game up to this point my views haven’t changed much. Fundamentally the Japanese males (the kind who write angry Amazon.jp Reviews) which seem to have the most issue with the game simultaneously seem more detached from the game itself as a whole. Instead they focus their antagonism on the treatment of their clearest “Waifu” character, who apparently wasn’t treated well enough..
Now I hate to make rash judgments and I reserve the right to totally repent at a later date, while also taking total flak for my views in the comments. However right now this seems much ado about nothing, Alisha is a fine character in and of herself but her place within the ensemble isn’t standout other then game play wise (you’re forced to play with her as a human for a good amount of time). I’ll end it here without definitively ending the discussion as I hope to continue this in the comments if people disagree; there is much to discuss.
2) Music: Okay I’m not going to lie the music is great. For Tales of... fans it’s like fanservice for your ears. At this moment I’m listening to the tracks trying to express my view of it for the fans, however the best way it can be described is like a remix of the series greatest hits (sorry newbies this section isn’t for you). This is not a surprise as the main composers are Go Shiina returning to his first Mothership title since the critically acclaimed soundtrack for Tales of Legendia and Motoi Sakuraba a more modern composer famed among fans for Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia, which I personally consider among the best in the franchise.
3) The Opening Song: Kotaku recently wrote about the Opening and how its amazing. This... I have to agree with its really upbeat, catching, and gets you in the mood for playing the game. I’m sadly taking about its JAPANESE opening... Unfortunately much like Tales of the Abyss Westerners only get the instrumentals with electric guitars often invoking the words (if you know them). Which is fine, however after being spoiled by Bonnie Pink and Ring a Bell being translated and sung by the original artist in Tales of Vesperia its a significant letdown as White Light is its best song in years.
4) Art Direction: Once again Tales of Zestiria sets a new standard for Tales of... games by continuing the trend of less anime artistic styles then previously. This is a trend which started with Tales of Xillia and you can see the popular former franchises influence upon this game. Personally I have been a longtime fan of the more anime cel shaded style of Vesperia and Abyss which I feel is more timeless, however despite this the visuals are crisp and at times pop.
Also this must be mentioned as well the vista’s are gorgeous while not in anyway an open world game the majesty of the landscape is brought to life by a loving artistic flare that has been missing in recent games. It is not an understatement to say this is a massive step up from Graces F and Xillia. Without any doubt this is the first Tales of... game since Vesperia I haven’t lamented the lack of an overworld just due to to vibrancy of the artistic direction. One really does share Sorey’s wonder as you first leave the mountains.
5) Technical Performance: I’m playing the PS4 version of the game and I can say with absolute certainty you can tell this was made for the PS3. Compared to other anime style RPGs such as those from Compile Heart like Omega Quintet Zestiria just does not stand up. This is most notable in stage sizes where Zesteria is just smaller, furthermore the animation is oddly jarring at times with frame rate issues being quite noticeable on certain enemies in the field.
It’s a real shame too that with the added power of the PS4 issues like these pop up, however its also possible the issue is present because of the PS4 where these issues exist as my version was a rather quick port. The PC version however from what I have seen of it seems much nicer with longer draw distances, smother lines, and more vivid colours (even though all versions of the game are no slouch in that department). That being said the frame rate is solid when it counts the battles.
6) Battles: Speaking of the battle system I really like this one. Despite coming in thinking it was taking place on the open field like the upcoming Star Ocean V its not it retains its distinctive arena style battlefield. Except the field and battle arena are perfectly linked, if you engaged around a corner the corner is there, rocks in the way you have rocks. This provides additional strategic options for defense and offence not seen previously in Tales of... titles. However you will have camera issues, this is probably the most stand out flaw I have with the game. Really it can get annoying and take you out of the experience.
Furthermore the battle system itself is great at first I thought it was kinda slow but that was just because I was kinda bad at it. In fact its the fastest battle system next only to Graces F as once again you are not limited by TP for artes, instead you use BP which is effectively a stamina meter which governs your actions. Your BP depletes as you engage in battle and recharges as you remain idle and defend. Further options exist to manage this which is a key part of the battle system. Now its far more complicated then that but really its a lot of fun and you’ll have a blast with it.
7) Armatization: Much like in Tales of Xillia 2 your main hero Sorey has an ability to transform by merging with his Seraphim he is currently linked with. This joins their two powers together and changes how he handles in battle. Unlike in Xillia 2 where I though the transformation was a limiting factor, in Zestiria due to the fact you have up to four transformations (I assume) it provides a little extra strategic depth as enemy elemental weaknesses are so key to the battles. Although I don’t love the concept of transformation in Tales I’ve accepted that they’re now most likely the norm and I much prefer Zestira’s take on them then Xillia 2’s. Also I’m not going to lie Sorey rocks it as a blonde.
8) Difficulty: I’m a long time fan of the series so take this with a grain of salt, but this game is easy. Seriously if you are a fan of Tales or just JRPGs with customization in general raise the difficulty above normal it wont change much but there will be a higher feeling of satisfaction. I’m being serious here this is actually one of my most strongly held feelings. With all the customization and battle options I have yet to actually be pressed in battle with the exception of those I was meant to lose (even then I held my own...).
9) The Grind and Payoff: This is the most grind focused Tales of... game I have ever played and its amazing. Due to the fact every Weapon (even of the same type) has different skills which you can increase and master the game actively encourages you to use weaker weapons to level them up. Beyond that due to weapon fusion returning from previous games you are encouraged to do this so you can forge even stronger weapons with more skills. As the skills synergize together giving you further power ups. If that sounds complicated... it kinda is, until it isn’t. There will be a point where this just clicks with you and you will love the game all the more for it.
Watch out though title management and level grinding are much harder here which I think is intentional. While previous Tales of... games gave out levels and titles like candy this is much more stingy. Instead your feeling of progress and characters power is directly tied to your gear which is a very western idea. As your gear grows and powers up you power up with it so every time at the end of battle as you see your weapons grow you feel good. It’s the grind reward circle that keeps me coming back and if you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself obsessively checking and rearranging gear for the optimal balance for each character. 20+ for every skill is a nice bonus I want EVERYONE to have - even if its impossible at times.
10) The Characters: We started with one character Alisha now lets end with everyone else. Honestly as I said above Alisha isn’t a bad character she’s actually a really good character, that is also the case with the entire cast which makes the focus on her so perplexing... Although the dialogue can be stilted this may be the most memorable cast since Abyss or Vesperia. Although I know I have not met everyone yet including the key character in the Alisha discussion Rose (I have but she wasn’t major...) I can already get a strong feeling I will be able to spend a lot of time with these characters. The females themselves are also standout and some of the better acted and written in the genre. This is a good thing as the story itself is kinda cliched so the characters are very important to keeping your attention.
11 BONUS!) The Story: “In every generation there is a Chosen One. They alone will stand against the Hellions, the Beasts, and the forces of Malevolence. They are the Sheppard.
Earth. Fire. Air. Water. Only the Sheppard can master all four elements and bring balance to the world.” Ya... that sums up the plot; seriously that is the plot... also stop me if I’m being to radical but your hero is shunned by being too awesome.
Conclusion: Well as always not a review just my incomplete thoughts on a game after 10 hours of playing it. Really I can already tell this will be a solid entry into the series, will it stay at its lofty height its hard to say. However at the moment I am having a lot of fun with the game and its small issues really aren’t all that big to this long time fan. As I said once my thoughts become more firm I’ll write a supplemental to this regarding the Alisha issue however until then I’ll most likely get back to playing Tales of Zestira.