“Technicolor Shepherd”

Another year, another Tales game; Zestiria is the latest entry in the saga, released both for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, even though the PS4 version is clearly a port. It’s my first time with a Tales game and, as a JRPG fan, I can say the game delivers, not for its story but for the battle system and the wide array of variants it provides.

Tales of Zestiria

Available on PC, PS3 and PS4 (tested)
Developers: Bandai Namco Entertainment, tri-Crescendo
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment


Zestiria tells us the story of Sorey, a human raised by seraphims, deity-like entities that can’t be seen by humans. The game presents the conflict in the form of a being known as The Lord of Calamity, who is bringing the malevolence back to the world and can only be stopped by the legendary Shepherd; an entity capable of interacting with both humans and seraphims in order to bring balance to the chaos by purifying the hellions, creatures created by the malevolence who sometimes are humans or seraphims engulfed by anger, sorrow, sadness, etc. As you may have guessed, Sorey happens to be the legendary Shepherd and we will navigate through his adventures as he understands his new powers and get to acknowledge them with the sole purpose of defeating The Lord of Calamity.

My main concern with the story is that is so straightforward that it doesn’t leave you thinking of it. You won’t be at the office, school or wherever thinking “oh man, I really want to keep playing to know what’s happening next!”. The story does an “ok” job, but what really grabs your attention here is character customization and the battle system.

Development and customization in Zestiria can be a tricky one at first glance, but once you get the hold of it you can achieve some pretty cool stats boost and additional effects. All this customization is attached directly to the equipment your characters have equipped. The cool twist is that if you have 2 of a same item, let’s say Fire Ring, they won’t necessarily have the same additional effects; you can have one ring that gives you a +4 on defense and the other one giving you a 20% of stun chance with physical attacks. This is interesting enough to keep you trying combinations on all the equipment slots, not to mention you can also Fuse items that have the same name to get an improved version of it, which retains the additional effects of both items. Even though some effects are blocked the first time you equip an item, you can unblock said effects by leveling up the item proficiency; it’s like an XP bar that is attached to both the character and the item – the higher the proficiency, the better the effects.

At first glance, battle in Zestiria seems to be fairly easy and straightforward; it’s very action oriented, letting you move your character, perform dodging maneuvers, blocking incoming attacks and, of course, letting you attack. The attacking part is divided into two buttons; pressing circle translates into an “Arte”. What is an Arte you ask? It’s basically a type of attack that you can configure in the game’s menu. Assuming you will be playing with Sorey most of the time (you can play with the other characters though), you will be battling your foes with a sword. For this you have a predefined combo that’s performed by repeatedly pressing circle and then you have a variation for these movements, which are called Martial Artes and that can be performed by pressing circle and tilting the stick to one of the four main directions. As time passes and you gain more Artes, some of them with elemental properties, you find yourself with a lot of options to take on the hellions. Not to mention you also have Hidden Artes…

Hidden Artes are performed by pressing the X button and can be used anytime within a combo, either to start it, to mix up or the finish it. You gain access to more attacks later on, but with those two buttons you have plenty of options to squeeze, as the order in which you perform the movements affect the combo’s final damage. So, how the game prevents you from spamming attacks? By using SC points, which are consumed each time you perform an Arte of any type, and restore automatically with time. That mostly covers the battle system. Wait, no, I forgot the Armitize feature. In order to not spoil the game, let’s say that Armitize let’s Sorey unleash his Shepherd powers with the help of another party member, resulting in devastating Artes capable of turning the tide of battle in a pinch. Plus, it’s super good looking.

Talking about looks, let’s dive into presentation: from a graphical standpoint the game is fine; it doesn’t look like a PS4 game by any means, but it’s pretty to watch. Character design is colorful and diverse and I think is the visual aspect that grabs your attention the most. The cities, on the contrary, look shallow for the size they boast; this, combined with the game’s textures, is what gives you the clue that the game was thought as a PS3 game from the start. As for the menus, I’m glad to say they are really pretty yet simple to understand, a key aspect in this type of games.

The musical score is full of memorable tunes, mostly dominated by orchestral arrangements with some electric guitar icing, to add even more heroism to the tracks when needed. The voice acting, both English and Japanese (you can change it as you see fit) does the job perfectly, characters differentiate from each other and transmit the various emotions in a fair way.

Should you play it? Tales of Zestiria does a fine job into bringing a JRPG to PS4, although it was clearly conceived as a PS3 game and can feel shallow from time to time. The story lacks a strong reason to get you hooked in, but the deep battle system and equipment customization will get you coming back for more.

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