Last week the good folks at Namco invited us to their offices for tea and cakes. Or…to have a look at the first couple of hours of the latest entry in the long running Tales series, that will be making its way over to Europe in little over a week –Tales of Zestiria.
Returning the series to its medieval roots, Zestiria puts players in the boots of Sorey, a boy that grew up among spiritual beings known as Seraphin, in the small village of Elysia, high above the world below that has fallen into wars and chaos the way that most a typical JRPG settings do. The game begins with our hero, along with his best friend Mikleo, exploring some ruins that make mention of the Shepherd; a legendary champion that will help to usher in a new period of peace, by defeating the legions of Hellions (read: monsters) that threaten the human world. After finding a fresco making reference to aforementioned hero, (that’s totally not going to end up being Sorey – honest gov’) the pair fall into a pit, to find that the ruins actually are home to underground temple. As the pair explore the temple searching for a way out they stumble across an unconscious girl on the other side of what appears to be an impassable ravine.
Desperate to help the young lady Sorey and Mikelo continue to venture through the ruins, looking for a way to get to her. It’s at this point that the Hellions attack and I got my first look at ToZ’s battle system. In proper Tales tradition it’s fast frantic and (initially at least) a little button bashy. If I were to compare to a another title of the series I’d say its most like Tales of Graces mixed with a tiny bit of Symphonia mixed in for good measure. Though the big new addition (that I sadly didn’t get to try) is the ability to fuse characters together Dragonball style to create massive monsters, to annihilate anything that gets in your way.
Rather than just having a stock of attack points which eventually run out and need replenishing. Your ability to attack and perform actions is governed by your spirit chain; basically a slowly regenerating bar that you chip away with every action. This can be replenished faster by either standing still, or successfully blocking enemies attacks. The other major change is that battles no longer transport you to a separate area but merely switch the camera position and have you fight right where you are. It’s a small change in some respects but a welcome one as fights are woven seamlessly into the experience, so they no longer feel disjointed.
After polishing off some angry giant spiders and wandering around the sparse, dusty ruins for a little while longer. The pair eventually find a way to get to the girl, waking her from her coma and take her back to town. In grand anime tradition though, the towns elder doesn’t want that blasted human in his idyllic little village and insists that she leave once she has the supplies to do so. Not that she can see, or hear any of this, because unlike Sorey she can’t see Seraphin and thus thinks Sorey is just some nutter living in an abandoned village by himself, talking to thin air, not unlike most of the WASDuk staff.
Still, this leads to the pair going on another little adventure to collect enough bore hides to craft a useful item for her to use on her travels. Before leaving she tells Sorey her name – Alisha Diphta. Pretty much as soon as she goes all hell breaks lose as a corrupted human that has turned in to a Hellion invades the village looking for Alisha and kills one of the townsfolk. After the first basic boss fight against this fox…man…vampire… thing, Sorey makes the decision to attempt to find Alisha in the world below, and along with Mikleo the pair leave the village, and the game begins proper. You know this because, we’re treated to the traditional Tales of… animated introductory cut scene complete with power metal ballad and lots of foreshadowing, and characters we haven’t even met yet. (Like your average shonen anime series)
The pair make their way to the city of Ladylake, a huge European style city complete with huge brick buildings and a giant waterwheel situated on a massive lake. After thwarting the Fox Hellions scheme, or at least delaying it in another slightly tougher boss fight which introduces the ability to give orders to the other members of your party by pressing the right stick. The pair eventually catch up with Alisha at The Sacred Blade festival an annual ceremony in which members of the public are invited to attempt to pull the shepherds sword out of a stone plinth. Unbeknownst to the other humans the blade is being guarded by a Seraphin. By talking to the Seraph, Sorey manages to pull the blade from the stone, and in doing so becomes the latest incarnation of the Shepherd, gasp and shock I’m sure.
I have to say though, I was impressed with what I saw. For the first game in the series on the PS4 (though there is also a PS3 version too) the game looks lush at 1080p, with the games fields and animated aesthetic looking better than ever. It also ran locked at a 30fps (if you’re interested), Though the main elements of the game don’t change from the PS3 version. It simply runs better on the PS4. If you’re in the market for a good JRPG. Tales of Zestiria certainly has the potential to be another solid entry in the beloved series.