The 20th anniversary of the Tales series is here in the form of Tales of Zestiria, a simultaneous greatest hits collection of all the successful Tales tropes while also being the series’ first leap into the current generation and on PC. With enough throwbacks and gameplay revisions to keep the hardcore happy, I don’t think Tales of Zestiria has done enough as a title to bring a whole new fan of fans to the next chapter in this legendary series of tales.
With Zestiria, Bandai Namco has definitely gone back to basics when it comes to story. No owing the mafia money, no entering into the souls of others to restore emotions, this is a simple tale of a chosen one, travelling the earth to collect the 4 elemental macguffins and then going to slap the big baddy in the face. There is something refreshing to the simplicity of Zestiria’s story, of it really going back to what the series cut its teeth on and just refining that simple but effective hero’s journey narrative. Of course, it isn’t just Final Fantasy I redone with fancy graphics, but the overarching plot of Zestiria is not going to make your head spin. You play Sorey, a happy go lucky young man who has the power to talk to seraphim, who are the cross between angels and your standard supernatural spirit. Other humans without a special power called resonance cannot see seraphim and those who have a particularly strong resonance are marks of Shepherds. Shepherds are Zestiria’s equivalent of a Warrior of Light or an Avatar, a person who can restore balance to the world by harnessing the power of certain seraphim to defeat a chap called the Lord of Calamity who appears at regular intervals to ruin the world.
After a small sequence of events where Sorey and Mikleo, Sorey’s seraphim brother for all intents and purposes, are dragged out from their little idyll above the clouds and are brought down to the human world to restore the land to balance. Like most of these tales, this will involve gathering a band of lovable misfits with unique powers to, yadda yadda yadda, you’ve heard this tale before. While the main plot is so familiar, what saves Zestiria from being a complete re-tread of previous Tales stories, is the character interactions between Sorey’s party. The group that you travel with has some of the best chemistry of any Tales party, with the skits being well delivered and many cutscenes having stand out bits of comedy in between serious story points. The party is made up entirely of anime/Tales archetypes though. Sorey is your lovable but naïve protagonist that has a heart of gold but a lot to learn. Mikleo is the cool brother who has a playful rivalry with Sorey, Laliah is your ditzy big sister character while Dezel is your obvious super edgy but reluctantly heroic outsider who will no doubt become the best of mates by the end of the journey. It is the stellar vocal performances which save the day, with the dub of Zestiria being way superior to the subtitle Japanese voicetrack. You also have the nice surprise of certain voice actors who started on Youtube or Newgrounds being among the Zestiria voicecast, with Martin ‘LittleKuriboh’ Billany and Chris ‘Kirbopher’ Niosi popping up throughout the tale.
Even the character designs are call backs to previous Tales games, with Rose’s standard costume looking almost identical to Rita’s from Vesperia while Mikleo looks a hell of a lot like Hubert from Tales of Graces f. The character and world designs evoke that almost timeless JRPG feel, which you may see as comforting or drab, depending on how much of a pre-existing JRPG fan you are. I will say though, not only does Laliah look as creepy as one of those people who have had cosmetic surgery to look like a real life Barbie doll, Bandai Namco have still not fixed how all their characters look like puppets when acting in an in-engine cutscene.