While Final Fantasy XV is taking a desperate departure away from other entries in the series, and Persona 5 looks to be shaking up the Persona formula considerably, Tales of Zestiria at first glance appears to be quite similar to what came before. But appearances can be deceptive. Zestiria is very aware of its roots, and rather than stepping away from them, seems to be using modern technology to perfect them.
Picture this: a JRPG without the flaws that have constantly eaten away at the genre. That’s pretty much what Tales of Zestiria seems to me after a couple of hours with it at Bandai Namco’s offices, getting deep into the set-up of the story. To an extent the Tales Of series has always strived for this, its battle system being closer to a brawler than stats and numbers and waiting. Tales Of always has some complex depth to its systems, and that seems to be the case here too — but more than ever it’s easier to just jump in and pick up that depth as you go, enjoying just hitting enemies and doing combos.
The gameplay is more smooth and streamlined than ever. Battles against the roaming enemies in dungeons and the overworld load in instantly, and the battle victory screen can be clicked through fast. Even the cutscenes are tied to points of dialogue, and can be clicked through line by line if you’d rather just read fast than hear everything (though the voice acting is very good). Zestiria is a JRPG that lets you play at your own pace, and does as much as possible to avoid getting in your way. For a JRPG that’s incredible.
The story kicks off quite quickly, putting you in control of Sorey within the first few minutes as he explores some ruins near his village along with his childhood friend Mikleo, a Seraphim who only a few can see. Even when the story still feels like it’s setting up what’s going to come it’s not holding you back, the battles and overworld gameplay coming in quite early, avoiding the slow start some JRPGs have, while at the same time still providing a fulfilling opening.
Perhaps this is the true way to bring out a modern JRPG. It has all the traditional gameplay you’d expect (and isn’t without innovations of course, such as the Fusionic-Chain system), but everything is enhanced and smoothed out with modern technology, leaving next to no flaws. The PlayStation 4 version of the game looks very nice, and very pretty. It’s got that PlayStation 4 smoothness to it that I’ve come to love.
Tales of Zestiria is the only upcoming JRPG that still feels like a traditional JRPG. While what other JRPGs are doing isn’t exactly bad, it’s really nice to see a series continuing to do what it does well, and doing it better than ever before. No other series has the same charm, humour and just general chillness as Tales Of, and Zestiria is no exception. Whether you’re a Tales Of fan already, or someone new to JRPGs entirely, you’re not going to want to miss this one.
Tales of Zestiria releases for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 on 16th October in Europe, with the Steam release following on 20th October.