GAMES - Article
15:00 - 15th January 2016, by NEO Staff

Tales of Zestiria

The first time we got our mitts on the latest Tales Of title was at May’s MCM London Comic Con, where we managed to get a quick, sneaky play in before hordes of gamers hurtled through the Excel Centre’s doors. Zestiria is the 15th main entry in this Japanese RPG franchise’s lineage, and from our brief time whacking in-game sheep with pointy-swords (mostly to test out the battle system, a little bit for our own amusement), one thing was clear; Tales Of has come a long way since its original 1995 outing on Japan’s Super Famicom.

Thankfully, the kind chaps at Namco Bandai recently invited us over to their offices for a much more in-depth session with Zestiria, sheep and all. Plying us with as many biscuits as we can handle, unlimited coffee and a whopper of a TV to play on, we set to work: we had until the end of the day to get as far as we could on the PS4 version. (The game is also available for PS3 and PC.)

A Whole New World

It all begins with wide-eyed protagonist Sorey nosing around a local ruin with his wisecracking buddy Mikleo. As with all the main Tales Of games, the setting and the characters are entirely new and don’t carry over from previous adventures.

As we explore the three-dimensional world, we spot the first new feature to the series; ‘Real Map Battles’. If you find an enemy wandering around a dungeon, you have the option to let it be and get on with your life, or to smack it and initiate combat. If the player chose the latter in previous games, they’d be whisked away from the exploration screen and taken to a battle scenario. This is now gone. If you want to duke it out with an enemy, you’re doing it on the map. Right here, right now. No loading screens. No change of background. If you’re in a narrow passageway, expect a close quarters and intense fight.

When battle kicks off, Sorey will automatically lock-on to the nearest target. Using the analogue stick, you can choose to side-step and dodge attacks, or move in towards the enemy for the kill. There are three options for causing damage; base artes (standard attacks), arcane artes (think special attacks, generally melee or magic based depending on the character), and spells.

Enemies also have access to the same three options for offense, opening up a rock-paper-scissor style system. See an enemy using base artes? Chuck an arcane arte its way to interrupt its attack and gain the advantage. Similarly, spells trump arcane artes; base artes beat spells. It means you really have to pay attention to what’s happening during battles and react swiftly and accordingly – time for more coffee, please!

Enough about battles; onwards with exploring! It turns out that as much as Sorey loves his tiny little village in the mountains, he craves to see the world. His passion for adventure is partly fuelled by ancient legends that he loyally studies. It’s one of these legends that’s drawn him to the ruin, and whilst he’s there, he stumbles upon an unconscious female knight.

She joins the team, and the player soon finds out that she cannot hear or see Mikleo. The player learns that Mikleo is a Seraph, a kind of mystical spirit race. Sorey was raised in the hills by Seraphim (plural of Seraph), and has grown to be able to sense and communicate with them. Not only that, he also shares their ability to detect Hellion, nasty monsters born from negative emotions. To him, living with Seraphim is completely normal. To the rest of the world, such an ability belongs to a legendary figure referred to in folklore as a Shepard, a saviour that manages to appear throughout history and bring peace back into the world by vanquishing negativity. Slowly, as Sorey starts to see more of life outside of his village, he begins to realise that perhaps he is the one the legends speak of.

Friendly Banter

The interactions between the cast was one of our favourite things during our time with the game. While running around the map, or in the middle of battle, characters will suddenly have a natter between themselves in a natural kind of way. Sometimes while exploring you’ll get a prompt at certain points of interest. If you decide to initiate the prompt, 2D anime versions of the characters will suddenly appear on screen to talk about whatever the player has found. Mostly it’s irreverent, but it makes the world and its inhabitants feel that little bit more real, and charming.

In fact, a large portion of our time was spent not playing the game, but watching cut scenes or reading dialogue. It was like an interactive anime, not least because the cut scenes were amongst some of the most beautiful anime scenes we’ve witnessed in a game. (The Namco Bandai team were keen to point out that the limited edition version even comes with its own anime OVA).

Just as we’re about to call it a day (and wolf down one last biscuit), Namco Bandai’s Community manager Edwin calls us over. “Before you go, you got to see this. A human and Seraph character can combine in an act called Armitization. Check it out.” He then proceeds to load up a save and enter a battle. “You can assign a different Seraph to one of each direction on the D-pad; each has a different element. And then, when the time is right, activate Armitization,” which he then does.

Sorey is suddenly transformed into a heightened form, much more powerful than before and with a new arsenal of attacks to boot. We didn’t get a chance to see all the characters in action, but from what we’ve seen from the game’s beautiful intro, the full cast looks like it has a lot of fun and interesting characters, with varying weapons and attacks that should keep battles fresh. We can’t wait to get our hands on a copy for a proper play – all the way through! Now, got any more custard creams?

Tales Of Zestiria is available now from Bandai Namco Entertainment.

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