"As it stands, PS3 owners should be cautious before pre-ordering Tales of Zestiria. ...Hopefully, there will be significant graphical improvement on the PS4 and PC versions."
Opinions from Japan on Tales of Zestiria were mixed, so I was hesitant as I began my hands-on time with the demo at E3 this year. While the game will be released on PS3, PS4, and Steam in the west, only the PS3 version was available to play. Unfortunately, it wasn't the most appealing game to look at. Characters models were literally rough around the edges, and the draw distance was so miniscule that in open fields, I couldn't see enemies until I was on top of them. Numerous environmental textures were low res, and the few distant objects that could be seen looked like mere blocks of colour.
Fortunately, the rest of my time with Zestiria was far more enjoyable. There were two separate demos I was able to play: a large open field filled with monster encounters, and a shorter linear segment with some dialogue and custcenes. Aside from the graphical issues mentioned above, the open field was interesting, albeit slow, to explore. The grassy plain was massive, and there were plenty of enemies to fight, treasure chests to locate, plus a few notable landmarks to go explore. I didn't get a chance to see any of the characters' field abilities in action (aside from Mikelo's Treasure Sense skill), but I did see some buffs that appeared after some battles, including one that let me run faster for a limited period of time.
In combat, Zestiria feels like a mix of Xillia 2 and Vesperia. Attacks and movement are slower and more precise than Xillia or Graces F, but there's a fantastic variety of artes available to use, including modified versions of regular attacks that can be chained together. Xillia-style dodging is back, and you can easily free run, change targets and so on. Fusing together Sorey (known as a Shepard) and another party member is as simple as pressing L1, and doing so results in a pretty impressive spectacle. The fused character models were terrific to look at, and which characters you fused changed the available artes and their elemental affinity. Each fusion feels quite different to play, too: Mikelo turns Sorey into a ranged caster, Lailah becomes a massive, slow (but high-damage) two-handed sword, Edna becomes fast-paced fist weapons, and so on. Fusion is fun to use, and the wide-range of artes customisation options means there's plenty of room to change things up to suit your style.
The second demo was more linear, but there were a few different outdoor corridor-style paths to follow filled with enemies and chests, just like past entries in the series. I've heard complaints from Japan about the battle camera in smaller areas, but I didn't have any particular issues with it during the demo. The environments were reminiscent of Xillia, as was the town that followed. There were a few NPCs to chat with, but very little that was interesting to see. From what I heard of the characters voices, the actors have done a respectable job, and none of the characters sounded odd or out of place.
As it stands, PS3 owners should be cautious before pre-ordering Tales of Zestiria. While the combat is fun, it's hard to say yet how good the story will be and the graphics are a real let-down. Hopefully, there will be significant graphical improvement on the PS4 and PC versions. But don't write the game off yet, make sure to keep checking in with us for the latest details.
"While it's certainly interesting to traverse cityscapes, like in Xillia, the return to swords-and-sorcery is a welcome one"
Tales of Zestiria has finally had its coming-out party to members of the western press, thanks to a pre-TGS event at the Bandai Namco Games headquarters in Shinagawa, Tokyo this week. It was our first opportunity to get our hands on a demo for the upcoming release, though the title was entirely in Japanese at this point. We came out of the demo with five major touchstones that look to separate Tales of Zestiria from its predecessors.
1) The Seraph System — While Producer Hideo Baba's team was tight-lipped about the progression system in Zestiria, as that information hasn't even been announced to Japanese press, yet, we did get to see the unique party system at play. Lead character Sorey is able to fuse with four of his allies of the Seraph race. Each of them represent a particular elemental attack and give different abilities to Sorey while they are fused. What's most interesting is that these Seraphs are simply regular party members — if Sorey's in his powered-up mode, there are only going to be three combatants on the battlefield instead of the standard four. It's an interesting proposition — do you sacrifice the flexibility of having more fighters in combat for raw power?
2) Elemental Weaknesses — Certainly Xillia 2 had a big show of using Elemental weaknesses, and Zestiria takes it a step further with the aforementioned Seraphs. Being able to have a full suite of artes at the ready depending on who you are fused with makes taking care of elemental weaknesses a blast. While none of the enemies we fought shifted their weaknesses, I could certainly see Bandai Namco going all-out and making you use every single party member to their full advantage during a single battle. There's a lot of room for the developers here — let's hope they take advantage of it.
3) The Traditional Setting — Zestiria heralds a return to the traditional fantasy setting enjoyed in earlier entries in the series. While it's certainly interesting to traverse cityscapes, like in Xillia, the return to swords-and-sorcery is a welcome one. We explored a sleepy village that seemed to be teeming with guards and one of the standard plains you expect to see in your favorite JRPG and both were incredibly charming. While the slice of game we got was very narrow, it's clear the Tales team wants to show off the contrast between light and darkness in this world.
4) Huge Field Maps and Seamless Battles — In the aforementioned areas, we were introduced to a nice new concept: seamless entry into battle. Load times were almost non-existent, and the classic "screen shatter" of the loading screen was gone. Instead, approaching an enemy dumped us directly into the battle, fighting in the exact place that we engaged. No longer is there a generic wooded area or cave — if you engage near a landmark, it will be in your battle, potentially as an obstacle. Alongside the incredibly expansive maps, which almost remind me of MMORPG areas, combat shouldn't be the same grind that it has become toward the end of some previous Tales titles.
5) Graphics and Lighting Are Awesome — Not only are Sorey and company's costumes awesome (especially during fusion), but one of the first things I noticed when I got my hands on the controller was the lighting and shadows. While standing on the field under a tree, real-time lighting had shadows dancing along Sorey's back, which is a nice touch for a game on the PS3. Battle animations are equally impressive, and I loved beating down with each transformation, as the attacks were significantly different between each. I'm usually not one to gush on visuals, but this is easily the best-looking Tales game to date.
I'm incredibly excited to watch how Tales of Zestiria's development shakes out. With a January 22 release date in Japan, we should expect to see Zestiria release later next year in North America and Europe.