We had the displeasure of playing this god awful game that I want to erase out of my mind. Fortunately, it was extremely forgettable and on top of that I ended up ragequitting 75% into the game and watching the remaining cut scenes on youtube. 😬 As usual, Kanade’s commentary will be in blue.
Anyway let’s just go down the list why this game is bad and why you shouldn’t play it.
The battle system in this game is bad and Bandai should feel bad. It’s insanely convoluted with all the artes like most tales games, however on top of that you have this gear tetris you have to play to increase your stats. In most games leveling up will naturally make your character more powerful, however in Zestiria your level is insignificant. What matters is grinding out things like the stupid Lord of the Land system (basically a donation bank to an NPC) to unlock higher level gears. Once you unlock those you have to make sure you combine the right combination (which by the way nobody ever understood when I searched) and that’s when you truly get a stat upgrade. Because I only managed to get 1 bingo line with 2 of the characters, I ended up actually ragequitting because one of the story bosses just kept 1 shotting my party thanks to the – you guessed it – shit AI.
The most absurd system in this entire game has to be the gear/skill system. I tried to look up a guide or video to explain the ludicrously complicated gear system but had trouble finding anything. What I DID find were a lot of posts from people that said like “hey I’m trying to find an explanation for how gear works but I can’t really find anything?”, which usually got the response of like “it’s probably because this game is so bad that nobody feels motivated the even attempt to figure this out.” From what I can glean, I THINK the way it works is that gear is socketed (and some of those might already have something in one of them), sort of like in a game like FF7 or Diablo II. Where the game completely goes off the rails is that this socketing system feeds into a 6 x 10 matrix for each character where each of those socketed effects has a coordinate, and then there’s bonuses if you make horizontal or vertical lines or something. But good luck figuring out how to map this out!!!!! I was not even going to begin trying to figure out first what combinations of coordinates provide which buffs, then which pieces of gear were necessary to fill out those coordinates, then how useful each of the socketed effects were that were filling those coordinates, then finally how to obtain the gear with said buffs/coordinates.
Er, rather I should say “one of the skill systems”, because there’s the above mentioned grid, plus then the tons of different artes (martial artes, hidden artes, high hidden artes, mystic artes, seraphic artes…), and then the strangest design choice of all in these passive skills that can only be upgraded from finding “discovery points” throughout the game. The reason it’s so baffling is that the a huge portion of these are monoliths which you can find throughout the game that give you some gameplay tips. These very quickly wear out their welcome because everything they tell you either a) happens so rapidly that it goes in one ear and out the other or b) are basic tutorial stuff that the game already explicitly taught you. There is no useful point about telling the player what “HP” is for the second time 15 hours into the game! So it feels like they put this into the first dungeon as a way of teaching you the game, but then nobody was ever was able to think of anything else to replace it after that point for purposes of leveling your skills (and couldn’t figure out any more tips so they just keep regurgitating the same ones that you’ve already read) so they kept sticking more and more of these in long past their expiration date because otherwise you’d be gimped stat-wise.
Tales of Arise AI was pretty shit too, but at least you could buy/upgrade gear in a sensible way, along with multiple easy modes, that allowed you to basically steam roll through this nonsense. Zestiria only had “Simple” mode which was still pretty shit and basically made it impossible for me to clear this boss (and from what I saw future bosses) without me grinding out the proper gear. No thanks. On top of all of this bullshit, the enemy aggro in this game is completely fucking stupid. You can basically stand in the middle of the field and enemies will just come running head first into you and start battles. You could literally bot your way up to a higher level – but who cares because levels mean nothing in this game.
This game made me realize that the combat system in these Tales games just fundamentally doesn’t work. You have all these party members controlled by the AI, but they can’t grasp the mechanics of the battles. At best this means they run around aimlessly and spam attacks at random, but at worst this means they get continuously oneshot by bosses with blatantly telegraphed attacks. But if they mad the AI too competent, they could just bot everything for you. Ultimately, I think that auto-controlled party members only works in a) games like Nier Automata where the auto-combat turns battles into cutscenes b) games like FFXII where it lets the party members automatically handle things like buffs and debuffs c) games like Scarlet Nexus where they’re basically just doing auto-attacks while you essentially fight solo or d) some of the remakes of the old Final Fantasy games that basically just spam attack if you want to Progress Quest killing trash mobs.
Travel and Overworld
This one irritated me more than anything. There’s a shit ton of LARGE field maps, and it’s really god damn confusing when you open the world map (which you can only do at a save point.) Now here’s where I wanted to flip my desk: The game constantly forces you to run back & forth between maps for no fucking reason. You can’t even use fast travel, 28 hours into the game, because teleporting from 1 map to another costs like 4k gold. 4k gold is what it costs to buy a new weapon. What the fuck? The only way to lower the cost of teleports, is you guessed it, grind that idiotic Lord of the Land system, donate shit to the NPC and then maybe he’ll give you a discount. NO.
Honestly it made me think about those old, primitive games and how they’re often clunky because of technology/lack of QOL advances/lack of iterative design improvements, these restrictions also often make them fairly straightforward to follow. Like some guy will be like “I need my GEM that was stolen by the VAMPIRE before I can let you see the KING” and you know what you have to do. Instead here you’ve got a large number of fields that often require indirect routes to travel to and from (like through various cave networks because the game will arbitrarily disable fast travel for Reasons) with often zero clues regarding what to do or where to go so that without a guide I have no idea how people would figure out stuff like “Oh I should go to these elemental temples that nobody’s talked about in order to proceed.” Those old games didn’t have the capacity to come up with bullshit like “sometimes you can teleport and sometimes you can’t and also it’s tied in to a complicated area progress system and also all the pathways are all over the place”.
The worst offender was when the one time I had a quest that told me to go to point A from point C. When I go to point A, my party member said “hey actually I think we should be going to south west of point C.” Within literally back to back scenes, I was forced to run through 6 maps for no fucking reason. (ノ# ﾟдﾟ)ﾉ ┫:･’∵:．┻┻:･’．:∵ And I say run because there are no mounts in this game and the only way you get to run faster (for about 10 seconds) is if you either run by some people talking in town or get into some battle with a bunch of durds in a field.
There were also these stupid “turtle” characters in the game that gave you maps. Unfortunately those maps did actually nothing and you were constantly just moving between maps that had a bunch of ??? on them which you wouldn’t unlock without physically going there. After wasting money on 2 pointless maps I just stopped buying them. Oh and one thing I just remembered – after you finished a major battle inside a dungeon/tower/shrine whatever – you had to basically FIND YOUR WAY BACK or pay the insane fee to teleport out. The game didn’t automatically bring you back to a town or give you a nice free little teleport. It’s like the game system was created in the year 1992 or something.
Segue to rant about said temples. A very large percentage of the game involves traipsing through more or less indistinguishable caverns and dungeons and fighting pointless trash and doing generally braindead puzzles. The real breaking point was when we got to the water temple. The dungeon is full of tripwires that will warp you back to the beginning if you cross them. This is extremely annoying! But at the same time, the dungeon also has periodic checkpoints that you can jump to from the beginning if you get sent back, which sort of negates the whole point of the trap? BUT THEN ALSO, the entire gimmick of the dungeon is completely trivialized if you simply cheese with quicksaves! Save after you complete a room, then if you mess up in the next one just quickload and do it again.
Hoo boy this one is bad. I will sometimes put up with bullshit systems if I can enjoy the story and characters but man there is some serious drama when it comes to characters in this game. So to give some context, when you start the game you have your protagonist Slay, his yaoi boyfriend Mikleo and then a princess waifu named Alisha shows up and is saved by the 2 of them. Seems pretty generic RPG and seems like Alisha will be the game’s heroine etc. Suddenly, because ~plot~ Alisha drops off the face of the story, and in her place they put in a replacement girl named Rose. She’s such a replacement to the point that she can literally wear Alisha’s knight armor despite being a canonical ninja/assassin. In Japan, before the game even released, all the promo posters had Alisha on the cover, they even made a figure promotion of her. So needless to say Japan was SUPER FUCKING MAD that Alisha was thrown aside only to be replaced by a completely new character not previously seen on any of the art.
Personally? I don’t really mind. Alisha felt like she had no personality and was a cardboard cutout of your generic “Loyal knight/princess waifu” character. Rose on the other hand was funny and had some snark so I honestly thought she was a good replacement. However I definitely can tell why Japan was furious about this false advertising and honestly every time they would bring Alisha back into the story (which would be like every 10 hours of her being MIA) I really couldn’t care less. She was basically a side character to me – which is hilarious because if you go to the Steam DLC shop, there’s DLCs that include clothes for her. You literally buy DLCs for a character who isn’t even in the game 90% of the time.
The completely bizarre way that they handled how Alisha’s character functions in the game made me feel like the game was bad because of like, project management issues? It’s from 2015 so it’s not even a case of really primitive design, plus it’s the umpteenth game in a series that’s been going on since the 90s so Bamco is still iterating on the basic formula, so it’s just so bizzare that it’s like “oops we forgot the simple nuts and bolts of putting a game together works.” I keep thinking that maybe everything with her got added or cut off because of like I dunno, production issues or something? It’s not as simple as something like “oh yeah you can see the exact point in where they were forced to cut off production and release the game before they finished the last 20%”, rather more like Alisha will leave your party because she has to do some minor task and then never come back. So it makes me think stuff like “why did you add this party member at all?” or “did they just like run out of time and couldn’t include more stuff with them for the rest of the game?” or “or was this supposed to get cut later on but they figured that they wouldn’t able to cut the beginning out for some reason?”
Waifu drama aside here are my thoughts on the rest of the cast. Slay (well his real name is Sorey but in Japanese it just sounds like SLAY) was just generic Mr. Goody thinking protag. I couldn’t stand him. I’m more a fan of Yuri Lowell type of “kill the bad guys” character – which basically what Rose was. Mikleo always got bullied and was the butt of the jokes so honestly he really wasn’t that great to me either. Lailah was ok at the start with all her snark, however she immediately got upstaged by Edna and later Zaveid who joined our party. There’s not really any shipping in this Tales game, but I low key (maybe even high key) ship Zaveid x Edna ヾ(*`∀´*)ﾉﾍﾍﾍｯ Their jabs at each other are honestly adorable.
The story was poorly paced and made no sense with constant flashbacks and no explanations of when something happened. Even the final anime cut scene at the end confused me until I read some gamefaqs forum explaining exactly what happened. Ultimately though lol Mikleo x Slay yaoi end and Rose dies forever alone. ┐(´д`)┌ So I’m warning you now, if you are here for any kind of mxf shipping, turn away now because there isn’t any. The only time in the story where I was actually moved was when Dezel died and said goodbye to Rose. I low key shipped that shit and they sunk it like the god damn Titanic. 💀
I swear the game frequently doesn’t give you the slightest idea of what to do to progress the story. I’ve played plenty of games which aren’t particularly handhold-y over their journals and quest logs and expect you to figure out how to progress the quests, but that’s because those games have well designed quests so you can come up with the solution on your own. This game meanwhile alternates between the quest log giving you nothing of relevance AND the quest log spelling out explicitly what to do even when the game doesn’t provide this information at all in context! Not like you can actually figure this stuff out on your own since the events are all totally arbitrary. The most egregious one to us is when you’re trying to track down the evil furry villain later in the game. You first do the logical choice of “go to the warzone where you last encountered him”, but then when you get there he’s not there. Where to go next? Fortunately one of your party members then says “Yo I have a hunch that he’s in front of the earth temple a few regions away from here!”
Things that were good
I’m grasping for straws here but uh well the animation was actually really good! It was legit better than the shitty animation in Tales of Arise I was actually surprised. It seems like the entire budget went into the anime production and basically nothing else. The mascot Normins were pretty cute but they were kinda like the owls in Arise where you found one, got some stat buff and then never saw them again. There was a cute scene with all of them after where I ragequit so I’m glad I got to see it but it wasn’t remotely enough cute mascot content. Otherwise, there’s nothing good about this game and well I’m just glad I only spent $8 on it during a Steam sale, yikes.
Supposedly Tales of Berseria, the prequel, is the better game out of the 2, so I do plan to play that next. I’m debating on watching the Zestiria anime as supposedly it told the story in a much better way but I’m so kinda sick of Zestiria in general I’m not sure if I can muster the motivation. ( ´_ゝ`)
There was a viral tweet recently about how KIDS THESE DAYS (or perhaps also FAKE GAMERS) haven’t really played truly bad video games, so because of this when you see someone doing some engagement farming tweet like “what is the worst video game you’ve ever played” the worst that they can come up with is like, a clunky AAA game or a mid-tier Pokemon release or something, stuff that’s essentially competently made but just like boring or uninspired. They’re not talking about garbage like those LJN licensed cash-ins for NES, or 90s shovelware CD-ROMs that came with this month’s issue of PC Gamer, or the stolen assets & machine translation hentai games that Steam is loaded with. Tales of Zestiria was so bad that it’s the first game I’ve played in possibly decades that feels similarly fundamentally incompetently made.