Folks who remember Japanese role-playing games (RPGs) as generic dungeon crawlers with turn- based battles filled with beautiful graphics and confusing storylines should pay closer attention to the latest instalment of the popular Tales series.
The 15th entry in the hit series takes place in an open world that is worthy of exploration, so players no longer feel that they are merely crossing checkpoints in a linear, controlled environment.
The use of the real-time Linear Motion Battle System has also evolved, such that battles no longer take place in a special dungeon that characters get zapped into.
Instead, fights take place at the point of contact, so environmental factors such as terrain and objects can also influence the outcome of any confrontation.
The heightened action and speed are probably a response to the adrenaline-fuelled action games that gamers these days relish, but purists should appreciate that the new, flashy combat system does not alter the game's structure in any way.
As Sorey, a human brought up by the magical Seraphim beings, players learn of a dark influence that affects humans. Sorey's ability to see the Seraphim aids him in the hunt for the rising evil, as he fights alongside the humans and Seraphim in his quest.
Unlike most games where only the main character is fleshed out, Tales Of Zestiria spends a bit of time with the many secondary characters, as it reveals their fear and motivations for helping Sorey.
There are short video skits that accompany major game hurdles that have been crossed and, unlike some text-based RPGs, all of these are fully voiced, which adds to the immersive aspect of the game.
But a major part of RPGs these days is in the combat system and this is where this game shines, by retaining its complexity and novelty.
Fights are rarely about power but more about managing resources and abilities, or Artes, within the core group of characters.
A spirit chain gauge prevents players from merely mashing the attack button, and players must find a way to press on, while selecting moves that replenish the spirit chain.
Then there is the Armitization element that fuses, for the duration of the battle, a human and a Seraphim, to unlock a more powerful being with enhanced abilities.
Naturally, evolving into this super god mode isn't always the best solution to a fight, and players have to take note of an enemy's weaknesses, as well as their own skills, to emerge victorious.
Add this to the need to upgrade your weapons and items with skills that you pick up along the way, and the game can get rather overwhelming, especially in the beginning when everything is presented all at once.
Where the game falters is that some bits of the story, such as the expressions of the characters and their actions, can come across as rather juvenile.
If you have a PlayStation 4 and are in need of a classic RPG, Tales Of Zestiria is a charming addition to the series.
PRICE: $79.90 (PlayStation 4)
GENRE: Role-playing game
This article was first published on JAN 20, 2016.
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