Ever since I played Tales of Symphonia on the Gamecube I've been somewhat drawn to the 'Tales' series of games that have sometimes, but not often enough, appeared in Europe. While the main titles have appeared outside of Japan, only a handful of the spin-off titles have been released in Europe.
As a result the Tales games are celebrated in Japan but are not that well recognised in North America and Europe. Their release is somewhat sporadic at best, with the most recent title being Tales of Xilla 2 in 2013 on the PS3. Now Bandai Namco Entertainment is seeking to address this by releasing Tales of Zestiria in North America and Europe on PS3 later in 2015 after its January release in Japan.
Tales of Zestiria is a title that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the series that started on the SNES in 1995 as Tales of Phantasia, a game that only appeared in Japan upon its release.
The game is set during a conflict between two warring nations and the player takes on the role of the Shepherd who must protect the world from the 'Malevolence' while uniting humanity with beings known as Seraphim.
The Tales series is somewhat renowned for the random encounters, so I was not surprised to encounter them in Tales of Zestiria. What did surprise me, however, was the open-world environment I was thrown into. Nothing like this existed in the previous Tales games, so to see it here was quite jarring. While I'm no stranger to such environments, to see it embrace by this much loved series was certainly an eye-opener, but on reflection makes some sense as the series must evolve if it is to survive in the competitive genre of JRPGs.
As I traversed this open-world I found the familiar trait of the player's party being represented by a single avatar that would split into many when combat started as I was being waylaid by creatures in the vast world of Tales of Zestiria.
It is the combat that was the most memorable part of my experience with Tales of Zestiria. Unlike traditional JRPGs that sport a turn-based combat system, Tales of Zestiria has a real-time combat that is more akin to a brawler than a JRPG. The player can switch between enemies, give direct orders to other characters in his party and switch combat stances and tactics all through combinations on the Dualshock 3 controller.
All the while, Tales of Zestiria gives audio and visual feedback to the player to let them know the plight of other party members and the overriding success of the engagement. Initially I found this somewhat confusing, but the exposition was very detailed and did much to provide details on what to do and when to do it.
My only gripe was that it is set to appear on the PS3 only, a format that is quickly fading from people's attention as the PS4 gains an ever-increasing foothold in the market. Yes, many own and still play PS3 games, but the audience for Tales of Zestiria is a sophisticated and educated one and has largely moved on from the previous generation. I sincerely hope that Tales of Zestiria's audience has held on to its PS3s long enough to enjoy the game when it gets over here.