Tales of Zestiria

The nine-billionth entry into Namco’s long running Tales RPG franchise, Tales of Zestiria, is theToZ-PS4-CE-Ann-US-Init series debut on PS4. It overhauls some of the familiar systems quite a bit, but it’s not a shakeup that will make fans of the series recoil in horror.

The Setting

Tales of Zestiria takes place in a world looking for a hero–specifically a person who can assume the title of “The Shepard”–because of an overwhelming evil that is influencing the land. Vaguely Arthurian trappings are used to create the mythos of the game, with the Shepard being a person who can pull a special sword out of a stone. It takes a while for this to happen, but our hero Sorey who can see Seraphim (a race of magic based humanoids who act as the balance keepers in the world) without assistance (he was raised by them and it’s how we know that he is a pure-hearted softy) pulls it out, makes a pact with the Seraphim who is connected with the sword and sets out to fix all the bad stuff happening in the world.

While all the otherworldy evil is going on that needs stopping, the two main empires of the world are on the verge of war so something needs to be done about that as well. So many bad evil things to fix!

Some have railed on the simplicity of the story, but I thought it was well done and I don’t understand the need to complain about a straight-forward good-vs-evil deal. This isn’t the atrocity against story-telling that Graces was, it’s just to the point. The characters are very likable, the actions they take have consequences, sorry if there’s not angst up the wazoo.

It is also definitely a bishi shounen-ai inseki game in disguise but that is a matter best left to those who doujin. If you understand any of that last sentence, I apologize.

The Battle Mechanics

Like all the games in the series, there is a lot going on in the battle system in Zestiria. The very basics are that it’s a real-time battle system where characters have two types of moves: Regular attacks and special moves (human characters) or spells (Seraphim). New attacks are unlocked as you go by leveling up previously learned moves and titles. Combos are regulated by a stamina bar: No stamina, no attacking. All moves take up a certain amount of stamina, which goes down as you level them up, and you recover mana in battle by either standing still or guarding. You will guard a lot in this game.

The battle party is four (usually)–specifically, one human paired with a Seraphim. There are parts of the game where there is only one human so the party is only one pair. The reason for the pairing is, of course, explained in the story, but it comes through in the battle system as humans and Seraphim can fuse into a more powerful elemental form that does a lot more damage, has a lot more hitpoints, and can unleash absurd moves when the battle gauge is built up to a certain point. This doesn’t break the game since elemental damage is not always a plus, you often need a character on the side casting healing spells so you can’t be bundled together, and so on. In most boss fights I spent very little time in fused form, fusing only when a character’s hit points ran low.

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When you fuse, you grow a ponytail. I am not sure why.

You can hop around and directly control the character of your choice, hot-swap the active Seraphim for both you and the second active human character or sit back and be less of a crazy-control freak if that suits you. Unlike other games in the Tales series you can’t give direct orders to party members, instead titles determine the basic AI (healing/magic attack/physical attack). It took me a while to figure out this is what titles did other than boost stats, and I spent way too long looking for a way to map skills to my right analog stick. They probably mentioned this at some point in a tutorial but I tend to gloss over those when they pop up.

There are so many ways to customize battle conditions and behaviors that I am not going to get into all of it because it would wind up being 10,000 words, but there is a lot for the tinkerers of the world to get into if they please. And more importantly, those who choose not to dive into things won’t hit any walls on the easier difficulties.

Other than being driven nuts by not being able to be super crazy micromanager by spamming specific skills (Nurse-Nurse-Nurse-Nurse-Nurse-Nurse), I would say that the battle system in Zestiria is the best since Graces and unlike Graces, the non-battle elements of the game don’t make me want to die. It is certainly the most unique even if a lot of the available skills across the characters are familiar to fans of the series.

And, because it was mentioned so much in the marketing, open world aspect is not really open world in the sense the term is normally used. It just means that when you encounter an enemy instead of it happening on a set battlefield it happens wherever you’re standing on the map. This leads to getting stuck in corners and bad camera angles. The battle areas for normal encounters are pretty small and when fighting large creatures the lack of mobility (I turned on free run as soon as it was available) can be aggravating.

The Graphics and Design

Let me cut straight to the chase: I played Zestiria on the PS4 and the graphics are definitely more PS3, and not even good PS3. The textures aren’t super great and there’s a lot of fuzzy stuff around. I did not really have an issue with this, but I know a lot of people care about such things and it needs to be mentioned. Games in the Tales series never look bad, but they are never on the cutting edge since they’re mid-budget games.

Given that limited budget, the Tales series has always relied on the character–specifically the costume–designs are what give entries a unique look. The characters in Zestiria wear colorful, unique costumes that stand out against the medievalish background of the game. They are only somewhat ridiculous, and compared to other JRPGs downright grounded.

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See? Almost not ridiculous.

Other Notes

Beyond the changes to the mechanics battle system there are also major changes to the experience and grade systems in Zestiria that I am not sure will carry over to future titles because they are a radical departure from the norm.

The first is that leveling up does not work the same way as you normally find in JRPGs (or RPGs in general). Your stats don’t get a significant boosts and you can’t grind your way through fighting alone to overpower a boss. Instead you have to farm for equipment and fuse it together to get better stats. This costs money and time, but probably less than running around for hours eking out a few levels to take on a boss. Now, if you are an extreme under-leveler (hi, that’s me) you will still get pounded and on higher difficulties you’ll need to farm equipment for skills but that’s for crazy people (hi, that’s me).

The change to the Grade system is just as drastic. You still get Grade for completing battles, but not as much of it as you would in previous games. Instead, you sacrifice items to the protector Seraphim of a region (at save points) for Grade. So the real farming in Zestiria is for money to buy items, to give to the Seraphim. As you get more Grade, the Seraphim level up and you get certain bonuses in their region. You can also give them items that have been fused to +10 or higher to get a fancy upgraded version of the item with much better stats, but these items are not fuseable.

For some reason you can’t capture video or take screenshots in Zestiria except when doing some specific battle dungeon side quests, for reasons I don’t understand but it was very vexing to me, a person who likes to share stupid videos and screenshots. And who would have liked to use video to show all the things going on with the battle system to help clarify.

The Conclusion

Tales of Zestiria is a game designed to make the fans of the series happy, offering something that feels similar but not exactly the same. It’s a little game full of charm, and a lot to do if you’re so inclined. If you don’t like JRPG trappings, stay away, but if you do it’s sure to scratch that itch.

The Last Story

The Last Story was released in the US market because people like me whined enough that The_Last_Story_NAXSeed decided to pick it up. I bought it at release knowing that I wouldn’t get around to playing it for some time. I didn’t expect it would take three years, but hey that’s how it goes for a dope like me who buys far more games than is possible to play. Here are my very late thoughts on the game.

The Setting 

The world of The Last Story is typical to JRPGs. A medievalish land with magic and a dying world. The main character (Zael) is a member of a group of mercenaries and aspires to make something of himself and become a knight of the land. Lazulis Island is at war with a quasi human species called the Gurak. At the start of the game Zael is granted mysterious powers by a godlike being and also falls in love with the princess of the realm. What else is there to do but save the world?

While saving the world, Zael and his band of mercenaries get caught up in political intrigue and find out things are not as straight forward as they seem because this is a JRPG so that’s how things go.

The Battle Mechanics 

The battle system in the last story works a bit like Namco’s Tales series in that you directly control one character in real time and can give orders to the rest of the party. However, you cannot switch which character you control (it is always the party leader) and there is a very limited amount of choice in the actions you can take. You must fill up the Command Gauge to give any orders, but as you are directing action rather than actual skill casting and use there is no need to access orders constantly. Command Mode is not available immediately because of a decision to tie certain gameplay aspects to character progression in the story.

By default the game has battle mode in “automatic” which means you’re playing a 3D version of Ys I (you run into enemies to attack them). I played in this mode for a while because I missed that you could change it to manual where you use a more traditional button mashing attack style. I really disliked auto because in multi-enemy battles I found myself attacking enemies I was trying to get away from. I don’t really understand why the developers thought this was a good idea.

You can also drop behind cover and use crossbow bolts to eliminate distant enemies or order teammates to take specific environmental damage actions in certain scenarios. When these are available the game takes your hand and says “do this thing”.

The Graphics and Design 

The character designs (done by Kimihiko Fujisaka, known best for his work on the Drakengard series) in the game are really neat/extremely early-middle Square FF, but the colors in the game are all muted and things look mushy at times. I think this was an intentional choice to express that the world is unhealthy, or at least I have decided to believe this because the Wii features some of the most beautifully colored games ever. There is lots of lots of greybrown on greybrown.

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Nothing is done badly, here, it just never becomes very exciting or notable.

Other Notes

There are times when you’re running around and you hit some slowdown due to the amount of characters on-screen. This is, I believe, caused by the hardware limitations of the Wii but I’d rather have no slowdown and less people walking around on screen. It happens enough to be notable and annoying.

There is a lot to do in this game if you’re into side-questing, which I really appreciated. Doing sidequests get you useful items for crafting to improve your weapons or unique weapons that aren’t available elsewhere. There are a couple of extra dungeons which give you some extra insight into the world/your companions.

The Last Story doesn’t spend a huge amount of time telling you about your companions, but talking to them between the main mission gives you some idea of everyone’s background. Everyone is pretty well fleshed out without a ton of exposition, which I appreciated.

The Conclusion 

The Last Story is a very solid, well-made JRPG that you will enjoy on a scale of “how much do you like JRPGs?” If you really enjoy JRPGs, you will really like the game. If you think they are bad, there is nothing here for you.

Persona 4 Golden Social Links Chart

I’ve been working on my Platinum Trophy for Persona 4 Golden for about 25 years at this point (it’s been a very leisurely journey), and in my second playthrough I went and maxed out all the social links. There are a lot of guides on availability, but I couldn’t find a good chart, so I made one.

Some of the availability gets wonky around test times, on Sundays, and in the Winter period, but this is what helped me plan my wistful high school days.

p4g social links weekly availability Google Sheets

The only links available on rainy days are:

  • Hermit
  • Sun

These social links take up your evenings (weather doesn’t matter):

  • Devil
  • Tower

Hanging out with friends really helps move things along but you should always have things planned out for the week and Personas of the appropriate Arcana ready to level up as fast as possible.

And here’s a Google doc link.

The Suikodening

When Dragon Age: Inquisition came out, I upgraded my a computer a bit so that I could play it without the game suiciding constantly. A side-effect of that was that I could run PS2 emulation on my PC pretty well. I’d been wanting to replay Suikoden V for some time, and from there I decided to just replay every Suikoden game. Thus, the Suikodening.

It took a few months for this to get off the ground, because that is how things always go with me but it is now underway. I also did some poking around and discovered that there are now fan translations of Suikogaiden 1 and 2 out there, so they’ll be included in this insanity. I’m going to play them after Suikoden II as Nash is introduced into the mainseries in Suikoden III.

I’ve already taken care of a new replay of Suikoden (the game was much shorter than I remember it being, but other than recruiting all the stars stars I didn’t really wander off the path much), so this is already my most successful video game project of all time!

I put up very boring streams on Twitch when I play unless I am just doing level-grinding type activities, so if watching RPGs happen on your screen sounds appealing to you follow along here: http://www.twitch.tv/leokittie. When I get to Suikoden IV I may set up a web-cam to show my annoyed at how bad the game is face for the amusement of any watchers.

Let the Suikodening begin.