Sorey is a human raised by the Seraphim, a mystical race of spirits that watch over the world. They are invisible to most humans, but because Sorey was raised by them from birth, he is able to see them. He and his close water seraph friend Mikleo spend their days exploring the ruins near their home and reading about everything amazing beyond that, as they have never left their home of the mountain town Elysia before. However, one day they find a young woman named Alisha passed out in the ruins, who turns out to be a princess. It seems the the world below had come to be affected by an era of chaos, and that she had come in search of its cause. Its not to be found there however, so after resting she leaves. Not long after an assassin named Lunarre appears who’s come to target Alisha. Furthermore, this assassin is a Hellion, a being corrupted by Malevolence. He gets chased off due to the interference of their powerful grandpa. However, Sorey isn’t willing to leave things as they are considering Alisha is still in danger. He secretly sets off from the mountain, though finds Mikleo following not long after. They arrive at the city of Ladylake, where Alisha lives. However, they run into Lunarre again, though he gets whisked away by the rest of his guild of assassins. They meet up with Alisha at a cathedral, however, things take a turn for the worst as due to various circumstances, Malevolence had been building up, leading to a very dangerous situation. However, within the cathedral was Lailah, a seraph of fire, who has the power to make a pact with a human to turn him into a Shepard, a being in tune with spirits who would fight against the Malevolence. Sorey takes up the pact, fighting off the Malevolence, and taking up the mantle of Shepard. And hence his journey to purify the Malevolence of the world begins.
However, that’s only part of the situation. Just as he exists as a being to stop Malevolence, so to exists a being to spread and grow it, the Lord of Calamity, currently a powerful man named Heldalf. Furthermore, he isn’t powerful enough to beat him on his own. Hence he enlists the aid of a seraph of Earth, Edna, and seraph of Wind, Dezel. He also recruits a squire, a girl named Rose, who is first seen as a member of the merchant guild Sparrowfeather. However, this comes with a number of issues, as the various members of the party have their own issues, with Lailah having an oath she must keep that seems to relate to keeping information secret related to Heldalf, with Edna having the issue of her brother being completely corrupted by Malevolence, with Dezel having a strange attachment to Rose and a strong desire for revenge, both of which have something to do with their past. And Rose as well has issues in that her Sparrowfeathers are quite a bit more than just a merchant guild. Furthermore, Heldalf isn’t simply waiting for Sorey to grow more powerful. To spread Malevolence, he has been slowly pushing the two major nations Hyland, where Alisha is a princess, and Rolance towards war, with Sorey caught right in the middle, hence giving him a major problem to deal with before even beginning to deal with the Lord of Calamity.
This game has potential, but in the end it was rather disappointing.
In terms of story, it has a good varied cast. However, the way the plot ends up playing out, the cast isn’t developed as well as they could be. That in part has to due with how it sort of switches out party members in ways that feel rather forced. And it also has to do with how the plot overall is pretty bad. There are two main plot threads, one relating to the war between Hyland and Rolance, and one having to do with facing off against Heldalf. The issue is that they don’t meld all that well together. Looking at things very broadly, the plot is pretty interesting, with a hero that’s trying to hold it together despite being pushed towards malevolence, with people trying desperately to stop a war even as others push towards it, with a pretty solid back story to everything and all characters. However, the implementation is terrible with weird pacing that makes everything feel incredibly forced and random. All of that ultimately leads to an ending that makes little sense and seems to just have a bunch of random scenes without a point.
In terms of game play, the combat for the most part was reasonably solid. The fusion/armatization mechanic and swapping mechanic being the core of combat worked tremendously well. Abilities also felt diverse and well structured. It also had a good variety of interesting enemies, and some really good epic battles, primarily the dragon battles. But it had a bunch of issues that prevented it from being good. The main one is that it can end up being completely broken quite easily, and does do quite often. The combat at higher difficulties is heavily based on keeping enemies staggered and dodging their attacks. However, in any instance where you’re fighting bosses that come in pairs, due to the AI not being all that great, this becomes impossible, resulting in battles that feel kind of broken compared to how mechanics work in the rest of the game. On top of that, there were bosses that simply seemed broken mechanically. For example, there were a couple bosses that required depleting a certain amount of health before they could be staggered, but they began using a one hit KO move that can’t be blocked or dodged before that. These were tremendously annoying, and required a level of competence that felt ridiculous. Furthermore, while status ailments in Tales have always been pretty punishing, here they go to a whole new level, where the status ailments themselves are a lot more annoying, they completely prevent any healing, and furthermore are a lot more difficult to heal with most characters only being able to deal with one. Hence requiring you to switch characters around, which can break the flow of battle, or in worst case of the character being knocked out can just make things a complete slog. The parts where it randomly switched party members out was also quite annoying as it completely screws up your strategies. There were also points that completely screw with how you traditionally deal with battle, such as when they remove your partner or swap in Alisha who can’t armatize, requiring you to go about combat in ways that are very different from normal and you aren’t built up for at all. So all in all, a good combat system in terms of concepts, but a terrible implementation.
The growth system was complete unredeemable garbage. Leveling gives very little in terms of stat boosts, with most coming from consumable herbs or equipped items. However, the way to optimize in terms of items involves essentially matching up abilities on the items in such ways that they stack or are next to each other on a certain board, which is incredibly strange. Combine that with how the abilities on each items are completely random and you have no control over them results in a growth system that’s tremendously unwieldy. On top of that items can be combined for boosts, but that can end up combining abilities in completely unpredictable ways, also leading to a major pain. All in all, it felt ridiculous and tremendously annoying to have to deal with.
Now, to a good degree, you can get over all these issues by playing at lower difficulties, but at that point most battles become a cake walk, which is an issue for it’s own reasons, and really isn’t an excuse for bad design.
In terms of exploration and the world, zones are much larger than previous Tales games. However, this quickly becomes a pain. Zones may be huge, but the world isn’t tremendously diverse, and it gets boring quickly. Most dungeons too feel very samey. There are some major exceptions to that, such as the trial shrines and the final dungeon. But overall, exploring the world just wasn’t as interesting as prior titles. And while fast travel is available to avoid having to slog through the same area multiple times, it costs 6% of your total money, hence making you feel bad every time you use it, which will be often because there’s a lot of back tracking and its still better than having to slog through the giant zones.
In terms of the art style and designs it’s pretty solid, better than some Tales games, worse than others. In terms of soundtrack it is pretty solid, with Zaveeds theme and the trial backgrounds being pretty amazing. The OP removes the vocals in the English version for reasons that I don’t know, and that greatly decreases how good it is. The Japanese version is pretty great.
There was one, relatively story DLC expansion released for Zesteria. You might be tempted to think that this is the perfect way to tap into the potential in the main game and deliver something more solid. Apparently not, because the DLC is everything wrong with the game in one condensed package. The main character is Alisha, who I am fond of in terms of story and character arc, but she can’t armatize so it makes all the combat all the way through the game a pain. Most of the locations you go to are old or at least look incredibly similar to old locations, with most of the DLC being in one long and annoyingly structured dungeon. And most of the major fights in said dungeon revolve around fighting two bosses at once, which is still just as annoying as before, and gets even more annoying as at point it involves having to defeat both enemies at the same time for it to count. The soundtrack, was decent, but was very not fitting for said dungeon, and even got a bit grating despite being a pretty good track. The plot itself explains the ending of Zesteria better than the main game, and the cast is still likable, even though Rose ends up behaving quite awkwardly. But the plot goes in a completely random direction and opens up more plot threads that are never resolved, mainly in that it teases another showdown with Lunarre and more related to Symone, but then it just ends, hence leaving everything feeling random and unfinished once again. If this was a solid improvement, I may well have a bit more of a fond memory for this game, but as it was even worse than than the main game, Zesteria overall leaves a pretty bitter aftertaste.
A game with a good cast that has a good amount of potential for its story and combat, but that completely wastes all of it resulting in a game that is quite frankly a pain to play through.
I’ve heard the anime is good, and considering it’s by Ufotable it probably is. I plan to watch it at some point. Hopefully that’ll leave me feeling better about the franchise overall.