Tales of Zestiria hands on preview

Talking with Dennis Lee - Brand Director

While Tales of Zestiria just recently came out in Japan, January 22nd, it does not have a hard release date in North America. While at the Bandai Namco America Press Event Showcase, I had to opportunity to speak with Dennis Lee, Brand Director of Tales of Zestiria, about this new title, what to expect, and the status of the North American version.

First thing to consider, is that Tales of Zestiria is a brand new game to the franchise. What this means is that this world is a new world that doesn’t relate to any of the past Tales games. Compared to recent Tales games, Zestiria is far more ‘medieval’ in theme. We’re talking fantasy elements like castles, knights, dragons, etc.

* Slight Spoilers Ahead *

Even a chunk of the early plot is right out of some Arthurian Legend. The games’ mythology speaks of a hero who will come and return the balance once chaos rises. This hero will be able to communicate with spirits to bring order to chaos. To do so though, he must perform a ritual at Lady Lake. Here, he’ll have to pull a sword from a stone with the assistance of a ‘Lady of the Lake,’ Lailah. Only then can this hero become the Shepard the world needs.

Other than that somewhat familiar plot line, Tales of Zestiria will play similarly to the Tales games you know and love. The JRPG continues with the focus on strong character and story developments. Our protagonist, Sorey, has lived a near isolated live on top of a mountain within his village. Him and his best friend Mikleo explore ruins for funsies. Once a girl is discovered being hunted by a man/beast, a whole adventure brews for the young heroes.

Humans and Seraphims populate the world as intelligent creatures. These two races make up the mold for combat gameplay. While parties are made up of four characters, all your characters can be switched to replace current combatants. Your characters will team up human and Seraphim. This will make two groups of two on the battlefield. Depending on who you team up with, will change their abilities and capabilities. It will also allow them to ‘Armortize’. This process combines the two creatures into one opening up new strengths, abilities, and skills. This system reminds me a bit of the old Breath of Fire games.

While you travel with six characters at a time, Tales of Zestiria is stepping away from the traditional model the series is more familiar with. Instead of gaining a character and them being by your hip until the very end, several characters will be like a rotating door – coming and going depending the moment of plot. Ideally they won’t pull some Kain [email protected]#$ on you like in Final Fantasy IV. You’ll get a solid core of four characters early and then other will come later.

The battle system will be a blend of old and new. Tales of Zestiria is keeping the real-time battle system. While you’ll initially be controlling your main man Sorey, you can switch to any group at any time. Those who you are not in direct control of will fight automated. In the over world map, you’ll see monsters but once they are waylaid, the fight will begin right where it looked like it would on the map. This transition is seamless and the fight happens exactly as it appears to in the over world. Before, the arena would be generated to appear similar to the over world but not perfect as it is now. You’ll still be restricted by invisible walls in a dome shape.

Field exploration will be greater than ever. You’ll actually be able to visit places you see distant in the background. The entirety of other Tales games’ maps are only a small portion of Tales of Zestiria’s over world map. There will be a fast travel system for those looking to skip out on the foot work after it’s been initially discovered. After each battle, you’ll also receive a short buff that increases your foot speed to move further in the world and outrun potential monster threats.    

Bandai Namco looks to turn around games faster than ever from Japan to North America. So while there isn’t a date, it will be 2015. Tales of Zestiria just came out in Japan in January, so you can expect at least a few months of waiting. Do your best to not spoil anything for yourself (other than what I already have), and keep this game fresh for your first playthrough. The graphics are great, the transitions are seamless, and the action looks as fun as ever.