The "Tales of" games represent a long standing series dating back to the 1995 release of Tales of Phantasia for Super Famicom. Similar to Final Fantasy, each Tale tells an individual story that (with the exception of a few direct sequels) have no connection to the other games. To mark the 20th anniversary of the series, we're getting Tales of Zestiria this year, which is a medieval fantasy game that looks to get back to some of the roots of the first game.
Since each game tells a self-contained story, you don't have to play any of the previous games to understand what's going on in Tales of Zestiria. The story takes place in a fantasy world being torn apart by war, and only a prophesized Shepherd can save everyone from evil. Players take the role of Sorey, a young man who grew up in a small village dreaming of adventure. He also happens to be one of the few humans able to see and communicate with an ethereal race called the Seraphim. He also happens to be the storied Shepherd who will deliver humanity from evil, evidenced by how he is able to pull a sword stuck in a pedestal in a true Arthurian Sword in the Stone style. However, there are those who are skeptical of Sorey's abilities and the role of the Shepherd, so there may be critical points where players will need to make hard choices about what to do.
With artists and designers with a background in manga and anime, like Kosuke Fujishima (creator of the Oh My Goddess! series), Tales of Zestiria has a distinct, brightly colored, quality to its environments and characters. Zestiria has the largest world of any Tales game, and players explore it in a traditional JRPG way. The world is generally open, with moving icons representing monster encounters. In this way, players can more-or-less choose how many fights they get into so that they can balance between gaining experience and progressing the story.
Tales of Phantasia made a big impression in the 90s by having a real-time combat system, while most other JRPGs were turn-based. Since then, real-time combat has been a key feature that has been refined with each new addition. Generally speaking, combat involves switching between party members to hit an enemy creature with a series of melee attacks and spells until it drops. Tales of Zestiria adds an additional layer of complexity with a system that strategically fuses to characters together into a more powerful form for bigger attacks. Furthermore, combat sequences have been streamlined compared to previous games, with shorter transition animations, so that players can jump straight into the action without staring at repetitive cinematics.
The game also has a limited degree of 4-player cooperative play. Although Tales of Zestiria is essentially a single player game, three friends can join in the battles through local co-op play. I'm not convinced that a system where nearby friends can only join in during battles - and must watch one player explore the world the rest of the time - is a necessarily useful feature, but I suppose the game should get points for trying. Especially since the game promises massive environments with plenty of ruins, forests, and mountains to check out. Perhaps that means there will be a lot of fighting to do.
You can tell, just by looking at Tales of Zestiria, that it's a game that's deeply rooted in classic gameplay. There's a high degree of familiarity with its characters and presentation. Perhaps it's because Tales games have been releasing for 20 years across a multitude of platforms. Or maybe it's because it's the bright anime art style and a story that is heavily influenced by classic Western literature and mythology.
We'll find have a chance to follow Sorey's adventures when Tales of Zestiria releases on October 20th for PS3, PS4 and PC.