[Synopsis]: Tales of Zestiria takes place in a world where long ago, humans and supernatural beings called seraphim lived alongside one another. Over the years, humanity lost the ability to perceive the seraphim and they grew scarce as the negative emotions of humanity, a corrupting force called ‘malevolence,’ took root in the land. Legends speak of ancient saviors called Shepherds who would bridge the gap between the two beings however none have appeared and the world grows darker by the day. The story begins when Alisha Diphda (Kayano Ai), princess of the Highland Empire, encounters a young man named Sorey (Kimura Ryouhei) who is able to perceive the seraphim and who may be the world’s only hope of purifying the world’s proliferating malevolence.
As one might expect given the show’s RPG roots, Tales of Zestiria centers around Sorey and his party of friends consisting of both seraphim and humans. The show has a moderately sized supporting cast but they are mostly there for the main group of characters to bounce off of and don’t receive much in the way of characterization themselves. Even the majority of Sorey’s companions are fairly one-dimensional, typically sporting a pretty clear-cut personality and not much else. Alisha at the very least represents a controversial, pacifistic ideology which both drives her actions as well as the narrative near the end of the show. The cast is lightly entertaining but there isn’t much in the way of depth to speak of.
Sorey himself is about as bland as protagonists come. He’s upbeat, kindhearted, and his idealistic aspirations of the seraphim and humanity once again coexisting alongside each other paint him as a self-sacrificing, good-guy. There is a genuine sense of comradery between him and his close friend Mikleo however beyond this bond his interactions with others are pretty generically amicable. There isn’t anything that sets him apart from other characters and his painfully straightforward, good-nature just further homogenizes him.
Outside of the cast’s straightforward personalities and Sorey’s own uninspired characterization, the thing that is most lacking in regards to the cast is good, character-exploring dialogue. Tales of Zestiria has plenty of scenes about world-building, politics, and the supernatural elements that populate its world however there’s hardly any time where the characters take a moment to flesh each other out. This wouldn’t be so dearly missed if the show didn’t revolve around a tight, party of friends. Their exchanges are amicable and everyone gets along but the vast majority of their dialogue is just spent on the exposition of what it means to be a Shepard and continuously reiterating the importance of Sorey’s quest.
Undoubtedly, it is in Tale of Zestiria’s visual presentation where it best succeeds. The visual effects are marvelous and possess a grand sense of scale that really accentuates the fantastic world the characters live in and the magic present in each of the show’s story elements. The background settings are gorgeous though sometimes they don’t blend as well as they could with the characters, leading to an awkward effect where they look slightly out of place in juxtaposition to the vast and colorful backdrop behind them. This is infrequent and very minor however.
The city the cast stays in for a time felt alive and bustling – shop owners stood outside their stalls and stores, people gathered and passed each other in the streets, and they really brought the setting to life. The show’s action scenes were well-animated, fluid, and exciting. As a whole, Tales of Zestiria is a great-looking show. It’s grandiose and vibrant presentation did well in executing the feel of a fantasy world and though the characters were lacking in appeal, it remained exceedingly pretty to watch. Whether or not these fantastic visuals and great production are enough to fully carry one’s interest in the show will depend on the viewer.
While Tale of Zestiria’s cast of characters aren’t as compelling as they could have been, the most significant blow to the show’s quality stems from its horrible pacing. The epilogue drops the viewer into a a dark and sinister fantasy world full of ancient ruins, political intrigue, and a sinister, looming mist on the horizon. It’s very light on exposition and the characters go about their tasks as they normally would though the viewer isn’t really clued into the implications of what is happening – what the mist means, why the kingdom is in the state that it is, who the characters are, etc. The first episode then delves a bit further into the mythology behind Tales of Zestiria mentioned in the epilogue and doesn’t do much to explain the previous events though it introduces us to Sorey and Mikleo. With Sorey’s introduction, a critical issue arises.
From the very beginning, it is painfully obvious that Sorey will become the Shepard of legend. His good-nature, belief in the legends of the Shepard, ability to see the seraphim, and dream of humans and seraphim coexisting once again all point directly at this. With that knowledge in mind, the show then proceeds to take 4 entire episodes (or 5 if you count the prologue) to finally unveil him as such when he takes up the sacred blade. Tales of Zestiria drags its feet in the extreme after introducing its characters and takes far too long to magnificently affirm for the viewer what they already knew. Just as the show finally arrives at the starting point of Sorey’s epic quest to cleanse the malevolence from the land and save the world, we are launched into a two-episode side-story.
The midsection of the show presents a brief, two-episode flashback concerning the characters and events of a different game in the Tales franchise – Tales of Berseria, which takes place many, many years before the events of the current show in the same world. Just like the epilogue, the viewer is tossed into an unfamiliar setting full of new monster types, magic powers, world rules, classifications, histories, and implications. It unapologetically immerses the viewer in this new, darker story and the show never bothers to connect it to the overarching show the viewer is familiar with which leads to it feeling pretty much purely promotional.
Perhaps the worst part of this is that Velvet Crowe, the protagonist of this two-episode interlude, is far and away more interesting than Sorey. Her story as well as the setting is grim and dark compared to the cheery and colorful aesthetic of Tales of Zestiria. Between what characterization she receives and her dramatic quest for revenge, Velvet and the story of Berseria are far more enticing than the story at large and despite our complete inability to understand a lot of the terminology being bandied about, it’s more immediately interesting than the show it interrupted. It has a sense of purpose and direction that up until that point, Zestiria wasn’t able to deliver on.
Finally, with the advent of episode 8 and the end of the flashback, Sorey and his companions at last embark on a journey. Even then the direction of the story is a bit vague in what Sorey is actually supposed to be doing and how he is going to cleanse the world of malevolence but at least they leave the capital city and start fighting monsters and dragons. So to reiterate, the key issue with Tales of Zestiria is that it takes 5 episodes to tell the viewer what they already knew, takes 2 episode off to explore a completely different story, and then features one final episode of bustling around before it can finally develop the sense of adventure that the premise of the show initially promises. While it has a second cour waiting in the wings, this is no excuse for how painfully drawn out Tales of Zestiria’s storytelling is and how underdeveloped its characters are.
While not distinctly memorable, the music is grand and adventurous like the show’s visuals and is well situated to the narrative. It’s hard to recall any part of the soundtrack individually but its a good deal of fun and supports Tale of Zestiria’s visual presentation very well.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Tales of Zestiria is kind of a mixed bag in that, while it’s characters are enjoyable, they are also very plain – especially in the case of Sorey. Though the world, aesthetic, and overarching plot of the show might be interesting, the narrative dawdles and needlessly draws out what should take a far shorter time to explore. It’s gorgeous to look at, wonderfully animated, and exhibits some really exciting action scenes however it never fully steps beyond the realm of ‘eye candy’ in its attempt to drum up a compelling story.
I gave Tales of Zestiria a 6 primarily because of its fantastic visuals but also due to its moderately entertaining characters and narrative. While it doesn’t present the most engaging of stories and it takes far too long to arrive at its adventurous core, the show was entertaining to watch. Hopefully the subsequent installment of the series can better flesh out what the first season found lacking and really begin to develop a stronger narrative overall.
If you’ve enjoyed other game adaptations and enjoy that kind of ‘party-dynamic’ that the main cast represents, you’re likely to enjoy Tales of Zestieria. Anybody looking for a visually stunning, very straightforward action, adventure show won’t be disappointed with the show’s subject matter. Tales of Zestiria is pretty much what it promises to be and so anyone intrigued by its premise or genre will likely find what they go looking for.