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Divine Hindervention

I do not remember the last time I was actually excited to play a game, but Tales of Zestiria has managed to deliver.


If I had to try to guess why I’m enjoying it so much, it’s probably because they have set a very good pacing.  There is a colorful cast of characters, a good variety of locations to visit in the open world, and a story that drives you along at a merry pace that is well-conductive of adventure.

Due to trying to intersperse productivity between gaming sessions, I often limited myself to 1-hour-long sessions of Tales of Zestiria, and each time I came up for air I was pleasantly surprised at how much progress I felt like I made during that hour.  Perhaps I owe persistent state games for this feeling, because they generally stretch out the content to the point where nothing particularly new is introduced over a very long period of time.

Not only does Tales of Zestiria keep the story and its developments moving along at a far brisker pace than a typical persistent state game, the very game mechanics perpetuate this trend.  It seems like something new is introduced to the way the game is played every time I turn around:
  • At first, combat is simply a matter of mashing the attack button.  
  • Then they introduce "hidden artes," special combat moves activated by the other button.  
  • Then I learn about blocking and how it is important to replenish the fuel of your attacks.  
  • Some time later, the ability to merge with your saraphim partners.
  • Exploiting elemental weaknesses in enemies becomes essential.
  • Dodging attacks at the right time becomes important.
  • And so on; this barely scratches the surface of all the mechanics that are introduced over time.
There's actually 78 monoliths in the game that you can find in the world and read, each discussing an aspect of the game (with a few repeats).  They provide only supplemental tips to various mechanics introduced over time.   It is like every Tales game added a new layer, and so this is one formidable onion!
With a hex edit, Tales of Zestiria can run surprisingly well in ultrawide.
Of course, I could knitpick a bit:
  • You are expected to grind monsters, although the combat is deep enough that this is not as monotonous as it could be.
  • Real time combat keeps things fun, but I miss the depth of a more strategic, less twitch system.
  • You can get away with button mashing in combat more than I like.  Granted, you will be a lot more effective if you know what you are doing.
  • The environments, while varied and imaginative, are clearly low poly in order to facilitate the original hardware that the game was released on.
  • The equipment system, while interesting in the unique systems introduced, is somewhat frustrating because it's quite difficult to simultaneously upgrade my equipment and slot the gear I want.
Yet, the way I feel about Tales of Zestiria now, I would probably be on board with playing the "new game plus" mode a bit once I finish it.  I'm a Tales fan, and it's about time.

Development:

As I just finished saying over on Reddit:
After two weeks of mulling over the drawing board, I decided I had enough of staring at Unity doing hardly anything and embarked upon revamping some core systems in the direction of creating a playable game.

I think the trouble was I was trying to skip some important steps because I figured I ought to be good enough.  Lets say the steps went something like this:
  1. Create a tile engine.
  2. Create a static (non-procedural) world as a test bed.
  3. Slowly introduce content (tiles, items, monsters, gameplay mechanics) until you have a pretty good core experience.
  4. Once the gameplay is looking good, start offloading the static assets in favor of procedural generation until the game is entirely (or nearly entirely) procedural.
  5. Add some factional conflicts that produce visible changes to the procedural world.
  6. You now have a tile based game with solid gameplay and procedural content that is regularly being changed through factional conflicts.
I basically was attempting to skip #2 and cram #3-#5 into #3.  This is a bit of a problem because, while I have some cool ideas, I can't really visualize the whole of everything right away.  But I kept on trying, because I figured if I wracked my brain for long enough I would succeed.

Forget it.  I've wracked my brain for long enough and time's up.  I decided instead to integrate things in at smaller pace that better facilitates experimentation.  With this change in milestones, I was finally able to release myself from drawing board hell and actually return to coding things.  Feels good.
So hey, the ball is still a-rollin'...

Boring Real Life:

...but I know for a fact I would have gotten a bit more done if I weren't distracted with babysitting today.  The nephew said he was bored of the games I wanted to play, so instead I got to play the Orcish Inn demo a bit.  But that's a large kettle of fish for another blog entry.  For now, the weekend is over, as ludicrously quick as always.
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