Editor’s note: This review is based on Version 1.0.4 of the game.
…it feels like a great story wrapped in gacha mechanics that, unless you’re willing to pay up, will take you a while to get through.
We’re in a strange place in the Tales of series currently. The next mainline game, Tales of Arise, has been pushed out of 2020, and ignoring Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, it’s been four years since the last game in the series. And while Bandai Namco is no stranger to the mobile market, Tales of Crestoria feels different to its predecessors. While it’s another crossover game with multiple characters from various games, Crestoria has its own unique story which feels like it belongs in a bigger-budget console game. I’m approaching this as someone who has never played a mobile RPG, and throughout, I’ve been both pleasantly surprised and a little bit disappointed.
Let’s get this out of the way now: this is a gacha game, and yes, if you want to make quick progress, ensure you get your favourite characters (eventually), and get your best team levelled up, then yes, you will need to throw money at this game. I haven’t resorted to using the microtransactions yet, and I don’t plan to because of the random nature of gacha games, but it has slowed my progress a fair bit. Many of the items you need to upgrade your characters are uncommon, so the quickest way to get them is to use your money to get more gleamstones, the in-game currency. It gates progress, which is my biggest grievance with these kinds of games. I’ve gotten by fine so far, but I’ll always have to spend a few days at a time chipping away at daily missions to ensure I’m up to date.
Right out of the gate, Crestoria throws a lot at you. There are tutorials that take you through the basics of gameplay, but within hours you’ve unlocked many new features that are only explained through a text box. Things like Raids, the Battle Arena, and even daily missions, are components that might be familiar to gacha enthusiasts, but as a newcomer, I was overwhelmed and often resorted to hunting down more detailed information online.
Playing the game on day one was rough. Early on, even with the framerate and graphics turned down, the game lagged terribly. Opening the chat outside of your guild still causes me to get stuck on a loading screen weeks after launch. Some users reported being unable to even load the game. With every new update there appears to be a new bug which prevents players from progressing through a Raid or the story. The Arena is one particular area that has been fraught with issues, with players including myself encountering crashes and being booted from fights. As frustrating as it is, the team has been working extremely hard to fix these issues, and have provided frequent updates on social media where possible. But the waters have been, and still are, choppy.
Aside from that, I do think this is one of the most polished-looking gacha games I’ve ever seen. I normally associate gachas with a pixel-like art style that’s used consistently, but Crestoria balances this out with Skit-style cutscenes, and fully-3D character models for combat. I get a little bit giddy every time I pull one of my favourite characters and get to see them in full 3D, fully voiced. They all have unique animations and attacks and their personalities have been translated perfectly from their respective games. A lot of love has been put into making this look and feel like a Tales of game, from the voice acting (and the Japanese voice cast are fantastic), to the character interactions and the production values. The music is quite different from previous Tales of games too, with a lot of emphasis on acoustic guitar tracks with some much more dramatic piano/synthesiser themes. Some tracks don’t fit the tone of the scenes or fights, but I was humming away and tapping my feet to the battle theme within the first hour of the game.
Speaking of combat, rather than a fancy Linear Motion Battle action battle system, fights are turn-based, with a great emphasis on turn order. Characters can use a basic attack, or use Artes to deal more damage, but these have a cool-down and you must wait a number of turns to use it again. Two things you need to take advantage of are elements and turn order. Each character is assigned one of six elements, and each is more effective against a certain type. Before a fight, you’re told what element the enemy will be, so if your enemy is a fire type the game recommends that you take water elemental characters, as they will do more damage. Turn order allows you to maximise your damage the higher your combo is. Often, the strongest of your four characters go last, with all other characters using their highest combo-hitting moves. It’s a fun system that isn’t explained all too well in game (through text boxes, like most other tutorials), but can be pretty satisfying. Though many fights often rely on your characters being higher lever, or being the rarest tier, in order to get by safely. You can use the Support System, which summons another player’s character to help out in battle, luckily, but at the cost on one of your party members being kicked out and not getting experience.
The most surprising part of the game is that there’s a pretty great story accompanying it. Crestoria follows Kanata Hjuger as he is branded a criminal for doing something he thinks is right. While the cast is full of your typical Tales of favourite archetypes and themes, this cast is really fun and provides moments of levity in what is otherwise a pretty dark story about what justice is and who decides what is just and right in the world. Vicious, the gun-toting wisecracking character mysteriously dubbed The Great Transgressor, is fast becoming one of my favourite characters in the series for how nonchalant he is, for someone who is essentially known across the country as the “greatest criminal”. The journalist Yuna Azetta is also a pure delight too, suspicious in her mannerisms but overly cheery. At release, the game only contained the first four chapters, but the developers are regularly adding new chapters with more story content.
Which leads me to a strange criticism: it feels like this game is trapped. Tales of Crestoria released simultaneously worldwide, however the servers for Japan and the US are separate. Other gacha games that have received the same treatment have normally not lasted longer than a year. And while I don’t want to speculate, I’m sad because this is a story, and these are characters that deserved a mainline game. Instead, it feels like a great story wrapped in gacha mechanics that, unless you’re willing to pay up, will take you a while to get through.
I’ll continue to keep plugging away at Tales of Crestoria as it’s updated, because I’m genuinely enjoying my time with the game, and love seeing characters like Arche, Farah, Presea, Leon, and all of my other favourites take to the stage once again. I just hope Bandai Namco can manage the bugs a little better and increase the frequency of materials and drops just a bit so people who are less willing to drop lots of money on a gacha can enjoy the story and the additional content at a reasonable pace.