Tales games have been around for as long as I could remember. I played Tales of the Abyss as a little kid, I dived into Tales of Vesperia as a teen, and I dabbled in other titles briefly here and there as time went on. While I haven’t put serious time into a Tales game for a while, I’ve always kept my eye on the series and followed the news and impressions of every new game.
For die-hard fans, it seems like a lot of the recent entries in the series haven’t been firing on all cylinders. Watching from the sidelines, I hadn’t seen a Tales game that really grabbed my attention with its characters or setting for a while. That all changed with Tales of Berseria.
Berseria is the latest entry in the 20-year JRPG series, and while most games in the series tend to be separate, unrelated experiences, Tales of Berseria shares a world and many other common threads with last years entry, Tales of Zestiria. Zestiria tried to break the mold in some aspects with gameplay changes like its open world maps and a deep equipment fusion system. Berseria, meanwhile, tries to stand out through breaking narrative ground, while bringing gameplay elements back to their basics.
Tales of Berseria sports the first central female protagonist of the series, in the form of Velvet Crowe. After being betrayed and left to die by her once beloved brother, Velvet unlocks the powers of a Daemon and loses her mind while being kept in a jail cell for years, until a chance encounter gives her the opportunity to bust out of prison and get her revenge. It’s a scenario and character that defies the series’ traditions.
Your early party is made up of other colourful escapees, and they’re both just as morally ambiguous as Velvet. While she has a caring heart deep down, the brutal way she goes about achieving her goals and protecting the people she comes to care about made for one of the most unique JRPG stories I’ve seen. Admittedly, the experience dips in the second half when it relies on backtracking for various MacGuffins, but I had become too attached to the characters by that point for it to entirely ruin the experience for me.
It’s a story with plenty of that classic Tales charm and cheesiness, though, that much is for sure. Comedic “skit” scenes make their return, popping up as you explore the open world and triggered with the press of a button. In previous games you would see simple character portraits as they had various goofy conversations, but Berseria ups the ante with dynamic animations and various illustrations for the characters as they speak, making even the most boring skit a lot more engaging. They all add fun development to these characters that wouldn’t fit in the main story cutscenes, and seeing your party of characters coming together as pals is always a treat.
It isn’t just skit visuals that look sharp. The overall graphical quality of the game is really nice. Character models all have a beautiful, almost painterly style of coloring and shading to their textures that make the characters look attractive and vibrant, even if the models themselves would feel right at home on a PS3 – the PS3 version is only out in Japan. Environments are also pretty simple, but things like sharp lighting and glossy textures give them some vibrancy. Berseria doesn’t shake things up with the visual formula, instead polishing and refining the details to make the crispest looking Tales game to date.
You could describe the gameplay similarly. Berseria doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel, it just wants to give you that old wheel you had as a kid and make you happy. I loved some of the changes made for Zestiria, but sadly the large world, equipment fusion, and puzzle-heavy dungeons are gone. Then again, puzzle gimmicks were never my favorite part of JRPGs.
The new equipment upgrade system is a lot simpler, though, and really addictive. Each item you find in the game, from weapons to accessories, can have various different stat boosts or special skills, which you unlock the more you use it. If you like a particular piece of equipment, you can just upgrade it at a shop with certain materials, so once you find equipment with your ideal skills, simply upgrade it to get it up to your level. It had me switching up my equipment a lot more than I would in other games, just to explore the various unlockable bonuses.
The removal of large environments, though, is a huge bummer. It was fun to feel a grand sense of exploration and travel as you navigate the overworld of a game, but Berseria has none of that, because non-dungeon environments are just as small and sectioned-off as the cramped dungeons.
Thankfully, while the act of exploration flounders, fighting enemies is liberating, fun, and flashy as hell. Tales games consist of encountering enemies in an overworld and then being transported to a real time fightf. In Tales of Berseria, your party and the enemies are all in a combat zone that you can freely run around in, locking onto different enemies, and performing real time combos, blocks, or dodge-rolls. Each face button is tied to a different 4-attack combo that you can fully customise in or out of battle. Performing attacks costs souls, and you gain more souls in battle by stunning enemies or dodging their attacks at the last moment.
It’s easy to wildly button mash, especially once you unlock the ability to use a Break Soul ability. These absorb a soul to use a powerful attack that will probably stun your enemies, which instantly returns your soul investment and allows you to chain together combos for days. Eventually, though, you’ll encounter tough opponents with specific resistances or weaknesses, requiring you to put together very specific combos in order to open up their defenses and deal real damage.
Combat is fun, and whether you mash the buttons or play out specific combos, you can find yourself ending basic encounters in the blink of an eye. It combines the strategy and forethought of a traditional JRPG with the freeing sensation of a traditional action game, and to me, that’s what Tales is all about.
Tales of Berseria feels like a Tales game made just for me. There’s so many games in the series now, and I’ll never play them all, but the characters and the narrative and the combat mechanics of Berseria just click with all of my tastes so well. For some, the lack of gameplay innovation might be a turn off, but for me, a classic Tales gameplay system combined with a unique narrative led to a fantastic experience. Fans both new and old would be doing a disservice to themselves if they didn’t check this game out.
Version Tested: PC
- Developer:Bandai Namco Studios
- Publisher:Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Platforms:PS4, Windows
- Release Date:27/01/17