I had absolutely zero expectations going into Tales of Berseria. After quickly giving up on its sister game, Tales of Zestiria, I had no reason to expect this game would be anything special. Anyone who’s even casually familiar with Japanese entertainment knows what I like to call the ‘Default JRPG’. Attractive teenagers with weird hair inexplicably team up to become stalwart heroes of the land, kill the bad guy, and save ‘Definitely-Not-Middle-Earth’. When it comes to JRPGs, I usually expect most of them to follow this formula until proven otherwise. Well, it took about thirty minutes for Tales of Berseria to blow that notion out of the water, and the result is a breath of fresh air for both the Tales series, and JRPGs as a whole.
As a genre, JRPGs often live and die by the sword of storytelling, and Tales of Berseria no exception. In the land of the Holy Midgand Empire, a disease known as Daemonblight is spreading throughout the land, turning people into vicious monsters that attack anything on sight. The game opens with the game’s protagonist, Velvet Crowe, and her brother Laphicet as their village is invaded by the spread of Daemonblight. After most of the villagers are either slaughtered or turned into Daemons (including their pregnant older sister, Celica), they are rescued by their brother-in-law, Artorious.
Daemons are apparently a hard-working bunch because only a few years go by before their next village is attacked as well. I won’t spoil what happens, but let’s just say Velvet gets betrayed by someone close to her and vows revenge, setting the stage for a bloody tale of retribution.
Oh how I wish I could go over every single twist, turn, and fantastic moment in this game, but to do so would ruin the experience. Rest assured, it’s fantastic. There were several moments where I thought ‘Okay, this is where they (insert cliche here),’ and the game seemed to deliberately subvert my expectations. Although Velvet is initially set up to be a sort of anti-hero, seeking revenge at the cost of those around her, I was certain the game would chicken out of this eventually. I kept waiting for her to morph into the stereotypical virtuous heroine, but her base character is much more consistent than I ever expected. The side characters are no different, with each getting enough time to develop their own personal stories and tragedies. Some of their personal motivations for joining up with Velvet seem a bit contrived, but it all flows nicely once the plot picks up some steam.
Though as good as the overall plot is, the delivery can be a bit heavy-handed. The dialogue borders on cringy at times, and nothing short of a hacksaw could save some of the overloaded expositions. In fact, early on one of the party members seems to serve solely as the group’s encyclopedia. Luckily, once the history and backdrop of the world are firmly established, the story is free to develop more naturally, and the quality of the story reaches its true potential.
Outside of the story, the majority of your play time will be spent in combat, and this is where the game’s fighting system comes into play. Tales of Berseria, like other modern JRPGs such as Final Fantasy XV, uses a real-time battle system. Fights play out much like a brawler with numerous stat-related elements playing out in the background. To put it simply, each character starts off with something called a ‘Soul Gauge’, which determines how many attacks (aka ‘Artes’) you can dish out before needing to recharge. You can earn more SG by killing or stunning enemies, lengthening your combos and damage output. Speaking of combos, this is one of the few games that lets you customize your combos to your personal liking. Having the freedom to choose when and where to interchange certain attacks allows you to create your own personal style.
Battles either take place via a story event or in an open field/dungeon. Out on the open road, you can initiate a fight by running into enemies, though I found that if I was quick enough, most battles could be avoided entirely. However, this results in being severely under-levelled for the mandatory story battles, so its best to fight as often as you can.
Overall the combat does its job and its a blast to chain together combos as you dodge and weave your way through the chaos of battle. If I had one complaint, it would be that there are a number of bells and whistles tacked onto the fighting, some of which are more necessary than others. Every enemy has its own strengths and weaknesses, but honestly, you can just button mash your way through the early hours of the game no problem. Later on, you may need to apply a bit more tactical thinking to your approach, but if you over level yourself and consistently upgrade your equipment, the end result is much the same. Basically, the combat is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Whether that’s a positive or a negative is up to you.
graphics and sound
Okay, let me get this out of the way: I really, really love the visuals and art direction in this game. The bright vibrant colors mixed with the hand-drawn models and environments gives the entire world a vibrant, lively feeling. There were several instances where I entered a new area and had to take a moment just to appreciate the sweeping landscape. Of course, most of them were littered with monsters, but once you’ve killed them all it really is a lovely view.
This game really could have taken the easy route on the sound design, and I’m so glad they didn’t. Discounting the jingle that plays when you rest at an inn (which incidentally is my new ringtone), there aren’t a lot of distinct melodies that push the soundtrack above average. That said, every track makes an attempt to be appropriate for each setting. Whether the soft tones of the snow levels, to the sweeping scores for open plains, each area feels distinct in its audio-visual presentation. The voice acting can be cringy at times, but at least each character sounds distinct from one another, and the actors do their best to sell each line as best they can. If you’ve ever watched anything by Funimation, you’ll probably recognize a voice here or there.
Praise aside, I really find it disappointing that the team at Bandai Namco didn’t utilize the power of the PS4 as much as they could have. Yes, I am fully aware that graphics alone do not make for a good game, and that the series has a well-established art style. But pushing aside the characters specific to each entry, when comparing side by side screenshots of Tales of Zestiria and Tales of Berseria, you could be forgiven for thinking they were from the same game. A lack of graphical evolution between entries isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the missed potential to add more raw graphical power on top of the already appealing art style is unfortunate.
If you’re not a fan of JRPGs, or really Japanese entertainment in general, this game isn’t going to sell you on it. For me, this game was a great starting point for the Tales series, and I’m honestly thinking about giving Tales of Zestiria another go around. A fun cast of characters, a story with an intriguingly dark premise, and an interesting take on the real-time battle system. There’s really not much more to be said.
|+ Interesting storyline||– Dialogue shortcomings|
|+ Well-rounded characters||– Gameplay features can be overwhelming|
|+ Customizable combat|
|+ Appealing art style|