It’s that time again! Namco Bandai have seen fit to bless us with another ‘Tales of’ game; a series which has seen more mainstream appeal in recent years, but as a result, seems to have become a little predictable. Enter Berseria, a game that goes against the happy-go-lucky, hero-inspired adventures we are used to. And I for one welcome it.
Game: Tales of Berseria
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Berseria trades in the naïve, melodramatic character of Sorey (Tales of Zesteria’s main protagonist) for the darker, more vengeance driven Velvet. Out for vengeance against the man who stole everything from her, Velvet is willing to cross boundaries previous lead characters wouldn’t dream of. In doing so, a trail of destruction is generally left in her wake, as she causes all manner of issues for the innocent bystanders of Midgand, the world in which this story takes place. Murder, explosions and devouring of anything that gets in her path quickly become the norm. It very much sets the tone for the story ahead, where there are no heroes, just a set of characters swimming in their own moral ambiguity with little chance of redemption as they try to accomplish their goals.
Is it still cliché? Yes! Nevertheless it provides a fresh change and will keep you guessing in places. However, it’s the main characters backstories, agendas (which often conflict) and interactions with one another that will keep you wanting to know more. Once the band is together you will have six playable characters in total, all of which get their time in the limelight. This is done mostly in the form of comic style skits that have become a staple of the series. They aren’t all winners mind you, but there is enough well-written gold in these vignettes to keep you coming back for more. Sadly the game is a little slow to start but should you invest in it, you will find that Berseria has a wealth of interesting characters, something that I felt had been lacking since Tales of Vesperia. It all comes together to make this a more believable ‘tale(s)’ and is no doubt one of the greatest strengths of the game.
Outside of the engaging characters and storytelling, you will be spending a lot of time with Berseria’s battle system, which has seen some tweaks, but plays out largely the same. Firstly, I can report that the God-awful camera has been remedied. It for the most part does what it is told and stays out of your way so that you can focus on improving your grade and getting those obscenely long combos (phew!).
Powerful attacks known as Artes (martial and hidden) can now be bound to all four face buttons. Each button can take four skills that will be unleashed upon subsequent presses, removing the need to hold down directions to differentiate abilities. In addition, combinations of button presses make use of the tree-like combo system to provide even more versatility than previous titles. This has the added effect of smoothing out gameplay. The other minor change is the removal of technical points in favour of the new Soul Gauge, that depletes as you use said abilities. The more powerful the ability, the more gauge you will use. However, the gauge can be lengthened by dodging your opponents attacks within a limited time window. It’s a welcomed streamlining of the battle system and provides a nice flow to battle if your fingers are adept enough. On the other hand, be too aggressive and your depleted Soul Gauge will very quickly punish you for it. Enemies will then have a much easier time block and countering you.
On the flip side, maxing out the gauge with three or more souls will allow you to use a characters Soul Break. This provides you with a different, more powerful set of skills that ignore the Soul Gauge and allow easier combo extensions. The after effect of activating Soul Break is a fully replenished shorter Soul Gauge when it runs out. All in all the system is quite fluid, and simple enough that with a little experimentation you will be racking up the combos in no time.
Equipment abilities have also made a come back, to much delight. While this feature is most likely not for everyone, those willing to put in the time will be rewarded. Mastering equipment will net you statistical boosts and special abilities that you can then keep. The added depth is there for those seeking more customisation of the group, and serves to bolster the standard gear upgrade system. However, the game can definitely be completed without paying any attention to these on normal and lower difficulties.
At this point I would usually say something about the graphical style and sound, but in truth this is an area of the tales series that has remained stagnant for a long time, for better or worse. Graphically nothing has really changed, but the art style does a half decent job in covering up the fact that we are still essentially playing a PS3 game. Meanwhile the voice acting remains consistently brilliant, retaining its crown as one of the few RPG’s I can actually stomach to listen to in English.
If I were to make criticisms of Berseria the first would be the lack of overworld. While some are content with its omission, I find the resulting linearity due to its exclusion disappointing. However I do understand that some find them a pointless time-sink. I on the other hand relish the freedom and sense of scale they provide, and would love to see them make a comeback in the main series. Instead, we have what are essentially inter-connecting corridors (read: fields), albeit broad ones where we are asked to play whack-a-mole with various doors until you find the appropriate one. It doesn’t help that you will be asked to retread a good portion of these locales later in the game
The tales series has also suffered somewhat from copy and paste dungeon design. It is by no means the worst offender in the genre, but sometimes it would be nice to experience more than a palette swap and the odd basic lever pull puzzle, especially when there has quite obviously been a bit of effort and time spent on enemy variety.
My last gripe is more of a nitpick, as I do believe the extensive tutorials are great for newcomers to the series. However, I feel they could be a little more streamlined. As it stands, I feel like the pacing of the early game suffers in part due to these extensive attempts to teach you things. It is not a major problem, but when you are trying to dine on the main course, it can be a little off putting to have to deal with a ten plate starter.
Overall, Tales of Berseria is a return to form for the series in my books. I’ve had the feeling that the series has been slowly rolling down hill for a while. It pleases me then, to finally find a Tales game that provides a lot of the ingredients that made me fall in love with the series in the first place. Solid story telling, a plethora of loveable characters and a strong customisable combat system make this the best Tales game in a long time.
Review written by Aaron Sullivan: @ajrsullivan