Tales of Berseria might be my favourite game in the Tales series since 2004’s Tales of Symphonia on Gamecube. That’s broadly where I stand at about five hours into the game. It boasts a strong opening, atypical protagonist and a surprising mechanical depth in its combat. I always expected to enjoy Berseria, I’m a big fan of the franchise after all, but I hardly expected to love it this much so quickly.

Let me talk first about the depth of its core gameplay. While exploration and navigating the interconnected hubs that form the world map are largely unchanged from 2015’s Tales of Zestiria, combat has seen some small tweaks to its predecessor’s formula that have had huge impacts on how the game feels to play. Berseria employs the same Linear Motion Battle System as before, but has changed the mechanics to allow for a more fluid, aggressive style of combat.

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Customisable combos make a very welcome return, allowing you to assign Artes to buttons and tailor your character’s moveset to your own preference. This allows you to essentially forgo having to memorise specific button patterns, instead allowing you to perform complex combat maneuvers in whatever manner you see fit. Whereas in Zestiria you were encouraged to wait around for your various abilities and gauges to recharge, in Berseria everything is governed by the constantly replenishing Soul Gauge.

Each attack or dodge you make will see the Soul Gauge diminish (the speed at which it does so depends on the attacks you’re utilising). But rather than need to block or stand still to replenish it, the Soul Gauge charges of its own accord. This lets you fight aggressively, becoming a more active participant in combat rather than having to spend time as a bystander to regain your power. You can even keep fighting when the gauge is empty, although enemies will be able to deflect your attacks easier.

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You can even speed the recharging process along yourself. By blocking you can goad an enemy into attacking you. If you time a sidestep just right you’ll extract a soul from them that will recharge your Soul Gauge and even increase it (you can also beat them out of your foes with special combos). Max out your Soul Gauge and you’ll have access to Break Souls – special moves that allow you to unleash devastation on your enemies.

As before, Berseria has a lot of different mechanics that can be combined in a multitude of different ways. I’m still learning new ways to fight and will doubtlessly continue to do so for many hours to come. The game teaches you slowly so as not to overwhelm and confuse you with a barrage of information, instead letting you get accustomed to each individual mechanic and how it fits into the overall gameplay before introducing you to the next.

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Tales of Berseria tells a very different story to that of its predecessors. Where previous Tales games were defined by their cheery dispositions and light-hearted characters, Berseria is weaving a much darker tale. Protagonist Velvet Crowe isn’t on a journey to save the world, instead she is consumed by an all encompassing need for revenge. A revenge that the player is totally on board with thanks to a terrific opening hour.

Berseria takes it time to set up its protagonist and the world she lives in. By the time the main narrative kicks in Velvet’s personality and motivations are perfectly understandable, making her much easier to relate to than the overtly cheerful protagonists we’ve seen in game’s past. Velvet isn’t a hero (at least not early on in the game). She can barely be considered an anti-hero.

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Her actions throughout the opening hours of the game border on outright villainous. It’s a fascinating shift for the series and creates a more nuanced story that’s more interested in shades of grey over good versus evil. That’s not to say that Berseria has completely abandoned the goofiness that makes Tales a beloved series, but the game is considerably darker than previous entries.

Tales of Berseria’s opening hours form an excellent introduction to the game. Velvet is potentially the most fascinating protagonist to grace the Tales series, with the game going to great lengths to establish her firmly as an anti-hero in a dark narrative centered around her quest for revenge. I’m hooked on the story. Combat feels incredibly fluid thanks to the tweaks made to the systems from Zestiria, tweaks that make the game feel more active than its predecessor. I can’t wait to play more.

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