|Platforms||PC, PS4 (reviewed)|
|Developer||Bandai Namco Studios|
|Publisher||Bandai Namco Entertainment|
|Release Date||January 27, 2017|
Tales of Berseria is the latest entry in Bandai Namco’s venerable JRPG series, putting players in the shoes of Velvet Crowe. Three years prior to the main story of the game Velvet is living a fairly quiet and peaceful life with her brother-in-law Artorius and her younger brother Laphicet. Years earlier her older sister and Artorius’ wife Celica was killed during an event known as the Opening during a Scarlet Night.
After a similar situation unfolds which ends with Artorius sacrificing Laphicet and Velvet transformed by her hatred into a daemon, she’s imprisoned, eventually being freed and embarking on a quest for vengeance against the man who betrayed her and murdered her brother. A typical Tales game this is not, at least not from a story perspective. Where previous Tales games tell fairly typical stories laden with Anime tropes, Berseria weaves a far darker tale.
This is immediately apparent in the game’s main cast, primarily comprised of daemons, witches, traitors and pirates. While protagonists of past Tales games generally set out to save the world, filled with an earnest desire to do what’s right and plucky, optimistic can-do attitudes, Berseria’s protagonists are the bad guys. They’re motivated primarily by desires for revenge and murder, with the game adopting an altogether darker tone than its predecessors.
To accomplish her goals, Velvet must wage war against the Abbey – the typical good guys of a story such as this. They’re an organisation dedicated to saving Humanity from the daemonblight and eradicating the daemons that are rampaging across the land. It’s a gutsy way to frame a Tales game that, for the most part, does Berseria some massive favours. Berseria forgoes a more traditional good versus evil tale in favour of telling a more nuanced story, coloured with shades of grey where nothing is quite as it seems.
It starts slow – the first hour or two is entirely dedicated to showing players Velvet’s life before she became a daemon. This works really well, truly letting players get into Velvet’s head and empathise with the situation she eventually finds herself in. It also foreshadows much of the rest of the game, which adopts a similar approach to pacing, choosing to go for the slow burn and really explore each of its story beats in detail where lesser games would simply breeze right past them.
It’s not a wholly successful approach to storytelling, however. While it gives us fascinating insights into its excellent cast of characters, letting players really dig deep into what drives them and who they truly are, it’s not without its flaws. The game can seem really slow going, occasionally feeling like it’s getting too bogged down. I found myself wishing for the pace to pick up at certain points. It’s a game that holds few narrative surprises, and I found that I was waiting for the inevitable twists.
It’s not until the final third of the game that Berseria’s narrative even really gets going. The first two-thirds sit in stark contrast to the final few chapters of Velvet’s story. Where the closing ten or so hours see the game come alive, the first twenty to thirty hours can feel meandering. While it’s definitely true that the slower pace allowed me to really come to care for the motley crew that assembles around Velvet, I can’t help but feel that if the game was a bit leaner in its storytelling it could have been a lot more memorable. It’s a great story, it just could have done with being a bit tighter.
The characters themselves are excellent. From the main six that form your party right through the supporting cast. The protagonists are so effortlessly well drawn, each with their own personal story arcs woven expertly into the main narrative. Seeing them interact with one another through the various cutscenes and skits of the game is a delight. Where the main plot could feel too slow or stagnant, their interactions were always a consistent highlight.
While the story is a big shift for Berseria, the gameplay is largely unchanged from previous entries. The game’s combat builds itself around a variation on the Linear Motion Battle System from Tales of Zestiria, though with some tweaks to make it a much more fluid, aggressive experience. Customisable combos allow you to assign specific Artes (special abilities) to each of the four face buttons, with you able to put together a string of four moves for each press of a button, allowing you to tailor your combos however you see fit.
Where Zestiria’s combat was slower paced, relying on standing still for gauges to recharge, Berseria’s combat is built around the ever replenishing Soul Gauge. The Soul Gauge is always refilling, meaning you’re constantly involved in fights. By timing dodges or stunning opponents you can even extend the Soul Gauge, allowing you to fight longer and gain access to Break Souls – special attacks that can do major damage to enemies. Everything is geared around combos – each hit you or your party members lands adds to a combo chain, the higher the combo chain the more damage you’ll be doing.
Constantly pummeling your enemies is the best way to do maximum damage, and you’ll constantly be wanting to build your combo meter up before unleashing your most devastating special abilities to get the best results. Berseria also features a very interesting loot system that sees specific pieces of gear come with their own unique abilities that can boost damage, defence or some other attribute. Characters can master these abilities and have access to them permanently, giving you extra incentive to keep swapping gear.
All of this combines to create some fluid, fast combat gameplay that would fit really well into a more challenging game. The problem is that, while the various combat mechanics are really well thought out and brilliantly implemented, Berseria simply isn’t challenging enough to actually warrant you using it a lot of the time. The game is little more than a button masher at normal difficulty, so if you’re looking for a really satisfying usage of some great game mechanics then it’s definitely worth cranking the difficulty up as soon as possible.
The same can’t be said of the various environments and dungeons in the game, which are bland throughout. Exploration is dull – during overworld segments that see you travelling between the various towns and dungeons there’s little to really capture your attention. There are treasure chests and hidden loot to find, but not much reason to actually go looking for them. These environments are bland and feel devoid of life, simply a series of corridors littered with enemies with which to grind out some levels between dungeons.
Dungeons are even worse. It feels like very little thought has actually gone into these areas. Most are linear runs to boss battles, tasking you with simply getting from point A to point B and mowing down the enemies in your way. There are some dungeons that feature very rudimentary puzzles you’ll need to solve to progress, but these are generally pretty boring, half-arsed sections of gameplay. They mostly involve you running into dead ends to find switches to activate that allow you to pass through barriers.
The only thing worth finding through exploration are Katz chests. These special chests can be opened using souls, floating orbs liberally spread across all of the maps. By finding them and releasing the Katz spirit inside you’ll be granted fashion items, accessories that allow you to dress up the main characters with Stetsons, sunglasses, eye patches, angel wings and a variety of other cosmetic wearables. These cosmetics persist through cutscenes too, which can make them unintentionally hilarious.
Berseria gives you the welcome choice of hearing either the original Japanese voice acting or the English dub. The English voice acting is excellent, with the cast doing a really great job of bringing the characters to life. It’s definitely worth avoiding the Japanese voices. Not because they’re bad, but because there are some obvious mistranslations that turn the subtitles into nonsense words. The story is good enough that you’ll want to hear a character say “gruesome” instead of seeing them say “goose” in any case.
Tales of Berseria is the best Tales game in a while. Its story, while a bit too slow paced in its first 20-30 hours, is a solid tale of revenge. It breaks away from the more traditional good versus evil yarn that Tales usually aims for, instead telling a darker tale with more Human characters at its core. The 40 hours I spent with Velvet and company were great and the main cast were likeable and relatable, with their interactions and personal storylines proving to be the biggest draw of the game. The combat mechanics are excellent, full of depth and interwoven really well, though you’ll barely notice on normal difficulties thanks to the game being fairly easy. It’s trudging between story points and boss battles that really lets Berseria down thanks to the game’s dull environments and dungeons.
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