For the most part, fans of the Tales games generally know what they can expect when Bandai Namco brings another one of these RPGs to the West and with Tales of Berseria they have given us one of the quickest turnarounds for the franchise so far. That isn’t the only thing that sets Tales of Berseria apart from the rest of the franchise, despite it being set in the same world as Tales of Zestiria, albeit centuries beforehand, is the fact that this the darkest game in the series so far.
Despite losing her sister due to the Daemonblight that has begun to envelop the world while Velvet Crowe was a young child, she grew up to be a fairly cheerful young woman who spends her time studying under her mentor Artorius while taking care of her ill younger brother Laphicet. That all changes in one day when everything she knows comes crashing down around her as her brother is sacrificed and the culprit is someone she once trusted with all her heart.
Infected and transformed partially into a demon, Velvet is locked away in a prison to keep her away from the rest of society. After being imprisoned for years, Velvet manages to escape with only one thing on her mind, bloody revenge against the man responsible for her tragic loss and anyone else who gets in her way. Seeing an anti-hero as the main character is nothing new for the genre but is something fresh for the Tales series.
While heavy themes are often used to show how dangerous the plight of the world is or how corrupt an enemy might be, we rarely have seen the lead character so unrelenting in her path for vengeance. Velvet is more than ready to threaten and even kill people in an effort to get what she wants making her often appear as a very cruel leader for a group of supposed heroes but one that is hard to feel anything but sorry for thanks to how tragic her backstory is.
Speaking of the rest of Velvet’s group, they are almost entirely made up of other misfits and miscreants who join with her. This includes a man also infected by the demon plague who is eager to slay his elder brother, a carefree sorceress, an old pirate captain seeking his missing captain, as well as a few more innocent members of the party in the form of a younger child and an exorcist named Eleanor. Eleanor works as something of a foil against Velvet as she offers one of the most virtuous viewpoints in the party often placing her at odds with the rest of her group.
This leads to quite a bit of tension at times but this type of tension is something that runs throughout most of the game. Not only do we learn through various twists and reveals about the tragic pasts of the rest of the party members, but the various skits also provide various looks into their lives and personalities. These range from being rather funny to downright serious and show a true return to form for these side-moments that always tend to shine a light on how well-written some of the main characters are in this game.
While the story does take a bit to get going, in fact far longer than past Tales titles, Tales of Berseria’s darker tone and vengeance-fueled lead character help create a memorable storyline that is hard to walk away from. Combine that with its colorful cast of party members that are all given time to shine and plenty of development, players will walk away from this title remembering them for quite some time, something that I haven’t been able to easily say since Vesperia was released years ago.
While the story may serve as the biggest change from what Tales fans are familiar with, the other half of the game, combat, feels fairly similar to what fans should remember. Whenever an enemy is encountered while exploring the party must battle against them in real-time fights that have been altered a bit since the last entry since this time around combat and spell Artes utilize something called a Soul Gauge to execute.
The Soul Gauge will feel familiar for fans but does have limitations and perks. Any skills utilized will require a certain amount of souls but players will also have the ability to steal souls from their opponents by knocking them out or stunning them, allowing players to mix up their move sets, with custom made combinations, in an effort to work in some status-effects to keep the flow of combat moving smoothly. The counter here is that those who choose to spam will find that their soul gauge will drain too quickly and an empty gauge allows for your attacks to be blocked easily and enemies able to steal back their souls.
Players will find that it will take quite a bit of experimentation to best fit their playstyle as the game offers quite a large number of abilities across the six party members that are available in the game and with various artes unlocking at certain levels, players may initially be a bit put off by the amount of options available but being able to customize combat to this level is a huge boon, especially when you factor in powerful mystic and break artes.
Unfortunately outside of combat players will find that Tales of Berseria is lacking in quite a few ways as most of the areas you will explore are incredible simplistic. Not only are the various landscapes the most generic styles that you’ll find in a JRPG, even the dungeons are uninspiring. Most simply consist of basic corridors with simplistic puzzles that often feel like nothing more than busywork to help pad out the time. This is especially true when some dungeons require backtracking and while players can eventually obtain a faster travel method, it does little to really help.
One interesting aspect is the fact that players will obtain a pirate ship that can be sent out to gather various items and ingredients that can be used to cook food. While being able to sail the ship itself would have been nice, this, combined with a number of other mini-games and side-quests make the game rather enjoyable at times when you choose to step away from the plot and take a break from the aforementioned simplistic dungeons.
Visuals & Audio
Although released only on the PlayStation 4 and PC in the West, Tales of Berseria was also released for the PlayStation 3 back in Japan and unfortunately this shows in the final product. While the character designs do stand out a bit this time around with many of the characters having a bit of a darker theme and Velvet really standing out in the design department, the rest of the game does falter a bit in this degree. As mentioned before, the dungeons and environments are bland and uninspired and although the battles run at a smooth pace with some flashy moves being available, don’t expect anything too surprising here.
As far as the soundtrack is concerned, the game features some great background music as well as the option to choose between both the English and Japanese voice track. While both serve as a great option, there are multiple times that the English subtitles do not match the actual English dialogue, meaning that the localization text tends to either be incredibly stilted or, in rare cases, barely comprehensible so to avoid this type of confusion the English voice track results in being the best option.
Tales of Berseria features a far darker and more serious overarching tone than one would initially expect from a Tales game and this departure combined with the refined but familiar combat system and memorable cast of characters make it a worthwhile experience to dive into. The slower than average start and lackluster dungeon and environment designs do drag down the title but even with these flaws fans of the franchise and those looking for something a bit on the darker side will be pleased with what Tales of Berseria has to offer.