Having played several games from the Tales series over the years, I was excited to play Tales of Berseria, the sixteenth main entry – especially after being disappointed by Tales of Zestiria, which was the previous instalment, and leaving it incomplete. I had some apprehensions before receiving the game as I discovered that it was a distant prequel to Zestiria and wondered if there would be a lot of content that I wouldn’t understand. While there are quite a number of references you will only recognise if you have played the sequel, rest assured that the story is easily understood and enjoyed without any prior knowledge.
Berseria’s intriguing plot was the first thing to catch my attention; telling the tragic tale of Velvet, who loses someone very precious to her at the hands of her trusted mentor and becomes a daemon who feeds on other daemons. The story follows a path of vengeance as she seeks retribution against him by any means possible, no matter the cost. It was a nice change of pace from the usual formula of a cheerful story with a merry band of characters traipsing along to defeat evil. Having a darker story with a more ambiguous stance on who is right and wrong was refreshing and handled amazingly well by Bandai Namco. The story never failed to keep me on my toes – just when I thought things were going in one direction, and I was putting theories together of what would happen next, it would switch on me.
As the first female protagonist of the series, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Velvet Crowe’s portrayal, but I hoped it would be good. After hearing the story would be about her thirst for revenge, I was worried that she would be a very two-dimensional character – very dark and sad, with a small range of emotions. Any concerns I had were immediately pushed aside as the many facets of her personality are displayed throughout the journey. It’s definitely a growing process for her, and it’s interesting to watch as she deals with bonding with the other characters because she is resistant to the idea of making friends; preferring to keep them at a distance and disposable for her own plans.
The rest of the cast is just as impressive as our anti-heroine. There is a fellow daemon named Rokurou, who is journeying to find and defeat his older brother in combat. The bizarre and chatty witch Magilou, whose purpose for travelling with you is unclear, but she’s in it for the adventure. Laphicet, a young malak (spiritual beings who live for thousands of years), who is learning what it means to be alive. The Exorcist Eleanor, who was trained to kill daemons but now seeks the truth about what’s happening. And my personal favourite, Eizen, the brash and brawling pirate, who is looking for a way to remove his curse. Joining them are a bunch of NPCs, from swashbuckling pirates in Eizen’s crew to other daemons the party rescues along the way – who are well fleshed out and have their own stories. They are all so individually memorable that I’m sure these characters will stay with me for a long time.
Most of the characters initially team up with Velvet as a means to accomplish their own goals but soon find that their paths lead to the same destination. As they travel together, you really start to feel the camaraderie building between them, as each of them starts to open up about their own tragic histories and how it lead to where they are now. Most of these discussions are done through skits, a staple of Tales games which are usually brief clips of dialogue between characters showing head to shoulder portraits of them with various expressions, and can range from hilarious to serious depending on the topic of conversation. Many skits are optional but are definitely worthwhile viewing as they show a lot of character interactions and provide a deeper understanding into their pasts.
Similar to the other games in the series, Berseria offers a variation of the Linear Motion Battle System, known as the Liberation-LMBS, and follows the more recent trend to have movement automatically set as free-run instead of having to hold a button like in some of the older instalments. I loved that they mapped the artes to all of the face buttons, where previously only Circle and X were used for attacking and tilting the analog stick in different directions changed what artes were performed. This new system feels much more intuitive and allows easier management for attack chains. Each character has an individual Soul Gauge, showing up to five souls, which allows the player to chain attacks together. I enjoyed the strategical management of this system because when you have less than three souls your abilities in battles are limited and you need to find a way to gain more to be effective.
When a character has at least three souls, they are able to Break Soul, where each party member gains a unique effect and are able to exceed their combo limit. Velvet has the most interesting Break Soul as it puts her into overdrive mode; her daemon arm is revealed, her attacks are stronger, and she releases a hard hitting finisher at the end of a combo before reverting back to normal. I feel that this is a great system as it provides a temporary power-up efficiently without disrupting the flow of battle and is particularly satisfying when you can chain several Break Souls together.
Also, with six main party members and only four battle slots, they introduced the Switch Blast system; allowing you to switch out any character for either of the other two. This is an excellent addition because while you’ve always been able to switch characters on the fly, it’s only been between those already on the field. This new system allows the players freedom to control the flow of battle as the enemies have different weaknesses while some of your allies have elemental affinities which will either help or hinder their effectiveness depending. Not to mention that if a character dies, they can be switched out and will slowly regain their health in the wings while another takes over – meaning that slot isn’t useless if you’re out of life bottles.
Traversing the world of the Holy Midgand Empire isn’t particularly speedy, but that tends to be part of the territory when entering into a JRPG. They do offer some solutions along the way which aid in the progress but still make you run through a significant portion. Often in dungeons and some large field areas, you will be able to unlock set warp points which quickly help you get back to different areas. There are also items that can be purchased fairly reasonably which will let you travel between towns you’ve been to or take you back to the entrance of a dungeon. Finally in the later part of the game you gain access to the Geoboard, essentially a hoverboard, which is definitely faster than walking but not amazingly quick. The catch is you need to unlock its use for each different area by touching a glowing green geotree found somewhere in that zone until you can surf around. It should also be noted that the geoboard doesn’t have the best handling, and for some odd reason, the developers decided to make both analog sticks control its movement instead of allowing you to change the camera angle with the right stick like when travelling on foot. This lead to some awkward moments for me where I had the camera pointed at a downward angle after looking at something, got on the geoboard, couldn’t see where I was going and promptly had to get off to fix the camera.
Tales of Berseria is beautiful with its gorgeous anime-style cutscenes for key moments, and in-game rendered scenes for others, which show off any outfit changes or funny accessories you choose to adorn the characters with. The voice acting is phenomenal, with each actor playing their role full of emotion. I was truly impressed. There is never a moment where it felt like the characters weren’t genuine and expressive while going through the ordeal. I mainly played it using the English track, but the game does offer the original Japanese audio which is also amazing. I found the soundtrack to be moving in all the right ways; slow and emotional when it needed to be, then upbeat and inspiring when you were about to take on a big battle.
When you’re a little tired of running from dungeon to dungeon, there are mini-games scattered throughout various towns that can offer some fun. Admittedly they’re not all that amazing, but I found some more interesting and enjoyable than others and were sometimes a fun way to pass the time. Also, alongside their usual cooking, they added an expeditions mechanic where you send out a ship to an island, and after 30 minutes it returns with various items from a list and sometimes a new place to explore. It’s mindless and doesn’t require any attention, but I found it enjoyable, and I looked forward to its return – though it was frustrating when there was one item left on the list to find, and it took forever to get it after many repeated attempts.
I only had some minor issues with Berseria, and they were mostly regarding conversations and cutscenes. I noticed early on that sometimes the audio would end a sentence before the character had finished talking and would move on very abruptly. I found it really strange, and I’m not sure if it’s something to do with the English lines perhaps running too long compared to the Japanese, so the scene cuts suddenly and moves on. Since I enjoyed the game so thoroughly, I did as many side quests as possible, and was spurred on to do so by the extended reveals about character histories that I otherwise wouldn’t have received. However, I found that there were some odd phrases that made their way into the subtitles, especially while running around doing side quests. Examples such as “a little goose I’m even by my standards” instead of “a little gruesome even by my standards” and “not your sounds out” instead of “knock yourselves out”. It made me chuckle briefly and tilt my head in confusion because I’m not quite sure how they came out that way, but I can only assume that it was lost in translation. Regardless, it was a little distracting and usually took me out of the moment, plus I can only imagine if listening to the Japanese audio you would potentially be completely confused and not know what it is they were trying to say.
Tales of Berseria is an excellent addition to the Tales franchise and one of the best I’ve played by far. With a darker story than most of the others in the series, I feel it is more accessible to those who have never played any of the games because the story is alluring from the beginning. While it is a distant prequel to Zestiria, it is not required to have played it. There will be moments where you’re obviously missing something if you haven’t, such as some characters crossing over both games and names you would have heard in Zestiria (but weren’t explained at the time and are elaborated on in Berseria), but it’s still enjoyable regardless. This is a game I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone who enjoys JRPGS, as its one of the best I’ve ever played.