I’ve been a fan of the ‘Tales Of…‘ series since Tales of Symphonia, and as such, I’ve witnessed the ups and downs. And lately, there have been a heck of a lot of downs. The series hasn’t quite come to grips with bigger, more powerful consoles and how to best utilize them, falling victim to open but very empty worlds, overcomplicated battle systems and just a general decline in quality overall.
The latest entry, Tales of Berseria, sets out to avert this. And I’m glad it does.
You play as Velvet Crowe, a very moody, very angsty young lady with a thirst for revenge (metaphorical) and a thirst for blood (literal). She’s a daemon, with a powerful monster-like arm and the ability to eat other daemons. After witnessing the loss of her brother and spending three years in a prison cell with nothing to do but beat up and eat various monsters, she’s left twisted with a one-track mind to destroy the one who’s responsible for her situation.
Of course, being a ‘Tales Of…‘ game and a JRPG, you wind up with a quirky cast of characters along the way, each with their own goals that just so happen to correlate with Velvet’s. The cast is incredibly upbeat which is a delightful contrast to how serious and moody Velvet is, although the game is also incredibly serious at times. It’s easily the most mature and often-times downright ‘edgy’ in the same way a 14 year old who blogs about how they’re not like the other kids is. But that’s honestly part of its charm, and it never takes itself too seriously.
Just because the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, however, doesn’t mean the impact of how dark it is hits you any less hard. You’ll find yourself doing a few questionable things in the game and it’s a refreshing surprise from the eternally optimistic previous entries in the series. Especially given that this game is a prequel to the previous entry, Tales of Zestiria, a game all about hope, optimism and changing the world for the better. This game instead is more character-driven, focused on selfish desires, and any world-changes are just a by-product of Velvet’s own nefarious goals. She doesn’t care who she hurts, who she eats, and her party members are just means to an end.
The gameplay has also received a much needed touch up, having gotten far too intricate in recent times in a way that might intimidate newer players, with too many mechanics cluttering things. While this game keeps the traditional ‘run into an enemy, start a battle’ style with four party members, it produces another change in terms of how the battle plays out. This game gives the player a bar known as ‘souls’. The player starts each action based battle with three souls, and this essentially equates to how many times they can combo an enemy, with another soul given upon a kill. There are four buttons that can be assigned to use different moves in a sort of ‘beat ’em up’ style battle, and the player can customize this to allow for combos that utilize different moves with different elemental effects which will have a stronger impact on various enemies.
The game also introduces a ‘therionize’ mechanic. This is, in essence, Velvet using her demon arm to absorb the power of the enemy she hits with it. This gives her different abilities, such as taking less damage, inducing certain status effects on monsters, making her enemies weak to certain attacks, etc. and provides an interesting element of strategy. And it’s just really cool to watch her run around smacking monsters about with her cool daemon arm. Of course, the game also wants you to rack up the biggest combos possible and the therionize mechanic is great for that, allowing you to easily chain combos into each other to create an awesome feat of mindblowing damage.
It’s incredibly satisfying and incredibly fun, and it would want to be because this game can be up to 50 hours, if not longer with the amount of sidequests, dungeons and minigames, all of them containing fun, unique rewards. This can range from anything to amazing weapons or just incredibly cute outfits and wearable accessories to turn serious cutscenes into something completely silly.
The graphics are a little dated, it doesn’t look like something that’s quite at home on something as powerful as the PS4, though given this is a port of the Japanese PS3 release that is a little understandable. The voice acting can also be a little grating at times, though there is the option to switch between Japanese and English at any time. Though, personally I stick with English because that’s just my personal preference.
The dungeon design is also lacking with no real room to explore and essentially being pressed from one corridor to another with incredibly weak ‘puzzles’ that only serve as a means to get a little more playtime out. Which seems unnecessary when the game is already so long.
But the game’s real strength is in its story, its characters, and its battle gameplay. It gets you endeared to its edgy anime feel, and draws you in to the characters through intricate worldbuilding and classic Tales ‘skits’ which serves as dialogue between the characters to build them into interesting, three-dimensional people you want to help and see their story through. Even if they’re not entirely doing the right thing.
Tales of Berseria made me feel like a teenager again who watched far too much anime. And it also served to remind me why I fell in love with the Tales Of series in the first place. It’s an exciting return to form the series sorely needed.