It’s one thing for a month to have a crowded release schedule, but when a number of releases land within the same window (or even the same day), there are some hard decisions that have to be made. On January 24th alone, you’ve got Tales of Berseria, Yakuza 0, Resident Evil 7, and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (why would you call it that?) Just a few days before that, Dragon Quest VIII and Gravity Rush 2 dropped as well. Perhaps even more frustrating is that many of these titles appeal to the same crowd. While I’m not going to tell you which of these is more worthy of your dollar (perhaps another time), I will explain why despite being part of a franchise that has had a plentiful number of releases in recent years, Tales of Berseria is a worthy consideration for your money.
Berseria has players taking on the role of Velvet, an otherwise normal teenage girl whose life is turned upside down after watching her brother become a sacrifice in the name of casting off a demonic threat. In her rage, she ends up partially transforming into a demon herself and is subsequently captured. Her imprisonment only serves to make her hate swell, as from the moment you escape it’s off to exact revenge on the one responsible.
Starting the story at the actual beginning (rather than doing a flashback later on) was really effective in capturing the devastation felt by Velvet and understanding her constant gloom and mistrust. The game makes it very clear that she has little interest in saving the world, and wants only to slay the man who killed her brother. Having witnessed her past, it’s very hard not to come on board with such a selfish quest. Compared to the other games in the series (save for Xillia 2), Berseria treads a much darker and far more grim narrative. It’s a refreshing change of pace playing as what are effectively villains in the eyes of the world’s residents. And Velvet isn’t alone in her quest. As goes the saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” each of the characters enlisted to her aid have their own reasons for going against the main antagonist and make for a well rounded bunch. Even a character like Magilou, who is equal parts mysterious and annoying will have most players warming up to her by the end. Anyone who paid more than a passing glance at Zestiria will also have reason to dive in, as Berseria takes place in the same world as that game (and even has a few cameo appearances despite taking place so far in the past). In fact, I would even say that the plot is well executed enough that it retroactively makes Zestiria a better game.
Having been developed for the PlayStation 3 as well (at least in Japan) holds the visuals back a bit from realizing their full potential on the PS4. This isn’t to say that the game looks bad (it doesn’t), though it’s easy to see how the smaller and denser areas could’ve benefited from more detail. Fortunately, the game runs extremely well, with minimal slowdown even when there is a ton happening on screen at once. The audio is a nice treat as well. The English voice cast is comprised mostly of talent I hadn’t seen a ton in other games, and each one fits their character perfectly. Velvet and Eizen are particularly stand out as some of the best I’ve heard in the franchise. And let’s not forget Sakuraba’s always solid compositions complementing all of the proceedings.
Like its predecessor, combat occurs wherever the player is relative to their contact point with the enemy. Movement is free range and attacks are entirely artes based, utilizing all of the face buttons for various attacks that can be configured to change depending on what order the buttons are pressed. The catch is these artes deplete from a Soul Gauge, which will recharge over time, but can be stunted if the player is incapacitated or hit with certain attacks. The Soul Gauge can also be expended using Break Soul, which will put the character who used it in a unique state, allowing them to break combo limits among other thing. Once players exceed four members, any excess characters are swappable on the fly using what’s called a Blast Gauge, though said gauge also contributes to being able to perform Mystic Artes, a sort of ultimate attack that usually does a ton of damage to your adversaries. It’s a fun system, and much more enjoyable than Zestiria‘s, especially without the camera issues that plagued that entry. Since Armatization is no longer a thing, it’s far more co-op friendly too.
The computer controlled allies are extremely competent, but despite that, much of the strategy boils down to utilizing blocking and dodging skillfully. Healing spells don’t seem to be all that effective in this game, so the more damage you can mitigate in other ways, the better. In this regard, Berseria crosses further into the line of an action game more so than an RPG, despite having the ability to call up a menu at any time to adjust strategy or use items.
Equipment plays a large role within character preparation beyond just the simple base stats of the individual parts. Your party can acquire a plethora of passive skills after earning enough experience wearing each piece that become permanent even after the item is removed. This is heavily reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX, which discouraged players from chucking armor sets as soon as the first shiny new thing winds up in their inventory. And you’ll get a TON of weapons and armor pieces just from enemy drops alone. Equipment is upgradeable with materials found during exploration or breaking down stuff that’s no longer wanted. The decision to sell something or salvage for parts is a battle you’ll wage much of the time that you spend navigating menus, though you’ll quickly find that money isn’t needed much on account of everything you pick off the ground.
Later on, you’ll gain access to a secondary exploration vessel that can scout various parts of the world for you and bring back treasure and recipes. Continued trips will unearth places for your party to head to on foot, so it’s worth taking the time to do, especially since it’s done passively in the background. And of course, the recipes you find can be cooked after battle to boost health and base statistics for a limited amount of time, much like the other Tales games.
There isn’t a ton of side content from what I discovered and much of what exists seems to open up near the end of the game and into the post game. To compensate, the main adventure seems to be a bit longer, with the core adventure averaging about forty hours or more. I usually prefer shorter adventures with the rest being designated as side content, though at least what’s here seems to lend itself to character building. However, the main quest could’ve used some editing on account of all the backtracking you’ll find yourself doing. Hunts have become common place among modern JRPG’s, and there’s a version of that here, with powerful monsters that can be tracked in various fields and dungeons and poached for cash. Floating souls that you scoop up in your adventures act as keys for hidden chests that free Katz, whose sole purpose seems to be do adorn you with fashion accessories. There are lots of optional areas to be discovered simply by talking to average townsfolk as well.
If you were fortunate enough to pick up one of the 10k copies of the collector’s edition, there’s a lot here to like. The steelbook case and the soundtrack are my personal highlights, but the book (which I still haven’t read) is a nice bonus too. I don’t see myself separating the keychains or the mini-figures from the set and the mini-guide/artbook is about what you’d expect. Oh, and there are some cards too that I’ll probably never look at again. I was perplexed at the omission of a full manual, since prior sets seemed to have one. And for the price (almost $150 MSRP), I was expecting a little more. It’s a solid set, but not one that I’d offer an arm and a leg for.
Tales of Berseria is likely to invigorate interest in this long-running franchise with both its story and battle system. It addresses many of the issues of Zestiria (most notably the camera) and the way it ties the two games together made me appreciate its predecessor that much more. It’s not going to be break the JRPG mold quite the same way as something like Final Fantasy XV, but then again, the series has never been about that. It’s about taking what’s familiar and building upon it, giving players the most common tropes found in the genre and selling it in such a way that it feels fresh again. And to that end, the game is a resounding success.
Short Attention Span Summary
Despite the short gestation period between it and its predecessor, Tales of Berseria gives the Tales franchise a much needed shot in arm. It improves upon nearly every facet of Zestiria, from the combat to the story, and somehow retroactively makes the Zestiria a better game. The darker narrative focuses on a tale of revenge rather than that of saving the world, and the adventure is supported by a cast that is much less tropish than is typically utilized in JRPG’s. And because it was developed with a last gen console in mind, it runs really well despite not having the sort of visual fidelity one would expect from a PS4 game. It may be a crowded January release schedule, but Tales of Berseria is not one to miss.