Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: Jan 26, 2017
Imagine that the world is under threat by mysterious beasts. If you had to choose between protecting a small family or sacrificing them to bring peace to the world, what would you do? The logical choice seems to clearly be sacrificing them for the greater good. Now, what if it turned out that the family was your own? You’d probably feel a bit more inclined to take your chances with the monsters. So, how would you react if somebody else came along and decided to make the “rational” choice…?
Emotion is pitted against reason in Tales of Berseria, the sixteenth main-series installment in Bandai Namco’s Tales franchise. Don’t let that number discourage you though; like the majority of the series it’s fully functional as a stand-alone title. That isn’t to say it’s completely disconnected either. Fans who’ve played the previous games will find little nods and connections to previous titles, particularly Tales of Zestiria. Of course, the most consistent ties to this fantasy RPG are the two hallmarks of the Tales series: an immersive story, and the ever-evolving real-time battle system.
The “hero” of our story is a gal named Velvet Crowe. Three years ago tragedy struck her home village and she has since sworn revenge against the one she holds responsible. The catch? He’s currently being hailed as the savior of the world and epitome of all that is good and logical. Talk about a good PR department, huh? Collecting a band of ragtag adventurers to help ya usually seems to work when you’re fighting an evil overlord, but if you’re gunning for the good guy recruitment might be a bit of an issue. You take what you can get, and what you get isn’t nice.
Now, I’m not gonna lie, this whole concept is starting to sound a bit edgy. A brooding anti-hero challenging the establishment, ignoring collateral damage, seeking revenge and answers, sporting a black and red color scheme, and trying to find that damn fourth Chaos Emerald enough power to topple the powers that be. It very well could’ve been a dark angst-fest had Velvet gone about her mission alone. Fortunately, we’ve got accomplices.
The story of Berseria is undeniably dark, but it isn’t oppressively so. One of the main strengths of the game is its world-building and characterization. Our party may be on a quest for revenge, but the rest of the world is celebrating the return of hope. Velvet herself starts off filled with a single-minded determination, whereas her cohorts enjoy a bit of tomfoolery. Your party members are far more than just comic relief, however. The characters who join you, and even those that don’t, each have their own narratives, personalities, and creeds. Be it the battle-monger, the skipper on a rescue mission, or the gal who’s just here to have a good time, everyone has their own goal. They just all happen to tie neatly together with Velvet’s own. After all, they’re not heroes; why else would they help her in the first place? Yet you can’t travel together for so long without developing some sense of comradery, even if it’s just over a mutual appreciation of alcohol.
This individualism is one of the main strengths of the narrative and provides believable relief from the otherwise grim tone. These are people who have been hurt or cast aside by the world, but they don’t let that define them. Well… Velvet kinda does, and she seems content with that so long as she gets revenge. It’s just that her allies, intentionally or not, aren’t about to let her brood her life away.
Even so, a character with constant tunnel-vision quickly grows tiresome. While Velvet’s approach to her mission is appreciably calculated and methodical, as opposed to a frenzied crusade, her single-minded determination to move heaven and earth just to kill a single person starts to seem a touch absurd before long. The player can’t help but wonder if all the hassle is really necessary. Yet as you travel and interact with the people of the world signs of discontent become clear. The “reason” that saved the world offers safety for the masses, but it is also restrictive and uncaring; a utilitarian philosophy in which the suffering of the few, no matter how intense, is permissible so long as a greater number of people benefit. Velvet starts of fighting against a singular enemy, but over the course of her journey expands her focus to target the ideal of unfeeling logic her foe advocates.
Yet the adventure forces our merry menagerie of misfits to grow even beyond that. While it starts as simply a quest for revenge, it becomes something more: a journey to try to move beyond the past and find new meaning in life. Our heroine believes she’s lost everything. She’s willing to throw her life away for her cause. So what happens when she stumbles across something else she wants to live for?
The story as a whole serves as an exploration of gray morality and challenges the notion of absolutes of right and wrong. Be it actions or intentions, daemons or exorcists, nothing and no one is infallible. Happy results can come from both selfish and selfless deeds, and disturbing acts can be committed in the name of the greater good. Driving it all home is the relatability of the presentation; the exact scenario is the stuff of fantasy, but the struggles themselves are unsettlingly realistic. Both in the scope of the story and beyond, Tales of Berseria encourages players to take more than just a cursory glance at the motivations that drive us.
Of course, there’s more than just a good story here. It is an action RPG after all, so get ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence. Well, okay, maybe it’s just regular violence, but it’s still pretty darn fun. You can even hook up some extra controllers to let a couple friends join in. A staple of the Tales series, Berseria
Another neat change is the highly modular nature of the combo system. Not a brand new idea for the genre as a whole, but certainly an appreciable evolution in the series. Basically, you can start making customized combo chains of your learned attacks from the get-go, and as you unlock newer and stronger techniques you’re able to fit them practically anywhere in your combat rotation. Advanced technique types are introduced at a nice pace as well, such that the player is able to learn and integrate them one at a time rather than being overwhelmed and forgetting some. Incidentally, they’re largely optional, so you can stick to the basics if you prefer. That being said, pulling them off successfully does boost your post-battle rewards a nice bit.
As for the matter of initiating or avoiding battles, the game opts to avoid the unpredictability of random encounters. Rather, a given mob of enemies is represented by one of the members roaming the map. The type of enemy, method of encounter (tactically sneaking up on them or getting ambushed yourself), and proximity to other nearby mobs all affect the challenge of the battle. In a neat little design quirk, when you encounter an enemy the resulting battle “arena” that you’re transferred to is derived from your position on the map. Really helps to keep the feeling of continuity of an on-the-spot battle while allowing for different control modes in and out of combat.
This comes in handy when exploring, as there are a couple other things to do in the game world besides just attacking. Be it collecting herbs, opening shortcuts, or just taking in the sights, there are some things you simply can’t do effectively in a perpetual beat-’em-up mode. The map itself is divided into nodes of varying shapes and sizes that are connected by paths which are functionally screen transitions, as opposed to a continuous open world. This keeps navigation straight-forward and spares players from having to spend ages combing the world for hidden treasure, but those inclined towards open-world exploration may find it a bit limiting. Still, it isn’t just a linear stretch, and it’s rather satisfying when you’re able to unlock previously blocked pathways (even if the unlock is as contrived as your character realizing, “Hey. I’m a daemonic engine of destruction. I don’t need a badge to smash that rock!”)
Of course, it wouldn’t be the traditional RPG experience without a slew of dungeons to traverse. Puzzles, dungeon-specific enemies, and treasure. Aside from these quirks, the dungeons tend to feel like extensions of the map with a scenery change. It’s not unusual to suddenly realize you wandered into one without noticing; the transition is as smooth as the rest and keeps the player immersed. Really, the dungeons are more like thematic locales you pass through on your overall adventure rather than independent stories of their own. The obligatory dungeon puzzles are rather rudimentary, essentially consisting of finding and flipping switches. They do become more complex as the story progresses and new map actions are unlocked, but at times they seem not so much a challenge as a tedious time-sink, especially with interruptions from enemy encounters.
Having said that, more encounters has the obvious benefit of toughening you up, especially with the equipment mastery system. Simplified compared to the previous release, a given model of sword, belt, shoe, etc. will have specific inherent skills (bonus effects) that can be unlocked and improved through upgrading. While that provides reliability, a bit more variety can be achieved through additional randomly selected effects that may hop onto your gear after challenging some of your tougher foes. To top it off, each piece of equipment has a primary skill that can be “mastered” after enough successful use; mastery allows you to utilize that skill as a permanent passive effect, even without equipping the original effect. It starts off slow, but accumulate and stack enough of these and you’ll become a veritable force of war.
Really, there seems to have been a fair bit of effort put into optimizing the player experience. There’s even a few set-it-and-forget-it bonus systems. Expeditions let you send out a treasure hunting party every half hour or so to dig up loot and lore, and the cooking system can be set to run automatically, providing you with nutritious buff-granting meals after every battle. Once you learn the basics of the systems you can reap the benefits with minimal effort or interaction. If you’re willing to pay a little bit more attention though, you’ll find even the simple act of making snacks can reveal facets of the characters and the world through which they roam.
Honestly, the world-building in this game—and series, for that matter—is wonderfully done. It isn’t forced upon you, other than the bits necessary to progress the main story, but instead left for you to discover of your own volition. This can come from optional skits with your party members, conversing with non-essential NPCs, or even just standing in a market place to hear the merchants hawk their wares. Sometimes you’ll hear grandiose rumors about your party as news of your escapades passes through the land, but you’re far more likely to learn about the lives and thoughts of the people themselves. These can be as frivolous as the inner musings of pets, as relatable as a nervous youth being pressured by the expectations of the previous generation, or as childishly absurd as The Great Choconito Toilet Gambit. The setting isn’t just a stage for your adventure, but an actual world filled with people living their own lives. It isn’t at all necessary to involve yourself with the extraneous NPCs, but the choice is available for those who wish to know more about the world. Just keep in mind that things may not always go as expected when you’re traveling with this rowdy bunch.
The game offers a lot of flexibility regarding how deeply you want to get involved with it. Extra dialogue and side-quests are optional, cutscenes are skippable, yada yada yada. That’s all fairly standard. What’s really interesting is that combat itself can be somewhat optional as well. Thanks to a combination of adjustable difficulty levels, highly competent ally AI, and the option to literally have your character fight automatically, you could go through the most, if not all, of game without actually having to do anything in battle (with the exception of the obligatory tutorial segments [Editor’s Note: You can actually escape them]). If you just want to fight, you can skip the story bits; alternatively, if you’re just here for the story, you can set the characters to take care of the battles on their own. Of course, you’ll still have to manage their equipment so they’re not utterly unprepared, but you can basically opt out of what some might consider the “hard” part of the game. Almost changes the experience from action-based combat to strategy-based as you tweak your troops’ equipment and tactics, leaving you free to ogle the view.
As for what comes after the story, well… The post-game is a bit limited. You get a couple new areas and leads to follow, but mostly it’s tying up any loose ends you may have missed during your first go through, such as the optional side-quests. The typical route the series takes for post-game is heavily centered around a New Game+ with customizable carry-overs. Now, that mechanic is still present in this iteration, but it’s a bit less meaningful compared to previous titles because you can do pretty much everything in a first, albeit lengthy, playthrough. Then again, you do only unlock the highest difficulty towards the very end, so NG+ can offer a challenge run for the thrill seekers. Alternatively, curb-stomping a formerly tough foe can be pretty fun too.
Time for a bit of the technical stuff. The graphics are a combination of traditional 2D imagery and 3D modeling depending on the scenario. Pivotal story moments get a lovely, fluid animated sequence, whereas less significant cutscenes utilize the in-game character models, costumes and all. Skits utilize 2D cut-outs in an overlay instead, so players are presented with a few different stylistic interpretations of the characters. The style overall remains distinctly anime-esque rather than following the trend towards realism that can been seen in series such as Final Fantasy and Metal Gear. The art style may be hit-or-miss for some, but I find it quite attractively put together.
An important thing to keep in mind is that this was originally released both for the PlayStation 3 and 4 in Japan. Consequently, the visuals are limited by the graphical capabilities of the PS3 and don’t fully utilize the resources of next-gen consoles or higher-end gaming PCs (though modding is still an option). On the plus side, this means that performance tends to be consistently smooth. Though if you’re running this on a potato you may find it to be smooth like molasses, if you catch my drift. (Pro-potato tip: The game is set to 60 FPS by default; if your characters seem to be moving in slow-mo, try dropping that.) That being said, the stylistic direction of the artwork helps to greatly alleviate this grievance. I have to give credit where credit is due; the coordinated use of color, lighting, and shadows makes for some pretty stunning visuals.
The audio is handled nicely as well. First off, there’s Dual Audio for dialogue. Based on your personal dubbing preferences you can go English or Japanese. I gave both a listen at different points and they’re both pretty good. I’ll admit, I stuck to English for the bulk of my playthrough. After all, I’m more familiar with the language and, more importantly, Magilou’s voicing is glorious (though to be fair, Magilou in general is glorious). I have to be honest though, while the English dubbing for main cast is handled exceptionally well, the voices for the miscellaneous NPCs can feel forced at times, and a few side-characters’ voices can be a bit grating. I can’t really comment on those points for the Japanese audio since I’m not nearly as familiar with the nuances of what makes speech sound natural in Japanese as I am with English. That being said, ignorance is bliss, and if you aren’t aware that something sounds off then it doesn’t really bother you either. There are a few typos with the captioning, however, so if you do opt for Japanese audio but don’t understand the language there may be brief moments of confusion, especially later in the game.
The soundtrack for the game is gripping and diverse. Simply witnessing the opening cinematic and hearing the somber, airy chimes of the main menu track stirred my emotions and got me feeling involved in the story before I had even started playing. The music is an integral part of setting the tone in the games scenes; accompanied by a simple shift in lighting, it can even invert associations of safety and danger made with previously explored locations. Transitions between tracks are smooth and regulated, even when entering battle, and battle themes can even be selected to a degree later in the game. Lastly is the matter of the character interaction sounds. When exploring the map this is fairly limited; you walk around, climb ladders, jump down ledges, and open chests. Fairly standard noises, nothing fancy. In battle, however, audio cues hold far more impact. Again, it’s not at all necessary to pay attention to them, but it certainly helps if you do. Aside from your characters announcing their own attacks or chanting spells, the sounds of combat and contact are immensely satisfying. Hits sound like they have weight, blades sound sharp, and the qualities of the sounds can even tell you how effective your hits were. Without even looking, you can tell if your attack hit, if it was blocked, if your target has fallen to the floor, or even if your opponent is about to unleash a special attack. It’s actually possible to complete entire encounters, and even minor bosses, without looking due to the depth of audio cues, and I must say that is quite a commendable attention to detail.
Even after all that text, there are still a few miscellaneous things to address. On the more trivial, nit-picky side is the little matter of the skit-notification marker: while it is prominent for a few seconds when first triggered, it quickly shrinks down so as to not distract from game-play. Aesthetically, this makes the screen less cluttered, but it also makes it far too easy to miss skits entirely because you didn’t see the notification. Furthermore, some story events start by interacting with particular individuals or structures, whereas others are triggered by just being in the general area of them, which can take a player by surprise and drag them away when they were just trying to explore. Also, if you like to fight things yourself the AI may annoy you if it gets too good and starts stealing your kills, but you can usually tweak tactics to prevent that. With that in mind, some may find the game a bit too easy, what with all the systems it has to support you, but it’s not meant to be Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy, so I appreciate the accessibility of the game to casual and hardcore gamers alike.
Now it’s time to address the two biggest gripes I’ve witnessed regarding the English / Steam release of the game: DRM and censorship. The Steam release of the game has Denuvo built in, an anti-tampering / anti-piracy mechanism in it that seems to highly polarize certain individuals. I’ve personally had no issues with it whatsoever, but it could be problematic for those with spotty internet access or those who play offline, as it requires a connection to re-verify the legality of your copy. Some others oppose it on principle, but thus far this reviewer has no particular gripes against it. As for the censorship, as far as I am aware a single scene early in the game was modified to prevent the game from rating 18, or “Adult”, on the PEGI Rating system (European equivalent of ESRB). In terms of what was modified, it would be the precise method of death in the scene; the original was straight-forward and felt callously impersonal towards the victim, whereas the replacement seemed more mystical and almost ritualistic. The end result is the same, but the method change was necessary to avoid being flagged for, presumably, “gross violence” according to the PEGI rating standards. The change does slightly diminish the effect of a parallel scene later in the game, but as a whole the effect is minor, and the curious can always view the original scene online.
Lastly, it’s time for the obligatory “notable changes from Zestiria” bit. Many players were introduced to the series by ToZ, particularly on PC, but veterans and newcomers alike often found themselves dissatisfied with the mechanics and characters. Feel free to skip this list if you haven’t played that game.
- More fluid battles. Fully customizable combos, permanent non-penalized free-run, and no characters are required to be in battle so you can swap out whoever you want.
- Different combo chains are triggered by each of the face buttons on the controller (or corresponding keybindings), rather than depending on the directional input at the time. Far easier to remember, execute, and improvise combos now.
- The battle camera. Far less buggery now.
- The cast feels more distinct and memorable. Far less saccharine, more witty, has a better balance of character types.
- The story remains driven throughout; no mucking around waiting for plot to happen.
- Inn-skits are now clearly indicated (both on the map and above the NPCs) with an event marker; no more RNG or wasting time resting on the off chance that a new skit appeared
- Cooking buffs only last for 1 battle, but you can cook your own meals as you go. No need to run back to an inn to renew or change them up.
- Simplified and streamlined equipment system. Say good-bye to fusion; dismantle old equipment to get scrap of that tier, then use it to enhance your preferred gear.
Overall, Tales of Berseria is an impressive and satisfying evolution of a well-established series. The combat is enjoyable, the characters are genuine, and the story manages to be entertaining and thought-provoking while still maintaining an air of fantasy. The tone deviates from tradition, but it is still wonderfully managed and makes for a refreshing experience. Admittedly there were some bugs with the PC port at launch, but they seem to have been largely patched out.
Currently ringing in at $49.99 on Steam, I highly recommend this game to fans of the Tales series or story-driven RPGs in general. ‘Ell, even if you’re not good at action games you can probably have a pretty good go at it. Alternatively, if the genre isn’t your usual cup o’ tea (maybe more of an FPS or Platformer type) I’d suggest waiting for a sale down the line and maybe give it a shot then; it’s enjoyable enough that it might just get ya hooked.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to resume my infiltration of pengyon society.
- Fluid, intuitive combat
- Flexible difficulty w/ competent AI = Hands free battles
- Strong story with memorable characters
- Great world-building
- Gray morality
- Gripping soundtrack
- Skilled voice-actors
- Dual Audio
- Stunning animated scenes along with anime-esque stylized 3D models.
- Some captioning typos
- Dungeons / puzzles can seem overly simplistic or repetitive after a while.
- Graphics were designed with the limitations of the PS3 in mind
Mileage May Vary:
- OW THE EDGE Not that bad actually
- One altered scene
- Can feel a bit too easy at times
- A select few voices can be… tiring to hear
- Node-like map structure; Provides the impression of being open world but isn’t as expansive
- Somewhat limited post-game
CrimsonMomongaSSS gives Tales of Berseria a Drastik Measure 9.6 out of 10.0 (96).
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