Written by Adam Advocaat / Moofey
Bandai Namco’s Tales series has always had a spotty history with the west. Unlike other popular JRPG franchises like Final Fantasy, the Tokyo-based developer hasn't been as keen on bringing their flagship roleplaying franchise outside of Japan. Though the last few years have been better, previous games like Tales of Xillia and Tales of Zestiria have missed the mark; Something they’ve looked to change with their most recent outing: Tales of Berseria.
Berseria happens a few hundred years before the events of Zestiria and puts you in the shoes of the franchise's first female protagonist: Velvet Crowe. Following the death of her sister and unborn nephew during the Scarlet Night some years earlier, she's been living a tranquil life with her younger brother, Laphicet, and her brother-in-law, Artorius. Her peaceful life comes to an end when the Scarlet Night returns, and she finds Laphicet at a nearby altar in the process of being murdered by Arthur. Velvet, too, finds herself on the wrong end of his blade but a sudden reaction from the altar turns her into a “Therion,” a special kind of daemon that feeds off of other daemons for more power. She spends the next three years locked up on the prison island of Titania, only thinking about exacting revenge on her brother's killer, until someone finally breaks her out.
Moving further into the game, it won’t take long for a Tales series veteran to notice that the story progression is cookie-cutter-like when compared with earlier games, with the right plot points in the right places to make it feel like it’s all been done before. What the story does different in Berseria is that it tells a tale about a ragtag group of people that are on the wrong side of justice; From the daemon Velvet, to the pirate malak Eizen and the mischievous mage Magilou. The party constantly finds itself weaseling with merchants, lying their way through checkpoints, and working with covert spies. Though the way the story plays out is the same compared to earlier entries, the angle it takes gives it a new perspective. The series’ trademark “skits” are also present, providing the game’s more lighthearted moments, and are fully voiced in English.
Berseria borrows a number of things from more recent entries in the series. Once again, the world map is eschewed in favor of more travelable areas in between towns, each with their own niches and expanses to explore. The closest that this game gets to a world map is a menu that is accessed when travel between islands is required. Equipment is handled the same way as it is in Zestiria; extra equipment can be broken down at vendors for materials, and those materials can be used to strengthen the equipment of your party, potentially unlocking bonuses after a character’s equipment has been upgraded enough times. On the contrary, for everything that Berseriadoes similar to its Tales bretheren, what it does differently is something that needed a retooling: Combat.
Berseria’s “Liberation Linear Motion Battle System” lives up to its name by “liberating” its action-based combat from its “linear motion” roots. Since Tales of the Abyss, characters usually moved along a line with their target and the player could hold down a button to run freely, but in Berseria, characters run freely all the time. Berseriaalso introduces the soul gauge, which is a unique take on the combo counters seen in other games such as Tales of Graces F and Tales of Hearts R. The number of souls a character has determines how many artes a character can chain together. These souls can be gained and lost over the course of the battle, extending or shortening said combo. Each character also has unique moves called soul bursts, which can be used by sacrificing one of their souls to their target. These bursts, such as Velvet’s ability to “devour” her target to buff herself, can be used strategically to extend a combo beyond its limit. Combined with the return of Zestiria’s blast gauge, characters can be swapped out mid-battle with a reserve member, or when certain conditions are met, a powerful Mystic Arte can be unleashed. These implementations to Tales’ tried-and-true combat are real game-changers that makes combat fun and unique again. With combat being one of the series’ strong points, fixing the problems from the last few games takes it a long way.
Originally being a PS3 game in Japan, Tales of Berseria, sees a drop in visual quality compared to the average PS4 game. Despite looking dated, the landscapes are still gorgeous and the character models detailed, and it runs at a solid 60 FPS on the newer console to boot, which really helps with all the fast-paced, combo-centric combat. Though a high end PC might be able to eke out superior visuals, the way combat timing works forces the game on that platform to be locked down to 60 FPS as well. On the audio side, Motoi Sakuraba returned to compose Berseria’s soundtrack, and although the end result retains the series’ classic feel in terms of music, Sakuraba’s work here continues to sound too similar to his other works. Finally, though the English voice acting, with Cristina Vee in the lead role, is of high quality, Bandai Namco has shown that it is listening to its fanbase by not only providing dual audio for this game, but also leaving the original Japanese theme song in, untouched, for the intro; A first for a western release in the series.
Tales of Berseria is a long-awaited breath of fresh air for the series. Though the story is cookie-cutter, its angle is unique, and the characters colorful in both design and personality. It kept from previous games what was working, and overhauled what needed to be improved to create one of the best games in the series in the last ten years. For any Tales fan, or anyone looking for a new JRPG to play, this is one game that’s worth the whole 60+ hours to finish.
FINAL SCORE: 8