REVIEW: Tales of Berseria — A Motley Gang of Lovable Misfits
It’s seldom about the destination than it is about the journey. Tales of Berseria may not have done much to bring the franchise to new heights, but it’s presentation, fast-paced battles, and lovable characters make for a consistently entertaining JRPG experience.
STORY — My Emotion Versus Your Reason
The game revolves around the story of Velvet Crowe; a woman who’s life takes a sudden dark turn one faithful night and sets her towards the path of unwavering vengeance against the man who set it all in motion. The main plot heavily focuses on the contrast between emotion and reason. Though the story can be a bit plain and sometimes predictable, it isn’t without its own share of twists and surprises. Above all, it’s with the characters and their performance that really brings the heft to the otherwise straightforward and prosaic story. Despite the reasons behind their team-ups feeling a bit too forced and often absurd, (Rokuro, for instance, will follow you to the ends of the earth as thanks for finding his sword) These six contrasting personalities actually share a delightful chemistry with one another. Like a junkie looking for crack, you’ll soon find yourself eager to listen to the next bit of interaction between them, be it in a cutscene, a skit, or even just the audible cues.
Unlike in many JRPGs, level-grinding and sidequests don’t distract much from Berseria’s main story. So long as you don’t avoid any enemies you naturally encounter, you seldom had to stay in one area for too long. Also, the areas aren’t too elaborate that you can often stumble across a sidequest or a monster contract on your way to the main objective. Traveling between points are often even rewarded with cutscenes or skits to keep things interesting. But just because the game is focused on the main story, doesn’t mean the story is always focused. The plot sometimes takes a much appreciated back seat, like a special episode in an anime series where the characters take a little RnR from the main plot. There’s also quite a bunch of fun minigames that serves as a nice little distraction with interesting rewards.
GAMEPLAY — “Magikazam!”
Tales of Berseria doesn’t get by from storytelling alone, it sports solid gameplay to boot. It takes a long while to open up (over 20 hours in and I was still getting tutorial messages), and the mechanics might feel a bit too complex to get into for series newcomers, but past all that, you get arguably the most gratifying battles the series have ever seen. You can map artes –active skills and magic abilities– into all four face buttons, letting you chain together artes in combos of your own design. The number of hits you can chain into a combo depends on your Soul Gauge(SG), you can steal SG from enemies by landing stuns and/or status effects, increasing the number of hits you can chain, so it’s important to keep in mind the enemies you face and what their weaknesses are to maximize your damage –conveniently, you can remap your artes at anytime mid-battle. Beyond this, you can also perform Break Souls and Mystic Artes that, once used correctly, can further increase your combo count and damage output significantly.
The mechanics can be a bit hard to grasp at first and for series newcomers, it might take a long while before you completely understand how it all works. That said, the game isn’t too strict with combat and is still quite enjoyable regardless of your mastery. You can also switch difficulty modes at any time(except while in combat) to whatever suits you. At the lowest setting, you don’t have to worry about enemy weakness and resistances at all, but at the highest setting, it’s crucial to your survival but yields the most rewards.
It took me a while to fully understand the mechanics, but when I did, I began to really enjoy the flow of combat. Even at the highest possible difficulty setting, my mastery of Velvet’s artes and Break Souls proved sufficient enough to handle it, and when it didn’t I could always switch between all four party members and swap in with one of the benched two. Each character plays differently and possesses their own set of unique artes. For instance, Rokuro’s Break Soul is a counter attack and Laphicet is primarily a support with a defensive Break Soul that halves damage. Mastering the other characters is optional –you can complete the game with just Velvet– but doing so adds an extra layer to the strategy, and in turn, the fun. It’s like mastering a second fighter for tag combos and saves in a fighting game, challenging and optional but cool and fun as hell.
On an RPG standpoint, the game doesn’t fall short either. There are tons of different ways to improve your characters, like finding stat-increasing herbs that respawn over time or mastering each piece of equipment to inherit their skill bonuses. Hell, even cooking food provides game-changing benefits. Tales of Berseria delivers in all aspects of an action RPG, good enough to keep you playing through all the post-ending content, where the game really kicks off.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE — It’s okay, I guess…
Storytelling and gameplay are solid aces, but the visuals leave a lot to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, Tales of Berseria looks great, but only if you’re not too critical. The stuff that matters, like the characters and their equipment, are remarkably detailed to a fault, as it really makes the vapid environments and unadorned locals stand out. In keeping with its anime-esque aesthetics, the Tales franchise had always looked great — but, at this point in the console generation, it may be time to up the ante. Also, for some reason, Tales of Berseria doesn’t allow you to take screenshots and record videos on the PS4. Though not related to the game and can be resolved by using a capture card, I was supremely disappointed by this as I’ve grown quite fond of the PlayStation 4’s share functions.
Besides the banal environs, there’s really nothing else to complain about in terms of its visuals. The menus and UI are easy on the eyes with all the information streamlined efficiently and the character portraits are visually striking –consistent with the Tales series. The occasional animated cutscenes are also very well done, making me want to watch the inevitable anime adaptation. Perhaps one of my most favorite visual features is the fashion system. Each character can equip many various hairstyles and costumes. On top of that, you can also collect a bunch of visual attachments to customize your character’s appearance. These attachments can be manipulated to change placement, rotation, and size.
In terms of performance, the game works without a hitch. In my 60+ hours of playing, I can attest to the game’s stability. No matter how many monsters are on the battlefield and no matter how many artes are being spewed out (trust me, it can get quite messy), the game never slowed down. Best of all, there’s virtually no loading times, at all. Whether you’re instantly warping between continents or the game cuts to a flashback, you never had to wait. Honestly, how do they do that?
VERDICT — Rekindling an old craving
For the last two console generations, JRPGs have taken the back seat of a very long bus of games I play, and Tales of Berseria just bumped that seat up to the front of the bus, first class. Velvet’s rag-tag band of charismatic misfits kept me interested in its otherwise meager story. And when the crew isn’t talking, there’s not a dull moment in fighting. Sure, the plot may be meh and the visuals could use some work, but even a low-budget sitcom can be a hit as long as it’s entertaining.
For fans of the franchise, Tales of Berseria will do more than just satisfy, and series newcomers who soldier through the slow open and bewildering tutorial might just find themselves wondering why they never played a Tales game before.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]