The latest entry of the Tales series is here, and it is a dark and gritty entry at that. One minute you’re popping balloons or visiting a town of cat-people, and the next minute you’re kidnapping children and burning villages. That is the berserk nature of Tales of Berseria.
Developer: Bandai-Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai-Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows (Reviewed)
Release: January 24, 2017 (US)
Disclaimer: Best played using a controller!
To those unfamiliar in the Tales games, they are a series that blends the classic JRPG leveling and stat systems with action-oriented battle systems. You walk around towns and dungeons like any older Final Fantasy game, but once you get into battle, you fight in real-time utilizing hack-and-slash like combos. This way, Tales games enjoy the best of two worlds by bringing in strategic elements as well as fun, action-filled gameplay.
It is one of my favorite battle systems in any RPG. It fosters my personal love for the therapeutic grindy gameplay of most JRPGs while giving something to do other than mashing the same attack buttons.
Tales of Berseria features a highly refined version of this combat system that feels fluid and rewarding. It finally removes the “axis-lock” that has plagued modern Tales games since Tales of Symphonia. Before, player movement in combat was largely limited to moving toward or away from a target enemy like a human pain train. Berseria finally throws that out the window, allowing you to run freely around the battle map.
Berseria also has an in-depth combo system. In it, you set a four-hit combo list for each face button on your controller and set each hit with a specific skill. Some skills naturally chain into others by holding a button down instead of tapping it. This allows a long range of different combo options that you can tailor based on each individual enemy.
Berseria’s combat is satisfying, but even that is surpassed by the story. Tales of Berseria features a gut-wrenching tale of betrayal and single-minded vengeance, as it follows a group of demons, pirates, and traitors. This group is led by Velvet Crowe, a demon lord hell-bent on killing Shephard Artorius in a single-minded quest for vengeance. Though this Artorius is renowned throughout the world as a hero who saved the world from a demon outbreak, he did so by sacrificing Velvet’s brother in front of her eyes. So, you follow Velvet as she does some less-than-heroic things in her quest to kill the savior of the world.
It’s a great story that has you playing as the bad guys, and it slowly evolves to a story about free will and what it means to be alive. It’s a wild ride, to be sure.
Along the vein of storytelling, Tales of Berseria does an outstanding job of presenting its characters, making them feel relatable, and fully exploring the dynamics between all of them. I quickly fell in love with each one of the main playable cast. I also found myself gushing at just how cool they all were, both individually and in how they fit together as a team. Each character has his or her own selfish agenda, and in many cases, it seems as if they only stick together in mutual respect rather than out of concern for each other. It is just such a great dynamic.
Very few games are without faults, and unfortunately Tales of Berseria is not one of them. While Berseria excels in its combat and storytelling, it falls short in its setting. The world design is just bland. Most the explorable world consists of boring fields. The only real exceptions are a couple of icy fields and a stretch beach.
Dungeons range from linear tunnels to linear tunnels, sometimes broken up by a nearby torch or pedestal that needs to be activated to unlock a door. Tales games usually have fun and challenging room puzzles, but that just isn’t the case in Berseria.
That said, the background music was nearly enough to overlook the bland landscapes that covered the game world. The music for the beach zone and the prison island zone were particularly catchy.
The graphics in Berseria is also hit-or-miss depending on how you feel about certain stylized graphics. Ever since the days of Tales of Symphonia, the Tales series has always sported an anime-inspired art style. The 3D-anime art style can come across as looking outdated or even gross, and it often presents an uncanny valley look. The uncanny valley shows its head just as much in Berseria, but it is an art style that I’ve grown to respect when it comes to this particular series.
Overall, Tales of Berseria is a massive win in the Tales series’ scorecard. It has shot straight up to the #1 spot on my list of favorite Tales games, though there are still plenty that I need to play. The series has been in a slump for a few years, and this entry has proven to be just the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed.
Fluid and varied combat
Fantastic character development
Boring and repetitive world design
Lack of dungeon puzzles
Score: 5 / 5