I’ve hardly made a secret of it before, but I’ll openly admit my love of the ‘Tales of’ games. I’m a sucker for the JRPG series’ focus on a more action orientated battle system, the skits have always entertained me and brought a closer bond to the characters, whilst the colourful fantasy worlds have always drawn me in too.
I’ve played a good few entries in the series now (some of those earlier titles still elude me, but I’ll get there) and I’ve come to find that even as a dedicated fan, it’s often a little difficult to distinguish a real significant difference between each entry in the series. Sure, they change things up a little and always offer a different story, but it always felt like there was a particular formula that each game would follow. With Tales of Berseria there’s a more significant change though. Whilst the gameplay hasn’t changed up too much besides a few refinements here and there, the underlying narrative is much darker than ever before and shows a side to the typically positive ‘Tales of’ series that I’ve never seen before.
When you start Tales of Berseria it’d be easy to feel like this is just another tale with another happy-go-lucky protagonist who will go up against the odds to become the saviour of the world. Sure, there are demons attacking villages, but none of that seems to stop heroine Velvet having a positive attitude and a smile on her face. It simply felt like a ‘Tales of’ game.
It doesn’t take too long for everything to change though, with one act of betrayal turning Velvet into a cold woman who wants nothing more than vengeance for the death of her younger brother. After being inflicted with demon powers of her own and being locked up for years, the more aggressive than ever Velvet finally escapes and starts her quest for revenge. This is a purely self-motivated quest and is based around Velvet’s agenda as opposed to that of the world around her. Suddenly it becomes very clear that Tales of Berseria isn’t just another ‘Tales of’ game…
It only gets darker from there too, with most events in the game having an anti-hero kind of feel to them. Whilst the game never strays too far from establishing that you are the ‘good guys’, it’s often represented in the kind of way that’s more reminiscent of the characters from ‘Suicide Squad’ or ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. Still, some of your actions in the game may have you questioning how ‘good’ your morals really are.
The darker feel to the game brings more interesting interactions between characters too. The ‘Tales of’ games have always been a little cheesy, but it’s hard to be too cheerful when you’ve just burned a village to the ground. Thankfully the colourful eclectic cast and their self awareness of what’s going on between them ensures that their interactions and the series’ trademark skits remain on-point and as entertaining as ever.
Whilst ‘Tales of’ fans won’t feel a massive sense of familiarity with the overall tone of the game’s narrative, they should instantly feel at home with the game’s combat system which yet again feels similar to almost every other entry in the series – not that that’s a bad thing, of course. Whilst gamers will still be able to easily ‘pick up and play’ in regards to battling, there is a stronger sense of depth in regards to fine-tuning how you fight this time around.
As usual there’s a lot of button mashing going on with combat, but there’s an extra dependence on strategy too thanks to the ‘Soul Gauge’ – a meter that essentially allows you to attack. If your ‘Soul Gauge’ is completely drained you’ll become even more vulnerable to enemy attacks, whilst having it fully charged allows you to use your character’s ‘Break Soul’ ability which brings upon them a trance-like state where they have a few extra abilities and are able to constantly attacked unhindered by any ‘Soul Gauge’ limits. Some ‘Break Soul’ abilities can only be performed under specific circumstances (find out more about that in our ‘Let’s meet the heroes of Tales of Berseria’ feature through this link) but it’s something you’ll adjust to as you become more acclimatized to your party.
It’s easier to perform attacks this time around too, with ‘Artes’ now simply assigned to the controller’s face buttons – there’s no dependence on having to hold the analogue stick in a specific direction this time around. It streamlines the combat process and makes it a lot easier to unleash deadly combos on your opponents. You can also change up which ‘Artes’ are assigned to a button and where they fall in a combo mid-battle, bringing an extra level of depth to combat that allows players to change up their strategy and fighting style based upon the foe they’re facing with ease.
Of course, there’s still more of the same from combat with the powerful ‘Mystic Artes’ still present, along with the ability to swap out party members mid-battle. One of your characters suffering? Swap them out and get some fresh legs on the battlefield. Whilst everything is refined to offer a more approachable and flexible battle system, it’s still as entertaining as ever and remains my favourite aspect of the ‘Tales of’ series.
As per previous ‘Tales of’ games, you’ll be venturing through plenty of puzzle-filled dungeons in Tales of Berseria. I found they felt a little more intimate and well-designed this time around, though they still suffer from feeling a bit too simple. Puzzles are never overly complicated, whilst you’re still left smashing obstacles and backtracking around as you work your way through each area. At least they feel less symmetrical than before though and there’s still plenty to do through each one that’ll keep you entertained – Bandai Namco are definitely heading in the right direction as far as dungeon design goes.
One thing that is definitely a positive with the dungeon design is that Tales of Berseria has ditched the real-time battles that occurred in the previous game, ‘Tales of Zestiria’. The need for environments to be able to host battles meant they were often big and empty; Tales of Berseria’s return to dedicated battle maps eliminates this though, in turn offering dungeons that feel a lot less barren than before.
Visually Tales of Berseria looks… well… like a ‘Tales of’ game. The colourful anime style that the series has made its own is present and once again it manages to look great. Despite the dark tone of the narrative, the vibrant world around you offers a more positive and lively feel, making it a pleasure to simply explore the world and see everything it has to offer.
Despite this, I’m starting to feel too much of a sense of familiarity with the worlds of the ‘Tales of’ games. After playing so many entries in the series, it’s often a little difficult to fully differentiate the environments from one game with another. It’s not that they don’t look impressive because some of the locations you visit are magnificent, but rather that the games lacks the same sense of identity that’s more apparent in the likes of other long-running RPG franchises such as ‘Final Fantasy’ – maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve played too many entries in the series though. It’s not exactly a negative point against the game though, but rather something I noticed from a personal level. Otherwise the game looks very impressive, even if there are a few issues with pop-in here and there.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to be found outside of Tales of Berseria’s main story, with the world littered with collectibles to find and mini-excursions to partake in. You’re even able to send your own pirate crew out to gather items for you, as well as complete an assortment of side-quests that branch out from the main quest. No matter if you’re indulging in the many quests of the game, competing in mini-games, or simply honing your battle skills – Tales of Berseria always seems to have something extra for you to do that’ll extend your time with the game well beyond the thirty plus hours that the main storyline alone offers.
Whilst Tales of Berseria brings plenty of small refinements to its combat mechanics and exploration, the overall vibe of the game feels significantly different thanks to the game’s emphasis on offering a darker and more personal story. This new approach to the game is great and makes for one of the most interesting and invigorating entries I’ve played in the series for some time.
Besides that, you’ve still got the exciting and fast-paced combat, the always entertaining character interactions, and another great (yet familiar) world to explore. I’ll never get tired of playing ‘Tales of’ titles, but Bandai Namco have managed to really up their game this time by offering something that feels substantially unique and fresh with Tales of Berseria.
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 27/01/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC