But where are all the bears?
The last entry in the long running Tales series was Tales of Zestiria, and while it was certainly a competent game, I felt as though this long time favorite JRPG franchise was in a bit of a rut.
The same archetypes of characters, retelling a story I’ve heard too many times already. The gameplay didn’t fare much better, as there weren’t many fresh and interesting ideas thrown into the mix and the changes made were unfortunately mostly for the worse.
Along comes Berseria, with the promise of a title built with the various complaints people had about its predecessor.
The story kicks off with the murder of Velvet’s brother by the hands of someone who she once held dear. It’s a tale of vengeance where Velvet is willing to do anything and everything to kill the man that took her one and only little brother away from her.
Along the way, she meets up with other undesirable criminals and daemons alike on a long, perilous road with plenty of collateral damage to spare.
While a story revolving around an anti-hero isn’t something wholly original, it’s executed quite well, as I found myself feeling sympathetic to Velvet and her cause even when she was clearly in the wrong. There’s an overarching theme of “the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few” and what that means for those few who are sacrificed or left to suffer. It’s a compelling narrative that resonates from the very beginning of the story- explored in many different nuances and even during the final moments, it held true to the message it was trying to tell.
Velvet’s not-so-merry gang of misfits were quite the characters themselves, and all brought something unique to the table.
Magilou, the self-proclaimed witch, was mysterious but also quite mischievous, jumping on every opportunity to trick or tease everyone around her for the sake of her own amusement.
Eizen was a hardened pirate with the nickname of the “Reaper”, as he brought misfortune to everyone around him. Still, even with the curse plaguing his every move, he strove to move forward, not letting his curse hold him back from what he wanted to accomplish in his life.
Rokurou, Eleanor and Laphicet all had their quirks as well, but they were far more than the typical archetypes they appeared to be at first.
Also, given the rather serious nature of the story, I wasn’t expecting there to be a big comic element but I found myself chuckling quite often during many of the skits, as the characters were quite charming and the dialogue was often quite clever.
The cast in Tales of Berseria is easily one of my favorites in the Tales series, and it made what was already a good story even better.
There are also connections to Zestiria given they both take place in the same universe, but while knowledge of what happened certainly enhances the experience, it is by no means completely necessary.
As for the combat, just like in Zestiria, there are no more MP that is expended through the use of artes, and now the usage of holding a direction while pressing a button to get a different move is no longer present.
At first, this seemed like it would limit the combo potential of attacks, but as I delved deeper into setting up a chain of different moves, I found that I could make a versatile and satisfying arsenal of moves. The two main resources in combat were stamina and burst gauge. Stamina determined how many attacks could be chained together and could be gained or lost depending on the situation. The burst gauge determined the use of powerful mystic artes and the ability to tag in sub-characters on the fly.
Each character also had access to their own unique ability that would use up stamina to invoke but provided for some very powerful effects. Velvet’s consuming claw allowed her to break the guard of the enemy and, depending on the type of enemy she hit with the attack, it would bestow different boosts to her character along with the benefit of becoming uninterruptable.
Chaining normal artes into hidden artes into a burst attack to continue the combo far beyond what the stamina allowed was an effective strategy and made for very fast paced and fluid combat encounters.
Unfortunately, while the combat was certainly a lot of fun it lacked a certain level of challenge, and even on the harder difficulties (Moderate/Hard), I never faced a single game over throughout my entire playthrough.
The equipment mastery system has been greatly simplified, as they now level based on grade and once a piece of equipment is mastered, the character keeps the boost that was on that piece of gear forever.
It’s a far cry from the nonsense checkerboard system in Zestiria that made it look like I was staring at the periodic table, and I found myself constantly swapping equipment to master every new piece of gear in order to stack different bonuses together.
If there’s one thing that wasn’t improved from Zestiria is the sheer amount of backtracking and downtime between major story beats, where I found myself forced to trek back and forth from environments I had already been to before.
Sure, they were often punctuated by skits, which are always enjoyable, but it hurt the overall sense of progress at many points of the story.
Tales of Berseria is a direct response to all the fans of the series that felt disappointed with the lackluster Zestiria. With a much more interesting overarching story, a stellar cast of characters and many refinements to the gameplay, Tales of Berseria is easily the best Tales game since Vesperia.
Fun Tidbit – There was an AI bug on the PC build where they would only use one attack at a time instead of comboing but that has been fixed in the latest patch.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.