The Tales series has been around since the infancy of the JRPG genre. These games defined many standards in the JRPG tier and broke the norm of the genre in several different way. They built a fanbase that expected a certain quality out of their games. In my opinion, during the last few years that quality has been mostly subpar. Tales of Zesteria (released in January 2015) was an enjoyable game, but it did not carry the prestige that made the series as influential as it was. Having reduced my expectations of the series, I did not expect Tales of Berseria, the most recent entry in the the Tales series, to restore my devotion to the series. Thankfully, it did.
Tales of Berseria tells a story that may feel familiar to anyone who has spent time with other JRPG or eastern inspired RPG games. The antagonists are trying to awaken an ancient power with the end goal of destroying all of mankind. In doing so, they can restart humanity and create their perfect version of the world with a populace that consents to their every wish. While the overall story is not anything unique, the smaller plot elements and fact that the story is told through an anti-hero perspective makes it a story that is entirely worth experiencing. At the beginning of the game, we are introduced to our seemingly tender and emphatic young anti-heroine-to-be Velvet. A few years prior to the start of the game, an event known as “The Opening” allowed daemons to enter into the world. This resulted in many human casualties, including the deaths of Velvet’s sister Celica and her unborn child. Afterward, Velvet and her younger brother Laphicet invite Celica’s husband Arthur to live with them. A few more years pass and another event (similar to The Opening), a “Scarlet Night”, takes place causing more daemons to enter and wreak havoc on the world. During the crisis, Velvet goes to find her brother and soon discovers Arthur who then promptly murders Laphicet for a reason Arthur refuses to share. There is quite a bit that takes place during this exchange, but it is better left as something to experience on your own.
The story resumes three years later to a Velvet who has been kept in an island prison, turned into a daemon, and is focused solely on avenging Laphicet’s death by killing Arthur. She escapes the prison with the help of the wandering swordsman Rokurou and the witch Magilou. The party soon after seizes a young malak who has been simply named “Number Two”. The group later adds Eizen, a pirate cursed with misfortune, and Eleanor, a young exorcist (title given to those who fight the daemons) who has been traveling the world and helping the people she comes across. Each member of the group has different ideals and morals, but they choose to work together because they all share the same end goal: they want answers from Arthur and his supporter. In standard JRPG fashion, the team travels around the world and slowly unravels the conspiracy revolving around the daemons, the exorcists, and the very nature of the world.
What makes Tales of Berseria a standout game are the characters and their development throughout the game. Bandia Namco has always done a very good job making characters that I have an easy time getting invested it. The personality of Magilou is typically a role in JRPGS that I am not incredibly fond of. She is the female character who is obnoxious and overbearing. It is a fair argument that having a character like this is a troupe of the JRPG genre (and many other forms of Eastern media), and other players enjoy their addition, but they have always felt like unnecessary baggage to me. The difference with Magilou is this: she does not fit the role because the genre dictates she should, she fits the role because it matches her character. Magilou has a fairly tragic backstory, and instead of being a broody and spiteful character (*cough cough* Velvet *cough*) she defaults to being immature and obnoxious as a defense mechanism. This being said, I found myself very fond of a character whose role I otherwise disdain in JRPGs, and I absolutely credit this to Bandai Namco’s ability to create characters that are lovable and easy to invest it.
Velvet’s vendetta against Arthur and the chaos she incites to achieve her goal set a much darker and more mature tone than most other Tales games have perviously. Throughout the game, Velvet chooses to act in a lot of ways that are very conflicting compared to my topical playstyle in RPG games, but I am so invested in her character, her team, and her story that I feel a dark and twisted sense of enjoyment in seeing how far she will go. Thanks to the presence of Number Two, Velvet has moments where she acts like a normal (perhaps even rational) person. Number Two acts as a grounding force for Velvet, and their relationship in the game makes the ending all the more impactful. The other members of the team each share a unique bond with Number Two. Since Number Two is a malak, there is quite a bit he does not know about the world (because malakim, pluaral for malak, are meant to be empty and thoughtless vessels who exist solely to follow orders). Each moment where Number Two is taught something by one of your party members is matched by instances where he reminds them of their lost ideals like to never lose hope or that the world is a beautiful place. Over time Number Two does not serve only as Velvet’s grounding force, but the whole group’s as well.
The other members of the party each have their own goals. Tales of Berseria takes the time to fully explain what they are trying to accomplish and then properly highlights when they have progressed with their individual missions. Very few story pieces slip through the cracks here, and the ones that do are easy to look over. During the final stretch of the game, each character sees the completion of their task in a way that resolves matters for them, but more importantly is climatic and rewarding for the player who has spend dozens of hours getting them to that point. The final stretch of the game, where each story element is approaching their climax, felt elongated and the pacing suffer from it during this period of the game. At the point I thought I was at the end, because everything began to intensify in typical end-of-game fashion, I was actually about four and a half hours from the actual end. After getting hyped up about being at the ending, and finding out I actually wasn’t, a lot of the momentum the game had been building up started to fizzle out. Thanks to this, the final dungeon (which had a great design and a lot of points of interest) felt tedious as opposed to being the last momentous obstacle to conquer before achieving your end goal. The game did not, truly, regain its momentum until I had walked into the room where the final boss fight took place. Tales of Berseria wraps up its story with a bittersweet ending, fitting all of the game’s complicated loose ends together in a cohesive and absolute fashion. I really don’t know what could have been done to make the ending fit the themes and tone of the game any better than it did.
An area where Tales of Berseria is really lacking is making the world feel real, full, and interesting. Cities are stuffed with people, merchants, and treasures but they lack a certain explorability that players (including myself) have come to expect from open-world games. There are alley ways that are blocked off, gates and doors that never open, areas that look claimable but are not, and so many other instances that make the world feel confined in a video game reality instead of being a believable and authentic location. None of this is to say that the cities don’t have any aesthetic charm to them, because they do. Cities look great and their overall design pairs very well with the art style of the series. Just as a puzzle isn’t complete until all the piece are in their place, the design of the cities are just missing a few pieces. Fields also have a less natural feeling to them. Foliage feels artificial and isn’t nearly as abundant as it should be in areas. A simple way to fix this could be to just make areas a little smaller and confine the limited number of resources into the smaller space. I would rather be in a smaller environment that has the proper amount of shrubbery instead of a larger area where a few trees and flowers litter a mostly empty field. If Bandai Namco can refine this area of the game with the precision that they have refined aspects such as the character development, then I am optimistic that future Tales games will not suffer from this problem.
An aspect of past Tales games that I have always enjoyed is the combat. They broke the norm of turn-based and ATB (Active Time Battle) style combat with their 1995 games Tales of Phantasia and instead implemented a real-time combat system. Tales of Berseria allows you to graph your moves to any of the face buttons that you choose. You are given full control of how your combos string together using martial artes (mostly physical strikes and kicks) and hidden artes (attacks infused with elemental damage). You can also change the move order in the middle of combat to exploit the weakness of individual enemies. The Battle Gauge from recent Tales games makes a return in Tales of Berseria. The Battle Gauge allows you to perform ultimate moves, switch characters out mid-fight, or extend combos. There are a lot of returning and retweaked battle systems bases on the series past combat systems, and they are all reasonably balanced and fluid. Bandai Namco has been refining this unique combat system for a long time now. They have finally started to find that sweet spot where it works really well, and Tales of Berseria is the best fully 3D battle systems to date. One of the most engaging parts of the battle system is the use of Souls. You fight enemies for souls in a tennis match style method where stunning, exploiting, and defeating enemies gives you more souls. The more souls you have, the longer combos you can perform and the more you can attack without needing to break to allow your souls to recharge. This made me pay more attention to how I was planning and executing my combos to take full advantage of enemy weaknesses. If opponents get the upper hand on you, they can steal some of your souls. If you are down to only one or two souls, battles become much more challenging because it is harder to damage enemies with combos consisting of only one or two moves. Where late game battles in past Tales games had started to feel repetitive, the use of souls and the ability to customize and optimize you fighting style made Tales of Berseria‘s combat system one of the best in the series.
Tales of Berseria‘s shortcomings are very scarce, and the ones that are present are barely enough to cause any major issues in the game. To put it simply, Tales of Berseria is the best Tales game that I have played since the series roped me in with Tales of Symphonia. The story exceeded my expectations utilizing the darker tone to emphasize themes of family and betrayal. The combat is easy enough to understand and worthwhile to master, so players who are not familiar with the series’ combat can jump in and learn it easily. At the same time, Tales fans who are more interested in the advanced aspects of combat have a lot to dig into. Tales of Berseria is a game that I recommend for anyone looking for an enjoyable JRPG with memorable characters and a worthwhile story.