Tales of Berseria Review
Tales of Berseria is the 16th main entry in the Tales Of series, and like every game before it, Berseria focuses on a theme for the players to ponder as the story unfolds. Tales of Vesperia’s was “to explore one’s sense of justice” while Zestiria was about “passion to light the world”.
This time around, that theme is “emotion versus reason”, and let me tell you; emotion makes a strong argument here. Tales of Berseria is the darkest story in franchise history, and its heroes, an angry and murderous lot of misfits, are some of the most memorable ones yet. Its improvements to character models and environments, plus some dramatic changes in battle mechanics make this one a must-play for series fans, JRPG players, and anyone who just wants to see a strong female protagonist get the sweet revenge she deserves.
It’s worth noting that this Tales game is technically a prequel to Tales of Zestiria, but you don’t have to have played it to understand Berseria. And just like Final Fantasy, each Tales game is its own story with nothing to do with its previous entries (excluding Xillia 2). This title also marks the first time in Tales history that the main character is a woman, with no choice to play as a male character. In a story reminiscent of Kill Bill, Berseria tells a tale about a justifyably angry woman antihero who you can’t help but root for.
In Berseria you play as Velvet Crowe, a girl who is trying to take care of her sickly younger brother after her pregnant older sister is killed by demons. If that’s not cheery enough, the real story begins when her brother is brutally murdered by her brother-in-law as a sacrifice right in front of her eyes in order to save the world from the scourge of all demon-kind. In a cruel twist of fate, Velvet becomes a demon herself and vows to tear apart her callous brother-in-law who took everything from her—no matter the cost. She’ll burn whole towns down, set prisoners free to be slaughtered as a diversion, and kidnap people as tools for her vengeance. Instead of offering you a bright hero in shining armor like the Tales games before it, Berseria chooses to focus on an anti-hero and her team of like-minded friends.
Throughout her journey Velvet encounters characters with similar stories of vengeance who have no problem helping her out—as long as it suits their needs as well. They include Rokurou, the war demon who is hellbent on slaying his brother, Eizen, the merciless and cursed pirate on a quest to find his captain, Elenor, a lower ranking exorcist whose faith in her religion is waning, Laphicet, a slave treated like a tool by his exorcist captors, and Magilou, the loud-mouthed witch who just wants to watch all the chaos play out. But where Berseria shines is not just in its willingness to drag its characters through the shadows, but in the way it showcases what little light there is left in them.
Through the Tales series’ usual Skits, you’ll witness small dialogue and traveling conversations that flesh out the cast’s feelings and motivations. These are animated short scenes in-between battles which portray the characters using 2D drawings. You’ll see brooding and often sincere scenes of anguish— like Velvet lamenting how her brother used to be when he was alive or Eizen being tortured by the bad luck his curse brings to those around him— but you’ll also see playful scenes of real camaraderie that maintain the characters’ humanity. My favorite of these was a scene where Eizen and Rokurou argue about whether or not a Stag Beetle could defeat a Rhinoceros Beetle. Both of them apply logic that implies the beetles represent themselves and their own fighting styles until the argument devolves into just making fun of each other. These Skits, as well as the anime-style cutscenes throughout the game, are fully voiced by a fantastic cast of both English and Japanese voice actors. There are a few subtitle errors when listening to the Japanese audio, so I do recommend going the English dialogue route.
It didn’t take long for me to grow attached to the characters, and surprisingly there were none that I hated beyond the main villain (who completely deserves every bit of Velvet’s rage). Typically in the Tales series, there is at least one annoying character— often the child sidekick— who gets on my nerves. This time around, they are all very likeable.
Compared to the last game in the series, Berseria uses a much brighter palette with more detailed environments, but unfortunately that doesn’t carry into the architecture of the cities. Most of the cities in the game are built with obviously repeating structures— but honestly it doesn’t really affect the overall experience. The English version of this game was ported to the Playstation 4, but in Japan it was released on both the Playstation 3 and the Playstation 4, so I give it a bit of credit.
The anime-inspired character models are much cleaner than in the previous games, and they still have customization options for each one. If you’re a completionist like me, you’ll spend most of your time collecting “Katz souls” which are hidden in special treasure chests scattered all over the game’s open areas. Release them, and these silly cat creatures will give you items to customize your characters—everything from cowboy hats to glasses and hairstyles.
The dungeons and explorable area designs are massive, and will have you traveling by foot along linear, winding paths. Backtracking through dungeons and crossing long expanses is definitely tedious at times, but the random character interactions make it better. Eventually, you’ll get a finicky hoverboard that allows you to move faster and avoid battling enemies in the wild, but that’s a little over halfway through the game.
Berseria’s combat is a pretty big departure from the setups in previous Tales games. Each new iteration of their trademark action system, the Linear-Motion-Battle System, has tried to improve on the last, and Berseria makes some of the most interesting tweaks to date. For starters, basic attacks have been removed completely and in their place you now only have flashy special moves, called Martial Artes and Hidden Artes. These can be hot-keyed to a single button on the controller and put in any order you’d like. The player gets a pool of action points that they can spend to perform these Artes called the “Soul Gauge.” The Gauge can hold up to 5 points at once, and automatically recovers over time. If you use all your souls at once, you’ll be able to take more actions—but if the Gauge is empty, enemies will be able to defend against your attacks more efficiently.
If the Soul Gauge reaches a high enough point in combat, each character can activate a unique skill called “Break Soul” where they can go beyond the normal combo limit and perform special attacks. Velvet, for instance, will activate her demon arm and tear through enemies like Swiss cheese in a hellish barrage, and then finish with a powerful elemental attack.
You can also freely move around the battlefield at all times without any cost, unlike the previous entries, and the camera is very responsive and simple to control. At first, I wasn’t sure I would like the changes, but after practice I realized how much more fluid the battles have become. Chaining combos together is quite easy, but knowing your opponents’ weaknesses and knowing when to attack or defend keeps the battles engaging.
By maxing out the Soul Gauge and consuming all the points at once, a character can then perform the series’ popular Mystic Artes, which are flashy final moves that do immense damage. As a series fan, I was particularly happy that the Gauge governing Mystic Artes is not shared by the group. This way, potentially every single character in a battle could perform their Mystic Arte, unlike previous games where players would pretty much have to choose one character to do it.
Another welcomed change is the ability to switch characters in combat with a single press of the directional pad. At any moment in battle, a character can consume a point from their Soul Gauge and tag out a less-effective or downed ally, making the battles easier to control. As always, up to 3 players can play as ally characters, but only in times of combat.
Combat can also be affected by the equipment you use— but this honestly doesn’t feel as important. As you fight and level up your weapons, you eventually learn their embedded abilities permanently— then stop using that weapon and move on to the next one. I didn’t find much use in this upgrade system, however, since new and better weapons with better stats are so easy to come by, but I appreciated the general appeal. You can either rely on the better base stats of new equipment, or you can take the time to master a weapon and improve yourself permanently with abilities that are random to each item.
Supposedly either choice will dictate how you fare in battle and change the way you play, but I didn’t see much of a difference. There weren’t any times that I felt overwhelmed in combat or felt that the challenge was too much to take on with a good strategy. The game does a great job of scaling its tougher enemies to meet your level while also testing the mettle of those who have chosen to learn the depths of its combat system.
For years, Tales games have recycled the same enemy designs using slight differences to distinguish them, but Berseria actually introduces some new creatures. At one point in a dungeon I almost ran into a sparkling rock formation—which startled me when it suddenly rose up as this incredibly detailed golem. I was really impressed that the game could surprise me with its enemy designs and placement, since the previous Tales games have never done anything quite as intricate as that with its enemies before.
As the story progressed, I admittedly became enamored more with the characters than the world, but the focus on characters instead of world-building was actually a welcomed change for the series. Each character’s personality stands out during every conversation, and it was refreshing to see some characters filling non-stereotypical roles—like Velvet having a Clint Eastwood-style poise and the brawler Eizen being the know-it-all of the group despite his intimidating fighter-guy stature. The story also never felt like it held back as it covers some pretty deep subject matter, like racism, the loss of religious faith, and government betrayals.
Tales of Berseria is proof that the Tales Of series is steadily improving over time. This one is absolutely the best one yet. Despite a few aesthetic issues in regard to city designs and a seemingly useless weapon system, I found it entertaining and enjoyable from start to finish and its story will definitely stick with me for a while. It’s a deep cautionary tale about the balance between reason and emotion and how we handle the fragility of the human condition. As Magilou so simply puts it, “Smashing objects together is destruction. Smashing feelings together is life.”
Tales of Berseria is now avaiable on Playstation 4 and PC.