Tales Of Berseria

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'Tales of Berseria'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 25, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Tales Of Berseria is the latest installment in the Japanese role-playing game series, where you will encounter a myriad of characters and join them on challenging quests exploring the world.

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Tales of Berseria follows the story of Velvet Crowe, an average girl who's living with her younger brother and her brother-in-law, Artorius. It turns out that Artorius is an exorcist who battles the Daemonblight, an illness that transforms people into beasts. His wife, Velvet's sister, died due to the Daemonblight a year before the story begins. Velvet's life is torn asunder when the blight strikes her village and transforms everyone into demons. In a ritual for power, Artorius murders Velvet's brother, and the act transforms her into a daemon with a magical claw. No sooner is she transformed than Artorius defeats her and locks her away. Velvet spends three years in a prison, forced to devour daemons to survive, until a chance encounter allows her to escape. While she was locked away, Artorius has reformed the world and created a group of exorcists to quell the Daemonblight. He's now known as a Shepard and savior to the world. Velvet must embark on a quest for revenge and take on the role of villain by killing the world's hero.

Tales of Zestiria received a lot of criticism, and Tales of Berseria's plot feels like a direct response to that. It's easy to see the villains making the same arguments as the heroes in Zestiria, and Velvet would've definitely been a villain in Zestiria. It's an interesting twist that means Berseria spends time patching holes left by Zestiria's flaws.

Berseria does stand relatively well on its own, and there's a surprising likeable cast of characters. Most of them trend toward the ne'er-do-well side of the spectrum. Velvet is a foe-eating monster, and your party will consist of daemons, pirates and rogue exorcists, so it's different for a Tales game. The pacing is a tad slow, but it does a solid job with the adventure and feels more complete and less rushed than most modern Tales titles. It would probably do better if it weren't tied to Zestiria's metaplot, but it is a fine game on its own.

Berseria keeps the Tales franchise's action-based combat system but makes some unusual changes. Rather than traditional attack strings, you now have four face buttons that can be customized with their own combo strings. Like Tales of Graces f, each character has a variety of attacks with distinct abilities. Some are strong against certain enemy types, some easily more stun, some inflict status ailments, and so on. You can combine combo strings or set up an automated combo where the characters use a somewhat optimal combo for the situation. As the game progresses, you unlock more moves and can create more complex combos, but combat tends to focus on stunning enemies or killing multiple foes than any individual foe.

A major part of the combat system in Berseria is the Soul system. You don't have any form of MP or TP, but you have souls to collect. When you attack, you use up some of these souls, and more powerful attacks use up more soul energy. You also use it up when using certain moves. Running out of souls doesn't mean you can't attack, but your attacks lose power and are more easily blocked. Soul energy replenishes quickly when you're not attacking, but there are times when it's worthwhile to keep attacking even with no souls left to you.

It gets more complex from there. Your soul energy is represented by a series of souls on your combat bar. You begin with three and can gain and lose those souls during combat. With more souls, you can perform more attacks in a combo, you can cause additional damage, and it's harder to run out of energy. You can gain additional souls by stunning enemies with attacks, defeating enemies, narrowly avoiding attacks, or finding them on the battlefield. Collect as many as possible to extend your combos and give you increased battle options. On the other hand, souls can also work against you. With more souls, it's harder to inflict status effects, and your defenses are weaker. As you'd guess from the title, this game is all about berserker-style constant offense.

This is balanced by the Break Soul system, which features distinct special moves.
You need a minimum of three souls to perform a Break Soul, and doing so causes your character to lose a soul and the enemy to gain one. You can use these attacks to extend combos, and as the game goes on, you'll gain access to even more powerful moves. Velvet has Consume Claw, which does serious damage to an enemy, unlocks special attacks, and gives her a unique buff. Rokurou performs a counter move if enemies attack him, and Laphicet reduces all damage the party takes.

It's an interesting balance, as you need to decide when and where to use Break Soul to avoid crippling your damage output. Use it at the wrong time, and you'll have only two souls for attacks, making your combos much less useful. Use it intelligently, and you'll earn more souls than you spend, effectively allowing you to keep your combo meters full. Use it poorly, and you can struggle to execute combos, though you'll have an easier time inflicting bad stats on foes. Enemies can also drain your souls if they stun you or inflict certain bad statuses, so even if you conserve souls, you could still lose them.

Berseria gives you access to your full party at all times. While only four characters can be used at once, you can swap characters by using your Burst Gauge. The gauge is filled by fighting, and you can spend it to swap in characters or to perform a special attack in mid-combo. Smart swapping is important, as you'll regain souls and extend combos. It's a balancing act, as the gauge refills quickly but has just enough recharge time so you can't mindlessly spam switches.

While Velvet is incredibly powerful as a protagonist, you'd still do well if you played as the other characters. The downside is that not every character is as fun to play. Almost everyone has a mix of martial arts and magical spells, which are more awkward to work into combos than Velvet's foe-wrecking combos. The most enjoyable after Velvet is probably Rokurou, who has a counter-based combat style. Each character is well designed, and most players will probably like two or three characters, more than enough to make good use of character swapping.

If there's a problem with Berseria's combat, it's perhaps too easy once you get going, even by Tales standards. Consume Claw, Velvet's custom move, is absurdly powerful before upgrades, and it can often dominate battlefields on its own. At times, the game feels more like Dynasty Warriors than a fighting RPG, since a character can single-handedly obliterate large swarms of enemies. It's not a crippling problem, especially given how fun the combat can be, but it means that battles can feel button-mashy after a while. You can pump up the difficulty for a greater challenge. Hard mode feels like the sweet spot for a first playthrough, with enemies being tough enough to require a little thought but not so difficult that it's tedious.

As part of an ongoing quest to fix Zestiria's problems, Berseria also made some significant changes to the equipment system. It still is focused on random loot but is more simplified. Rather than finding regular armor or weapon upgrades, you'll get random drops from enemies of a type of armor. The armor has set stats and randomized bonuses, with the type of available bonuses expanding as you progress. Each type of armor has a special associated skill. If you use that armor long enough, you'll "master" it and permanently unlock the skill, even if the armor isn't equipped. You can also upgrade the armor to unlock even more passive skills and stat boosts.

All of the above sounds complex. Basically, you cycle through any armor that has a skill you haven't learned yet. Once you do, you can move on to the next piece of equipment or equip the best piece of gear in your possession. The randomization factor means there's a significant gap in potential power from player to player, but it also means the game isn't designed with it in mind. If you decide to min-max to get optimal drops, you'll be ahead of the curve. If you don't, you'll still be powerful enough. The equipment system is too convoluted and needlessly complex for its own good, but it's one you can largely ignore. As long as you cycle through gear and upgrade at least one piece of equipment, you'll be fine.

Berseria is a less ambitious game than Zestiria. Combat has returned to being on its own separate screen, which does wonders to fix Zestiria's camera problems, but it means the game is back to the familiar Tales style of exploration and dungeon-crawling. The dungeons feature simple puzzles and lots of enemies but are nothing special. If I had one complaint, a lot of them are rather bland. There isn't a ton of creativity in the level design, but the dungeons are a step up from the prior game, and I generally enjoyed them.

Outside of dungeons, there's a lot to do, including minigames to unlock attachments and bonuses, hidden arenas full of monsters, character-specific side-quests and plots. The game is large enough so that backtracking is tedious, and the various "fast movement" options are restricted too often for their own good. There are ways to speed up movement, but they take a long time. Most annoying is Velvet's default walking speed, which starts off very slow but unlocks movement speed boosts after fighting bosses.

One area where Berseria is a disappointment is in the visuals. It's pretty much sticking to the status quo for modern Tales games. Like Tales of Zestiria, Berseria was a PS3/PS4 cross-release in Japan, so it's effectively an upscaled PS3 game. It looks nice, but you're basically getting the same thing you've gotten for the past four games. The voice acting is mostly good. The dub has some glaring weaknesses but not enough to sour the game, and fans of the Japanese voices can choose those instead. The soundtrack is decent but feels a little generic.

Tales of Berseria is a solid JRPG that doesn't excel in any one area but manages to hit all the marks well enough to be enjoyable. It's not ambitious and focuses on providing a pleasant experience. It suffers from being too easy and spending too much time clearing up its predecessor's flaws, but it's balanced by fast-paced combat and an entertaining cast. It's not going to change your world, but Tales fans should find a lot to like, and for casual players, it's a good introduction to the franchise.

Score: 8.0/10

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