Marked as the fifteenth entry in the Tales of franchise, Tales of Berseria takes a shot in the dark with main character, Velvet Crowe, a character epitomized by revenge. Introduced as a content young woman in an isolated town, Velvet tends to her ailing little brother in peace while the threat of demons looms ever closer. Soon thereafter, she is betrayed by the very man who helped train and raise her, Artorius Callhunde, when Artorius sacrificed Velvet’s young brother in the name of demonic cleansing. She becomes entangled in the ritual and becomes a therion, or as Artorius described her, “a demon that feeds on demons.” Artorius makes short work of her, and he sends her to an island prison designed to hold demons. After three years, she escapes with one thing on her mind: the death of Artorius Callhunde.
The opening sequence is much darker than any other Tales title has ventured to go, and that tone resonates from the very beginning. Velvet holds nothing back on her revenge journey; she often treats creatures and humans alike as collateral damage, sacrificing some and even dismembering one or two, to continue forward. She’s accompanied, as is traditional Tales fashion, by a gang of skilled fighters, namely a witch and a malachim, who help give Velvet’s motives both clarity and justification. Eizen, a pirate captain, is realistic in every decision he makes; and Rokurou is the chaotic neutral contrast that helps put everything into perspective. Magilou, the overzealous witch, brings a bit of whimsy to the fray as well.
What really makes this journey shine is that young Laphicet, an innocent, brainwashed malachim that Velvet and co. capture, finds his own concept of self while in the dark and dreary ambiance that is the party, going from only taking orders to building preferences all the way to honing philosophies. This party make-up is a special blend of what makes any human being inherently human, and having this band of demons and outcasts contrast against the rule of the corrupt church-and-state government would make even John Milton proud.
Still, it’s not without its faults. Velvet is outspoken and determined, but the game offers no justification for her attire. She found it alongside a sword that belonged to a man, and it’s described later on as a man’s getup, which sends it further into left field. She is also described as the epitome of an unsheathed blade, which in its own right is rather fascinating, but is it intended as a literal or figurative metaphor?
There are also predictable moments along the way that make the journey humdrum at times, though the bigger narrative hooks and strong characters make these humdrum moments easy to pass.
Visually, Berseria refrains from taking any risks. It’s still a beautiful game with a charming anime style, but with the narrative becoming more complicated, more adult, and more emotionally driven, the lack of vivacious facial features and minute body movements detract from the narrative development and leave some rather impressive voice acting feel disconnected when emotional effect is paramount. Large, open areas are saturated with foliage and things to find, but they still look like they could be from Graces f. The anime style cutscenes are still gorgeous, but why not have that as the game’s visual benchmark? Perhaps it’s time to consider leaving the PS3 behind for the sake of growth.
The true foundation to the Tales series has always been its combat, and the same holds true for Berseria. Never before has chaining combos been so facilitated—almost TOO much so, in fact. Artes are learned naturally through basic combat, and using certain artes so many times unlocks new ones. Square, Triangle, Circle, and Cross can have combos mapped to each button before combat, so stringing combos no longer requires memorizing button combinations. Herein lies the rub, however. Combos are putting together different button presses in order to exact glorious damage on enemies, but having customizable maps makes this easier than it really should be. In fact, what I ended up doing was pinning a different combo type to each face button to make it easier to engage any enemy without having to recordings. That way, I could just learn by trial and error what each enemy was weak to instead of scanning them with R1.
There’s a reason I didn’t completely say that chaining combos was too easy, and that reason is that it’s so much fun. I’d be a hypocrite for not saying so. I loved this combat for the same reason I loved the combat in Final Fantasy XII: I got to nerd out before combat and set my skills to make fights fit into a facilitating grind, jumping from fight to fight and clearing out zones of enemies without a wink. It’s nice, and it’s easy to succeed, especially since a little practice with Break Souls and Blast Gauge help string combos together with little worry about what party members are doing on the field. The problem is that this keeps the experience from getting too deep, and this is the polar opposite of what Zestiria tried to do with overcomplicated stats on accessories. Most learned attributes from leveling are simply learned, which means that the franchise-staple Skills are no longer customizable. The motivation for this creative decision is clearly intended to reach a broader audience with a more accessible leveling/skill-up system, but it leaves quite a bit to be desired for the hardcore RPG players looking for something deeper.
All that’s left is developing gear for more combats stats. Each piece of gear has attributes bound to them with more skills and benefits to unlock by mastering the gear through use in combat. Then extra gear found along the way can be dismantled into parts to enhance equipped gear. This is much improved from what Zestiria had to offer, simply because it allows for a steady cycling of gear without being out-of-this-world complicated. While gear variety isn’t great, it’s far better than being stuck using old gear because of beneficial skills that better gear should have.
Tales of Berseria isn’t perfect, but it’s the start of what could bring this franchise into something much more sophisticated and beautiful than it already is. Again, I would be lying if I said it’s not some of the best fun I’ve had with two joysticks, but being barraged by that kind of sensory satisfaction without some more RPG depth to crack out on may not invigorate everyone to surpass the 50-hour narrative.