Tales of Berseria could well have been the final stroke. If it had been lacking or dull I was prepared to turn away from this franchise and never look back. I've been disappointed with the last two Tales games so how did the latest measure up?
It is good. No, it's great! If that's all you needed to hear then go out and buy it now and prepare for something special.
Tales of Berseria
from Bandai Namco is the latest in the long running Tales
franchise, it is set in the distant past of the same world as Zestiria
, so if you haven't played Zestiria
yet I recommend skipping the game and instead watch the absolutely fantastic anime Tales of Zestiria: The X
(it is currently free to watch on Daisuke.net). It tells the same story as Zestiria
, but better than the game managed.
That bit of housekeeping out of the way, let's get back to Berseria
. Things are immediately different to how a Tales
game usually starts, the sky is dominated by a red moon and people are dying or turning into Daemons left and right and through it all a man with silver hair and two children run for their lives... Fast forward some years and the older of the two children, Velvet Crowe, is looking after the younger child. Laphicet is sickly and chaffs at being a burden on the family but otherwise this setting is more akin to the happy, bright place you'd associate with a Tales
game. Velvet, so full of life and kindness, busily moves about her home and village, she is also devoted to the teachings of her brother-in-law - the same silver-haired man we see in the opening animation.
This scene is lovely. It does not last.
Another Crimson Night comes and Laphicet is missing. Velvet, driven by worry over her sickly little brother, bears witness to something unspeakable and in her anguish and despair turns into a Daemon. Her arm transforms into a massive black clawed hand that devours all it touches, stripping away the Daemonblight and revealing that the creatures she killed in her madness were actually the villagers, her friends, she loses consciousness.
Tales of Berseria
is not a happy tale. Velvet is utterly consumed by the need for vengeance, the daemon in her hungers and fuels her through the terrible things she must do to take the one thing she craves; the life of Artorius, her brother-in-law, her little brother's murderer. She languished in a deep prison cell, being fed other daemons by her captors. She eventually escapes thanks to a mysterious being called Seres, a Malakhim that was tethered to Artorius (The same type of being as the Seraphs in Zestiria
). The Malaks that are tethered are supposed to be mindless tools for use by the Abbey and its exorcists, knowing this Velvet does not trust Seres but uses her help to escape nonetheless.
What did Arthur do to Laphicet? Why was Velvet being kept alive? How come races of beings only visible to a few in the future are visible to everyone now? These are all questions you'll have to play the game to get the answers to.
game lives or dies on the strength of its cast and Berseria
has one of the strongest rogues' gallery we've seen from this franchise in a long time. I say 'rogues gallery', because these are not nice people for the most part and I love them, even the one addition that I usually despise in any game - the obligatory child character. There is always one in every Tales
game and they are usually the worst kind of a saccharine rubbish...
Not so with Malakhim No. 2. This little fellow looks like a choir boy wearing a cast iron collar secured with a padlock. He starts off as a mindless husk until he is removed from an exorcist by Velvet and company. Slowly he begins to wake up and Velvet, in what has to be the most questionably unhealthy thing ever, gives this nameless Malak a name, Laphicet, yes she names this stray after her long dead little brother. In both Japanese and English he is well acted and an endless source of amusement and surprising emotional depth.
The rest of your party is made up of another Daemon called Rokorou, an expert swordsman who carries a greatsword but never uses it in combat because it is his 'life', so instead he fights with two short swords/daggers. Then there is the witch Magilou who may or may not be insane and seemingly has not capacity for emotion or a true sense of right from wrong. Eizen (yes, Zestiria
fans, this is Edna's brother) a pirate with a curse - wherever he goes trouble follows. And finally we have Eleanor, an exorcist who questions his beliefs and finds them wanting. She blindly believed that the Malakhim were just tools to be used and the Abbey's teaching that reason and logic should rule all things in life. When she is forced to accompany the party of misfits her eyes are opened to the failings of both the church and herself and whilst she battles her own inner contradictions she finds strength to stand by people reviled by the world.
Then there is Bienfu, he's a Normin and the less said about him the better. Trust me, you'll understand.
Gameplay keeps a lot of the standard Tales
mechanics in place. You have a series of open areas to explore and fight in. They feel blessedly smaller than the past few Tales
games and because of this they are also a bit more graphically appealing (more on the visuals in a bit) and Velvet feels more agile as she zips through the locations, especially once you unlock the Geoboard, a stone tablet you ride like a skateboard.
There are also dungeons that maintain the series' general tactic of making them bland corridors with odd shaped rooms that you'll need to fully explore to collect every bit of loot. The world design in general isn't amazing, but at least this time around it doesn't feel like a hindrance and the smaller environments and towns are genuinely good-looking and well-designed.
Combat has been revamped. The camera has been freed, as has your ability to run around. This freedom of movement comes in useful when taking advantage of the Soul Gauge - a series of pips that fill as you defend and depletes as you fight. Take advantage of an enemy to gain more 'souls', but fail to dodge or get a massive clobbering and you lose these souls. The more you have the more you can do in a combining Artes together.
You can 'break' a soul to enter a heightened combat state, doing different moves using Velvet's clawed daemon hand (each character has a different set of things they do when you break one of their souls) each battle becomes a tug of war as you try to steal enough souls to engage in a prolonged series of Break Soul combat, but the enemy can steal your souls as well.