If you thought you were done hanging out with your invisible Malakhim chums then you'll be pleasantly surprised with the latest in this colourful JRPG series. Velvet isn't your average cheerful youth though, so expect some deep subject matter ahead.
The protagonist of this latest Tales game is Velvet, a friendly young lady in her late-teens who witnesses a traumatic event at the beginning of the story that changes her life forever. This is a tale of pure vengeance where you play as the transformed and now vindictive Velvet on her quest to outright murder the being that killed the one person she held most dear. Velvet comes across as one-note near the beginning of the adventure but as the story unfolds, you'll witness her range of emotions and she'll start to question what she's really living for. The reason for this character development is mostly in part to the mix of personalities she encounters along her journey. The collection of characters is very diverse with each one having a compelling reason to join Velvet. I particularly enjoyed watching Eleanor come to terms with her life choices as well as the adorable Laphicet coming into his own and realising that he's more than just the tool that he's been branded as.
As you play Tales of Berseria, you'll frequently think that you may have the roles of the characters in the story all wrong. Although it bears a resemblance to the typical Tales plot, it does more than other recent titles to keep things interesting. Dangerous situations escalate quickly and you'll watch the world around you change forever every time you leave an area and move on to the next. I found there to be quite a few moments when I just couldn't put it down because it had drawn me in with a dramatic sequence of events matching with perfect atmospheric melodies and interesting visuals. I couldn't wait to move on to the next area but at the same time, I was trying to remember what the last town looked like before things got dark. I especially enjoyed running from one destroyed and deserted small beach village to the next town over: a tropical port where no one was the wiser of what had just happened close by.
The variety of areas in the overworld won't leave you disappointed. The very first village and forest area that you encounter looks like a beautifully quaint hamlet in the middle of autumn. I delighted in looking up through the orange tree branches to the bright blue sky and shining sun. Other areas include the mountainous snowy pathways of Figahl, the dull and wet Fens of Nog, and Danaan Highway dotted with hills, large rocks and wild flowers. The maps in the overworld are generally interesting with lots of twists and turns hiding Katz spirits (used to open Katz chests), treasure chests and materials for upgrading weapons or selling for profit. However, the dungeons leave a little to be desired with quite a lot of them taking place in dark secluded tunnels that end up looking the same. I'm still holding out for a Tales game that does something less typical and takes the player through some truly inspired dungeon crawling.
One thing that I found interesting is that there is definitely some recycling of environments from the previous Tales game (Tales of Zestiria). In reading up about this, there is the assumption in the community that Berseria takes place before the events of Zestiria which is supposed to explain the feeling of déjà vu. Some obvious examples of this are the many rope bridges crossing the cliffs of Brigid Ravine and the tower of Lothringen (that has literally been cut and pasted from Zestiria). Thankfully, there are many new locations to explore and the map itself is way more interesting to traverse than Zestiria so I don't feel cheated.
Tales of Berseria brings yet another new gameplay mechanic to the battle system. At the start of each battle, you're given a number of diamonds out of five that you start with and your goal is to increase your available diamonds in order to unlock your special move and use it as many times as possible. Gaining more diamonds also allows you to defend and reduces the chance of your enemy defending, too. You gain diamonds by blocking at the right time as well as stunning and defeating enemies. Once you have at least three diamonds available, you can transform into your beast version where you do extra damage and can inflict pain on more enemies at once with a wider range of attack. This adds up to be the most interesting battle system in any Tales game to date with just the right level of complexity to keep you interested and trying to do your best (as opposed to some games in the series).
Just like in other games, there are different types of artes and if you study all of the tutorials, there's the possibility of a really deep battle system for those dedicated fans who want to master the fight. I preferred to stick to the tactic of gaining diamonds, using my transformed state when I had it, and taking time to match the buttons on my controller to abilities that allowed me to exploit enemy weaknesses as much as possible. The artes that you map to the buttons vary with elemental effects, cost in SG, strength against certain types of enemies and type of arte which in turn affects certain enemies more than others.
Berseria doesn't offer a ton of extracurricular activities as there's a major lack of sidequests. There are some that are dotted around the world if you take the time to talk to the right character at the right time but there's no central location where you'll be delivering foraged goods or taking out hordes of enemies in turn for rewards. Cooking is back but you'll be learning new recipes as you level up and not from a certain chef that usually likes to hide behind everyday objects as in previous Tales games.
On the other hand, you'll travel in a ship and hang out with pirate folk for quite a bit of the game so the Expeditions feature is fitting. Every half hour, you have the chance to send out a ship to traverse the world and uncover new areas. It will return thirty minutes later with some handy goodies, treasures to add to your growing collection and the chance to unlock another new area. The whole system is purely about rolling the dice for a chance to expand your list of collectibles but it does have an addictive quality to it.
This latest Tales title is definitely on my shortlist of the greatest. Watching the story unfold as I travelled the world with a collection of folks from all walks of life was a lot of fun. Thankfully, the developers added some variety in the overworld maps and if the dungeons were more interesting and sidequests played a larger role then I could see this being a contender for one of the best modern RPGs.
- + Varied cast of characters and gripping story
- + Scenery in overworld maps can be gorgeous
- + Rewarding battle system that satisfies newcomers and long time fans alike
- - No formal sidequest system to be found
- - Dungeons mostly lack in variety and colour
- - Some environments are pulled right out of the previous game