Tales of Berseria: The Greatest Tales Ever Told

When Tales of Zestiria came out, I absolutely fell in love with the story and characters, even if the gameplay itself was obtuse, unnecessarily difficult, and downright frustrating. Regardless, I immediately claimed it as my favorite Tales game, even if so many others are technically superior in all aspects. Zestiria garnered a special place in my heart that cannot be taken by any other. One came close, however: it’s immediate successor, Tales of Berseria.

Being a prequel to Zestiria, the games are similar in many ways, some good and others… not so much. As a result, this review will actually feature both in about equal measure. But while on the surface level, Berseria might share many similarities with Zestiria, once you graze beneath the surface, you start to see just how much improved in Berseria.

For one, the story is immensely better. Zestiria was a classic Good Vs. Evil story, “Like a bad play where the heroes are right, and nobody thinks or expects too much.” Blues Traveler’s words are very fitting for Zestiria, and it is a damning statement. Even if I personally found the world and story of Zestiria gripping, it’s easy to spot the numerous cliches. Sorey and friends are set on a journey to “save the world” from the ruin you don’t often actually see outside of cutscenes. The beautiful world sat in stark contrast to the terrified way people spoke of it. Not so in Berseria, where many areas of the world are clearly in states of decay. The world of Berseria is teetering on a ledge between doom and salvation, and even salvation would be doom. Where in Zestiria, the villain was a stock standard Stoic Evil Behemoth of a Man who had barely any presence in the story itself and a backstory that the game literally told you in a thirty second cutscene with no dialogue (it’s built on for about 5 minutes at the VERY end of the game), in Berseria, the bad guy is a Villain With Good Publicity such as Tales is known for, who genuinely wants the best for the world but was broken by his own experiences into utilizing methods that would make his goal ultimately meaningless. He is constantly in the background of the story, even if not directly involved in whatever current situation the party is dealing with.

One of Berseria’s big selling points was the first female protagonist in franchise history (not including Milla Maxwell of Xilia, who shared the position with Jude Mathis). Velvet Crowe is arguably one of the strongest characters in the Tales series, with writing that develops her well over the course of the story and a performance by Cristina Valenzuela that sells every moment. The prologue begins with her as a happy, cheerful girl who’s friends with the whole village and cares for her family deeply. After three hours, she is a broken, vengeance-fueled demon (quite literally) with the blood of the entire village wet on her hands. She is beholden to no such lofty goals like “saving the world” or “helping my friends” when she begins her journey. She wants only to kill the man who destroyed her world. At one point, one character refers to the party as a “troupe of villains,” and this indeed holds true to the very end of the game, as even though they ultimately “saved the world,” Velvet’s legacy is as the first “Lord of Calamity,” a term players of Zestiria will recognize immediately.

All the characters in the game are actually very well-written, especially on the party’s side. Rokurou Rangetsu is a demon who joins the party early on, claiming a debt to Velvet that beholdens him to her cause. He lives for the thirst for battle and aims to kill his brother for reasons he’s not immediately willing to share. Eizen (a returning character from Zestiria) is a pirate who joins the party searching for the captain of his crew. He is cold and ruthless (or so he likes to think). Laphicet is a malakim with, initially, no personality of his own, who joins the party due to an attachment he feels for Velvet. He’s also a Zestiria returner, though you might be surprised by who he is. Magilou is a witch who doesn’t care about the party at all and only travels with them because she finds it fun. She is an entirely mysterious character you learn little about, but is an absolute delight to have on your screen. Finally, Eleanor is a praetor for the villainous Abbey, who finds herself attached to the party after they’re forced to work together to survive. Aside from Velvet, Eleanor is probably the character who grows the most over the course of the story, and I found myself just as invested in her arc as I was in Velvet’s.

The most palpable improvements to Berseria were made to the combat system, however. Gone is Zestiria’s awkward Fire Emblem-esque weapon triangle, replaced instead by… nothing. Because it was unnecessary. The equipment system is far less obtuse, as well. Instead of a confusing mess where you had to combine items with abilities in specific slots in order to transfer them or mix two abilities to create an entirely new one (seriously, 60% of my frustration in Zestiria came from that), it has a more Graces-esque style of just using items to level the gear and unlock set abilities on the gear. It’s far more stream-lined and easy to grasp and I love it.

When it came to level and monster design, however, I have to call Berseria out for it’s laziness. Several locales are just retooled Zestiria locations (one particular early meadowy area I immediately recognized as a swamp from Zestiria, for example), and many trees, buildings, and such look exactly the same. Monsters were even worse about it, with probably about 50% of the bestiary being ripped from the game’s predecessor. And yes, the dreaded Marmot made a return (incidentally, being the spark that made me realize what was happening). Although, given that the game had a production cycle of about a year, I am willing to forgive this, while still acknowledging it happened.

However, character design is extraordinarily hit and miss, as well. Characters like Eizen and Laphicet have very memorable and sensible designs that clearly define who they are, others like Velvet and Magilou are far from sensible. Magilous’ “book skirt,” in p[articular, has become an endless fount of comedy for detractors of the characters, and I have to say… the book skirt is awful. I bought some of the DLC costumes just to get rid of it. Meanwhile, Rokurou wins the award for Least Visually Interesting Design In A Tales Game Since Genis From Symphonia. He’s a samurai. He wears purple samurai clothes. How cool.

Speaking of the DLC, however, this has become a major point of contention for me when playing recent Tales games. Zestiria made a handful of costumes DLC, which worried me then, but Berseria has taken the idea and ran with it. Gone are the days of cool sidequests where you might be rewarded with a nifty bartender outfit for Guy or even an epic black and red palette swap for Sorey. If you don’t unlock a costume via the story in Berseria, it’s DLC. Period. And there is SO MUCH DLC. They clearly had a lot of interesting ideas for cool outfits for all the different characters, but having to pay for them just feels gross. It’s a business practice in games that I’m becoming more and more disgusted with, where you take things that would have otherwise been in the base game, and force people to pay for it.

Ultimately, Berseria is a great game and you can’t go wrong picking this one up. It’s easily a contender for the best game in the series, and I personally would place it at the top. However, I cannot move past the hostage-taking of costumes, and I would like if, for the next entry, they made entirely new assets. Zestiria and Berseria taking place in the same world a mere few hundred years apart allows it some leeway, but going forward I would like to see both of these practices disappear.

Developer: Bandai Namco

Console: Playstation 4

Genre: Japanese RPG

Final Score: 8

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Tales of Zestiria Review: A Shepherd With No Sheep

I’ve been a fan of the Tales series for some time, playing through Abyss, Symphonia, and Xilia and loving each one to pieces. So naturally, I was hyped when I learned about Zestiria, the newest Tales game that would be coming to America. I tried to stay away from any news about it, though, because I wanted to play it with fresh eyes, as much as I could. So it was that I bought it on Day One, and began playing it the day after.

The best part about a Tales game is the characters and their interactions, and the same is true of Zestiria. The characters are likable and memorable as soon as they appear, and I enjoyed watching them change and grow subtly across the game. Interactions are frequent and often funny, which kept me engaged with the cast. I would often stay at inns even when I didn’t need to, just to see what would be said next. There were a couple of instances where I was disappointed in how little a character had changed from beginning to end, but in the larger group, these characters still had their place.

There are always two characters on the map at all times, though who it is will change as the story progresses. It’s not simply a visual touch, either; talking to the other character will allow them to share their thoughts on the current situation, or give clues what to do with a current sidequest, or even reminders of a sidequest you have yet to begin. This function makes the game a much more streamlined product than previous Tales games, by giving sidequests more of an “I think I’ll do this one right now” mentality as opposed to the “Do I really have to visit every town at every point in the game and talk to every NPC to make sure I’m not missing anything?” mentality of previous games. It’s basically a more permanent version of the skits in Xilia that triggered after story events as a reminder of possible sidequests.

“Points of Interest” are sprinkled across every map, serving as a vehicle for some interesting skits and world-building information. They also give out “AP,” which is basically a skill point that is needed in order to equip certain battle abilities, which make combat easier and can be used in various combinations to change up strategy. Some of these “Points of Interest” are also monoliths, which teach various aspects of the game when read, thus rewarding any who go out of their way to search for them. Alternatively, you could say the game unfairly holds back key information until later in the game, making it impossible to know the full rules of combat until later in the game.

Combat itself is much more fast-paced than any previous Tales game. This is because of the lack of any “TP” meter, usually used to enact a character’s more powerful skills. Instead, every attack is attached to an “SC” meter, which drains with every attack or spell, and refills fairly quickly by standing in place. Having more SC makes attacks deal more damage, while running it out makes them deal less in exchange for a constant barrage of damage. It allows for a different strategy in every fight, whether standing back to allow friends to deal the damage or staying in the fray to keep up the pressure.

Unfortunately, beyond that, the combat system is more than a little dreary and over-complicated. About a quarter of the way through, you learn of a silly rock-paper-scissors element in combat between normal attacks, special skills, and magic spells which was unnecessary and only made fights harder and more annoying, especially while playing as a Seraph character. No character can use all three, so every character is always disadvantaged in a fight, but none more than the Seraphim, whose most damaging attacks are spells, and can be cancelled out by normal attacks. The whole system is pointless and the game would be much improved by simply removing it.

The human characters can “Armatize” with Seraph characters, doubling their power, allowing use of different skills and even stronger Mystic Artes later in the game. While playing single-player, this is a great ability that can make normal fights fly by and allow an edge against bosses for some time, increasing strategy. However, with more than one person, I’d imagine this would get irritating fast, just like Xilia’s Link Battle system. It would lock out whoever was playing as the Seraph character, essentially blocking them from the game. I enjoyed Armitization, but this is a pretty obvious downfall of the system that I’m sure will frustrate more than a handful of players.

I’ve mentioned strategy several times so far, and I’m not done mentioning it, as much as I would like to. The biggest complaint I have with the game is the equipment system. Basically, beyond basic stats, every piece of equipment can have up to 4 bonus skills, which fall into different categories. You can fuse equipment together to obtain different skills or add more skills to a previous item, but they have to be the same kind of equipment. Lining up various skills in categories or rows also give more skills, and it’s all very complicated.

And stupid. I hate this system. I’d be in an optional dungeon, searching for hidden treasures and whatnot, and run across a new piece of armor that I’d never seen before, only to find that because of bonus skills, it was weaker than the stuff I’d had since the first town. I didn’t feel like I was progressing or being rewarded. I felt cheated.

Speaking of optional dungeons (and dungeons in general), they were very underwhelming. A few stood out, if only for being exceedingly irritating (what is it with water temples being shit?), but most were straight, angular corridors or straight, slightly curved, brown caves. The fields were all very beautiful and I enjoyed walking between the dungeons, but the dungeons themselves were drab and boring.

The story of a Tales game is usually where they’re allowed to shine the most, alongside the characters, but I wasn’t really feeling this one as much as the previously mentioned Tales entries. There are never any real curveballs thrown, the bad guy at the start is the bad guy at the end, and no one among the party is a traitor or a spy. It’s all very traditional storytelling, stuff that Tales has been bending and subverting for over a decade and a half now, done completely straight. I think it might have been done as a throwback to Tales of Phantasia, which was similarly very traditional, but it only made the story a very average one at best. There are very strong emotional moments, however, and it’s not done without heart or care, so it does stay minimally interesting even in the slowest sections. The payoff is very lackluster, though. I doubt many people will be happy with the ending of this game. The ending disappointed me with its brevity and lack of any real meat. I don’t want to go any further than that for spoilers, but if you’re expecting a strong, flashy ending, you’ll be left very wanting.

This last detail has nothing to do with the game as a whole, but I felt it needed to be brought up. Namco Bandai made the previous Tales character outfits DLC for Zestiria. I got them as a pre-order bonus, but most people will have to shell out a few bucks for a feature that’s been included in almost every other Tales game ever as a bonus for fans who had played multiple games. It’s very skeevy and, at this point, feels like stealing from a dedicated fanbase they know would be willing to fork over the cash if they had to. It’s very frustrating for me to see a company I had a fair amount of respect for falling into the same pitfalls as other AAA companies.

Final Score

6.5/10

Above Average