Huge thank you to Bandai Namco for providing us with a review code for this game!
Back in 2004, during a particular trip to my local video store one Friday afternoon, I decided on a random Nintendo Gamecube title that looked interesting. I was a fan of anime, swords, and JRPGs, so when I stumbled upon Tales of Symphonia I figured I would give it a shot. Little did I know then that this game would start a love for a series that is now one of my favorite video game series, period. Since then, I have bought every Tales title that has been released in the States and have even imported some titles in an attempt to play them without having any idea how to read Japanese.
So when a new Tales game gets released, I get really pumped and have to get it right away, and Tales of Berseria was no different. From what I could tell, this game focused on a strong female lead and appeared to take a darker tone, so I admit my interest was piqued slightly more than usual. Could Tales of Berseria be another giant step for the series into the gaming public’s eye like Tales of Symphonia was? Let’s find out.
Taking A Walk On The Darker Side
Tales of Berseria’s story takes a decidedly darker and more intense tone than the rest of the series. This tale is not one of courage and friendship overcoming all evil, nor is it a quest to save the world from a darker force with their best buddies in tow. This is a brutal adventure that revolves around destruction and revenge, centering around the heroine, Velvet Crowe, as she seeks to bring retribution to the man that took everything from her, destroying anything and everything in her path that tries to prevent that goal. I very much enjoyed Velvet as a protagonist as she is such a departure from all the previous main heroes in Tales games. Her drive for revenge is layered and understandable; her tone and actions may be cruel, but credit to the writing staff and voice actresses (both English and Japanese) – you can still catch the rare glimmer of lingering humanity in her, especially as the story progresses.
She is a woman turned demon, and goes through an incredibly mentally and physically painful journey, all in the name of the one she lost. I felt that the supporting cast was equally as developed and well done as Velvet, many with their own darker-in-tone goals they wish to accomplish. Rokurou is a swordsman who yearns for more strength in order to kill a certain someone, going so far as to even make himself a demon; Eleanor, an exorcist, struggles between what she has been taught and what she sees firsthand; Laphicet is a malak (spirits in this series) discovering for the first time what it is to be his own person; Magilou is an eccentric witch who tags along with the group for the lawlz (and more), with her companion Normin who wants so desperately to be loved… and have a girlfriend; and Eizen, an earth malak, serves as the first mate of a pirate crew as they search for their missing captain. Each character has interesting motives and personalities that push them forward and unite them into one (dysfunctional) team.
Tales of Berseria takes place in the distant past of the previous game, Tales of Zestiria. Having previously played through and beaten Zestiria, the additional information you get in Berseria can lead to some really exciting and unexpected surprises that add to the world that both games share. You will encounter characters and locations that are present in Zestiria, but this game can still very easily be played and enjoyed without any prior knowledge or experience with Zestiria. Still, I would highly recommend following up your playthrough of Berseria with a playthrough of Zestiria, or replay it if you already have.
Checking All The Boxes
The Tales series has always been known for its fast-paced combat. With most games in the series, I use the Super Smash Bros. games as a way to give people the general gist of how it works. You have normal attacks that are assigned to one button, and the other is for special moves; you can then use different abilities by combining the button press with a directional input. Tales of Berseria departs from this format, and now you assign specific moves (or Artes, as the Tales series call them) to the four face buttons (triangle, square, circle, square on the PS4 controller, or bound to keys of your choice on PC), and you string Artes together to create custom combos. It’s more Tekken than Smash Bros. You can keep your combos going as long as you have the points required to do so, which will regenerate automatically during battle, when you stun an enemy, or when you defeat them. By the time you reach the endgame, you will be putting together devastating combos of your own design, making your foes wish they had never met Velvet and the crew!
Now I can only assume that you are currently sitting around with a bunch of your friends reading this review and thinking, “Man, this sounds like a great game, but I have friends. If only I could hang with them AND play Tales of Berseria 🙁 “. Well good news humble reader, you can in fact play this game cooperatively, with you and up to three friends each taking control of your very own character during combat! This isn’t a new feature to the series but is always a very welcome addition as the games are great to play with friends. It is all local co-op, though, so you won’t be able to play with your friends online.
Much like in Tales of Zestiria, you are able to enhance the equipment that each character uses, but thankfully it is nowhere near as complicated to do so. In Zestiria, the weapon and armor fusion system were incredibly deep and you could make some very broken (as in overpowered) gear and turn your characters into demigods of destruction. But to get to that point, it would take a lot of testing, spreadsheets to track skills, and luck. This time around, it has been simplified: Each piece of gear can have bonuses that are unlocked as you refine it with materials you harvest or obtain from disassembling other items. The bonuses are clearly shown in the menu screen so you know what potential the weapon has and when you will unlock the benefits. This style of unlocking benefits is also present in character titles that provide additional buffs as you fulfill certain requirements to increase their levels.
Other mainstay Tales series aspects are present besides the combat. Skits make their return of course – and they’re fully voiced this time around, too! For those unfamiliar with Skits, they are optional conversations that happen between party members to help develop and flesh out their motivations and personalities, many times lending a good bit of humor and wit to the games. Berseria has the best-looking skits to date, with beautifully detailed stills of the characters including many expressive poses, all completely voiced. The Katz and Turtlez are here too; rescuing Katz from chests is the primary means of obtaining appearance customization items. Yup, once more you can dress your characters up in silly outfits with silly glasses, to make them all your own.
Namco Proves Again They Know How To Make Good-Looking Anime-Style Games
If you played Tales of Zestiria, the art style and look will immediately be familiar. Berseria retains the same anime style of visuals, and colorfully detailed vistas and environments. From beach towns to long-abandoned temples and caves, each location has a unique feel to it and its own personality. Some locations are even ones you perhaps have visited before in Zestiria. The characters are all unique in their designs and detailed in a way that really adds to their personalities. Bandai Namco once again proves that when it comes to making amazing-looking anime-style games, they are at the top.
Another area that is spot on with Berseria is the great voice cast they have for the dub. For example, Cristina Valenzuela, who you may recognize from other large anime titles such as Lafter from Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and Rei (aka Sailor Mars) from Sailor Moon Crystal, voices Velvet in this game. (Watch our interview with her HERE!) The entire cast does a great job, and during my stream playthrough of this game, viewers commented on how well done the English dub of this game is.
The music does a great job once again to heighten and intensify the mood of pivotal parts of the game. The battle themes get you going and ramp you up to kick some ass, while the darker and more intense moments are accompanied by melodies that help establish their uneasy tension. You may even find some tracks familiar if you played the previous games in the series, sprinkled in as little Easter eggs.
Better Set Aside Some Time For This One
My initial playthrough on moderate difficulty (one step above normal, but below hard mode) clocked in at 44 hours. During those 44 hours I completed the main story, I did some side and character quests, grinded some so my characters’ levels were in the mid 60s, and dabbled around a bit in the gear crafting system. In today’s world, that’s a pretty damn good amount of bang for your buck in a video game, but the truth of the matter is I really have only begun my journey down the rabbit hole that is Tales of Berseria. That is where the wonderful, delightful, shining example of how other games should handle New Game+ comes into view – the occasionally imitated but never recreated GRADE system that the Tales games have that make replaying them so damn enjoyable. GRADE is accumulated throughout your playthrough, usually after combat, and will at the end of the game be tallied and given to you to unlock bonuses on future playthroughs. Want to carry over all your recipes, skills, titles, and other trinkets you spent so long to get? Well, you can, so long as you have enough GRADE to bring them over. Reaching the level cap of 200 for your characters is tough; why not buy the experience multiplier bonuses and go for it on your second playthrough? While the bonuses won’t be anything new for long-time fans of the series, I still get excited to start up a new playthrough and super power myself up to be able to tackle the hardest Chaos difficulty. Or you know, just obliterate everything in my path with over-leveled avatars of destruction that have an unhealthy hatred toward rappigs and bugbears. Cameo battles make a return here in Berseria and are done in sillier fashion than other games in the series; I won’t spoil how you encounter them, and who they are, but they certainly make for interesting encounters!
A Tale For The Ages
Tales of Berseria joins the likes of Tales of The Abyss and Tales of Vesperia as one of my favorite games of the series. The depth of the characters and the much darker tone were a very pleasant surprise. Not to say that the more upbeat games are bad, but I enjoyed the departure from the “friendship is power” vibe that is present in many of the series’s games. Velvet’s unapologetic attitude and directness were intense, but the hardships and emotional journey she goes through genuinely left me with feelings of empathy, wondering how I would handle the things that she had to go through. I do find myself contemplating whether or not my enjoyment of Berseria would have been impacted had I not played Zestiria beforehand and came in with knowledge of the world. I would certainly say that if you play either Berseria or Zestiria, you really need to play the other as well for the full experience. I will be sure to think on this further as I begin my second playthrough, while I wait for Bandai Namco to bring out the next Tales game. Or, you know, if they decided to maybe localize any of the games we haven’t gotten yet in the West, like Rebirth, Destiny 2, or any of the PS2 remakes. I mean, that PlayStation Store would be perfect for it. What do you say, Bandai Namco? Huh, huh, what do you think?
- Darker, more mature story makes this stand out from the previous games
- Interesting and unique party members, each with their own motivations
- The new combat style is a keeper
- Great surprise twists and connections with Tales of Zestiria
- Fast travel being tied to consumable items is annoying
- Still feels constrained when adding accessories to characters; need to be able to equip more of them
- so... many... katz souls
- Some of the cooler revelations will be lost on those who haven't played Tales of Zestiria