Tales of Berseria, released in early 2017, is the 16th core title in the ongoing Tales series of games. Spanning across 5 console generations and boasting well over 15 million sales, this interesting and at times groundbreaking series has proven itself to be a staple of the JRPG genre. Tales of Symphonia in particular broke new ground in the west when it was released on the PS3 and Gamecube, introducing many would be JRPG lovers to the rich story and interesting battle mechanics that have become synonymous with the Tales series of games.
I’ll be honest here, I haven’t played many titles in the Tales series, Symphonia and Xilia 1 and 2 are games that I have tried to play on numerous occasions, but for whatever reason bounced off of pretty quickly. Tales of Zesteria I played through to completion early in 2016, and despite me remembering enjoying the playthrough, the rest of my experience with the game completely escapes me. The story, the characters, the things I didn’t like and the things I did, all completely erased from memory. This is NOT a problem I envision having to face with the follow up, Tales of Berseria.
Berseria is a story of religious oppression, slavery and revenge, opening with Velvet, our well endowed heroine, being forced to watch her kid brother get sacrificed by her dick of a brother in law, to a demonic god, in order to bring ‘peace’ to the brilliantly imagined Midgand Empire. During the event, Velvet herself is thrown into the pits of hell, only to be immediately spewed back out like a shot of expired milk. But not before being gifted with a daemon devouring arm, a bad attitude and the fashion sense of an 18 year old girl during Halloween.
And so begins Velvets quest to murder her step brother, Artorious. Who in a 3 year period has managed to found a powerful religious organization known as The Abbey and gain command of a vast army of exorcists, who are tasked with protecting the public by fighting daemon’s, keeping the daemonblight plague at bay and enslaving Malakhim.
As I stated before, slavery is a core story element in Tales of Berseria, the Malakhim are a race of supernatural spirits that humans, and moreover, the Abbey, control through a ritual that binds a malak’s soul to the human performing the rite. Stripping them of their identity, personality, and the power to make their own choices. The human, in turn gains a vast array of magical abilities. Malak’s, are slaves to humans. So much so that a Malak’s master can command a malak to die, and the Malak will, unemotionally carry out this request.
You got all that?? Good, because all this happens in the first couple of hours, and Tales of Berseria boasts a 50 hour story campaign, full of twists, turns, reveals and the most engaging cast of characters I have had the pleasure of watching, in a long time. A cursed pirate, a shamed warrior, an annoyingly over-dramatic witch, an outcast abbey exorcist and an inquisitive young boy, the cast of Berseria are incredibly likeable. So much so that I found myself enjoying and even looking forward to the sometimes lengthy scenes in which the characters discuss their backstories, insult each other, or attempt to teach laphicet, the adolescent boy, important life lessons. Their quips are hilarious, their chemistry is great and the english voice actors in this game really deserve a high amount of praise for one of the best dubbing jobs I have ever seen. I don’t say that lightly, either. I watch a fair amount of anime, and usually I can’t stand the english dubs, opting instead to read subtitles. In Berseria’s case however, I found myself preferring the english voice actors over the original Japanese cast. Something I haven’t done since Dragon Ball Z.
Much like Dragon Ball Z, the combat within Berseria is an interesting mix of martial arts, magic and strategy that is more akin to a button mashing beat-em-up than a traditional turn based RPG. Each face button can be mapped to an ability, these abilities can then be chained to perform various combos. A large amount of the abilities are also elemental based attacks, so understanding your enemy and creating a combo that maximises elemental damage is imperative to mastering the game’s unique, yet rather repetitive combat. Fights are usually over relatively quickly and I found most of the fights to be pretty easy. However every once in awhile you will face a boss, or group of enemies that simply shits all over you. Overcoming these obstacles usually consists of changing up your moveset, until you find a tactic that works.
There are side-quests in the form of hunts and mini-games that reward you with currency you can use to buy cosmetic items for your characters. You can also search the world for weird cat creatures, that reward you with the same. I didn’t really dwell to far into the dressup portions of the game though, because after staring at Velvet for any extended period of time, I kind of feel like I need a cold shower. A feeling that none of the general public in this game seems to share mind you because Velvet gets around town looking like a rape victim, and no one seems to really give a shit. At first, I hated the way that Velvet looked, and felt a little jaded towards Bandai for creating such a strong and interesting female lead, then stripping away all her power by clothing her like a stripper. But as the hours ticked by, and The Abbey became more and more of a focus in Bersia, I realised that Velvet was designed this way, to directly oppose The Abbey. In their beliefs, their culture, their teachings and their ways. Velvet choses to wear these torn, revealing clothes, for the same reasons a teenager might chose to wear black and get piercings. She is pushing back against the people she sees as oppressors. And in doing so, bolsters both her character’s strength, and complexity in my eyes.
Berseria looks fantastic. Colorful and vibrant. The world feels Spacious, yet populated and there is a pretty decent variation in the environments throughout the game. It’s a bit of a shame that the visuals are backed by a pretty standard soundtrack. It does the job of setting the mood and conveying action where necessary. But for whatever reason, I can’t get into it. The same applies to the opening cut-scene’s music, which I find cringeworthy, at best.
Bandai Namco really have outdone themselves this time, by both Developing and publishing one of the best story driven JRPG’s in recent memory. A strong, memorable female lead, A lovable and hilarious cast of Pirates and Ghosts, an army of demons, and a revenge tale that just happens to also overthrow and destroy an oppressive religion? Tales of Berseria is a symphony of ‘greats’, with harmonies of ‘excellence’. A stellar experience that should be played by JRPG and non JRPG fans alike.
The Good: There is a lot to love about Tales of Berseria. A brilliant and engaging story that is backed by one of the best cast of characters I have seen in a long time.
The Bad: The battles can get a little samey, the 50 hours story campaign could potentially be off-putting for some, and the cosmetics are a little ‘how-ya-goin’.
The Final Verdict: Didn’t you watch the review?! If you like JRPG’s, then this is a title you really don’t want to miss.