By David Fernandes / September 12th, 2016
|Title||Tales of Berseria
|Release Date||August 18, 2016 (Japan)|
|Age Rating||CERO B|
When Tales of Berseria was announced back in 2015, I wasn’t that shocked, as I knew the developers would want to milk the 20th anniversary of the franchise a bit more. What did surprise me was the title having any relation to Zesteria, which at the time got a lot of flak for the state it was released in, including its marketing as well as the development history surrounding it. Nevertheless, the 16th mainline title would continue onward with a darker, edgier approach not before seen in the series, only this time without the series producer, Hideo Baba. With two years of development and the developers having more focus on a single title instead of juggling multiple games at once, did they finally deliver a satisfying title comparable to the older titles?
The game takes place in the Holy Midgand Empire, in the very distant past of Zesteria’s setting, where a terrible disease infects the land known as the Daemonblight. It causes normal humans who are infected to lose their sense and reasoning, and become violent beasts called Daemons. To counteract this epidemic, the empire conceived the Abbey, a group of exorcists whose sole purpose is to eradicate them. Our main heroine, Velvet Crow, was infected with the disease after a tragedy struck her village and left everyone dead, including her brother by the hands of her brother in law, Artorius. After escaping imprisonment with unexpected help, she joins up with several questionable individuals, including a pirate crew who also just so happens to have a hatred for the Abbey and are looking for their missing Captain. Like the legend of the Berserkers, Velvet utilizes her new gift imbued on her left arm to further her new purpose in life; to get revenge on Artorius.
Because the game is in Japanese, I can’t speak much about the plot except key points including spoilers which I will avoid mentioning. But the highlights were definitely conveyed, such as this being the most morally ambiguous cast in the series. The game gets grim at times, but it’s more of an emotional toll than anything else. Velvet may wear an over-the-top outfit to fit this tone, and starts out as an uncaring, vindictive person, but I still felt empathy towards her and not just simply pity. This is most likely due to amazing voice work of Rina Satō, who can switch from a sweet natured valley girl, to a rage filled individual who is on a downward spiral, to madness from all the hardships she endured and continues to throughout the plot. Laphicet, as the child of the group and moral compass for Velvet, while cliche at times, did develop quite well into his own character along with the other misfits as the journey progresses.
Something is obviously sinister and suspicious about Magilou, but she’s very effective as comedy relief, with Rokurou being the simple minded battle hungry freak yet so laidback its hard to not like him. Almost like fate, Edna’s brother, Eizen ended up being my favorite male character. Who, along with Eleanor being my favorite female character, had some of the most enjoyable skits in the game. Even with the game having a more serious tone than its predecessors, it knows when to shake loose and still have fun with its characters, and I’m glad they haven’t forgotten one of Tales of series’ strongest points. That’s one thing I truly love about the cast this time, they all not only have their own overarching story, but they all have enough screen time to shine. While you will see a few similar faces and the game drops a few references, as the developers intended, the game is its own entity doing its own thing and it worked out better than I thought. It still has the checklist of series cliches, but for what they were going for I think they succeeded and it just feels nice to have a proper ending without any DLC attachments.
When it comes to the battle system, the team decided to use the framework from Zesteria but also use something similar to the Arte Tree system seen in Graces. However, they switched the conventions up and now Artes are mapped to the face buttons and it’s less limited with the tree system and now more like a grid. So not only is it possible to map out a combo on a single button but also change mid combo to another set of Artes mapped to another or mix and match; making many possibilities for combos. This does mean that there are no longer shortcuts for Artes, so this decision will not be met with open arms by all. Like any Tales of games, while you can mash buttons, it’s simply not enough at times and requires a bit more strategy against certain enemies and bosses.
SG, which stands for the Soul Gauge, is this game’s bar mechanic that determines things from Artes usage to character movement like dodging. Successfully stunning, killing enemies and stealing souls from enemies with well-timed dodges grants you more souls, with each character having a separate bar and accumulates up to five. There is also the new Break Soul mechanic, which on activation costs one soul of the bar, but allows the character who each have their own specific ability to turn the tides. For example, Velvet activates the curse on her arm which, when successfully hitting an enemy with the swipe, allows her to take the essence of said enemy and utilize a special move determined by the essence and extended combo when Break Soul is activated.
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