Tales of Berseria – Gone rogue – Review

Gare – Tuesday, March 7, 2017 11:18 PM
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Tales of Berseria, the latest mothership title in Bandai Namco’s gargantuan and ever-growing titan of a JRPG franchise, was a game that needed to live up to… certain expectations. Indeed, let it not be forgotten that the popular – and generally highly-regarded – franchise’s previous outing came in the form of Tales of Zestiria, a game that – surprise, surprise – I myself wrote about quite a while ago, and a JRPG I felt was flawed and bleeding from multiple wounds. One could claim that Zestiria is one of the weakest installment entries in this illustrious series, and most people would likely not raise a hand in objection. Granted, it also wasn’t a game without charm and likable characters, but… well, I elaborated on all of that in the review itself, so let’s try and not digress too much from the topic at hand. Either way, what I’m trying to get at is that Zestiria’s poor reception, I feel, made Berseria’s entry into the gaming consciousness that much more difficult, because it needed to correct some wrongs. It needed to introduce some improvements. It needed to… “atone” for Zestiria, if you’ll excuse the overly cheesy and needlessly dramatic wording.

So here we are, in the year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, with Tales of Berseria already out in the wild and readily available – and here I am, with 80+ hours under my belt (or belts, if we’re to use Velvet’s outfit as the basis for this example), eager to share my thoughts on it with you. Expect some minor, and I do mean minor, storyline spoilers. Like, “this is basically the premise of the game” kind of minor.

Revenge is a dish best served cold

Tales of Berseria is a tale of revenge, taking place a thousand years before the events of Tales of Zestiria. It is the story of Velvet Crowe, a woman who, after having everyone she cared for violently and mercilessly taken from her, vows bloody vengeance against the entire world and embarks on a hate-fueled quest to fulfill her objective of slaying the one responsible for all her suffering. The premise is indeed far removed from the usual, almost expected JRPG trope of the naive, doe-eyed youth going on an adventure to save the world from ancient evil, because this time, you’re the one people fear, and you’re the one hell-bent on revenge at all costs, even if it ends up endangering others. It certainly feels quite refreshing to be on the “other side” for a change, and it definitely upsets the JRPG equilibrium to an extent. The game doesn’t go too far with it, though, and that’s a shame. Berseria, at the end of the day, is still very much a standard Tales title that tells a relatively standard JRPG story (albeit one that is still an improvement over Zestiria’s lackluster narrative), something that becomes more and more apparent the further you get in the game, and thus closer to the finale. The game admittedly shakes things up a little with the whole anti-hero setup, but falls painfully short of genuine excellence by sticking too close to what this franchise usually does in terms of storytelling, going through its trope-filled motions like a well-oiled machine. It does, however, close out its narrative on a high note, delivering a decently satisfying finale that also ties this game’s storyline to its chronological sequel, Zestiria. So there’s that.

Still, even if it doesn’t deviate too much from established JRPG tropes in the grand scheme of things, Tales of Berseria will likely have you engaged and eager to find out how everything pans out in the end, and much of that is thanks to its cast of six main characters and their circumstances. From Eleanor, a kind-hearted and idealistic exorcist, through Magilou, the eccentric and flamboyant witch, all the way to handsome pirate and self-proclaimed “Reaper” Eizen (who also happens to be the brother of Tales of Zestiria’s Edna), Berseria offers a diverse and decently fleshed-out set of characters that ends up being one of the better main casts in the franchise’s history. Anyone who has enjoyed the colorful banter of Zestiria’s characters (one of the things that game did right) will find themselves right at home in Berseria, with dozens of skits, cutscenes, as well as optional, character-centric side quests all adding to the respective character development arcs of each of the main six.

Relentless assault

Aside from a set of likable characters – which I find to be one of the main supporting pillars of this game and the franchise in general – another important aspect to consider when it comes to all Tales titles is the battle system. Thankfully, Berseria manages to implement a series of positive changes that turn the battle system from a constant struggle against the camera (looking at you, Zestiria) into a genuinely addictive, fast-paced, and overall satisfying romp of never-ending combos. One thing you’ll likely be glad to hear is that Berseria now switches to a separate battle screen with each battle, ditching Zestiria’s clumsy attempt at making you fight enemies exactly at the spot where you encounter them without any sort of transition – you will no doubt recall how this very fact resulted in Zestiria’s many camera issues, none of which I experienced in Berseria. Which is applaudable, but let’s move on.

Combat in Berseria, if I really had to break it down, evokes a single idea in my mind – long, flashy, satisfying combos. If you’re itching to start pummeling away at your enemies like no one’s business, Berseria has you covered: the battle system is designed in a way so that it allows for longer strings of combos to be continually chained together, even across several characters – each with its own unique play style – who can jump in mid-combo and switch places with your character, thus picking up the metaphorical baton where you left off. It can admittedly get a touch repetitive after 80 hours of play time (what doesn’t, though), but it never stops being satisfying and endlessly spectacular, which is more than what many other titles in the genre manage to offer. The various elements of the battle system are not all unlocked from the get-go, either – instead, Berseria feeds you new morsels at a steady pace, gradually easing you into the system, allowing you to get your bearings without feeling too confused. In fact, those who felt somewhat overwhelmed by Berseria’s playable demo – myself included – need not worry, as the full game does a much better job at introducing you to its basics.

Of gear and not-Gwent

A similar overhaul has affected the game’s crafting and equipment system. Feel free to exhale a sigh of relief, for gone is the oft-cursed – and overly confusing – skill system of Zestiria, and in its place, we have something far easier to digest. Each piece of gear comes with a given Master Skill, and by accumulating enough points by wearing said equipment for a while, you can learn its Maser Skill permanently, meaning it will stay with your character even after the gear in question is unequipped. Simple as that. Broken down to its basics, this system essentially encourages the frequent switching of gear so you can accumulate various bonuses for each of your characters without over-complicating things. Upgrading gear is a similarly straightforward affair: you collect the necessary materials for the upgrade, and… that’s it. You upgrade it, unlocking various bonuses for that equipment, making it more effective. If you’re in need of materials, you’re also given the option to dismantle unneeded gear, meaning that no piece of equipment will remain without a use. Got a sword that’s been collecting dust in your inventory for ages? Dismantle it, get materials, then use said materials to upgrade something else. ‘Tis the circle of life, one could say. Sadly, Berseria inherited Zestiria’s curse in terms of equipment variety – the game severely lacks unique, easily distinguishable gear, and all too often you’ll find yourself wading through dozens upon dozens of identical pendants, boots, rings and blades, each with only slight differences in stats.

Tales of Berseria also offers some distractions in the form of side activities, but these are largely forgettable. Sending your ship out on voyages for it to bring back items and resources after a certain amount of time had elapsed feels like the simplified version of something you’d see in an Assassin’s Creed title (remember those text-based missions in Brotherhood?), while the other minigames – popping balloons, racing around on your fancy hoverboard, playing the character-matching card game and so on – serve only as temporary, dull distractions offering little in terms of worthwhile rewards. The only side activities I would highly recommend focusing on are the character-centric side quests, each of which come with their own mini-storylines and serve to flesh out the main cast. As for the rest, you’re not missing out on much, unless you possess an insatiable craving for popping balloons. And if you do, more power to you.

Through dull corridors and empty caves

Let us now talk about environmental design, because this is where I take some umbrage with Berseria. Sure, the huge, empty areas of Zestiria are now a thing of the past. Well… mostly. Berseria tries to remedy its predecessor’s blatantly obvious problems when it comes to poor environment and dungeon design, and – I dare say – even manages to be successful to a degree. Overworld areas are now smaller, more diverse and somewhat more pleasing to look at from an art style perspective. Some locations are actually fairly pretty. But with the good comes an equal amount of bad, and sadly, a decent chunk of Berseria’s locales still feel thoroughly and utterly uninspired in design, with samey-looking caves, forests that feel more like empty, artificially-placed corridors, and plains that reminded me entirely too much of Zestiria’s vast, tedium-inducing fields dominating the repertoire. Dungeons don’t fare any better, either, and while the situation in Berseria is no longer as severe as it was with Zestiria’s outright copy-pasted and palette-swapped catacombs, I struggle to recall any dungeon in Berseria I could honestly call atmospheric, inspired, or memorable. Most dungeons, in fact, will largely consist of wading through endless hordes of enemies, with the occasional “puzzle” that I dare not even classify as a puzzle because it involves little more than the casual flipping of a switch here and there. Either way, this all results in the game’s overall sense of adventure taking a notable hit, and serves as a colossal shackle that holds back an otherwise competently put together title from reaching its full potential. This truly is an unfortunate state of affairs for a JRPG where you sail your pirate ship across the seas and visit various continents – a prospect that consequently ends up sounding more exciting on paper than in practice, largely due to the lackluster environmental design I had just outlined.

Why does this particular bird fly?

So where does all this leave us? Well, the bottom line, I would say, is that Tales of Berseria is an adequate enough entry in the franchise. It’s certainly not what I would call an utterly outstanding JRPG, because it doesn’t quite do anything extraordinary or innovative – it is a conventional title despite its slightly darker, unconventional premise. Yet what it does, it does competently enough to make a playthrough a worthwhile investment for fans of the series.

Nonetheless, a feeling of boundless adventure is often the heart that pumps life into the JRPG, a heart I felt was somewhat lacking in oomph here – as indicated by the absence of care noticeable in Berseria’s many dull, unmemorable locations. Similarly, the main characters are all interesting enough, but not outstandingly so; the storyline grabs your attention at the start, but in retrospect, I don’t feel too strongly about it – the whole of Berseria, despite the amount of fun I had with it, exudes a lack of ambition. It is a definite step in the right direction after the messy experiment that was Zestiria, but I cannot in good conscience talk about it in superlatives, because it simply doesn’t deserve it, regardless of everything it does well. I can, however, recommend it to people who want a reasonably solid JRPG to kill some time with, provided their expectations aren’t set astronomically high.


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