Friday, March 9, 2018

Tales of Berseria Review (PS4)

I’ll fully admit that what made me want to play Tales of Berseria is that I really, really liked the main character, Velvet. She just looked awesome and I’m always up for playing a game with a female protagonist, particularly a JRPG, so I bought the game during a recent PSN Flash Sale. I’m happy to say that Velvet herself lived up to my expectations, but the rest of the game was a little rougher. Considering that the only other Tales game I’ve played is Tales of Vesperia, Berseria had somewhat impossibly high standards to meet, but coming up short compared to near perfection still means Tales of Berseria is pretty darn good. Continue reading our full Tales of Berseria review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Developer: Bandai Namco
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: JRPG
  • Pros: Velvet is awesome; instant load times; Kitty Klumps; solid cast; therapy cats
  • Cons: Story is so-so; convoluted combat
  • MSRP: $60 
Buy Tales of Berseria

Most JRPGs are stories of some innocent happy go lucky kid that leaves their isolated village on a seemingly simple quest but end up saving the world. Not in Tales of Berseria. This is a tale of violent revenge where you play as characters who are pretty indisputably the bad guys. Main character Velvet lives in a small village with her younger brother Laphicet and older brother-in-law Arthur. Their world is one that is under constant attack by demons and a mysterious disease even turns regular people into demons. In order to try to stop this, Arthur sacrifices Laphicet in a magical ritual.

As you can guess, Velvet is none too pleased that her little brother is now dead and that they were betrayed by the person they thought they could trust most. The ritual not only took Laphicet’s life but also turned Velvet into a demon-eating demon called a Therion. Arthur locks Velvet up in the deepest dungeon of the toughest prison of the world where she waits for three long years until she is (with a little help) able to escape. Even though the ritual didn’t get rid of the demons, it did grant humans additional magical powers as well as the ability to see magical beings known as Malakin, which allowed them to fight back the demons and stabilize the world. Arthur is known as a hero and the Shepard of Mankind and most people are happy living in blissful ignorance of the real goings-on behind the scenes of the world.

Seeking revenge on the beloved man most people think saved the world puts Velvet squarely in the role of villain in this story in the eyes of the public. Velvet somewhat relishes in this role, too, as she doesn’t care who she has to hurt or what she has to destroy as long as she gets her revenge. She’s even known as the Lord of Calamity by the end of the game. Of course she’s not the real villain and it turns out that Arthur and his followers are doing some incredibly shady stuff in the name of making the world a better place, but there is no denying you are doing a lot of questionable stuff in Tales of Berseria that most other JRPG heroes wouldn’t dare consider.

A colorful cast of characters joins Velvet on her journey such as a demon man who wants to become stronger so he can kill his brother, a pirate Malakin with a curse so misfortune follows him everywhere, and a witch woman with a dark history of her own. Keeping this band of rogues somewhat in check is an innocent Malakin child and an exorcist from the church who is forced to join them. The cast is really varied and the dynamic between all of them works really well. I was also surprised that the characters that I was most annoyed by at first, the Malakin child and exorcist Elanor, actually had a lot of character growth and ended up being very likable and interesting by the end. Velvet also has a satisfying character arc as well.

While I like the cast, the story itself in Tales of Berseria is pretty mediocre. It is extremely predictable and just kind of boring. There is also way, way, way too much dialogue as every scene gets dragged out for far too long. I know JRPGs are all about story and dialogue, but this is crazy over the top. There are also optional vignettes you can activate whenever an icon appears in the corner to get a little extra insight on the story and characters but they just go on and on and on. These vignettes are where most of the character depth comes from, so they’re worth watching, but the writing really could have been tightened up considerably. Maybe I’m just getting tired of JRPG dialogue in general, though. This is the third RPG I’ve played this year, along with Star Ocean 4 HD Remaster and SAO: Fatal Bullet, and I ended up skipping most of the dialogue in all of them.  

The gameplay in Tales of Berseria similarly could have probably used an editor as it just unloads tons and tons of mechanics on you over the course of the game. Exploring the world is straightforward enough as it works like any other RPG. You walk around and talk to people and initiate battles with monsters by touching them. When you enter combat the basics are that it is like other Tales games where it is an action RPG where you can move around the battlefield and attack enemies with melee and magic attacks by pressing different buttons. The basics are dead simple and feel pretty good here, just like in every Tales game.

There’s a lot more to the combat than just the basics, though. I honestly just got confused and forgot most of it. Something about soul gems affecting attack power and doing break moves does something and you counter with something. I don’t know. I honestly forget most of it. And as you play even more mechanics get piled on. It’s way over the top.

The good news is that you can actually ignore pretty much everything the game tells you and just mash buttons and beat the game pretty easily. That is, if you’re playing on easy difficulty. Harder difficulty modes probably require you to learn the mechanics, but on easy you can breeze through pretty much everything. I honestly really like this approach. It allows people looking for more challenge and depth to get it, but also lets people that don’t care about combat and just get through the story enjoy it as well. I do think, however, that the combat is way too ridiculously complex and convoluted and has too many mechanics and simpler ultimately would have been better.

Outside of combat there are even more mechanics. Such as sending a scout pirate ship around the world to explore and bring back treasures. Or collecting ingredients and cooking. Or collecting materials so you can upgrade your weapons. Or playing a bunch of mediocre minigames. The game just has so many mechanics and so much stuff that it feels unnecessarily padded.

Even though I didn’t like the combat much and the story is only so-so, there were still a lot of little things in Tales of Berseria that I enjoyed that kept me playing. Collecting Katz orbs (adorably called Kitty Klumps by a character in game) lets you open special chests that unlock customization items. I like customizing characters, particularly anime-style characters like in these games, so collecting all the stuff to play dress up was fun (you can put a sleeping white cat on everyone’s head, which makes the boring cutscenes slightly better). I also really liked the side quests that had you hunting down super tough special monsters tucked into the corners of pretty much every area. And I really loved the character quests you could unlock that really let you get to know each character better.

I also have to say that part of what kept me playing was just how easy and fast and convenient exploring the world was. You can fast travel that lets you teleport all around the world and, since the game has basically no load times, you can instantly go pretty much anywhere in the world which was why doing side quests and wrapping up end game content was so addictive for me. The load times really are impressive as they’re pretty much nonexistent even when you first boot up the game. Tales of Berseria’s lightning fast load times are like witchcraft compared to most slow ass games these days.

The presentation in the game is quite good overall. There are still some areas that make it pretty obvious this was originally a PS3 game, but there are also some environments that look really stunningly beautiful, too. The character models are uniformly fantastic. I know some people are put off by Velvet’s default costume because “OMG, boobies!” (which, really, they aren’t even that big or pronounced like in other games), but she’s literally a demon that doesn’t feel cold or heat or care about what she looks like, so her wearing ragged clothes makes sense. Whatever, man. Velvet’s the best.

The sound is also good with decent music and solid voice acting. The game also makes some of the better use of the speaker in the DS4 controller by having characters make little side comments and remarks through the speaker. I also really, really, really loved that (spoilers maybe but the game has been out for more than a year) that Velvet is allergic to cats so when you go to the secret Katz Korner area you hear her sneezing now and then through the speaker. That was a freaking awesome detail that I absolutely love. 

I know it might not seem like I liked Tales of Berseria that much in this review, considering that I kind of whined about a lot of stuff, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. I beat the story in about 29 hours and then continued to play for another 10+ hours finishing up side quests and other stuff. I wouldn’t have spent 40+ hours on something I didn’t really enjoy. Even if individual aspects are a little weak, like the story and the combat, they all do ultimately come together into a very solid and very enjoyable overall package. It’s not nearly as good as Vesperia, but few games are. Tales fans and RPG fans in general will have a good time with Tales of Berseria, so definitely give it a try if you haven’t already.