What are the limits of moral acceptability when it comes to saving the world? How far should you go in the pursuit of revenge, no matter how deeply wronged? The Tales series is often accused of wielding its motifs with all the subtlety of a toddler with a megaphone, and while Berseria often does fall into that trap as well, it’s ultimately the morality of the well realized cast that makes the game and story more fun than it has any right to be.
Ultimately, the setup and many of the story beats of Berseria can be seen a mile away. Velvet Crowe, initially a caring young woman doing her best to care for her brother in a world overrun by daemons, has her life forever altered three years prior to the events of the story by a trusted mentor, as she loses everything, becomes a daemon and gets locked up as the world is changed drastically.
The newly hatred driven Velvet gets her opportunity to go after her target after a bloody prison break, to find that her ultimate tragedy, might have led to the salvation of the world. The event that lost her everything has brought humanity back from the brink of daemon destruction, though they’re still around, and the population seems largely thankful for the newly minted Abbey of Exorcists, a group of augmented warriors, Velvet’s target sitting atop it all.
"The party characters Velvet meets along the way have their own stories of revenge and redemption, and their interactions with Velvet will help her drop the facade of the “rage-filled badass heroine” from time to time."
We’ve all seen this revenge plot setup before, and Berseria doesn’t really go out of its way to deviate from the path you expect the tale to travel. The questions of morality I posed within the intro paragraph are where the interesting grey area comes in, making you question who’s really in the right, without making Velvet’s party and their individual plights seem unsympathetic. The conflict between what is logical, but perhaps cold and what emotion dictates as right is at the core of the game, and is used to great effect.
The party characters Velvet meets along the way have their own stories of revenge and redemption, and their interactions with Velvet will help her drop the facade of the “rage-filled badass heroine” from time to time. Berseria takes the time to develop each party member into a three-dimensional individual, and you’ll get familiar with their personal goals, backstories and failings as you travel.
The laid back swordsman Rokurou, witch of endless sass Magilou, and the rest of the cast are all written believably. Their distinct and fun personalities all help round out Velvet’s otherwise one note characterization, who usually gets stuck as the straight woman to the antics or growth of the other party members. As a moral beacon from the Abbey who gets thrust into working with Velvet and her crew of villains by circumstance, Elenor is a standout within the playable cast. Her rock solid views of the ways of the world become more and more shaken as she continues traveling with Velvet’s crew, tying into the fantastic moral ambiguity that drives the conflict of the game.
The world explored by Velvet and her crew is as laser focused on the forward path as its anti-heroine herself, partially betraying the game’s roots as a PS3 title. Largely segmented and linear areas make up the entire game world, though thankfully there are no obtrusive loading times in my experience on the PS4 Pro. Things you might usually expect within the genre like side quests are largely absent, aside from one overarching one where you collect Katz souls for cosmetic items. It was a smart decision to keep the pace of the story moving, when it could have been so easy to get bogged down in distractions.
"Combat itself revolves almost completely around stamina management and positioning, invoking some of the spirit of a fighting game."
Enemies appear on the field as is typical for the Tales series, allowing you a moment to prepare your equipment, arrange your battle party or sneak up on them for an advantage. Combat itself revolves almost completely around stamina management and positioning, invoking some of the spirit of a fighting game. Each character can set physical, ranged and magical arts in sets of four to each face button, and combo them into each other for the situation. The Soul Gauge determines how many attacks you can link together, and soul can be gained from defeating or staggering enemies and lost from being staggered or spent on combo lengthening Break Soul attacks.
As the game progresses, additional layers are introduced such as tagging in and out inactive party members to further lengthen combos or alter your approach to the situation, and Mystic Arts, which function somewhat like ultimate attacks. Though each of the six party members fight somewhat differently from each other, the battles were largely more in your face and direct as opposed to the hit-and-run style Final Fantasy 15 encouraged. Combo chains are king in Berseria, making status effects more likely to take hold or shortening the needed wind up for a magical attack. Finding new combos becomes part of its own fun, as you try to get in close with martial arts to build up a bit of a combo, before pushing away the foe and firing off the magic attack.
If I had to give the combat one knock, it’s that it’s far too easy. Thanks to the pacing I’ve never really dwelled in an area to grind. In spite of this, I have never come across anything more than a little threatening to my party, that could not then be handled a few items later. Once you’ve filled out your party, the arena can become hectic with flying effects and attacks, so you’ll always have some backup. If you want a real bite to the combat though, crank up the difficulty.
"An old tale, but a tale well told and inviting to anyone who dives into Tales of Berseria."
Though the world, characters and combat of Tales of Berseria are all nothing short of commendable, there are some clear technical limitations at work to bring it down. The limited nature of the world maps and the transitions into battle scenes that simply remove some of the extra fluff from around the immediate area are clear hallmarks of the PS3 origins of the game, and the sometimes stiff animations and muddy textures upon close up take away from the fantastic art style. At the end of it, I can really only consider these nitpicks, but in a world post Final Fantasy 15, I was hoping for a bit more ambition.
Greater than the sum of its parts is a great way to describe Tales of Berseria. The revenge plot is a tale as old as time, yet the characters who inhabit this one bring it to life in an enjoyable, if unsurprising way. A deeply involved combat system makes each battle a fun, frantic dance between maintaining your combo and managing stamina, and the world is just gorgeous enough that you want to see what comes over the next rise. An old tale, but a tale well told and inviting to anyone who dives into Tales of Berseria.
This game was reviewed on the Playstation 4.
The characters bring the story to life in an engaging way, and they write around the tired revenge plot with some intriguing moral ambiguity. Combat is hectic and tons of fun. Gorgeous worlds and art style.
Textures and animations that don't quite hold up under close scrutiny and limited play space of the world give away the PS3 origins of the game, and feel stifling within a post-Final Fantasy XV world. Combat can be a bit too easy.
Even though firmly rooted in last generation sensibilities for the genre, Tales of Berseria takes something as old and trite as the revenge plot and refreshes it with a gorgeously realized world, filled with three dimensional characters and conflicts and fun combat. Does it break new ground? No, but it knows how to make something engaging from the treaded paths.
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