"I had a blast ripping through enemies with an onslaught of savage swipes and potent incantations."
For a while, it seemed like Tales was becoming an annualized franchise. I'm all for steady releases, so long as quality remains a priority. But Tales was beginning to worry me: Xillia's exciting combat was enjoyable enough for me to overlook its sparse, almost unfinished world. I was wrong to assume that Xillia 2 would set things right, as it featured an even weaker story in a nearly identical setting. I failed to connect with a single member of Hearts R's cast, while Zestiria's horrendous battle camera and predictable narrative was more or less the final straw that would lead me to write off the series forever...or at least for a few years. Since then, I've watched Tales of Berseria with a cautious eye, unsure if I might skip a Tales game for the first time since the series' North American debut. Yet within five minutes of getting my hands on the game at the E3 this year, my concerns were all but swept away.
Berseria brings some of the biggest changes ever to the Tales battle system. Seamless encounters have been abolished for the better; transitioning (almost instantly, I might add) into a separate battle space eliminates the camera issues so prevalent in Zestiria. Free running, usually activated by holding a shoulder button, is now enabled by default. Because combat is designed around this feature, it adds a heretofore unseen degree of freedom in movement for the series. More importantly, "standard" attacks are gone; the player can now map a different arte to any of the four face buttons on the controller, and can set different artes depending on when a button is pressed in a combo sequence. This adds up to a staggering sixteen immediately available skills for each character to perform at will, in addition to a "Soul Break" mechanic that allows characters to exceed the regular combo limit and utilize unique abilities. Protagonist Velvet, for example, can unleash her "Consume Claw" to drain her own HP while increasing her attack power. It's a traditionally dark knight-esque ability that evokes the "berserk" root of the game's title. And while four characters can participate in battle at once, one need only press a button to switch in reserve members on the fly. I had a blast ripping through enemies with an onslaught of savage swipes and potent incantations. It's incredibly intuitive while leaving plenty of room for killer attack combinations at high-level play.
As the first Tales game built from the ground up for the PS4, Berseria makes significant advancements not in character modeling, but in performance and UI design. The demo I played ran at a consistent, silky-smooth 60FPS throughout the barrage of attacks filling the screen at any given time. The main menu is clean and elegant, featuring large, striking portraits of every character. Their outlandish and colorful designs complement one another wonderfully, as is par for the course with this series. Rokurou is an early favorite of mine; his autumnal samurai garb is strikingly contrasted with demonic facial features that yet betray a hint of humanity.
Truthfully, Tales of Berseria was one of the biggest surprises of E3 for me. I feel like I usually know what to expect with a Tales game, and although I can't speak to the quality of Berseria's story, I can guarantee that its combat is shaping up to be some of the best in the series' history. I'm almost glad it won't be out until 2017, so I can clear my schedule and give it the attention it has rightfully earned.