"With the best story since Abyss and the best cast of characters since Vesperia, Tales of Berseria is the best entry in Bandai Namco's flagship franchise for years."
I was fairly generous in my review of Tales of Zestiria
. At the time, the combat kept me hooked and I enjoyed the interactions within the party. I tried to return to it a few months after finishing it and found myself hesitating. Then I realised something — good combat and lovable characters will not keep this franchise alive forever. I lost faith in the series, and understandably, lost interest in Tales of Berseria, which was cited to be a distant prequel to the aforementioned. 50 hours after first picking up the game, and I can tell you my doubts were wrong.
Tales of Berseria is a slightly different beast compared to previous entries. The story follows Velvet, who is seeking revenge after her brother was murdered in front of her eyes on the night of a crimson moon. 3 years later, and now with a demonised arm, Velvet swears to kill her brother's murderer and anyone who gets in her way. It's much less rosy than Graces, and much darker than Xillia 2. Velvet's journey for revenge sees her develop not only as a character, but also touches upon themes like self-improvement, free will, and belief. There are even tonnes of links to Zestiria that improve upon the lore of both games, as well as tempt me to go back and play the previous game. It feels as though Namco have hired a new set of writers to breathe some much-needed freshness into the Tales series' narratives, and it shows here.
The cast are also an intriguing and excellent bunch of misfits. Berseria throws together a group of complete opposites and somehow makes them work. The beauty of the best Tales of games is that they can put 6 clashing personalities together and make them work as a cohesive unit. This motley crew include the gentle spirit (known as Malaks) Laphicet, the carefree warrior daemon Rokurou, the pirate Eizen, the mad capped witch Magilou, and the strict and reserved Eleanor.
The cast each have their own quirks which make each and every one of them unique and lovable — Eizen is afflicted by the Reaper's Curse, a curse so unlucky he's never flipped a coin and landed on heads. Eleanor's strictness and righteousness clashes with Velvet's anarchy and disregard for order; a situation that not only creates friction within the group but also serves as a way for each character to develop and evolve. The party balances out perfectly and together make for a wonderful group to spend hours with. At the beginning of the game, they might feel like a group of outcasts forced together, but by the end, there's a real sense of friendship between them.
I found there was a lot more to do in Berseria's world than in past games. Gone are the open fields of Zestiria, as we're given a series of much more streamlined, busier areas. While there are still remnants of the game's origins on PS3 (the game was also released for PS3 in Japan), the game runs at a silky smooth 60FPS, and I didn't experience any slowdown throughout my journey. One particular area I remember fondly is the tropical island, where the waters are crystal clear and the sun beams down on the sandy beaches. It's a lovely change from many of the grey and murky sights of some of the previous entries.
The dungeons are sadly not as colourful or varied as the fields, each one a series of corridors, either within a cave, some ruins, or a forest. It's disappointing, almost like the series has forgotten how to make a good dungeon. Perhaps just as tired as this game's dungeons is the music. Motoi Sakuraba alone returns to score Berseria, but there's absolutely nothing that stands out as wonderful. Most of it fits, but there's really very little to distinguish this soundtrack from most of its predecessors.
Luckily there are lots of distractions that prevent these issues from dampening your experience too much. You can collect Katz souls to unlock new accessories and take on hunts known as Code Red Daemons. You'll quickly get access to your very own pirate ship, which you can send out on expeditions to gather recipes, trinkets, and neat little treasures which reference past games in the series. Berseria even improves greatly upon its predecessor's skill system, where you learn skills directly from your equipment. It makes the process much simpler and easier to keep track of. These little nuggets help keep you from getting bored along the way.
Then there's the combat, once again this game's strongest asset. Like Zestiria, Berseria relies on the soul gauge, which determines how many attacks the player can make. You can gain souls by exploiting an enemy's weakness, and lose them if you get stunned or afflicted by a status effect. You can also consume one soul to use a Break Soul attack, which gives that character a special move to obliterate the field. Eizen transforms partially into a dragon and scorches the field, Magilou absorbs any enemy spell, and Eleanor throws her enemies into the air and strikes them down again. This feature adds a lot of depth to your battles, as knowing when to use each Break Soul is vital to victory in most cases.
Even the basics have been refined. Rather than assigning moves to one button and the flick of the analogue stick, you can assign 16 attacks, 4 for each button on the controller. This really freshens up the battle system, allowing for endless possibilities for customisation. Even characters like Eleanor, a spear wielder who gets access to spells, can link in magic attacks to physical attacks seamlessly. While Velvet is overpowered to a degree, the rest of the party are easy to play as but difficult to master, so learning how to best your opponent with your favourite character is the most satisfying thing.
With the best story since Abyss and the best cast of characters since Vesperia, Tales of Berseria is the best entry in Namco Bandai's flagship franchise for years. It's got all the familiarities of the previous entries that worked, but also makes some refreshing changes and refinements that the series desperately needed. It's restored my faith in the series and made me want to immediately go back and replay it, just to spend some more time with Velvet and her party, sailing across the world in search of the world's secrets. It's a Tales of game for fans and newcomers, and I hope this reminds people of what made this franchise so fun in the first place.