I’m going to make this franchise have a main protagonist with *gasp* BOOBS!
- It’s no new observation that the Tales franchise has gotten pretty stagnant over the years. While Symphonia was the game largely responsible for its overwhelming popularity as well as the second culprit behind Final Fantasy VII for evolving the JRPG genre to what it is today, everything made after that has mostly been less of an evolution of what Symphonia accomplished and more sustaining what made it so great through new arbitrary game mechanics and slight improvements to the old stuff. You know, the same thing that Mario went through after Galaxy (although Odyssey looks like it might be brilliant)?
- Berseria itself looked like it was getting desperate from the promotional material. The first Tales game to have a female protagonist without an accompanying lead male, you say? Neat, but if that’s your only selling point, you’re really not promising anything long-term. How about not setting one of these games in a fantasy world? I know the Tales name sort of implies “fantasy”, but so does Final Fantasy, and about half the mainstream titles lean a lot more towards sci-fi than Tolkien.
- Still, as a fan of Japanese games as well as a guy who beat Symphonia like twelve times while in high school, I’d be amiss to ignore Tales mothership installments as long as they’re not Xbox-exclusive, regardless of all the pre-hype I heard about how Berseria is the series’ most mature title yet. It’s a prequel to Zestiria, which I haven’t played nor watched much of the anime for, so I didn’t recognize who Zaveid was or what all these “shepherd” terms meant. I will say though that I did get distracted at times from what felt like plot points that never went anywhere because they’d be resolved in Zestiria like the existence of Eizen’s sister and whatnot.
- Berseria is focused on a young woman named Velvet Crowe, who lives a nice quiet life in a far-off village with her younger brother Laphicet and her brother-in-law Artorius aka Arthur whilst mourning her older sister, who died in an attack caused by strange monsters called daemons. One day, in order to combat the daemon threat once and for all, Arthur sacrifices Laphicet through a mysterious ritual in front of Velvet’s eyes in order to awaken mysterious human-like beings called malakhim, whose powers can be used with regular humans in order to combat the daemons. Naturally, Velvet has a problem with her younger brother being used for that, and the result leads to her gaining a demonic arm, killing her fellow villagers with it, and being thrown into a prison where she spends three years seeking revenge.
- During her imprisonment, Artorius has formed an organization called the Abbey that is backed by the kingdom and seeks to protect the world from daemons through malak-powered humans called exorcists. However, one of his companions thinks he’s going too far with his plan and frees Velvet from her prison in order to stop him, which Velvet is all too happy to do. However, she can’t do it alone and ends up joining a group of pirates whose own goals coincide with hers in order to devour her brother-in-law, whilst also being accompanied by a bunch of other shady yet colorful characters along the way.
- The draw of the game is supposed to be that these characters are selfish miscreants who don’t care about saving the world and just want to destroy the Abbey because of personal vendettas, and if they happen to save the world in the process, then good for them. And for the most part, the game does deliver on that promise, even if the more unique aspects of that premise tend to be more spread out than I’d like.
- A big part of the problem is that while we get to know the heroes very well, we don’t really see much of the villains beyond what the protagonists say about them. Remember in Tales of the Abyss how every single one of the major villains had a conflicting ideology with one or more of the heroes, and the game develops that through their constant interactions? Berseria gets the first part right, but there’s very little of the second part. Most of the people who do fulfill both conditions end up joining your party after you beat the shit out of them, which is interesting in its own way, but it also means that the external forces you’re supposed to be fighting feel kind of arbitrary by comparison.
- It would have been nice if Tales of Berseria was mostly a tale of inner turmoil between the group as they grudgingly work towards a common goal, but that would be at odds with the numerous fighting and comedic skit-banter that makes up a large part of what makes Tales the juggernaut franchise that it is, wouldn’t it? Speaking of the fighting, I’m not sure if this was the case for Zestiria, but it’s been overhauled a bit. Basic attacks and magic points (and consequently, Orange Gels) have been removed, so now you fight using Artes alone, and there’s a sort of Soul Point meter that judges how many moves you can use in a combo – which increases or decreases depending on who can make the opposing party dizzy.
- The skit system now has more of a comic book-style that allows for full portraits, which is more visually interesting than just a bunch of talking heads, although it still carries that modern Tales problem of there being so damn many of the things to the point that it gets tedious. And they’re also ridiculously long to the point that they’re officially called “long skits” in this game. I understand that they’re used to flesh out the characters and all, but a little flow between the time you can see them and the actual story momentum would be nice, especially since the game forces you to watch certain skits at various points anyways.
- And of course, Berseria has that usual “game mechanic overload” problem a lot of the modern Tales games have in that they throw in way too many arbitrary mechanics than the player knows what to do with. Cooking, exploring, a bunch of sidequests I never did, optional boss battles with the Xillia protagonists, and a system where you have non-animated skits with people that have explanation points over their heads because apparently the actual skit system wasn’t bloated enough. This leads to some really overlong tutorials that interrupt the flow, plus it also means that Berseria doesn’t really get to kick into gear until a few hours in, and it ends up being a really overlong game once it does. Including times when I left the game on to do other stuff while charging the controller, I clocked in about sixty hours after finishing it, and was feeling pretty exhausted after all was said and done.
- Maybe I would have been less tired with the game if the setting itself wasn’t completely tired. In addition to the graphics looking awkward and outdated, the world-building is pretty lackluster. There’s only a handful of arbitrary locations and dungeons that you visit, there’s no individuality besides taking place in a beach or a prison, it’s mostly a set of enclosed linear paths with rudimentary puzzles, and the developers force you to backtrack through a lot of them in order to get a decent gameplay time out of the thing. Even when the protagonists basically set fire to a certain place, it looks completely normal when you come back like nothing has ever happened, which takes me out of the experience a bit. I was more engaged with Xillia’s world than Berseria’s. At least it felt big and was populated by supporting characters who had life to them.
- I really think this game loved its protagonists a bit too much, because hanging out with them is pretty much where the game shines. From the goober malak who Velvet (healthily) names after her brother to the game’s breakout character, Magilou, there’s a lot of personality shared amongst this pirate crew. All the life, drive, humor, and such seems to go to them and their enclosed world, whilst everything can burn for all they care. Which is nice, but it also means the story can’t keep up with them.
- And it’s not a very unique plot to begin with. It’s the same “how much must we strip away humanity to obtain peace?” outline that Tales has been using for more than two decades now with no real surprises in store. The only time things get really unique is when the characters are forced to realize that their beliefs do have consequences, and sometimes it can all be for nothing. That’s when the anti-hero vibe really shines, as that’s a direction you can’t really obtain with classic heroes like Lloyd Irving. Focus the entire story more on that aspect and we might have had a real winner.
- Berseria is less of an evolution and more of a momentary distraction from the Tales series’ continued decline into stagnant mediocrity. I don’t exactly see the anti-hero vibe carrying on to future games the way all the numerous skits, bloated cooking mechanics, and slow starts inevitably will. And while my increased age and experience might be a factor, I’m even less inclined to revisit this game than I have with the previous Tales stuff I finished.
- It’s definitely more fun than most recent Tales games, but I seriously think we need to consider making the next one a sci-fi story if the creators want to prevent the franchise from suffering the same “disillusionment due to constant mediocrity” disease that afflicted Star Trek.
- I love how whenever a character joins your party after you beat the shit out of them, their HP is suddenly a lot lower and their level is not the same as it once was.
- The justifications to having a six-on-one fight in a situation that was clearly planned with a one-on-one mindset are pretty ridiculous at times.
- To give you an idea of how long the game was, I started it two weeks ago and took spent most of my free time since playing it for review whilst ignoring other stuff.