Tales of Berseria (PC) Review
Title: Tales of Berseria
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Players: 1-4 (local multiplayer)
Rating: T for Teen
I’ve had somewhat of a storied relationship with the Tales series. I first got into Vesperia but about halfway through it I got overwhelmed by all the side content and lost track of what I was supposed to be doing. I played about 7 hours of Zestiria but just kind of lost interest in it. Now here I am with Berseria, a prequel to Zestiria. I did manage to beat this game but it took a while and there are a few issues that crop up.
Tales of Berseria takes place hundreds of years in the land of Midgrand and places you in the shoes of Velvet Crowe. The first hour or two introduces you to Velvet’s brother, Laphicet, and her brother in law, Arthur, as you live a fairly simple village life. Then one day, you awaken to find demons have overwhelmed the town and that Arthur is sacrificing Laphicet to a red moon. You attempt to stop it but your arm gets corrupted by the Demonblight, which turns people into demons. You get thrown in jail due to your demonic arm, which can essentially eat demons, and three years later you escape with revenge on Arthur, now calling himself Artorius, as the head of a new Abbey that is bent on purging the world of demons.
So, on the outset, this isn’t exactly a happy and cheerful game. While Velvet initially starts off like most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed RPG heroes, after jail, she becomes a hugely bitter and nihilistic, focused solely on her revenge. You come across other characters like a cursed pirate, a fatalistic witch and another demon whom is hell-bent on killing his brother, and you realize that Berseria isn’t like most traditional RPGs.
Honestly, the story and dark characters is probably one of the biggest selling points. The only two semi-good characters in the game are Laphicet, not your slain brother but a malak (magical spirit) who is fairly innocent, and Eleanor who was an exorcist (demon hunter) for the Abbey but falls in with your group after failing in her duties. Berseria kind of runs her through the ringer also, as she makes proclamations that everyone should be good, and what the Abbey is doing is just, and almost every other main character just thinks she is an idiot.
The battle system is a slight variation from past Tales games but is still about 95% of the same. Instead of a normal bar, you have a Soul Gauge, which is represented by glowing crystals above your life bar. You start out with three initially, and as you perform attacks they go down in by halves. Once you expend them all, you can still attack, but your attacks will be more easily blocked and you won’t be able to do as much damage. You can regain them by taking a breather and letting them refill normally, by dazing your opponent (which will add another crystal to the bar), by eliminating an enemy (which also adds a crystal), or by side-stepping at the right time of an enemy attack so you dodge it. This causes an enemy to lose one of their Souls and it becomes a collectible in the battlefield you have to pick up. Be warned though that a lot of the time an AI party member will also run to it, so it can become an annoying race to see who gets it.
You use the face buttons to perform different Artes (attacks) against your enemies. You can customize this system, going in depth on what combos you want to create or what attacks you want to use for specific moments. Honestly though, if you play on normal like I did, you can mash your way through the game by pressing A (using a 360 gamepad) as that is the “You decide” auto-attack option, and 98% of enemies fall to it.
The other 2% from above fall prey to the Mystic Arts attack. If you press the RT button, your demonic arm comes out and you start using that for attacks. When you immediately press the button you gain a small health boost and an increase in your attack power. However, the drawbacks to it, are that your health goes down rapidly after about 8 seconds, and you lose one of your Soul Gauge crystals. Although, typically, you either daze the enemy you’re focusing on easily enough, or out-right kill them, so the Soul Gauge loss isn’t a huge deal, especially later on when you get more of them.
Lastly, there are the Break Arts which are kind of like a super attack. You have a separate Break Gauge which is represented by a number on the right side of your character pane. You need to have at least three levels in the gauge and also have at least three Soul Gauge crystals accessible. During a combo, you can then press the LT button which triggers the Break Art, which causes a flashy anime attack which deals massive damage to an enemy. There is some tactical planning with the Break Gauge though as it also determines character swapping, which only requires one level. You can only have 4 characters in a fight at once, and two remain on the sidelines until they are brought in, so you do have to manage this a little, especially at harder difficulties.
One aspect that remains a Tales stalwart is how it handles equipment and skills. While you gain levels and new Artes by leveling up, you can gain specific upgrade skills from wearing gear and weapons. For example, a sword might have a skill on it that makes you do +10% against armored foes, and a pair of boots that gives a 1% chance to poison enemies. The skills are only active while you are the equipment, but after a set number of battles (depending on the specific item), you will learn the skill, and then you move onto a new piece of gear. Be aware that this takes a long time and gets very tedious.
The skill system issue gets further compounded by upgrading and getting better gear. You can break down your equipment to get base materials to upgrade other equipment. So if you break down an amber sword, you’ll get an amber fragment. This adds a +1 modifier to the gear you’ll upgrade, going all the way up to +10, once you have enough materials and get the right smith item. Upgrading an item will boost its attack power and occasionally give you a new random (item specific and unlearnable) skill. However, it’s all…boring, and kind of obtuse? Whenever you roll into a big new town, there are new bits of gear to buy, and those have skills to learn from. It is monotonous to use the same sword for 5 or so hours, just so you can learn the skill and move onto the next one, especially if you have better gear in your backpack.
Another troubling issue with Berseria is the item management itself. It would be fine if a new weapon or piece of armor occasionally dropped from a boss, but you get new items every third fight or so. I think the idea here is for you to break all the surplus gear down, since you can’t really buy materials for upgrading from a store, but the interface for doing this is bad. Having to keep track of a dozen pair of Calcite boots in your inventory is a nightmare. If you could better easily designate extra gear to either be sold, or dismantled from a quick-select menu, it would be fine, but as it is, it just involves you kind of eye-balling it, and having to spend hours inside these equipment menu screens.
One slightly odd thing I noticed in Berseria was that the game felt small. I don’t mean small in terms of story, it’s told well enough, but production values and things to do felt somewhat lacking. Most of the voice acting is “passable”, but nothing remarkable, however the voice actress for a minor character named Kamoana is one of the worst things I’ve heard in a full-priced game. Areas in the game are pretty small, at first they seem big but once you get this hover-board thing midway through the game, you realize how tiny they really are. You’ll also repeat a few dungeons in the game, more than once, and that generally just becomes annoying, though using the hover-board does make it go by quicker. It just feels kind of like a budget game in spots, which is disquieting.
There are a few side things to do, you can send a ship out, like an Assassin’s Creed game, for items, the cooking system is here, there are “Katz” chests to unlock via spirits you collect which reward cosmetic items, some mini-games to collect currency for cosmetic items, and there are bounty hunts to collect for hunting specific demons. None of these activities feels particularly vital or interesting though, more just perfunctory that they needed something on the side to keep it from being a completely linear game.
A final thing to mention is the PC version specific good and bad things. I’ll start with the bad: the framerate for the game is fairly erratic. I’m on a machine that exceeds the recommend specs and going into the game world would vary from normal 60 FPS to sometimes dropping below 30 in spots, especially if you aggravate a monster or two. Also, the DLC is fairly gross, containing a few costume DLC packs and a $20 “Adventure Items Super Pack” which includes things like: double experience, double gold, double inventory space (you can only hold 15 of usable items), and a few level/HP up bonuses. So, that’s all bad. What’s good about playing on PC then? Easy: Cheat Engine and game trainers. Either of which really allows you to blow past the whole skill/crafting system, if you so choose, and let you focus on the game and the story. That’s arguably one of the biggest pros of the game, as it can make a long experience much shorter.