Tales of Berseria: review

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The ‘Tales Of’ series continues to go strong, with Berseria being the first game in the series to finally let a female character take centre stage without sharing the limelight with a chap. The woman in question, Velvet Crowe, is fortunately not as one-dimensional as JRPGs often have their ladies. Her companions, and the world in which they travel, also have some depth. It’s clearly a story that the developers are proud of; hence, we presume, why sharing is (disappointingly) disabled in the PS4 version.

Serving as a distant-past prequel to Zestiria, Berseria concerns itself with “The Opening”. Prior to this event, Velvet was a happy-go-lucky girl living a simple life in her small village with her younger brother and older brother-in-law (Velvet’s sister had died, making this slightly less weird). The spoilery events of The Opening ripped her world apart – quite literally – by filling it with monsters known as daemons, and making human-like supernatural beings known as malakim visible to humanity. Fast forward a bit, and Velvet is a completely different person. Cold and full of anger, she’s on a quest for revenge, with no sign of the village-girl-next-door that she used to be. Also she’s a daemon now, so the “exorcists” who fight against daemons consider her an enemy.

If you’re sometimes disappointed with the amount of time RPGs dedicate to storytelling, you’ll be wearing your happy hat while playing Tales of Berseria. The game is absolutely crammed full of spoken dialogue (and you can even choose between English or the original Japanese); sometimes via semi-animated ‘skits’, sometimes via cutscenes using the in-game graphics, and – on rare occasions – via fully-animated anime story scenes. A great many of the skits are entirely optional, and you can skip any story scenes should you so wish. But then, if you want to skip the story bits, we’d be a bit confused as to why you’d pick up a game like this in the first place.

Velvet’s default costume is a bit… er… impractical.

Although series fans have probably already gleefully jumped into this game, you needn’t worry if you’ve never played an instalment in the series before. The story works perfectly from start to finish in isolation, and the general gameplay mechanics will be familiar to anybody with even a passing knowledge of JRPGs. Combat (which we’ll get on to shortly) is initiated by running into an enemy on the field (or having them run in to you, in which case you’ll be at a disadvantage). You can buy, sell, and upgrade equipment for you and your party. There are some optional silly costumes and accessories for party members, mostly bought with coins earned by playing minigames. There are sidequests to follow up on. You earn XP and level up. Basically… by and large, you know the score.

The one exception to this ‘pick-up-and-play’ ideal is, oddly perhaps, the combat. What initially might seem like little more than button-bashing soon reveals itself to follow a surprisingly complex set of rules, including a fairly comprehensive set of rewards and disadvantages that can apply depending on what attacks you use, when, and against which enemies. There are a selection of combat difficulties to choose from and, pleasingly, you can change this difficulty at any time. While ‘Simple’ makes enemies weaker and the combat system less punishing, for the same reason it’s just not as fun to play. It’s worth getting at least a basic understanding of how it all works (which isn’t too hard) in order to get the most out of the game. Don’t attempt the highest difficulties, however, unless you’re prepared to fully research the combat system and do a lot of grinding.

In between all the talking and the fighting, you’ll be wandering around various towns, fields, and dungeons. We have mixed feelings about the environments. While the mostly bright and vibrant environs are worthy of celebration in terms of colour, their physical design is, disappointingly, typical of JRPGs in that they’re flat and repetitive. There’s also only one real puzzle in the entire game and that, once you figure it out, is more time-consuming than taxing. The main saving grace of map-wandering is that, thanks to the absence of unavoidable random encounters, you can minimise the number of fights you get into if you want.

Hooray for Velvet! Let’s give her a big hand!

Really though, it’s all about the story. We shan’t stray into spoiler territory, but it’s safe to say that overall things are well above average for the genre. While dialogue can get a little wobbly on occasion (mainly when the scriptwriters can’t resist lingering on issues of lust or embarrassment), this is definitely the exception rather than the rule. There are twists you won’t see coming, moments of spot-on humour, and (some) genuine character development. Ironically perhaps, our favourite character by far is the one who changes the least from start to finish; the witch Magilou. It would’ve been so easy for her to be annoying but, instead, the writing and acting (the English performance is great) make her constant irreverence one of the strongest pillars of the experience.

Your playtime will lean heavily on your chosen difficulty and how much optional content you go for. It took us roughly 38 hours to see the end on Normal for example; we watched every last cutscene and triggered every optional skit, but did very little in the way of sidequests and nothing in the way of grinding. Some people will comfortably play for twice as long, and that’s not even including the extra post-game dungeon. When one of our main criticisms is ‘the difficulty spikes too harshly for the final boss, but you can just put the difficulty down if you need to’, that’s the sign of a good game.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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