Tales of Berseria is the seventeenth iteration of the Tales series and a prequel to Tales of Zestiria, though set in the distant past. It brings with it a cast of surprisingly lovable misfits, an exciting combo-based combat system, and the same sort of narrative focus as its predecessors. The one big difference is that Berseria's storyline is far darker, with characters often acting out of self-interest, which is a fairly rare and rather intriguing take on the RPG genre.
So if you're wondering whether Tales of Berseria is an RPG you might enjoy, allow me to share with you my thoughts on the various aspects of gameplay and story, and you can decide from there. And since we've had a slue of terrible PC ports this past year, let's begin by first covering Berseria's technical side.
This shouldn't come as much of a shock if you've played the demo, but the PC version is actually pretty damn good. The framerate is nice and stable at 60 as long as you adjust the settings properly, there are no weird bugs and glitches, and throughout all of my time with Berseria I've experienced zero crashes. Furthermore, the load times on my SSD are only a couple of seconds long... and yes, you read that right! It only takes me three seconds to go from the main menu to the game itself!
The one and only issue I have with Berseria's technical side is that the camera sensitivity is set so high its nigh unplayable with a mouse for me. Even slightly moving the mouse makes the camera spin around like a drunken ballerina, which usually results in me slamming straight in to a wall, perfectly completing the metaphor. I've tried messing around with the options menu and even scouring through the hidden config files, but there is unfortunately no way to adjust sensitivity. Playing with a controller on the other hand works perfectly fine, and as soon as I've switched all of the camera issues went away. Given how annoying this problem is I fully expect the developers to release a patch soon after launch, but until then I would recommend waiting on the PC version unless you own a controller... or don't mind having your camera tied to a race car.
Forget daemons, the true enemy of humanity are tight doorways!
As for the story, I entered Tales of Berseria with very little knowledge of the previous games, and I am glad to say that this has not affected my enjoyment even a single bit. I'm sure there are plenty of references to previous events and characters that went straight over my head, but at no point did I feel confused about what's going on, who's who, and why the characters were doing what they were doing.
What did confuse me, however, was the incredibly slow opening. Throughout the first hour or so of gameplay you'll spend most of your time running around the village, beating up harmless boars, and watching overly cutesy cutscenes that seem to belong more in a Miyazaki movie than in a dark RPG. All of this set up does eventually pay off as you get betrayed and transformed into an endlessly hungry daemon, but I still think the intro could've been cut down in half and retained all of its impact.
This sums up the first hour pretty well
Once you finally get all of your powers and set out to seek revenge Tales of Berseria quickly moves away from its generic introduction and starts becoming rather fascinating. Instead of the usual JRPG storyline where a bunch of androgynous teenagers band together to kill mega-satan, Berseria goes for more serious narrative with our 'heroine' Velvet Crowe often treading the fine line between being an anti-hero and a straight up villain. This is then further emphasized by the fact that her enemy is actually an order of exorcists that are doing all they can to prevent the world from succumbing to a daemonic plague. While they may be a bunch of bureaucrats and would-be dictators, you're often left wondering whether your quest for revenge is even a wise idea, as eventually the pile of corpses laying behind you far surpasses everything your arch-nemesis has ever done in desperate ploy to save the world.
Since all of this is fairly heavy stuff that's bound to eventually wear you down I am thankful that Tales of Berseria features a surprisingly vibrant cast of characters... especially when you consider who and what they are. There's the unlicensed witch Magilou whose entire life goal is to annoy everyone around her, Rokuoru who is a refreshingly cheerful and upbeat daemon of war, Doyle who is a daemonic pirate with a tongue as sharp as his teeth, and to make things even more strange your party also features Laphicet - a seemingly emotionless servant that follows your every order unconditionally. It is an unlikely alliance, but it exactly this cooperation out of necessity that makes their interactions all the more compelling. After spending well over thirty hours listening to them argue, joke around, and comfort each other in time of tragedy, I must admit I have gotten genuinely attached to this motley crew! I expect I will eventually forget the madness the main plot devolves into by the very end, but this band of misfits and outcasts has made such an impression on me that I'm bound to keep them on my mind for years to come.
The reason for this is two-fold. The first and most important one is the simple fact that each character is incredibly well written, especially when it comes to their 'character voice'. What I mean by this is that each and every single one of them has their own distinct personality, mannerisms, and way of speaking that set them apart from all the rest. Combine this with some top-notch voice acting and you've got a bunch of characters that are so full of life its hard to not get invested in their journey.
I'd wager you can guess how Magilou here sounds and acts, just from this one line of dialogue alone
While the story and characters definitely kept me pushing forward, it is the combat that I consider one of Berseria's finest aspects. How it works is that you start the battle with a certain number of Souls (or combo points if you will) which you can then spend in order to power your normal attacks, and if you ever reach zero your attacks will become weak and easy to counter. Your Souls will slowly regenerate over time, or via the use of specific combos on the battlefield, but even so it is not enough to support a playstyle that only consists of brainless aggression. Brute force might serve you well against some of the smaller enemies, but when it comes to bosses and mini-bosses you're going to have to pay careful attention to both your positioning and the timing of your attacks.
For example, if you ever manage to stun your enemy you will steal one Soul from them, essentially giving yourself the ability to chain even longer combo attacks throughout the rest of the battle. The same works in reverse, however, so you're going to have to thread the fine line between being aggressive enough to punish your enemy, and defensive enough to not get clobbered over the head and lose your advantage. And here's where things get tricky! Velvet and her crew have special, super powerful attacks you can use in the middle of a combo to drastically extend its length, and consequently its damage. The catch is that you will have to sacrifice a Soul in order to do so, which means if you don't successfully stun or kill your enemy with this newly extended combo you're going to be at a significant disadvantage for the remainder of the fight. Choosing when to use this Break Soul ability is going to be one of the most important decisions you'll have to make in Berseria, but once you do master the technique you're going to be able to plough through hordes and hordes of enemies without ever pausing your onslaught.
What really made the combat system special for me was the ability to edit not only my own combos, but also those of my allies. So instead of relying on a pre-set rotation of attacks I ended up creating a variety of combos to help me out in specific situations: a combo that helps me juggle enemies into the air in order to disable them, a combo that dishes out tons of area-of-effect damage while leaving me exposed to harm, a combo that mostly focuses around stunning enemies while dealing relatively little damage, and so forth. This isn't a big feature, but it is one that has made my journey through Berseria much more enjoyable. Instead of having to use attacks that involve long sweeping motions which leave you open for counterattacks, I was able to just edit the combos to my liking and instantly creating a playstyle that fits me. Naturally, all of this will take you quite a while to master, especially if you want to start worrying about min-maxing your characters, but thankfully its not the type of complexity that interferes with your enjoyment of the combat. Its simply there as an added bonus for those that want to push themselves to the very edge.
The battles are a bit chaotic, but they sure are a spectacle to behold
Unfortunately for the combat system, pretty much everything that surrounds it is the very definition of mediocrity. Instead of letting players explore the rich and detailed world, Tales of Berseria is content to funnel you through corridor after corridor, endlessly going down a set path with the only deviations being other corridors. I don't expect my RPGs to have the same freedom of exploration as the Metroidvania genre, but I'm certainly not a fan of any level design inspired by Final Fantasy XIII of all things.
Its very difficult to muster any sort of excitement about 'hidden loot' when the side-path is quite clearly marked on the mini-map. Instead of being able to roam around and find secrets on your own, Berseria just points you towards their exact location by having an otherwise straight corridor deviate slightly to the side. And since every single 'secret' is about as simple to uncover as walking slightly to the left, the end result is that the vast majority of loot simply sucks! You get tons of it, either through chests or through combat, but 99% of the time its going to be inferior to the gear you already own. So why bother taking an extremely lengthy detour if the only thing waiting for you at the very end is the equivalent of vendor trash?
These aren't game-breaking issues, and I definitely didn't stop playing because of them, but they are an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise great game. I'm able to replay RPGs like The Witcher 3 fairly frequently due to amount of side-quests and secrets I consistently manage to miss during my various playthroughs, but when it comes to Berseria I'm pretty sure this is going to be a one-time deal. I just don't see myself slogging through all of the corridors all over again, especially now that I no longer have that delicious story carrot dangling in front of me.
Gee, I wonder which route will lead me to a secret treasure chest!
Despite being one of the later entries in a long-running series Tales of Berseria is a surprisingly good RPG. Its cast of characters is unique and memorable, its revenge storyline well executed, and the combat is a pure joy to master. If exploration and loot didn't suffer due to abysmal level design I would be more than comfortable to call Tales of Berseria one of the best RPGs released in recent years, but as its stands its simply good, perhaps even bordering on downright great!
So if you feel like you're up for a character-driven RPG with a heavy focus on fast-paced combat, you're probably going to have a blast with Tales of Berseria. I certainly had a great deal of fun with it, and if this is the standard for the rest of the series I do believe I have a lot of catching up to do!