Review by ikilledkenny2
Berseria is the most solid Tales in years, but plays it a little too safe.
I have been a fan of the Tales series for nearly half my life. As a middle schooler at the time of Tales of Symphonias release, the game completely blew my mind. The real time battle system, the lovable characters, the massive two disc long adventure and the depth of the story were all like nothing I had seen before. When Tales of Berseria arrived on my doorstep this past Thursday, my collection of mothership titles was complete once more and I got the nostalgic feeling that only a new Tales game can bring me these days.
There is a common sentiment amongst reviewers and the larger JRPG community that Tales is a sort of fast-food of JRPGs, that the games are generic and cheaply made. In the past, I could not disagree more with this sentiment. Tales of Destiny 2, Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Rebirth and Tales of Legendia , four mothership games in a row, were completely different from one another in a way I have never before seen a video game series dramatically change itself between entries. A similar pattern emerged once more with Tales of Vesperia, Tales of Hearts and Tales of Graces; none of this trilogy was anything like the other, and in fact, it is not uncommon to see fans clearly situate themselves in a Graces camp or a Vesperia camp, often unable to see eye-to-eye due to their massive differences in design philosophy and execution.
But this in itself is what I loved about the Tales series. Every entry was exciting. You never really knew what you were going to get next, but there was always a certain degree of quality assured. You sort of knew that certain staples would be in, the game would be of a certain length, and the brand names quality would be preserved regardless of the unique direction each entry took. There were some hiccups along the way with outsourced games such as Tales of the Tempest and Tales of Innocence, but if the game was developed by Namco themselves, as the majority wereyou knew it was going to be good and if the design choices for a particular title meshed with you, great or even excellent.
This changed in 2011 with the release of Tales of Xillia. Plagued by a rushed development cycle, Xillia failed to implement many of the series staples, was dramatically shorter in length, and completely removed any illusion of non-linearity the series may have once possessed. Its sequel, Tales of Xillia 2, was little more than a band-aid on many of these issues, and is probably the cheapest mothership entry Namco has ever released. I was getting pretty scared at this point, wondering if the series was going to become the cash grab it had been so long stereotyped as, and I wondered if I would ever get to play a unique and fresh feeling Tales game again.
Last year we received Tales of Zestiria. With its fusion system, removal of battle transitions, return of Go-Shiina and massive world map, my fears were temporarily abolished. Zestiria was a game that experimented heavily, and in many cases, did not pull off its intended features and as a result ended up being a game that the fanbase at large reviled. But despite this, I liked Zestiria. It was far too ambitious for its own good, plagued with development issues and rewrites that we will never know the full truth behind and ultimately released in a subpar state. But as I played through Zestiria, between the characters I enjoyed, Go Shiinas incredible additions to the OST, and just a general feeling of being happy to see the series unafraid to take risks once more, I found a warm spot in my heart for Zestiria.
I tell you all this to give you the appropriate context in which to understand my feelings on Berseria. A distant prequel to Zestiria starring the series first female protagonist, Velvet Crowe, I expected it to build upon the ground left behind by Zestiria; bring the unique vision Zestiria failed to create into fruition. What I received instead is the safest, least ambitious Tales game since Xillia. That is not to speak down on its quality. Berseria is polished to near perfection and is incredibly solid, but fails to introduce anything truly unique or exciting to the Tales series from a gameplay perspective.
Where Berseria does shine is in its plot and its characters. Berseria having a female protagonist was already a bit of a shake up for the series, but the game also feels unique in its party interactions and storyline. Velvet and her team are far more morally ambiguous than the previous casts of Tales characters, and it really provides a unique dynamic both between the characters and their relationship to the world and its people. Berseria is a revenge story lead by a protagonist thirsty for the blood of the man who wronged her, and Berseria does not falter from this theme. Add to that some interesting twists and interesting connections to Zestiria, and you honestly have one of the most interesting and narratively exciting Tales titles in a long time. It does fall into some usual Tales pitfalls, such as the second act being a worldwide trip to find macguffins, but ultimately Berserias plot and its characters are interesting and it really throws you in right from the get go.
Berserias battle system is similarly of high quality. I am absolutely a casual Tales fan, so I cant talk about its mechanics at a high level of play, but I really enjoyed my time with Berserias combat. Souls are an interesting resource, and its very satisfying to steal them from enemies or use the souls you have saved up to do break souls, which are different depending on the character you control. I have yet to experiment too deeply with Berserias battle system, but I really think that between its fast pace, new and interesting form of resource management, its entire cast being fun and unique to play and crystal clear and lag free 60 FPS battles, just about anyone would and will have a great time playing it. In summary, both characters and battle system, the two most important aspects of a Tales game, are successfully nailed by Berseria.
Now for my problems with Berseria. Berseria is a game very much built from the framework of Tales of Xillia. The worlds areas are small, filled with little more than souls (which trade in for accessories), the katz chests (where you trade in those souls), and chests with bottles and gels. I was sad to see the world so dramatically reduced in size from Zestiria and the removal of the little non linearity and ability to go off the beaten path presented in Zestiria. I also found myself missing the discovery points of past entries. The biggest disappointments were the the fact that the boat is a point and click mechanic and that the generic caves and environments that have plagued the series since Xillia returned once more here. Due to all of these factors, my sense of adventure in the game was basically shot.
Berseria once again includes minigames, but all of them are given little to no context. Random Katz show up at ports to have you pop balloons and a random NPC in one of the towns challenges you to hanafuda. The arena in this game is nothing more than a dark portal you examine and monsters pop out. Again, these arent critical problems, but they feel like Namco had a checklist, checked each off, and moved on with their day. Theres no soul to any of these side distractions and thats really unfortunate.
At the end of the day, it needs to be said: Berseria is a great game. It is truly the best Tales game released since 2011. It took the Xillia framework and polished it wonderfully. However, the game still plays it very safe and is largely unambitious. Many of its additions are less additions, and more things we have come to expect from this series that have been strangely missing since Xillia. I cant really imagine anyone being offended or put off by this game simply because of how safe it plays its hand. Perhaps to some thats a blessing, but I really hope we continue to get entries to the series that subvert the expectations of the players in the future. For now, I'll enjoy Berseria for what it is; a polished entry into one of my favorite series that undeniably has a lot of love and care put into it that feels just a little too stale to really blow me away.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Tales of Berseria (JP, 08/18/16)
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