Tales of Berseria Should be the First Tales Game You Play - PC Review
Audio review available:
With the new Tales of Arise announced at E3 slated for a 2020 release, I wanted to revisit the franchise and play a game that has been in my Steam library for a while now. With more than a dozen titles in its main series, its hard to know where to start. While Tales of Symphonia and Vesperia are the two most popular, with many ports and now remasters on the Nintendo Switch, I recommend starting with Tales of Berseria and in this review, I'll explain why.
This won't be an in-depth comparison of the three games but I will be geared toward players with little to no prior experience with the Tales franchise. In the past, I've played some Tales of Symphonia and Vesperia, getting into the first act of each game, but never completing them. These games are traditional JRPGs and expect to invest about 40-50 hours to complete, and a lot more if you are a collector/completionist. The game also has some beautifully drawn anime cutscenes, while most of Berseria's cutscenes are rendered using the in-game engine.
While graphics aren't everything I look for in a game, the anime and stylized graphics hold up very well in Tales of Berseria even after about two and a half years after its release. I prefer these graphics over Symphonia or Vesperia, where all the characters seemed more childlike and stiff animations. In Tales of Berseria, each character's facial expressions were expressive and believable during cut-scenes, despite the lip-syncing being on the poor side.
One aspect of the game that is uniquely JRPG and synonymous with the Tales series is how dialogue takes place between members of your party. While exploring the world, of after cutscenes, the game will use static images of the characters with their voice-overs. Being reminiscent of a visual novel style. While there is much optional dialogue that adds to the lore and backstory, most of the story is conveyed through this method of dialogue. While a staple of the franchise, I found long stretches of dialogue became tedious, even though it was used for character development. While I can see it saving a lot of development time and cost, the same few images are cycled over and over, with no need to be even looking at the screen.
Luckily the voice actors are top-notch, and especially the English voice actors made some of the trivial or excessive dialogue easy to listen to. While I played the game using the English option, you can switch over to Japanese anytime you start up the game. While there was one character that did get a bit annoying, that's not bad at all considering the large and diverse cast. Each character is well developed and has interesting backstories that I was willing to listen to more dialogue to learn about.
Why I was able to finish this game relatively quickly once I started it, compared to the others I tried, was because the more mature and darker tone of the story kept wanting me to learn more. The story revolves around Velvet Crowe who is on a revenge mission to hunt down the person who wronged her. The story starts simple and slowly introduces more complex and crossing storylines, line many JRPGs. Humans, demons, and Malakim, which are a special race of magical beings, all play their role in this unique story. The game notably had many strong female characters, with Magilou, a quirky and mysterious witch, quickly became my favorite character.
While the story has a more serious tone, the game never takes itself too seriously and always takes the opportunity to add humor in its dialogue or unique characters. You can even play the game in different costumes that change the appearance of characters during in-game cutscenes. Sometimes it does feel contradictory to the serious tone of the story, but if you're familiar with the style of the other games in the franchise you will know what to expect. While some dialogue is cliche Japanese pervert humor and contains revealing costumes for female and male characters, the game is still targeted toward and appropriate for younger audiences.
The combat in Tales of Berseria will look familiar to anyone who has seen the action RPG battles from its predecessors. However, as you progress through the game you unlock a variety of attacks that have different affinities that are more effective on specific enemy types. You can pause combat to check enemy stats, strengths and weaknesses. You can evade and block enemy attacks, and give your team members different strategies as they are taken over by auto-play AI.
The combat doesn't have a traditional mana resource to cast spells. Instead, each attack uses up SG, which is represented by the 5 teal diamonds next to the character name. You generally start with three but can gain one by stunning or getting a defeating blow on an enemy. They regenerate on their own if you avoid attacking or being attacked for a couple seconds, and the teal color turns red as you spend available SG. You can also consume one SG diamond, if you have three or more to activate a special Break Souls attack that does significantly more damage or special effects. Running out of these SG diamonds will put you at a disadvantage as your attacks will be automatically be interrupted by the enemy if you are empty. There is also a circular gauge with a yellow number that fills as you use Beak Soul attacks, which are used for swapping out characters of your party once you have more than four, and also used for Mystic Artes, which act like limit breaks and are the most damaging.
While you can button mash and practically make it through the entire game on normal difficulty without even testing half of the different attacks (AKA Artes) the system is deep enough to reward those who take the time to learn it. You can also take control of any character once they join your party, opening up a variety of play styles and different Artes that keep the combat from becoming repetitive. During the beginning of the game, there are tutorials to introduce you to the main mechanics, but at times I felt lost with all the new information and different attacks that become available as you progress through the game. However, you can always go back to the menu to read past hints.
One of the low points of the game for me was the dungeon crawling. While there are a variety of different locations, they all start feeling the same after you see a couple of them. Each one has the same mechanic of finding switches that open different doors that allow you to progress further into the dungeon. The environments aren't very detailed and look like the same passageways with different color paint. I tended to keep my eye on the upper left corner of the map, going to the objective marked instead of actually exploring the areas. Enemies are easy to avoid, as most can't move faster than you can, and battles only engage if you come in contact with them. You can escape from battles by running toward the edge of the battle area, and in the Steam version, you can even escape battles after your character is KO'ed just by holding down the analog stick. If your entire party is knocked out, then you will have to start from your last save point. However, for boss battles, you have the option of changing your equipment, eating food for benefits in battle, and change out your attacks before replaying the fight immediately.
Toward the second half of the game, I tended to avoid as many enemies encounter as possible to progress through the story, but that's not to say that battles aren't worthwhile. With long dungeons and a high density of monsters, it would be unreasonable to kill every monster you encounter. Battles award you items, money, and mastery points toward equipment and skills/Artes. Weapons and gear have special skills that can be unlocked by defeating enemies, and gear can be upgraded at the shop, using resources found exploring or dismantling other weapons/armor. Skills and Artes can be upgraded just by how often you use them in battle.
There are collectible orbs you see in every area early on that allow you to unlock special chests with Katz in them, which sometimes grant cosmetic items and encourage you to explore more of the map. However, unless you're a completionist it won't be worth your time. With so much to do, you can spend an additional 10-20 hours completing side-missions, expeditions, minigames, and even more time with multiple playthroughs replaying the game on NG+, not to mention completing achievements.
With the new Tales of Arise, I hope they continue the more mature tone and incorporate a couple changes. The first is removing the separate battle screen for encounters. Having all enemies present on a map, and being able to attack and dodge anytime outside of town without the need to run up to an enemy to initiate the battle. The second is doing away with the static images and voice-overs during dialogue, and incorporate something more engaging. Maybe by shifting the focus away from so much dialogue and exposition altogether, or create a system like the Witcher or Mass Effect with dialogue options.
For those wanting a taste of what the Tales Of series has to offer, I recommend starting with Tales of Berseria. With a good story, mature themes, diverse and fully fleshed out characters, there is a lot here to enjoy.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review. Let me know what your favorite Tales game is since there will be more time until the new Tales of Arise releases for me to check out another.