Being the bad guy is a thing that too few games do, and even fewer seem to do well. The majority of these games usually involve a karma system that flips from this galaxy’s biggest asshole to Jesus 2.0, and to hell with that. Tales of Berseria does such a good job at not only putting you in the shoes of the antagonist, but at blurring the lines between good and evil.
Tales of Berseria is a hack and slash JRPG, and it’s almost part of the JRPG formula to be slow to start. I don’t want to spoil anything, because the twist at the start of the game has quite an impact if you didn’t see it coming. The game begins well before the events of the main story line, where we get to see the main character, Velvet, lose her humanity. This builds the foundation for a strong narrative that continues throughout the game, and easily makes the story the strongest element of Tales of Berseria. Velvet and a bunch of rag tag prisoners and outlaws break out of jail and set off to destroy The Abbey, the incredibly powerful religious government that took control over all of Midgand, and ushered in an era of relative peace during a scourge of demons.
In addition to creating a likeable group of antiheroes, each character has a well defined personality, and each of them are given their own motivations and ambitions to work together against The Abbey. The characters’ contrasting personalities make for colourful and interesting cut scenes and dialogue, and while I wouldn’t consider the game to be as dialogue heavy as some JRPGs, I never got sick of reading it because the interactions between the characters is fun to read. Not only that, but each character has their own arcs that take place over the course of the story, and gradual character development is done really well.
The world of Midgand is incredibly colourful and easy on the eyes, making Tales of Berseria‘s gorgeous visuals another strong point. The game is also able to run at 60 FPS, so you never miss a detail. Unfortunately this is let down a little bit by the game’s narrow and linear map design, and even though it does a good job at making the environments feel a lot bigger than they actually are, it makes exploration is a little tedious and unexciting.
The core gameplay is somewhat satisfying, although ultimately a bit too complex for its own good. Making contact with an enemy in the overworld cuts away to an arena encounter where the combat takes place, and you can even run up behind enemies to give yourself an advantage. The combat uses a kind of real time/turn based combination where players have a soul gauge that fills over time and is consumed each time a character attacks, and the maximum amount of souls available increases and decreases with some actions, such as inflicting and receiving status ailments and stuns.
The hack and slash combat uses physical and magical attacks depending on which character you control, these attacks are known as artes, and each character’s moveset can be individually customised. In addition to these are hidden artes, which are like special attacks, break souls, which consume a portion of your maximum soul gauge, mystic artes, which are like an ultimate attack… I could go on. Combat is also affected by various factors such as combos, gear stats and upgrades, weakness and resistances, randomised passives on equipment, passives based on inventory materials… it’s all a bit of a clusterfuck that really just boils down to what I would call educated button mashing, since each of the four buttons has four possible attacks depending on what order you use each button in your combo. If my maths is correct, which I don’t claim it is, that’s a whopping 256 possible combos. Not to mention the game is still throwing in various new combat mechanics eight hours into the game.
The biggest let down for me had to be the gear and loot. While exploring the map you can often find sparkling items to pick up, and I’ll tell you now that 90% of them will be chipped copper coins or tarnished silver coins. These exist for no other reason except to be sold for a pittance, and as a giant fuck you for bothering to explore the map. The gear isn’t much better, most of the time enemy drops, treasure chests, and shops sell have the same few items but with slightly different stat changes and random passives. Thankfully there’s a system for dismantling and enhancing gear, which is about the only thing worth spending your money on, so it’s mostly about finding a piece of equipment with a passive you like and dismantling all the other crap to upgrade it.
I believe gear systems can make or break an RPG, and the gear in Tales of Berseria is like the turd on top of the strawberry jam and ass hair cup cake that is the rest of the game. It manages to have the opposite problem of most disappointing games, since the story elements are strong and well crafted and the gameplay elements are what let the rest of the game down. It’s definitely not a bad game by any stretch, but it has just enough bullshit to make this a tale you won’t be telling your grand kids.
Also published on Medium.