Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4 (PlayStation 3 JP only)
So we finally end the Humble Monthly Bundle for September 2018, with one of the longest games I’ve ever played. This is Tales of Berseria.
So I published a review of Tales of Zesteria on May 5th, 2018 and I was a bit savage. It was a good game and I recommended it, but it had so many flaws that I pointed most of them out. Tales of Berseria is a follow up to it and was published the following year, only about 18 months after Zesteria, and for such a large game that should be a big warning sign. Yet, that’s what Bandai Namco did, so it’ up to me to find out if it paid off?
I’m actually shocked, but the answer is, it absolutely paid off. I reread my review of Zesteria after finishing Tales of Berseria, and almost every issue I had was addressed and improved. Tales of Berseria feels like a different game and yet still has that same “Tales” series flavor.
So before we go any further, I’ll talk about sequelitis, probably something I should do often when dealing with a sequel instead of the original game in a series.
In my First Look, I actually said Tales of Berseria is a stand-alone game. Well, the fact is it, it’s not exactly. This actually is a prequel to Tales of Zesteria. However, while the idea of a prequel can sound scary, especially to those of us who still have PTSD from the Star Wars movies, this is actually set 1000 years before Zesteria, and in fact, has very loose links. If you’ve never played Zesteria, you’re not going to be missing much in Berseria.
The two stories have a lot of really interesting connections though, and there are a few characters that are in both games, as well as some really obvious comments about what you’ll see in Zesteria. Many towns appear in both games, however, there are different versions of them, the stories are clearly linked, and it does a bit to try to clean up the mythos of Zesteria, which was very messy to be polite.
At the same time, you can easily play Berseria as a standalone game and not miss too much, just be aware that if there are odd discussions unrelated to the main story, it might be setting up one of those major links. An example is that one of the party members keeps talking about a sister… there’s enough obvious references and a single image of her, that you can figure out it’s a party member from Zesteria. If you don’t know that, you might ask “why isn’t she shown”, or why is the game taking so much time with this side story and not finishing it. The answer is that the story has already been told in the other game, and the ending is finished there. The backstory though is a bit appreciated as it cleans up Zesteria’s dangling pieces of which there were many.
In fact, I feel like Berseria isn’t just trying to be a better game than Zesteria, but it is attempting to fix most of the flaws of Zesteria’s story. I think it succeeds, but at the same time, I also ask if it was really necessary. Berseria can stand on its own without trying to fix the last game’s mistakes. Still, it cleans up a number of major points, clarifies a few more, explains the world of Zesteria, through the lens of Berseria. But, it doesn’t make me like Zesteria more, it only impresses me with how Berseria can stand on its own while attempting to fix the errors of the past…. or future, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to refer to the real world, or game world’s sense of time with that comparison. Maybe both.
So with the discussion of Zesteria out of the way (it’ll come back for references), let’s talk about the story of Berseria on its own. I really like the story in this game, I played this game for over 70 hours. However, where Zesteria had a feeling that you could easily get lost in the story, Berseria’s story is really well done. The main themes are intriguing. Tales of Berseria’s main storyline is set up as daemons vs. the church. The main character, Velvet, is a daemon, who wants to kill the leader of the church Artorius, and gathers a group of helpers to do so.
I really don’t want to give away too much of the story here, because like I said, I enjoyed it. There’s so much in this story that’s done well and kept me enthralled with the game. The game kept building on the story for so long, that I kept wanting to see more of the game to finish the story. I could have written most of this review at 30 hours, but after the entire 70, I’m quite happy with the time spent.
A scene from the very beginning, but there’s actually quite a few anime cutscenes in this game for major moments.
So included with Velvet, is a diverse group, including a demon swordsman, a wacky witch, two spirits called Malaks (similar to Seraphim in Zesteria, though visible), one who looks like Velvet’s brother and is a major part of the story, and the other a cursed pirate Malak known as a Reaper, and a sixth party member which I’ll avoid spoiling here eventually joins the party.
Each of the characters are well developed, unique, and curious individuals. They all have multiple stories revolving around them, as well as major quests and help the story evolve. While Velvet’s story of revenge is the core of the main story, each character’s plots are entwined with that. The demon swordsman Rokurou is trying to take down his brother, a member of the church. The witch, Magilou, has a clear link with one of the leaders of the church as well, and so on.
I mentioned that I wanted to see the end of the game, but something kept happening. I was sidetracked so many times in this game. First, there are skits that the Tales Series is famous for where characters are developed and talk amongst themselves. In some of the Tales Series, these feel like one-offs, but most skits in this game add to the main story or illuminate a character, and I honestly could only pick a few that I wish I didn’t spend the time watching. I saw 400 skits through the game, and that’s a lot but most were really interesting.
Some skits are silly like this, but they bring a light hearted moment in and presented beautifully.
The side plots in the game were very easy to follow as well. Again, after spending 70 hours, I was expecting a few moments of “Who is that?” And the game almost never had me asking that. Characters were well developed, but the game’s story has the major points well laid out so you don’t forget about any of the main threads. It’s an impressive feat and yes, a huge improvement from Zesteria, which allowed it’s story threads to linger for over 10 hours sometimes before popping up suddenly and then disappearing a second time.
The biggest thing with the narrative though is it sounds like it’s an evil vs good story, but the game actually properly develops that concept, and as the game talks about it near the end, it’s more of a story of “reason” vs “emotion”. The church tries to govern by reason and impose its will, but the heroes and others are still focused on being emotional. I really don’t want to go deeper than that because there’s so much here, but the fact is, that theme is important and can be picked up on quite early in the game. The heroes are marked as villains, but when you play as them it’s clear they’re not just evil, though they are driven by different means than the church and are thus singled out.
Overall though, the character development and story are both worth checking out, if you like a good story you’ll find it here. It’s not perfect, and very drawn out, with a huge number of sidequests that could have been trimmed, but overall, I really enjoyed the story and world this game developed.
The world though isn’t just in the story. This is a JRPG, which means you’ll be walking through many areas. Enemies appear as you walk around and you choose to walk into them or try to avoid them as you wish. I attacked most of the enemies to keep grabbing experience but the world as I explored it was the real star. There are so many things to see and do in this world and I kept having trouble staying focused on the main quest.
The environments though for the game are… well, some of the towns are interesting and somewhat memorable due to layouts, but the fields and dungeons are quite generic outside of a few really good locations. While I enjoyed a few town locations, there are three to four times as many that I would describe with a simple “yet another port town”, or “It’s a cave”, or “big field with rocks”. What’s worse is you do backtrack through some of these locations quite a bit.
Pop quiz hotshot, which map is this? Without looking at the minimap I have no clue. It’s very generic at times.
The good news is there’s something interesting in each area, and usually each map. Most of the time it’s just a chest or two, along with an herb that increases stats, but there are also the Katz chests, which I grew to love. The game shows you them early on, and if you collect this spirit currency, called Katz Spirits, you can open the Katz Chest for a price and free a cute animal. For every other box you open, you get an accessory for your characters. This is a very simple addition to the game, but it gave me something to search for, and I enjoyed the process of finding each chest.
In addition to Katz Spirits, which appears on every map, there are tons more to play with. There’s are mini-games in each town, including an excellent card game that I really enjoyed, battle tests and arenas, and treasure. There are so many stories as well in the towns that I just had to check out almost every scene because I wanted to see everything, and enjoyed exploring this world.
Of course, the battle system is also Tales style, though this one relies more on a full 3D battle system, you can run in any direction at any time and then press your face buttons on your controller to deliver combos. I played on normal and I’d love to tell you it’s a very deep system, but in reality, I found it to be a bit button-mashy for a majority of the fights. I played over 10 hours of the battles according to the game, but most individual battles are very short. 10 hours, though, is about the length of a normal game, and that’s just this one facet of the game. I probably spent too much time fighting because I tried to fight every monster, but I didn’t hate the battles themselves or get tired of them. They don’t have me jumping for joy, but I still enjoyed the system as its presented here.
The battles do look good though, and that’s a good thing because you’ll be staring at these a lot.
The player does feel like they get stronger throughout the game, which was something I didn’t feel happening in Zesteria. Of course, there are harder difficulties as well, and those probably require more strategy, though any death requires you to restart from a save game, so I tried to avoid death, and that pushed me away from the higher difficulties after losing a couple of hours of progress accidentally.
What really made the battle system fun to play with is that each character has their own style, and while the game’s abilities fall into three categories (melee, magic, and skills, though using Tales terminology) each character had their own flair or style and I enjoyed playing as five of the six characters, only really disliking the caster character due to being a fan of the more melee style.
In battle though, the combat is fast and exciting and simplified. I could use my one or two chosen buttons to attack with no trouble. Besides the button mashing, there are also Blast Skills (now known as Break Souls), and Mystic Arts from Zesteria, but they felt like a bigger part of the combat. I complained about the twenty different parts of the combat in Zesteria, in Berseria, each part of the combat system feels more streamlined and better presented. Some of it still doesn’t work well, like the Soul Gauges, which took a while to get used to. However, everything is so much tighter than I felt like I had a firm grasp and wasn’t leaving much on the table by about the halfway point.
The Break Souls are a great example of how Berseria approaches to combat. Each character has their own Break Soul with its own rules. Velvet can grab an ability from her Break Soul attack and become “Theronized” as her health drains away, but she becomes more powerful and can use a major attack against the enemy. I actually used this quite often because it’s a powerful attack and a risk vs reward system that worked well. The other characters have their own Break Soul attacks. The Pirate Eizen can only use his Break Soul on stunned or downed enemies, but it’s quite powerful. Magilou’s Break Soul will improve party casting, but also can absorb enemy spell casting and trigger a counter after enough are absorbed. Again there’s so much variety in these abilities that it’s worth trying them all out, and the AI will use them skillfully if you prefer.
In true Tales fashion, this is yet another game that constantly has more to tell you all through the game. About halfway through, which was somewhere around 35 hours in, the entire battle system feels like it’s finally set up, but even there, more break souls were added, and the final dungeon had even more skills. The game doesn’t stop adding to its system, but at least here it doesn’t feel like a number of bolted-on features at least in the battle system. It’s good that the entire complicated battle systems aren’t just dropped on the player, and I have to be honest, the evolving combat did keep me interested until the story had fully hooked me.
The battle system here is really solid as well, I played for so many hours, but somehow I wasn’t getting bored of the combat. I do feel like I fought too many battles, but that’s because I only paid attention to my levels near the end, and realize that fighting “quality” enemies or challenging encounters are more important than fighting a number of enemies for your experience points. Fighting two enemies at the same time should be more challenging, but can increase the rewards by 5x, and is worth it if you already are overleveled a bit. Granted this revelation came in the final dungeon, so it was a bit late to be usable for me but was still worth knowing.
One thing that kept me engaged with the battle system, was the Grade given at the end of the battle. At the end of a battle, your actions are calculated out and you get a score, for normal enemies, it’s usually between 0 and 2 points, though you can specifically go in and see how the game came to that score. The Grade you get at the end of the battle is common to the Tales series, but this time around, you can use it to master your equipment. Each piece of equipment has a specific grade required. When you earn enough grade, you “master” the equipment, and get its master skill. That master skill can be anything from 5 points to an attack stat, to adding a defense from a specific type of monster, or just more damage.
The grade in the upper right seems very specific but it trickles in at a good rate.
Wearing a piece of armor that you already mastered, allowed you to double the power of that master skill as well, so it can make the armor more powerful, or make that skill remain after you switch armor later. Collecting these master skills, made me feel like I was powering up my party often, and chasing the grade points in-game, earned the skills faster.
The equipment though does require a decent amount of micromanagement. Early gameplay required me to change a piece of armor almost every battle. However, the values required do rise quite a bit and by the end I rarely had to change armor because it was mastered. However I kept chasing these goals because the mastery was important to the growth of the characters, and gave a great reward.
Near the end of the game, I started getting too much armor and having to sell it off just too often and that was a shame. I could have used a quick sell button so I could just ditch almost all my armor. The majority of the game didn’t have the problem but there were at least four or five times that I just had to sit in a shop trying to sell all my armor or dismantle the pieces. There’s also an enhancement system to power up your armor, but the fact is the master skills felt so valuable and I was changing armor and weapons so often any enhanced weapon was quickly replaced so it wasn’t as necessary.
Now I do have to talk a bit about the time spent in the game, I keep mentioning 70 hours, and that’s a lot. As a kid, I used to adore long games. Probably because they were a better value and some of my favorite games where long RPGs. (Final Fantasy “II” and “III”, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana) However, I’m now a reviewer, and I’m married, I don’t have the time to devote to one game like I used to.
I feel like I can defend the time spent on this game for the most part. Yet, about 60 percent of the way through the game started to abuse the time I was spending and had a number of areas where you had to backtrack. There’s also a number of points in the end game where the player has to go between major points in the game where he’s already traveled, and the game seems to slow down. I don’t know if this is just padding, but it certainly felt like it. There is a base with no enemies that made me walk around quite a bit, and it’s an odd situation because the game shows that it has teleport technology in a few places, just not there. However, it also seemed to want to avoid giving the player access to that. There’s also a number of times you go to the capital city to see or talk to a single person then to go back on the road.
There is a point where you finally get for lack of a better term, a hoverboard. The hoverboard allows you to quickly speed across the map and instantly kill any enemy that’s 10 levels or more below your current level without rewards. However, that piece comes quite a bit late and has some stipulations about usage. The player gets it about 75 percent of the way through the game and already had to do a lot of backtracking. It is a huge improvement to exploration but it should have been presented earlier, and the stipulations do limit its effectiveness.
I do also want to talk about the sidequests again, and additional parts of the gameplay. There’s a lot of them, and like I said, the game could have possibly cut out some of them to improve the flow, but I kept finding myself drawn to them because I wanted to see one more thing, and they kept keeping me entertained. If they didn’t, such as the balloon popping mini-game that relied on the combat system, I could skip them and eventually find something else that would entertain me.
I particularly liked the expedition system that you eventually get rather early in the game. The expeditions allow you to send a ship out to explore different areas. It’s a minor system, and mostly used as a way to get food for cooking, but at the same time, I loved to check what happened on the expedition and if I got a new area unlocked, or a new recipe. Each expedition was a minor moment of excitement and I applaud that.
I already mentioned the card game, the balloon popping, but there are also a damage contest, an odd little minigame with a friend of the party skipping on the water, and a match game with cute characters, and I’m also sure I missed a couple. Not every minigame is great. The worst is easily the fishing game which feels like they had to put one in. You choose a lure and then get a fish, that’s it. Now, these are just little games, and in addition, there are a ton of requests made throughout the game to add to the story. Each character gets a major sidequest that has a conclusion near or after the end of the game give each character an interesting and unique story to track down.
I keep talking about how much time I spent on this game, and there’s a reason. The game is long, and it takes a lot of time if you want to explore it or see it. It might take 40ish hours if you don’t get sidetracked but I just had a lot of fun getting sidetracked in Tales of Berseria.
I’ve often used the comparison of quantity to quality in games when discussing how long they are and yes, Berseria is definitely a quantity game, but it also has a lot of quality to its gameplay and adventure. I like Berseria at the end of the day, not just because it kept me busy, but because it was entertaining as it did it. I spent 70 hours here, and while they might not be the most amazing hours, and perhaps the game is a too long by a little bit. I still never tried to rush to the end of the game, because I enjoyed the majority of the experience and the journey was worth it.
Still, there are some problems. This is a traditional JRPG, that means there is going to be a lot of talking, a lot of skits, some silliness. There’s not much “Japanese” storytelling or humor that only fans of Japanese culture will understand, or enjoy, but there’s a lot of tangents here that do go on for a small amount.
While the battle system is good, and I have praised it, I have to admit that it’s not well explained at the beginning. A number of features are trial and error, and it doesn’t change much in the final hours. It’s serviceable but if it wasn’t for the exploration and story, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much.
The game also does take about 10 hours to really get the story going. I appreciate the slow opening, but it also shows it’s hand a bit at the beginning for no reason, as you can see in the first look, and then pulls back a bit too hard hiding the real story. The fact is the opening could have been a little shorter, and overall the game probably could have a few other cuts that may have changed the length of the game and improved the experience. There’s a rather long and annoying part where you have to do a couple of quests for a woman to make her help you, and there are a few other mandatory “sidequests” that in hindsight didn’t add enough to the experience.
Though none of these problems really hurt my opinion of Tales of Berseria. Tales of Berseria does a good job at being a JRPG, and a Tales game. It’s fun and interesting, but if you aren’t looking for a heavy story based game, or a game without a ton of action it’s probably not for you. Ultimately I give Tales of Berseria a
I enjoyed it, I think most fans will, but this is definitely made specifically for the fans of JRPGs, and I’m ok with that.
Final Thoughts: A very long, and drawn out game of good quality. Tales of Berseria lives up to the Tales series in a fine form. It fixes the flaws of the Tales of Zesteria and adds a great game to the lineage.
Stats: 70 hours (in game time) played, 29/51 achievements earned