A tale of betrayal, revenge, and sickening discovery.
Every couple years, Namco Bandai publishes another entry into its storied Tales of… franchise. Fans of the series eagerly await each game, expecting a new outlook on its real time battle system, a lengthy and generally solid narrative, memorable characters, and real and enjoyable party banter. Each release tends to hold true to those expectations, which is one of the reasons Tales of… has existed successfully since the days of the Super Nintendo. Tales of Berseria is no different in this long line of games, but it vaults the Tales of… series into some pretty unfamiliar territory: Tales of Berseria offers players the first Tales of… game to solely feature a female protagonist (Tales of Xillia gave players a choice between a male or female lead, but Berseria is solely Velvet).
As Velvet, the bloodthirsty female protagonist, the player is thrust into a world controlled by the infamous Abbey, a religious institution founded by none other than Velvet’s ex-brother-in-law Artorious – the now infamous Shepherd. Once a peaceful girl, Velvet is stricken with revenge after Artorious sacrificially slaughtered her doting brother, Laphicet, during the chronicled blood moon. Artorious, far too powerful for the young Velvet, imprisons her, now a raging therion, in the deepest pit of Titania, a prison island. There, the Abbey feeds her various daemons.
From the inception of Tales of Berseria, the player is on the wrong side of “good”. Velvet is given aide in escaping Titania, and she teams up with a ragtag band of daemons, traitors, Malak (spiritual beings generally used as tools by the Abbey’s exorcists, those with the ability to rid the world of its daemonblight), and witches in order to exact her revenge on Artorious. In usual Tales of… tradition, the players must venture through an enormous world and partake in countless action packed battles to reach their goal. And in normal Tales of… tradition, the players are treated to, perhaps, one of the series’ most impactful twists. I’m a general fan of Tales of… narratives, but Tales of Berseria, serving as a prequel to 2015’s Tales of Zestiria, offers one of my favorite Tales of… stories.
Generally, in Tales of… stories, you take on the persona of “the good guy”. In Zestiria, you are Sorey, who is on his journey to becoming the Shepherd who will save the world. In Xillia, you play as either Milla or Jude on their adventures to save the world. In Graces F, you’re trying to stop your old pal Richard from destroying the world. The list goes on for quite a while. In Tales of Berseria, you’re technically the villain – at least in the eyes of the public. You see, to them, the Abbey protects the populace from daemons and the daemonblight, thus ensuring them all a peaceful life. As Velvet and her crew, you disrupt the Abbey’s activities – whether justified is up to the narrative and the player to discern – which has the potential to leave towns in ruin.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Tales of Berseria continues to improve upon its own system. Battles in Berseria is set in a traditional battle ring where you can run freely with Velvet & Co. You can set her artes to each button (X, O, Square, or Triangle), and you can include in your combos the addition of Velvet’s therion arm and mystic artes. Together, you can chain extensive combos and feast on the elemental weaknesses of enemies to create an efficient approach to battle. You can issue commands to your allies, but they tend to battle well – perhaps better than any Tales of… allies of past. Additionally, Tales of Berseria included a new expedition system where you can send a crew to search newly discovered land in hopes of finding treasures, fashion attachments, items, and more.
Visuals in Tales of Berseria serve as a stark contrast to the game’s dark nature and narrative. Colors are vibrant, characters have an anime-esque aesthetic, and the scenery, on my 4k Sony TV, is gorgeous. But just as tactfully achieved is the game’s use of the spreading daemonblight, and dark, fog like substance that forces the inner daemons of the common folk to surface. If you delve deeper into the ideology of the daemonblight, you can grasp the metaphor Tales of Berseria (as Zestiria did before) tries to portray – that people all have their demons, and that, if left unchecked, we can let them surface and devour our sense of self. In Berseria, those afflicted with daemonblight – or those who could no longer control their darker nature – transform into beastlike daemons. Often, they seem to embody a creature that appears to symbolize whatever caused them to turn in the first place.
Sound in Tales of Berseria is also a pretty successful piece, as it usually is. The composition tends to capture its colorful aesthetics masterfully, switching between subtle hymns and boisterous tunes; the hues of a small town whistle with serenity while racing through the maps, dodging or activating enemy encounters, blasts a full horn ensemble. Battle music is as aggressive as the combat mechanics, and unlockable costumes allows for a change to battle hymns. It’s not a perfect soundtrack by any means, but it’s pretty darn good. Likewise, voice acting is solid in Tales of Berseria, with the talented Cristina Vee separating herself from her comfort zone to play the badass Velvet.
For fans of the Tales of… series, Tales of Berseria will certainly please. Newcomers to the Tales of… series and/or RPG lovers will both find plenty to enjoy in the game, whether it be through a solid narrative, enjoyable and fast paced combat, collecting gear, and much, much more. It’s an improved experience over Tales of Zestiria, in my opinion, and perhaps one of my favorite Tales of… entries. Only time and reflection will tell as to whether it surpasses Xillia. If anything – and if you enjoyed Tales of Zestiria – Tales of Berseria serves as one of the genre’s best prequels, and it holds up particularly on its own.