In the PlayStation 2 and 3 eras, Bandai Namco got a little out of control with its go-to JRPG series, cranking out a new Tales game just about every year. After falling victim to diminishing returns, with overworked developers unable to match the magic of Tales of Symphonia, the company shifted to a calmer, more strategic release slate. The result was an impressive last-gen sendoff in Tales of Xillia and its sequel. Now after spending nearly five years in a development, Tales is ready for its current-gen debut with the staggeringly impressive Tales of Berseria.
Games: Tales of Berseria
Consoles: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: January 24
Tales games have always thrived or died based on the strength of their writing, with the visuals and combat serving as little more than window dressing for players to experience deep, involved storytelling. Some entries, such as Tales of Legendia and Tales of the Abyss, were so weighed down with jumbled lore that their characters could never really connect with fans. The writers take a simpler, more pragmatic approach with Bersiera, introducing a relatable heroine With a clear goal, then complicating matters by adding several factions with competing interests. But by maintaining a core focus, the story can meander without losing its direction.
The protagonist, Velvet Crowe is a woman who has been hassled all her life by dark forces that ravaged her village, devastated her family and locked her away in prison under false pretenses. The blight comes as a blessing as well as a curse, because once freed she finds herself in command of magical powers that can vault her to help find the justice she craves. Teaming with a group of powerful warriors she befriends while not always being quite sure she can trust, Velvet embarks on a quest of sweet revenge.
Series veterans will appreciate tweaks to the Linear Motion Battle System, which lets you move your characters around the battlefield and tweak the camera on the fly. You juggle physical and magical attacks with battle enhancements dubbed Artes, which can freeze enemies in place, limit their attacks or poison them to drain away their health. The tipping point for many battles is when you decide to unleash your devastating Break Soul special moves, which unleash your strategically-managed Soul Gage in tide-turning smackdowns. Use a Break Soul too early and your enemies have a better shot at recovering and responding. Wait too long and you could be taken down before you have a shot at riding a Break Soul to victory.
As with any JRPG, there’s little chance of enjoying Tales of Berseria unless you allow it to become your obsession until you see it through to the end. Tolerate limitations of the genre, such as wordy dialogue, super-emo characters and a linear storyline with little wiggle room for improvisation, and you’ll find it returns your attention and patience with rich story beats and deep connections to its heroes and villains. Combat is more fluid than in previous entries, and the stunning visuals help drive home the point that Tales has come a long way since its PS2 days. The extra years in development paid off well, granting a welcome rebirth for a series that is no longer stale.
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Tales of Berseria Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
Order Phil Villarreal’s novel, Zeta Male, here.