On Repeat Like A Broken Record – Tales of Berseria Review
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Platforms: PC, PS3, and PS4 (reviewed)
Revenge is simultaneously impulsive and deep-rooted, impetuous and calculated. Revenge, birthed by jealousy and betrayal and a host of other emotions, absorbs you entirely, entrapping you in a shroud of darkness and burning you with the flames of a thousand suns. For an emotion as elaborate and nefarious as revenge, Bandai Namco’s latest entry in the Tales series, Tales of Berseria, seems to only effectively capture the latter, with slight glimmers of the former here and there. Velvet Crowe, Berseria‘s scantily-clad-revenge-seeking protagonist, is as one-dimensional as protagonists come, and though Bandai Namco attempt to humanize her toward the latter third of the game, teen angst and heavy black eyeliner only goes so far before you start to wonder when she’ll ever grow the hell up. (Thank God most of us have grown out of this phase. Most of us.)
Tales of Berseria puts you in the shoes of Velvet Crowe, a long, dark-haired woman living in the countryside who seeks to become strong enough to join the Exorcists, a group of highly-trained knights charged with eliminating the nascent daemon threat. Under the training of her brother-in-law, “shepherd” Artorius Collbrande, head of the Exorcists and Berseria‘s antagonist, Velvet regurgitates Brother Arthur’s various maxims in an effort to garner the strength necessary to assist the Exorcists with their ongoing quest and protect her younger brother, Laphicet, from the impending doom.
This idyll rapidly goes awry after her little brother is killed on a scarlet night by Arthur – an event that is incessantly referenced throughout the entirety of the game — and Velvet is transformed into the very thing she swore to defeat, thus thrusting you into what is the darkest, most despondent Tales game to date. Regrettably, from here on, for approximately 50 hours, you gather an all-too-familiar group of people, do the same battles, enter the same dungeons, and repeatedly hear Velvet’s strained “I’ll kill you” and “I will have my revenge” over and over and over until, well, she has her revenge.
This narrative is trite, tedious, and utterly vapid, lacking any depth or originality to the premise of the “revenge tale.” (Not that the “revenge tale” is all that deep or original to begin with.) If you’ve seen Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series — or any revenge film over the past 30 or so years — then this narrative is far too recognizable to you: “I will have my revenge,” followed by, “I’ve had my revenge,” the end. A shame considering the overtly darker and far more provocative themes of betrayal, murder, and slavery in Berseria.
The DNA of the Tales series is very much embedded in Tales of Berseria. For being the sixteenth main entry in the series, there are only two noticeably worthwhile differences between Berseria and other Tales games: a solo female lead and the elimination of Chain Capacity (CC), the former something that shouldn’t be unique and the latter something that was introduced in the PS2 remake of Tales of Destiny and returned for Tales of Graces through Tales of Zesteria (which is a sequel to and sorely inferior than Berseria).
Velvet Crowe isn’t the first female character — let alone the first playable female character — in the Tales series, but for some inexplicable reason, Bandai has the gall to propose this “solo female lead” as a selling point. While commendable that Tales finally entered the mainstream by introducing a female protagonist at the helm, Velvet still follows systemic female video game tropes: antagonistic, one-dimensional, and obnoxiously underclothed. The battle system in Berseria is similar to other Tales games, with the exception of the Soul Gauge, a new way of limiting combos while feigning combat freedom. Apart from these two key distinctions, Berseria does nothing aberrant when compared to the other 15 main Tales games and the plethora of spinoffs in the series.
Fights play out the same. While in the overworld, you can choose when to encounter enemies: If you happen to encounter the enemy from behind you get a battle advantage of gaining a soul; get snuck up on and you get a battle disadvantage of losing a soul. After encountering the enemy, you are then transported to an all-too-familiar imaginary battle arena with obvious delimiters. As per previous Tales games, the characters have various artes and specials that can be performed during battle.
Velvet fights using her feet almost exclusively, but she does have a short blade hidden within her gauntlet; this effectively makes her a sword character, thus a lot of her artes are all-too-familiar moves seen by preceding sword characters like Symphonia‘s Lloyd and Kratos, Abyss‘ Luke and Guy, Vesperia‘s Yuri and Flynn, and Graces‘ Asbel and Richard, as well as some moves used by Legendia‘s Senel. This is to say that Velvet’s fighting style doesn’t feel personalized as she’s a more refined amalgam of Tales‘ past. That said, Velvet is still a lot of fun to control, as she is swift, vicious, merciliess, and ferocious, especially when she screams while in daemon form executing artes in quick succession. Sadly, none of the other characters are all that fun to control.
Keeping with the theme of “all-too-familiar,” dungeons (and enemies) in Berseria are not only rehashes of dungeons seen in other Tales games, but also mere color swaps of dungeons explored in the game itself. Because it’s a JRPG, there is backtracking to be done — and lots of it — but Berseria makes backtracking more tedious than it already is by creating banal, static, largely empty locales and dungeons, oftentimes simply replacing shrubbery with a pile of rocks and vice versa. Berseria‘s puzzles are also mere reiterations of puzzles seen in earlier Tales games, with more of an exacerbated emphasis on the suffix “re” than the word “iterate.” Though some puzzles and dungeons are novel and others are downright frustrating, like the dungeon that spawns a myriad of Velvet’s fondest childhood memories or the final dungeon before you reach shepherd Artorius, they are more an exercise in tedium than of true complexity.
Perhaps the most egregious thing Berseria has to offer is the superfluous sexualization of its characters. For being a daemon that has been locked away for three years, then goes out on a strenuous, singular mission to kill her brother-in-law, Velvet Crowe’s outfit surely is at odds with the various climates explored and the copious battles had. (Both of which are commented on by just about every other character and NPC in the game, with Velvet’s response a frequent “I don’t care” or “All I care about is my revenge. I don’t care what I look like.”) Those that transform — either by daemonizing or armitization — and those that don’t are blatantly sexualized.
Take Kamoana or Medissa, the former a daughter of a priestess and the latter a staunch defender of the Exorcists. Prior to becoming daemons, they were understandably dressed, with Kamoana already revealing an absurd amount of skin for being so young (primarily because of the hot climate she lived in) and Medissa fully-clothed to the point of almost being overly-clothed (if that’s a thing). After becoming daemons, even more of Kamoana’s skin is exposed and Medissa’s breasts are large, perky, and nearly falling out of her tunic. Even Innominat, the main antagonist who assumes the body of Velvet’s 10-year-old brother, is uncomfortably sexualized with unnecessarily tight short-shorts and pseudo-garters around his legs.
This hypersexualization, for all intents and purposes, is the most standout thing about Berseria. Everything else, unfortunately, is more of the same: the same battles, the same dungeons, the same enemies, the same artes, the same emotions. With there being 15 mainline Tales games, you would assume Bandai Namco would take more risks to shake up the tired JRPG formula. Bandai employed the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality to the nth degree with Tales of Berseria, and while it may be the best Tales game to date, that’s not enough for a series that’s been running since its introduction to Japan in 1995 on the Super Famicom (Tales of Phantasia) and North America in 1998 on the PlayStation (Tales of Destiny). Although Bandai Namco does introduce some new elements and subtly change old elements, the basic DNA is all-too-familiar.
Tales of Berseria
- Fun Combat
- Risky Narrative
- Darker Tone And Themes
- Trite Narrative
- Rehashed Design
- Overly Sexualized Characters
- Insipid Dungeons And Puzzles