Tales of Berseria is the darkest Tales game, but it’s
also the most human. It tackles complex themes in relatable ways, like betrayal,
revenge, and how pain brings out the worst in us. This makes it shine, and is a
step in a right direction after coming off the disappointing Zestiria. However,
Berseria still has its missteps when it comes to pacing and dungeon design.
Even so, I liked the shift to a more somber tale that gave me plenty to think
about during – and even after – the journey.

Berseria focuses on Velvet, a woman who has seen her
share of tragedy. One devastating event sends her over the edge, beginning a
deadly quest for revenge. The opening is powerful and grim, illustrating why
Velvet turned into the hardened person that she is. She’s not your typical
Tales protagonist full of good deeds; she just wants vengeance, and most of the
time she’s downright cruel and cold in the process. I found this refreshing,
because even when Velvet is at her worst, I still felt for her due to how well
the game set up her backstory. Berseria has a lot of twists that I won’t spoil,
but Velvet meets other misfits and they uncover corruption as their world is
overrun by demons.

While a revenge tale isn’t new ground for
storytelling, it still works for building up to key moments and making them
relatable. Berseria is at its best when it shows the reasoning behind your
allies’ actions and developing them in interesting ways. For instance, watching
one character who didn’t have free will slowly turn into his own person is a
highlight. You have a lot scenes and dialogue to shift through, and it’s a slow
burn, but it’s worth it for how it all comes together. I wasn’t even sure how I
felt about the cast for the first 10 hours of the game, but the payoff is in
how they grow and change.

When you’re not bonding with your party, you’re out on
the battlefield. The action-based battle system has a lot of depth, and new
wrinkles continue to be introduced well into the journey. Combat is all about
exploiting enemy weaknesses and chaining combos. Everything revolves around a
soul gauge, which depletes as you attack. I enjoyed strategizing around this
because it forced me to make the most out of my every move. If your soul gauge
is low, your attacks do less damage, are more easily defended, and leave you
open to counterattacks. This means spamming the attack button is not in your
best interest. You can restore the gauge by idling, or you can steal souls from
enemies to refill it by stunning them, inflicting status effects, or defeating
them, but beware your enemies can do the same.

This doesn’t even factor in special attacks like
powerful mystic artes or break souls, which have the power to extend combos and
their power even when your gauge is running low. The battle system is all about
making the most out of your soul gauge, and rewards you for doing so in how
fast you can annihilate foes and in your loot drops. It took me a while to wrap
my head around all its intricacies, but once I did, I had a blast pushing its
limits. I also appreciated how easy all the special moves are to execute, and
it helps that all your artes are on the face buttons.

Dungeons are still a struggle, filled with lots of
boring busywork. You flip a lot of switches, break obstacles, and backtrack
constantly. The environments themselves leave much to be desired, and sometimes
you revisit dungeons and areas, which gets
tiresome. The backtracking got on my nerves the most. You eventually get a
hoverboard to quickly traverse areas, but this makes it harder to pick up items
vital for crafting. In addition, you can purchase items to fast travel, but they
only allow you go to certain points, which doesn’t fix the problem.

About halfway through the game, you also get your own
headquarters. At first, this seems cool, but Berseria doesn’t do many exciting
things with it. After every mission, you come back and chat with your party to
plan your next move, but it settles into a boring rhythm quickly. The
headquarters’ layout is awful, making it inconvenient, and you’re often
required to go from one end to the other. You also have to battle through this
area repeatedly.

As for bonus content, you have your own pirate ship,
but you don’t ever get to sail it yourself; you send your crew on expeditions
to collect extra goodies for you like ingredients for cooking. The game also
has its share of minigames and things to collect. I most enjoyed the bounty
hunts and the side quests involving characters, such as one trying to get her
comedy show off the ground.

Tales of Berseria does some interesting things,
and is the most captivating Tales storyline in some time. I like the majority
of its ideas, but the execution often feels half-realized. It still feels like
the franchise isn’t making big enough leaps, and is just content to bring its fans
more of the same. By now, you probably know if you’re okay with that. Nothing
ever made me stop playing, but the flaws are impossible to ignore.