Saturday, January 28, 2017

Tales of Berseria (PS4)

Bandai Namco's "Tales of Berseria" is a thematic story driven action RPG that delves deep into the human psyche through a varied storytelling presentation that includes a plot of revenge taken on by an exorcist's apprentice who was wronged in the worst sort of way. Velvet, that wronged protagonist, starts off in a semi-happy life tending to her ailing younger brother Laphicet while abiding by Arthur's guidance, and instructions. The latter of whom is a man of the utmost seriousness, and who is loyal to his duties as the town's unwelcome savior/exorcist. While the world in which Velvet, and the trio of main role-players is oppressed by a surrounding demonblight, or rather an unexplained plague which turns humans into daemons, the lot of them push to make the most of their humble lives. Like many people in the real world they aspire to do great things in the midst of dark times, but suffice to make ends meet through hard work. Unfortunately for them the aspiration, and dreams for a better life are cut short one fateful red mooned night due to a certain character's selfish decision, and the resulting seeking of vengeance by the wronged, Velvet. As it were Velvet's quest, and thirst for revenge is what set's the stage for the bloodthirsty battles ahead, and drives those who join her cause to fight alongside her.

When it comes down to the gameplay in 'Tales of Berseria' there's a lot to it. Gameplay, as it were is half combat focused, and half story driven in a multi-layered sense. I have to admittedly say that this is by far one of the more complex, and deeply involved JRPGs I've ever played in regards to combat. The equipment, artes magic attacks, and character setup is branching in nature, and extends itself through a combo oriented battle system that is in itself more intricately woven than it appears. Unlike a lot of JRPGs out there 'Tales of Berseria' features a mostly action focused battle setup that puts you in control of Velvet as well as a handful of other joining characters including Magilou the awkward witch, and Rokurou the half demon among others. In the heat of battle the game also turns the remaining non-active characters into assisting AI controlled characters (including Velvet when active character is changed) who will aid you while you take on the main threats. At your disposal you have a bladed melee weapon to do combo damage, or other weapon depending upon active character as well as a magical attack known as "artes" which will feed into your melee combos via elemental damage. Artes, as they were can be assigned to each face button in an assignable sequence of four for a combo string effect. Also at your disposal when playing as Velvet is her unique ability to attack using her Therion afflicted arm. This inherent daemon-like ability utilizes souls (specifically a refilling soul gauge), and break soul technique to inflict more damage upon enemies. Along with the mastery of equipped equipment which brings forth it's own perks in the way of added 'martial artes (artes that boost health regen, defense, attack ...)' Velvet becomes a foe more than capable of dispatching her intended target/s. Other characters like Rokurou also have different types of artes (hidden artes for him), and capabilities that add variety to every combat situation when selected as your controlled in-battle anti-hero/heroine.

While aggressive combat is a main focus in 'Tales of Berseria' battle in the game is not just limited to melee, or artes enhanced combos. You'll find that certain other battle options can also be tweaked in the "Touchpad" menu settings, and used when facing the daemons or other characters of interest. This includes the option to equip equipment that will feed into your character's ability to heal, and overcome certain battle situations through added mastery perks. Each piece of equipment can be mastered or be discovered in a mastered state depending on how you obtained it. Mastered equipment pieces have added stat specific character benefits when used in battle. Things like health regeneration after killing an enemy, or resistance to certain types of attacks are among those. Aside from that Velvet, and her company of unlikely friends also has the ability to move evasively via a sidestep that consumes a small amount of soul gauge (L1 + Left Thumbstick). Velvet, in particular can block by holding down "L1" as can Magilou, Rokurou, and the rest of the assisting cast. The Therion break soul attack for Velvet will also benefit her, and can be activated when you have the appropriate amount of break souls by pressing "R2" at the start of a combo, or as a combo ender. Either of which approach will change the benefits of using said attack. The change being either the extension of the use of the break soul attack, or the extension of the combo into an artes special attack.

Finding enemy weakness is another thing Velvet, and her team of wayward wanderers are capable of. In battle, when facing an enemy or enemies you can press and hold "R1 (switch targets with 'Right Thumbstick')" to freeze the battle and show a highlighted enemy's strengths, and weaknesses along with their HP (hit points). This helps you assess the situation better, and assign what artes need to be assigned to dispatch the daemons or exorcists back from whence they came.

I should also mention that you can switch active characters in the battle menu, or in battle. Characters which each carry different attacks/weapons, equipment, and artes. By pressing "L2 /R2" in the battle menu you can switch between playable party members, or you can switch mid-battle holding down "L1", and pressing "Right/Left" on the controller's DPad. There are stat perks for the character who ends battle with the biggest combo, so that should be considered when switching between them. You should also consider that a downed party member can only be revived with a "life bottle?" healing item, and that healing before a KO requires a special apple item. They both can be found in the various environments, gained from downed enemies, or bought through the weapons merchants within towns. Speaking of such items you will also find materials, ingredients, and items worth selling as you travel, battle, and collect the small glowing orbs. Some of these will come in handy later, so be careful what you sell for gald (the in-game currency).

As far as the mechanics explanation goes things are definitely thrown at the player left, right, and center as tutorials pop-up in battle, and in non-battle scenarios early on in the playthrough. At first it may take a while to adjust to, but there is an in-game reference guide in case you need to go back, and relearn something. Things in the menu system are also explained through added text. I'd say the way mechanics are introduced is done well enough though, but that having all that information thrown at you within the first portion of the game can make things confusing, especially if you click past it without taking time to really read it.

When it comes to travel, and point to point objectivity in 'Tales of Berseria' you'll find that the game's chapter-like scenarios provide an accessible onscreen map with icons, entrances, and exits shown for a better understanding of what it is you need to do. Sometimes the story is propelled forward by simply traversing the various areas, and their labyrinthine layouts. Sometimes it's done through NPC (Non-Player Character) interactions, or by battle as well. Sometimes it's even a mixture of the three. This accompanied by the somewhat static yet border inclusive skit based character conversations (Press "TRIANGLE" when the prompt appears in the bottom right corner), and animated anime cutscenes moves the storytelling forward in a way that is more cinematic than what you usually see in such a gaming experience.

It should be noted that when I mention those basic objectives that that's not the only thing you'll find yourself doing in 'Tales of Berseria'. There are side quests, and various hidden items to collect/unlock as you travel from 'point A' to 'point B'. Among those things is a quirky Katz chest quest where you'll be collecting Katz orbs to unlock, and free Katz creatures. There's definitely plenty to do aside from addressing the direct story elements, and fighting Velvet's foes. Always be sure to scout every area thoroughly for hidden chests, and items as they can enrich further the experience you are having.

As far as a visual presentation goes things are shown mostly in a third-person perspective with a clear view of Velvet, and her rag tag team of misfits as well as nicely rendered environments that are rich in color, and detail. Even the character design is an upgrade in comparison to a lot of JRPGs in that character movement isn't as stiff, and that faces of said characters (including the mouths) are animated to a point that it sets them apart while giving them individual personalities. Speaking of personalities when you are engaging in NPC conversation a floating smiley emoji will appear, and change in emotion according to how they feel after the conversation is done. It doesn't really seem to hold sway with game mechanics, but it definitely adds character to the normally easily forgotten cast.

Back to the map reading, and environmental engagement ...

While following the map (which can be brought up using "SQUARE") you can pinpoint where you need to go by following up with a pressing of "R1". This will bring up a second menu view of the map, and include a side text description narrowing down the tasks to be undertaken. The actual environments you'll tread underfoot as Velvet often times include branching yet basically linear paths with optional off to the side routes, and rooms that contain hidden items, treasure, or equipment which can be looted for your characters' benefit. The treasures, in particular, come in a three colored variety with each color coded treasure chest containing a different kind of item. There's the bronze colored chests which contain lesser items, the silver chest which contains basic equipment items, and the gold chest which contains the rarer equipment items. This is a loot system which is similar to that of the latest 'Sword Art Online' game that I reviewed. Aside from chests you'll find small glowing golden orbs on the floor which are usually materials that can be sold, or are health related items which can be beneficial in battle. There's that, and the 'break souls' which come into play during the escape portion of the playthrough. The 'break souls', in particular tie-in with Velvet's Therion attack that I spoke of earlier. By collecting a certain number of break souls you can extend the amount of combos dished out, add damaging artes attacks depending on if you use it as combo starter or ender, and can refill health when an enemy is defeated. Also depending on how you play it you can extend the use of the break soul mechanic, but you have to keep in mind that it comes with a price.

By using the break soul attack you will gain a soul in your soul gauge for use (basically keep your combos available for use), but also give the enemy two souls. Not only this, but if Velvet becomes "Therionized" her health will continue to deplete until she meets the requirements to break out of it. That being the application of a proper attack. The trade off is the less health Velvet has in the Therionized state the more damage she deals. As such you have to weigh which battles this is best used in, and which ones it is not.

In a nutshell you'll be playing through the path littered environments doing exploration, conversing with the NPCs, and looting until battle rears it's ugly head. Once met with a decisive story forwarding battle, or conversation you'll advance to a new area where the process will repeat. Not to downplay gameplay, or anything, but that's the gist of it. What really makes this game attractive, and motivates the player to continue is the story being told through multiple character inclusive angles, and the deep seeded combat system that isn't as button mashy as it seems. The story itself is very well paced as well making it more of a theatrical pleasure to watch unfold than one laden, and lost among too many menial tasks. At the beginning things are slow going getting you invested in the characters, and their plight, but it's a pacing that is more than tolerable. It's this initial getting to know things that has you sympathizing with Velvet, and pushing forward through extreme adversity to see her revenge through to the end. As with a lot of JRPGs though things aren't necessarily as they seem, and there are plenty of twists, turns, and surprises to enjoy as you play through 'Tales of Berseria'.

Now for some interesting features ...

Some of the things not often mentioned in reviews in regards to 'Tales of Berseria' are the inclusion of interchangeable character costume pieces, the controller light which is a reddish pink when playing, and the fact that part of the spoken dialogue is done through the controller's speaker. In the case of  characters' attire you can change their hair, and clothes to match different in-game versions. They are mostly aesthetic changes, but can be tweaked a little further than that with up to three interchangeable accessories that can be obtained through gameplay. These accessories are ranked by stars, and may or may not gift character benefits. The light, as it were is just an interesting thing that some game developers take advantage of. I haven't paid too close attention to it though, and there's a chance it might change further when other characters in the game are speaking. Lastly the spoken dialogue through the controller is not as muffled, or distorted as you think it might be. It actually sort of makes the characters seem like they are in the room with you. As odd as that may sound. It's a neat feature nonetheless.

Other things worth noting are the menu bestiary which includes an image, and stat breakdown of all enemies/characters encountered. It offers up the characters weakness, and strengths for reference purposes as well. There's that and the main menu's "Synopsis" section which gives you a textual breakdown of each of the story's chapters in brief form. As it's title suggests it summarizes the plot for reference purposes in case you forget something, and need to better understand what it is you are currently doing in-game.

The verdict, as it were ...

As far as my thoughts on 'Tales of Berseria' go I feel this is not only a game worth buying, but that it's one worth experiencing for yourself. With all things weighed I think the story, and combat in this game are truly it's strong points. The darker story itself will no doubt keep you drawn in from beginning to end, and the combat will keep you busy enough without overstaying it's welcome. I know I spoke of combat being complex, but it's not overbearingly so. You more or less have to make choices on how you approach the fight in order to come out victorious in the more difficult circumstances. The game's battle system is a bit lenient in that sense, and offers different ways to approach each fight, if slightly so. If you want to perfect your battle approach however you will definitely have to mind your equipment, opponents, and character settings. Definitely pay attention to the tutorials. Other than those things i think the game is absolutely gorgeous. It is beautiful graphically, has a very talented cast of English voice actors, and an impressive soundtrack. There's nothing to really frown upon when it comes "Tales of Berseria"

VERDICT:  A Definite Buy For JRPG Fans!!!

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