First impressions can sometimes be deceiving. After the beautiful looking Final Fantasy XV, Tales of Berseria looked a little bland. On the other hand, under the surface there's a finely paced Japanese role-playing game with a long and complex history for players to immerse themselves in.
Berseria is the sixteenth entry in the series, and it's played in the third-person. It was released in Japan in August of last year, and a date for the Western release has been set for the end of January. The preview code was quite short, so our experience doesn't represent the final impressions of the game, although it was long enough for us to get a good idea as to what we can expect.
The story takes place in the same world as Tales of Zestiria, but long ago in the past. It offers a story full of deception and demons, and that plays out against a struggle for power. The plot ingredients are very basic, but still interesting enough to keep the player going at the beginning of what feels like a linear game in the making.
Along with her crew the main character, Velvet, moves from section to section, the main thing driving them forward being a search for revenge. Interestingly, Velvet's position in the world is somewhere between good and evil, since she is fighting against the villagers and against cities protected by exorcists. The ever-growing crew consists of lots of different character types, from mages to demon samurai soldiers. Unlike Final Fantasy XV, the appearance of these characters can be altered.
Battles are fought in real-time using a system called the Linear Motion Battle System. The end result is something similar to what you'd normally find in a fighting game, with different combos factoring into combat. Basic fights start and end in no time at all, which means that the whole area can be cleared of enemies pretty quickly, and you can get loot and experience points along the way. The bigger fights require more tactics and the use of healing items.
If you're not familiar with the series, Berseria comes with its own vocabulary. Different strikes are called "artes", and mana is called "souls" (you get used to it pretty quickly). By combining different artes, these strike combos end with powerful mystic artes and Soul Break strikes, which makes your combo meter grow over its natural length. A funny aside, whoever makes the final strike on an enemy gets the most bonus experience points. There is some obvious clunkiness in the animations, which makes the combat look a bit less spectacular than it should. The fighting system itself is effective, though, but we still hope that the final version offers more options and variety in terms of the combat system.
When it comes to both the visuals and audio, Tales of Berseria is not the most impressive game we've ever played. Textures are messy even on PC, and the environments lack proper shape and vegetation. On the other hand, loading times are short across the board, which makes up for it a little. Characters are not that detailed, but with their weird outfits they do have a lot of personality. A special mention also needs to go out to the anime cutscenes, which are well made.
The plot progresses mainly via cutscenes which rendered in-engine. This means that characters' animations and facial expressions aren't as detailed as we'd have liked. Still, the voice acting is good in Japanese (although it's only alright in English). Maybe they lack the necessary cast to realise it to its full potential; for example the "old man of the village" sounds like a 30-year-old. We thought that in Japanese the conversations are more enthusiastically done.
After we'd finished the demo we came to the conclusion that Tales of Berseria had left a more positive impression than expected. The relatively bland graphics can be forgiven because of the interesting story, and (at least during the beginning of the game) the combat system was very engaging. Tales of Berseria may not end up a classic, but judging from what we've seen so far, the final game is shaping up to be decent.