Scattered Thoughts – tasting Tales of Berseria

     I’m not an avid gamer, and it’s even rarer for me to completely finish a game. Usually I just either get bored with the gameplay or get stuck (and then get bored). That looks completely different from my completionist-like stance towards anime, but I guess I just hope to finish any game I started some time in the future. Considering gaming that have ties with anime my portfolio is even scarcer – apart from some visual novels (still waiting to complete Fate route of Fate/Stay Night and finish several remaining routes of Tsukihime) I don’t think I’ve ever finished anything else, and my only knowledge about Tales series stems from the Zestiria anime, so for me Tales of Berseria is a big deal, so prepare for a lengthy post.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Theme of Velvet' by Motoi Sakuraba

     The story begins in not the most unique way possible – you, and that also means the protagonist Velvet, get your share of peaceful jogging around before being abruptly taken from this pleasant life to another, full of dark emotions and almost no hope. Velvet’s younger brother (as adorable as it gets) ends up being killed and that changes Velvet to the point of her only goal becoming revenge, no matter the means, no matter the collateral damage. As usual with such games, later on Velvet’s quest turns out to be a part of a far bigger problem that is the mandatory saving of the world.

Not that impressive dungeon

     The world provides plenty of beautiful locations – from cities to harbors and grassy plains, from icy landscapes to tropical beaches and volcanoes, though sometimes visual repetition isn’t avoided. Another great aspect of the game is that the story sometimes leads back to some already explored locations that changed from your previous visit – it makes the world more alive. Also a nice idea is that the NPCs over the world discuss the news (that usually are about Velvet’s travels). The facts they usually get wrong but that also enhances the realistic nature of such talks. You feel that it’s important what you have accomplished and you affect the world more than just going to a random dungeon and finding some stuff here that nobody cares about. Despite quite strong world building, when you get down to some caves, dungeons and old temples, the boredom slowly starts to seep in. These confined monster areas feel very much the same, closed by plain walls, one chamber not different by any means from another. There’s another problem with that. The monster areas feel a little too long – each time you start, eager to learn what kind of creatures roam around, but sooner rather than later you just end up mashing the same buttons for the best attack combination.  Later on you acquire more abilities but, as most of early stuff still works reasonably well, I ended up not using much of that.

Button mashing time!

When you have the battle system figured out and the combat has lost its novelty, it becomes a serious chore and the only remedy for that is avoiding the monsters. Speaking about an occasional lack of uniqueness, there is only a very limited number of NPC models and it actually took me a while to come into terms that all these people don’t really travel from one location to another with you but are just a way to cut the costs.  At least if you’re bored, there’s always some mini games here and there so you need only choose between card playing, doing the most damage or improving your reaction time among other things, but it’s only a temporary solution as you inevitably need to return to the main story.

What a bunch of weirdos!

     Staying true to the genre, soon a group of adventurers forms around Velvet, each with his own objectives and problems, but temporary goals still prove to be strong enough to more or less unify them. At this era of the world, most of the seraphim (basically spiritual beings) are bereft of free will, being used only as tools. A little seraph whom Velvet saves from such a fate soon becomes very important to her but Velvet struggles to distinguish him from her dead brother, to the point of also naming him Laphicet, her brother’s name. At first Laphicet was just a doll without any semblance of a character, but his development into someone who can speak his mind and make wise decisions was probably the biggest among all the characters. Laphicet’s emotional change is also helped a lot by another member of the group, Eleanor. The apparent unannounced fight between her and Velvet for the affections of Laphicet doesn’t take much time to get established and that ended up being quite fun. Anyway, Eleanor also has her own goal – being an exorcist and initially opposing Velvet’s movements, she started to question the decisions of her superiors and dig up all the truth about their works. That inevitably led her to become a part of this anti-governmental band of weirdos. Eleanor also has a subplot of recovering from her traumatic family circumstances by herself developing some motherly traits.

A cutscene of a 3D fight in the game...

The two male members of the group doesn’t have much going on – with Eizen constantly looking for his vanished pirate captain (and thinking about his mysterious sister but that sadly didn’t get much time) and Rokurou trying to find and kill his brother. Still, the biggest impression was left by the final member – a witch Magilou. At first she seemed to be one of those immensely full of herself and very annoying characters but eventually I ended up liking her a lot. A character who doesn’t take anything seriously, is able to exploit every situation for her own benefits and is absolutely unpredictable automatically is very charming. Magilou also has a more serious side beneath her wacky exterior and it’s even more fascinating to see it shine from time to time. Every important character (and location) has his own musical theme that well suits his characteristics. There are some interesting parallels between the characters and sometimes it allows for them to reconsider their options, to better understand themselves or just to see how different philosophies might lead to different outcomes from the same starting point. There’s also a negative side to that – too much of even some good stuff may go sour and I don’t even care to count how many different tragic mother-daughter relationship permutations Berseria used.

...and the same fight in the Tales of Zestiria the X anime, only in 2D

     As you see, the group of the adventurers is particularly varied and character designs convey that. Each character has his color code and alone looks at least ok. The problem is when everyone gathers together – the colors clash. It seems like no one bothered to give any thought about visual character chemistry. Cowboy Bebop for example did wonderfully choosing character color scheme that looks good when characters are alone as well as together and with Berseria sadly that’s not the case. There are other things like Velvet’s gear. It’s no doubt that it looks cool but practicality of it is questionable. A fantasy game may get away with a retractable blade on a wrist but even if at first Velvet only thought about revenge I doubt that she would never think of changing her attire into something more appropriate if not more practical compared to her default outfit. Who needs so many extra belts anyway? Continuing about character designs, naturally they change quite a bit between 3D gameplay and 2D skits and the effect is ambiguous. Well, the mere fact that some of the cutscenes are 2D and others 3D feels quite weird. Velvet looks far better in 3D without that so-pointy-you-can-prick-yourself nose. On the other hand 3D Laphicet looks anything but adorable with his too huge eyes that show very little personality which is present in 2D images.

Velvet, rags and belts included. Also a discount on a demon arm.

     Let’s get a bit deeper. Now what I’ll say may sound like a blasphemy to hardcore Tales fans, especially since (for all I know) it might be one of the trademarks of the series, but here it is – the world is not consistent considering its seriousness and believability. One moment you might encounter a very emotional scene with Velvet struggling with her humanity and a few moments later end up collecting lost souls for some crossbreeds between cats and teletubbies. The game lets the player acquire and use various cosmetic outfits, varying form maid or school uniforms to beach clothes, pirate eyepatches and other random stuff. Personally I can’t imagine myself playing a game where a person with cat ears argues about serious battle tactics with a person with a dog’s tale, while a third person with a bikini (leaning against an iceberg) casually observes everything. Of course there’s no need to take advantage of this possibility so that’s not a big deal. Nonetheless, even without believability-bending cosmetic outfits constant encounters with Katz people (and the like) and especially the enormous silliness of Magilou’s companion normin Bienfu in my mind clash very hard with the mere idea of being in a story of saving the world. I understand that some comedy is needed and for the most part it works fine (not to mention that marketing loves mascot characters), but I think that such a foul-mouthed, annoying and just plain ridiculous (not even considering his hat) character like Bienfu adds little to the game. If the game is marketed as a very serious one, exploring deep matters and dark themes, I expect it to retain all these aspects more or less for the whole game, not only at certain times. Well, Velvet herself sometimes seemed to get carried pretty far away from her initial resolve to dedicate all her energy to the revenge. That may emphasize her human side but how much her resolve is worth then? Also laughable seems the scene where Velvet refuses to drink because she isn’t the legal age yet. I appreciate the message but I doubt anything else should feel as out of place as this from the lips of a person who apparently doesn’t give a damn about anything else except her sole objective.

Some drama in a nice field of flowers

     There are also some other dislikeable things. There’s a tiny treason subplot and in terms of the story it should be something big and important but it get brushed under the rug never to appear again. The guilty character doesn’t even get any inconvenience because of that as others just shrug off everything as it is a completely natural thing and nobody needs to worry about that. Another thing concerns the villains. It’s believable that the main one thinks he’s a good guy and it’s possible that to some extent what he’s doing is for the greater good. Nevertheless, his lackeys lack any complexity. Thus all the hard work spent staging Velvet as an antihero feels a bit pointless. I think it would’ve been far more interesting to have Velvet’s opponents better explored or just to make them at least somewhat likable or their actions justifiable. Velvet’s original revenge goal already is sinister enough and going on only because of selfish reasons until the end would’ve created far more complicated conflict. Velvet already struggled to acknowledge that what she has been doing isn’t really justifiable but that was undermined by making her opponents too evil and step by step reshaping Velvet into the herald of good people.

Need some comedy?

     I can’t say the ending was applaudable. At first the lead up to the final battle was rather unsatisfying. It’s natural that games try to hype you up quite a lot before the ultimate fight, but Berseria stumbles a bit in that department. When a character says “let’s prepare for the final showdown” and you do, but then follows a monster area, twice or thrice longer than usual ones (in no area the repetitiveness was so irritating than in this one), and apart from that many map areas that interconnect in various ways made it particularly easy to get lost there. The final fight itself proved to be deliciously challenging, and using some potions became a necessity, and that never had occurred before due to my normal difficulty setting. When the fight ended, there inevitably was an animated wrap-up. I guess its biggest problem was that overall it felt more like a “now go play Zestiria” kind of ending. On the other hand, pretty much the same thing happened to Zestiria’s ending itself – everything was just cut off, and in a completely unforeseeable way. When you get invested in an intricate story, one of the most fun aspects is trying to guess how the characters will achieve their goals (because they always do). All the fun evaporates when the story doesn’t find some clever path that has been hinted through the journey but ends in a Deus ex Machina way because of magic (or some alternative of that, the essence is still the same). You then just think “Oh well, I guess it’s also possible to do that” and go on with your daily stuff. The fate of Velvet was just like that. I don’t know if anything of her ultimate end was said in Zestiria and it would be even more frustrating if the answer is negative. Most of the other characters just went on with their lives almost as if nothing had happened. I can’t really say that apart from Laphicet any of them accomplished much in the first place. A fan of the Tales universe will probably find many lovable points that interconnect both Zestiria and Berseria, and recurring characters are one such thing. Despite the fact that such a connection gives more historical depth for the story, that comes with a price of having less options to wrap Berseria up, and that in my mind turned out to be not the least problem of the game. Maybe making Berseria a stand-alone game would’ve worked better?

Excerpt from the OST: 'Magilou, the great sorceress' by Motoi Sakuraba

     Overall I think I’ll remember Tales of Berseria quite fondly. Thanks, Tales of Zestria the X, for directing my attention to  this game, even if you as a story failed quite a bit yourself. The overarching question of Berseria – whether interests of a single person or society are more important – gives some food for thought and in the end the game provides a definitive answer to that – individuality must always be considered no matter what. Because it’s rather the journey and not the conclusion that counts, the story was engaging enough. Game mechanics may not have been the thing in the world, but as I stayed for the journey and the world, I think my time spent was worth it.I still don’t have the slightest idea what does the name Berseria itself mean (unless it’s a confirmation that Berserk manga will have an ending).

     Some time ago Lethargic Ramblings posted some thoughts on the whole Tales franchise and that, apart from assuring me to write about Berseria, also was entertaining in its own right, so check it out if you haven’t yet.

     Have you played Tales of Berseria? What do you think about it and other games of the franchise?

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