Tales of Berseria Review (PS4, 2016)

It's been a few years since I played Tales of Vesperia, and I haven't touched the series since. Bad reputations turned me off from Xillia and Zestiria, so I almost missed out on Berseria as well. Now I'm glad I played it. The story is really good, although nothing new for veterans of the genre. But that doesn't hurt the game much because the characters are great on their own and even better when they interact among another. The skits feel incredibly dynamic for sequences of still images. You don't get interactions amongst party members like this in many games, it's a stark contrast to games like Peronsa 5 where the party just feels flat.

Skits have come a looong way since Tales of Symphonia

Unfortunately the writing is the best in the game. Graphics are good, but don't stand out much against games on a higher budget. The maps look barely better than what you get in a low budget game. The soundtrack again comes from Motoi Sakuraba who has been working on the series since its inception, and somehow managed to deliver music that doesn't stand out at all. There's only one track in the game I even noticed, and that played during a cross-over fight so I'm sure it's a song from a game I skipped. I'm not saying the music is bad, just very plain. It's there and you don't really realize it, it doesn't bother but it also doesn't excite. Guess it's a good thing I can say it's at least not offensive, but that's a feat very few game soundtracks manage to pull off.

Too bad the combat hasn't evolved as much...

Tales games always rewards grinding with GRADE points that can be used to customize subsequent playthroughs, and this feature is of course part of the package here as well. However Berseria rewards grinding even more by letting players unlock passive skills from equipment that usually requires a lot of GRADE farming. It's optional but should be a bad feature for completionists because the combat is among the worst in the series, or maybe it's actually the worst, hard for me to say since I haven't played all games in the series. They tried to make it more interesting by putting in a higher focus on skill combos, but all it boils down to is spaming buttons - it gets old really quick. Not to mention that enemies really like to defend and are often tanks with a big health pool. Combat in Vesperia and Graces was a lot better than this.
You can upgrade equipment in this game, but it's usually not worth it because you find new items all the time and if you're going for the passive skills you'll change it even more often. Even on hard I never needed to use this mechanic for the regular part of the game. I'm sure it's different for the post-game dungeon, but the game kind of contradicts itself if there's an upgrade system that feels like a waste of resources to use properly.

The somewhat boring combat isn't a deal-breaker for those who want to enjoy the story and characters because the games' difficulty is fairly low. I'm sure you can avoid many encounters on normal mode and still be strong enough to manage the boss fights. I grinded a real lot and am sure it's possible to beat the game with less than half the encounter rate I played with.

All that aside, I have to give the game a huge thumbs-up for the way it handles quests. There's no real fetch-quests here. Compared to other RPGs with their hundreds of quests that only exist to make you rack up ingame time, Berseria keeps it moderate with a couple dozen quests that all tell stories around the party members instead of the worries of Fred the Farmer or any other boring NPC. You learn all you need about the NPCs and world of Berseria by talking to towns people and listening to their dialogue. No need to go on a near endless loop of fetch quests. If all games had side quests like this the world would be a better place.
It's also worth mentioning that there is no story or dungeon DLC, and despite there being many DLC costumes there's still a considerable number of outfits that are unlockablable ingame. You get a complete game for your money here and don't need to worry that you're missing out if you're not pissing extra money in DLC.

The bottom line is that this is a solid game I enjoyed despite some flaws. There's nothing outright offensive about it and that's rare with JRPGs nowadays.