Tales of Berseria: A Game That’s Best At Being What It Is
Tell me Velvet, why do the birds fly?
Let me start off a bit informally. Before saying anything, I want to say this game is just best at being what it is. A fantasy RPG with an alluring story told in the simplest ways possible.
I’m going to divide this review into two parts, first part is a generic review of the main parts of the game and the second part is discussion on the philosophical debates displayed by the themes in the story of this game. Second part will have tons of spoilers and I’m going to try to keep the first part free of spoilers as much as possible.
A tale of emotion versus reason
Tales of Berseria is a fantasy RPG that tells the story of a young woman, Velvet Crowe and her journey to take revenge against a person and his aims after a traumatic experience filled her with anger and hatred.
Every day they would toss daemons into its cell. It would devour its fill, then wipe blood from its lips.
Playing as the villain in this tale, Velvet is hell-bent on taking revenge in a fantasy world where daemons (demons) terrorize the lands and malakhim1 help humanity fight against the daemons. After a certain event called the Advent occurred that set the spark which now is the tale of Velvet’s rage while it set course for either humanity’s salvation or their destruction.
But the therion knew no mercy, and devoured its liberator.
As her hatred for the person that caused her to have a traumatic experience and lose a loved one took over her, she would go far as to kill the saviour of humanity from the chaos and horrors of daemons.
She would kill even the person that freed her from the cell she was imprisoned in, then she would form a gang of an inhuman daemon and an unfathomable witch, a betrayed malak. Then join a crew of notorious pirates all just to get her revenge even if it puts the world at doom. But how the story unfolds as Velvet Crowe gets closer to her revenge makes this game one of the most beautiful RPGs I have seen.
Movement and travelling
Tales of Berseria follows a linear RPG style but with more freer movements than other RPGs. It has different places in the world where you can go by yourself and explore like an open-world game. Enemies work in an encounter like fashion for example, if you run into an enemy then you will enter into battle stage where you will fight against the enemy. Common among other RPGs but unique to this one, this travelling system makes a fantasy RPG like this be very liberating than others.
It also had travelling system to other continents and places, fast travel potions and hoverboard-like vehicles that makes movement in this game much easier and fun.
There’s a wide variety of NPCs that you can talk to and a few minor amount of actual side quests. Other than that, most side quests are basically going to an NPC to listen/hear about current world’s situation. There are skits which basically are traditional ‘Tales of’ styled cutscenes that can be from serious to comedic talks between the characters about on-topic of the current situation or anything off-topic too. The skits system and the side-quests/NPCs interaction is what makes this game truly feel alive than other fantasy RPGs.
Terrains and Environment
The designs of the terrains in this game is very well made. Not too realistic nor too cartoonish, it’s mediocre but balanced at best. It also does very well in expressing the environment according to situations in the game which gives this a dynamic feeling. The music in some places is also dynamic according to locations, which gives it a realistic to the environment.
The towns look medieval and fits with the genre, the caves and mountains are made to look structurally realistic but at the same time has a lot of fantasy elements to it and the map setting is very decent and praiseworthy.
The combat for this game is based on the traditional ‘Tales of’ combat system known as Linear Motion Battle System or LMBS which is the encounter based real-time battle system based on different types of martial artes2 and hidden/mystic artes. These can be compared to different moves in other RPGs and special magic/moves. It’s pretty intense and also wildly addicting once you learn to customize your artes and equipments. But at times it feels pretty bland and annoying to get in combats easily due to its encounter system and the amount of enemies in some places being very high. Whatever the case, the combat is decent for a game like this and so I rate it high.
Plot and Storytelling
The game does very well in storytelling as its simple and linear. There’s no catch or specialty, sometimes it shows flashbacks and sometimes it talks about other incidents. What makes this game so intriguing is that the story itself, is amazing. From the lore to the ending, the story builds up very well and the storytelling fits so well as it sometimes become epic and sometimes become emotional.
The plot is one of the major point in the game and how everything built up displayed many themes which in turn also displayed many forms of beliefs and philosophies which clash with each other, trying to justify and prove what is right and what is wrong.
Amidst all that, delivering a great and emotional story at the same time is what made this game so great to me. And this, in my opinion is one of the finest point of this game. For more elaborate description on the plot and how it’s actually amazing, I’ll discuss it in the second part.
Soundtracks and VA
The soundtracks for this game is rock solid for a RPG. Battle themes can be heroic or dire. The sound changes according to the environment and it works dynamic in some places. The soundtracks sound actually good in quality for a fantasy RPG and the whole OSTs playlist is on YouTube.
I’ve only played this game in English VA so I can say that the English VA is top-notch and they did very well for the VA. The characters sound authentic and Velvet’s VA gave her such a different personality I don’t think other VA could.
One thing I didn’t know until I finished the game and was glaring at the end credits was that the cutscenes were animated by the popular animation studio ufotable. They make high quality animations with precise and realistic fighting scenes. They are known for animating the Fate series, Demon Slayer and other ‘Tales of’ anime adaptations.
These animations are embedded in the game as a few special cutscenes during the storyline to express the conciseness and importance of the few important points in the storyline.
These added animations make the story feel truly like a journey and alive. For this uniqueness in the Tales of games, I love this point.
This concludes the first part of the review. The second part which is elaborate discussion on different themes this game showed during the gameplay and plot contains tons of spoilers. If you haven’t played the game, I request you to not read the second part. To skip to the conclusion go to the bottom of the page.
THIS PART CONTAINS LOADS OF SPOILERS (PLEASE DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED THE GAME)
Most fantasy worlds in ‘Tales of’ games display different controversial themes as a main part of their storyline. Some display racism, some display themes about faith, some display themes about morals and Tales of Berseria displays many themes in it’s story. To understand my explanation, you’d need to finish the game once at least to know the context behind the story points.
For this part of the review, I’m not going to make sections as this is just analyzing the story and the plot for some thought food. Here first we will start with Artorius Collebrande’s or Arthur’s intention for the greater good of mankind and how it may be both logical and flawed, then we will discuss about individuality of a person vs the collectivist society and also we will talk about how this game displayed humanist values very well.
A bit off-topic here. When I first played NieR: Automata, the story focused more on the plot but the side quests and a few parts of the plot displayed much greater amount of philosophical themes than most other games. While Tales of Berseria’s plot in later stages, revolved more around the philosophical concepts along the story. For this reason, this game is a very good material to analyze and think about.
Let’s start with Lord Artorius’s maxims. Artorius Collebrande both before and after become the shepherd of the Abbey, used to preach his maxims which he inherited from the order of the exorcists of the Abbey. It is a cult-like group that works for the greater good of the society. After the advent, in public, they are seen as heroes and in private, they work as the anti-heroes. Forgetting the needs of the individual to meet the needs of the society.
This may sound a bit dictator-ish but the Abbey’s rule is a lot less intrusive and a lot less dystopian than modern countries that are ruled by dictators. Mostly because the Abbey provides the people with what they need, regulates the law and are very soft on this, the exorcists are very well and morally strong. They come to the need of the people regardless of whether it’s related to daemons or not. In other words, the Abbey has a reasonable rule over humanity.
But as we see this in later stages, we find out that Shepherd Lord Artorius isn’t what the general public know him to be. He isn’t evil and he’s intentions are well reasonable. His answer to why birds fly, is because they must. It is reason that brings them to fly, not will. And so like his maxims, the Abbey abides by reason for the greater good of humanity. Even if it means using necessary evil. The Abbey of the exorcists know very well what good or bad is but they put importance on reason over both of them. Because they know, reason when used correctly, can bring good.
And so comes the plot of Lord Artorius’ armatization of the Fifth Empyrean Innominat the Suppressor. As Lord Melchior during the battle in Mount Killarus explains,
The spread of malevolence, the cleansing of Innominat… the cycle has repeated countless times over eons. That is why human civilization rises and falls. But if this continues, humanity will never surpass a certain threshold. And thus, the Abbey will control Innominat’s power, so that we may guide humanity into a new, better era!
This is Abbey’s plan to cross the threshold of what humanity can achieve in any era. Innominat destroys all of humanity when malevolence completely takes over them. This is very symbolic to humanity destroying itself, because before the Opening, daemons were basically humans that turned into madness due to their malevolence and hate overflowing them and we can compare their self-destructive behavior to Innominat taking them away due to their malevolence. So human civilization at one point, when they destroy themselves, it can be compared to Innominat destroying all the daemons. But let’s put that aside and come back to the main topic, Abbey’s plan is to not let Innominat destroy humanity like this. So, they will rather use Innominat and suppress human emotions and will to free them of their malevolence, ultimately protecting humanity from destruction.
This is Shepherd Lord Artorius’ plan to save humanity. But the cost of this is suppression of human will. Their individuality will disappear and humans will become a collectivist society always doing for the greater good. This ultimately questions whether they are still a human or not.
But Velvet’s answer to the question about why the birds fly was, because they want to. She would push will over logic, emotions over reason. Because why? In her opinions, this is what makes a human, a human. A person without will is no person, it is a tool. Velvet questions the collectivist theme Artorius is trying to establish through Innominat and she would use her emotions rather than reasons to push her agenda, which is to take revenge. She shows this humanist theme over so much to the point, she caused chaos, destruction and terror to anyone who stood in her way for revenge. She didn’t care for anyone, including children and her devotion to taking revenge and being filled with hatred only caused her more pain. She became the Lord of Calamity.
Once she learned about Laphicet, her own brother is behind all of this along with Artorius, it only brought her more despair and hatred. Both things that Innominat needed to fully awaken. And at that point after Phi snapped her out of this delusional mindset, she then realized, she’s doing it for herself. Not for anyone, not for her brother, not for humanity… She’s doing it for herself. And after that, she lost all malevolent intentions and she understood that what she’s doing is pointless. And yet, she is determined to do it. This makes her a true villain. Before, a villain that was groomed through hatred and despair. Now a villain with only intention for destroying all of humanity is only because, she just wants to.
This pointless will without reason is her way of being human. This is her concept of proving that humanity loses itself when its deprived of its will. This is Velvet’s grand scheme to replace reason with will. She would rather let the world stay human than a mindless society that lives only for survival and continuity. This is the most beautiful part of the game next to the ending. Her sacrifice for all humans.
In this way, the game displays a variety of themes that debates and conflicts with each other. For this reason, Tales of Berseria is by far, one of the best games I’ve enjoyed for both its gameplay, action, story and the variety of themes they provided.
Tales of Berseria is not a masterpiece but it’s a great game. It’s one of the best at being what it is, a fantasy RPG with a great story. Being the most balanced in many fields of a game, this truly shows us how a great game can express a story. Having great animation, gameplay, balanced soundtracks and a top-notch VA, Tales of Berseria is worth every penny its being sold for although I’d say to buy it in sale, in case you want to buy it for 5$ instead of 49$.
Is this game worth playing? HELL YEAH IT IS!
Malakhim (singular: malak) are fictional divine angelic beings that can perform malak arte (or magic) and normally humans could not see them until the advent occurred and exorcists used malaks to fight against daemons. ↩
Artes (or basically arts) are fighting techniques or other techniques can be used by denizens in Tales of Berseria for combat and daily life. Some are martial artes which are hand-to-hand or weapons fighting technique and some are mystic/malak artes which are magic. ↩