According to series producer Hideo Baba, the games of the Tales of series are kind of "like gumdrops" - similar on the surface, with their anime stylings, bright colours and kooky casts; once you open up the wrappers, they're surprisingly different on the inside. Well, if you were to open the wrapper on the latest entry in the long running Japanese role playing series, Tales of Berseria, you'd probably find a decidedly darker sweetie inside - perhaps a mean dark chocolate, a strong liquorice or something similarly bitter, compared to the usual bubbly citrus or sweet strawberries. It's still a sweet treat, but well, we've kind of got ourself lost in our own metaphor here. Suffice to say, Tales of Berseria, is a bit of a different tale to the usual tale of kind-hearted teens saving the world - instead, its a game about revenge, following a band of anti-heroes on their search for an even more morally questionable band of bad guys.
With a bit of a darker tone than previous Tales games, Tales of Berseria centres around the mysterious Velvet, a young woman with a bit of an unusual past. In a world where a plague-like disease known as the Daemonblight has been turning humans into daemons - daemons that then feast on each other - her home has been destroyed by the blight twice over. On one of the fateful nights, her brother was killed by a guy known as Artorius, and Velvet herself became infected with the Daemonblight. Luckily for her, though, it turns out Velvet is but one of a special breed of daemon people who haven't totally lost their minds to the disease. Imprisoned in a high-security island jail, she bides her time as her desire for revenge festers inside - until one day, she finally manages to escape, with the help of a few other unusual characters. Free from her time inside, and driven by a burning desire for revenge, she sets about hunting down Artorius, the man who killed her brother, and who's since risen to the top of an organ Abbey, a 1984-esque state that exists to 'protect' the world from daemons.
As a woman who's part daemon and a bit of a social outcast herself, Velvet manages to assemble a right old motley crew to help her on her quest - a daemon swordsman with a penchant for weapons; a pirate known as 'the reaper', whose bad luck curse gets him into all kinds of trouble; and a kooky loudmouth witch by the name of Magilou. There's also a 'Malak' child (a kind of magical spirit) who bears a striking resemblance to Velvet's lost brother and Eleanor, a somewhat stubborn but caring member of the Abbey that eventually decides to join Velvet on her quest, becoming the only legit human on your team. As always, it's the interplay between the different personalities, and the banter on the road, that makes Tales of Berseria an enjoyable romp through the lands of the Midgand Empire.
A role-playing game at its heart, most of your time in Tales of Berseria will be spent wandering from town to town, exploring forests, dungeons and caves as you go, while taking in various story scenes along the way. Of course, as such places tend to be inhabited by more than a handful of violent creatures, its just as well that Velvet and co are a dab hand at combat too. As always, there's a slightly tweaked real time battle system at play here - this time dubbed the new Liberation Linear Motion Battle System - but in all honesty, you'll be hard pushed to tell the difference as compared to any that have come before. Really, it's just a fancy way of describing the Tales of series' trademark fast-paced, button mashy real-time battles, and the slightly different tweak each new game has to keep things fresh and interesting.
With more than a passing similarity to the battles in Tales of Zesteria, Berseria's Velvet uses a mixture of the Playstation 4's face buttons (triangle, square, circle and X) to execute her various punching and kicking attacks, with different combinations of buttons letting you string moves together into combos. Characters begin each battle with three 'souls' in their soul gauge, and using various moves in battle will see you increase or decrease your soul count, with your total limiting how many different attacks you can combo together.
With a focus on exploiting enemy weaknesses, every time you manage to stun an enemy, leave them with a status condition, or indeed, defeat them, you'll steal one of their 'souls' for your own, increasing your soul count by one. However, it also works both ways, and if they land a similar hit on you, you'll lose one of your souls, limiting your attack potential somewhat. The idea is to gain, and hold on to, as many souls as you can in each battle by making the most of enemies' weaknesses. This balancing act of attacking enough to take down enemies, but not so much that you scupper yourself adds an extra layer of strategy to battles, making them a bit less button-mashy.
But Velvet has another trick up her sleeve for battle - quite literally in fact. By consuming a soul from her soul gauge, thereby running your current meter down, you can execute a Break Soul attack, in which she harnesses the power of her daemonic left hand to unleash devastating damage-dealing attacks. Of course, you can recover the lost soul fairly easily by stunning an enemy - which you quite often find is a side effect of your gnarly Break Soul attacks anyway - and by combining the two strategically, mixing Break Souls and regular attacks, you can bring most enemies to their knees without breaking a sweat. And we promise you it is fairly easy, despite what the somewhat complex explanation suggests!
Moving away from the battles, Tales of fans will likely be familiar with the Katz race - a gang of miniature chibi cat people who've cropped up in many a game over the years - and they actually play a large part in one of Tales of Berseria's best sidequests. Following an unfortunate incident at a party, a number of the Katz' souls have been separated from their bodies, and scattered all across the land, with their owners' bodies ending up being locked up in similarly scattered pink chests (it was one wild night!). By collecting up any glowing 'soul' orbs you come across, and then using them to open the Katz chests, you'll unlock a load of fun accessories to outfit your party members with, from cowboy hats and pirate eyepatches to Normin-themed outfits and more. Certain towns also have a resident Katz that runs a couple of mini-games - like balloon-popping, or bashing training dummies within a time limit - with similar accessory and outfit rewards on offer, including the obligatory cuddly versions of past games' protagonists.
While it doesn't quite manage to usurp Tales of Graces f or Tales of Hearts R as our favourite Tales game, Tales of Berseria is still another solid entry in the light-hearted role-playing game series. It is a bit more of a linear adventure than predecessor Zestiria, with less in the way of wide open spaces to explore and less winding, puzzle-filled dungeons to figure out, but Velvet makes for an interesting character to follow, whose anti-heroine antics are a bit of an antidote to the usual do-gooder protagonists - especially she's out on a quest for revenge! Not the best Tales game yet, then - but a nice change from the norm nonetheless.