Friday 10 February 2017

Tales of Berseria

If you've played one JRPG, you've played 'em all. Right? No!! Well... actually, a lot of the time, yeah. But not all the time. And this time is one of those times that's not all the time! Admittedly, if you were playing JRPG Bingo with Tales of Berseria as you played through, you'd probably be in line for a decent prize. World-threatening bad guy that only you can stop? Yup. Boobtastic costumes for the female characters? Well actually ToB isn't too bad in that respect, but your character (Velvet) is a woman with a default costume that looks awfully chilly, so... yup. Lots and lots of gear to buy, sell, and upgrade? Yup. Enemies that wander around aimlessly until they see you and attack, instigating some sort of supernatural cage match? Yup. And so on...

It may be familiar in several ways, but that doesn't really matter, because so much is done so well. Now, I'm not saying that exclusively because this is a game with both pirates and dragons, but that certainly doesn't hurt. Believe it or not, there's even more to like about the script than that. For one thing it's genuinely funny at times, something that games often attempt but rarely succeed at. For another, it's a story that keeps your attention and manages to throw an unexpected twist your way every now and then. The wider tale of revenge and redemption may be weak and overdone, but the fine detail is (mostly) something the devs should be proud of.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that this is the latest in the 'Tales Of' series, but you don't need to have played any other game to understand the story. It's as isolated from the rest of the series as Donald Trump is from the human race. Well, not quite that much. Experience with previous games might help with the combat though, which isn't what you might expect and requires more learning than the game initially lets on. It's real-time rather than turn-based, but mindless button bashing won't really work on anything above the lowest difficulty.

You can take control of any active member of your party during a fight, and switch characters in and out if the right gauge is... look, I don't have time to go into everything. Central to combat is the 'soul gauge'. Each character has a limited number of 'souls'. How quickly this gauge depletes depends on which attacks – or 'artes', as the game has it – you use, as they all demand differing chunks of the gauge. When the gauge is empty you can still fight, but the chances of enemies successfully guarding against you goes up almost to a certainty. The gauge will slowly refill by itself if you let it, and you can steal or lose souls by stunning, being stunned, and more.

But that's not nearly all there is to it. There are shedloads of artes to learn, and they're split into a handful of different types. Most enemies are weak or resistant to certain types of attack. On top of that you can design combos yourself to decide which attack leads into which according to the button you use to attack, you can guard, you can sidestep, you can set up tactics for your party... it'll take a loooong time to master everything. The good thing, though, is chickening out by sticking to one of the lowest difficulties is a totally valid option.

How much bang do you get for your buck? That depends on how leisurely you stroll through the world, but seeing the ending in 30 hours would practically be a speedrun (I did it in less than 40, but ignoring most side quests). It's a big ol' world with many locations to visit, some of them so far apart you need to travel between them by boat. Pirates, remember?!? This ain't no shaggy dog Tales


Luke Kemp

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