NEW YORK — The Tales series of Japanese role-playing games has always been popular with female fans, but up until now, the franchise has never had a leading lady to call its own. Tales of Berseria will change that when the world meets Velvet: a young woman out for revenge in a morally complicated world. As the first game in the franchise built from the ground up for PlayStation 4, the title features revamped graphics and an agreeably complex combat system as well.
I got to go hands-on with a 10-minute demo of Tales of Berseria at a Bandai Namco press event. The game is due out next month in Japan, and as such, all of the dialogue and menus still in Japanese. (When it comes stateside, players will be able to choose between Japanese and English voice tracks, as well as a variety of subtitles.) As such, I didn’t get a great sense of the colorful party members or their globetrotting quest, but a helpful representative filled in a few of the gaps.
The story focuses on Velvet and five allies she recruits along the way. Just to be clear, Velvet is not the very first female protagonist in the main series; Milla Maxwell from Tales of Xillia is. However, players could still choose to play a male character (Jude Mathis) in that game instead; this time, it’s Velvet or bust.
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To save Velvet’s world from monsters, the powers-that-be sacrificed her family when she was a little girl. Now, she’s out for revenge — but along the way, she’s sure to learn more about how the situation is more complicated than it appears, and how she can redirect her rage into a protective force. If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that she and her party will eventually save the world, but we’ll see.
One area where I didn’t have to understand the language to enjoy the game was the battle system. Velvet leads a party with three AI-controlled characters by her side, although you can switch which character you control on the fly. As Velvet, you can run around the battlefield freely and launch attacks, dodge enemy techniques and position yourself in advantageous spots.
The real-time, free-flowing battle system is a holdover from previous Tales games, but Berseria takes the strategic combat one step further. Rather than simply dividing attacks up into physical and magical varieties, you can assign every single face button to a different stream of combat techniques. Mashing the X button, for example, might be devastating for enemies on the ground, while a carefully timed square-and-triangle combination could make short work of airborne foes.
Judging Berseria’s combat system in its entirety will take longer than a 10-minute demo, but I can say that as a series vet, I enjoyed it much more than the confusing and sometimes sluggish systems in games like Tales of Graces and Tales of Zestiria. It reminded me much more of the refined, intuitive battle system in Tales of Xillia and Tales of Xillia 2, still two of the franchise’s most accessible titles.
From a personal perspective, I was underwhelmed with Tales of Zestiria, and giving some thought to skipping the next entry in the Tales series. While I definitely want to see more of the game before I make a definitive decision, the intriguing protagonist and fun battle system in Berseria are pretty close to getting me back on board. The game will launch in the West sometime in 2017 for PS4 and Steam, and retail for $60.