NEW YORK – The Tales series is more than 20 years old, but fans are still clamoring for new entry after new entry. In January, their patience will be rewarded with Tales of Berseria: the latest entry in the long-running Japanese role-playing game franchise. Tom’s Guide has already gone hands-on with the game (which looks incredibly promising), but after speaking with the game’s producer, both new and returning fans can learn the specifics of what to expect.
I interviewed Yasuhiro Fukaya, the producer for Tales of Berseria, at New York Comic Con 2016. Fukaya has previously worked on a handful of other Tales titles, most recently overseeing quality assurance in Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360. With more powerful game systems and an opportunity to attract a new audience, he believes that Tales of Berseria could satisfy both returning fans and players diving into Tales for the first time.
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“The previous title, Tales of Zestiria, was the 20th anniversary title,” Fukaya said. “That means the anniversary needs to be the start of a new era for the Tales series. The basic concept when starting the development of Tales of Berseria was to introduce many new features, as many as possible.”
In terms of new features, the most prominent one is the inclusion of a sole female protagonist. Fukaya pointed out that the series has always put young men in the protagonist position before, except for Tales of Xillia, which let players choose between a male or female lead.
“The protagonist of this title is really different [from the male leads],” Fukaya explained. “She has strong emotions and shadows in her heart … Because of this plot, we want to have this different kind of female protagonist in Berseria.”
Of course, having an engaging lead character is only one part of the equation. The gameplay has to hold up as well. I asked Fukaya about the battle system, and his response ran the gamut from graphics, to design philosophy, to helping new players feel at ease.
“Longtime series fans know that the Tales battle system looks great, but they can make [flashy] combos with simple controls. For new users, this action-packed, speedy battle system looks difficult” he said. His goal this time around is to create a battle system that can entice new players without being too easy for returning ones. “[It was] one of the most challenging parts in development.”
Unlike most JRPGs, which employ turn-based battle systems, Tales games let players control characters that move, fight and cast magic in real time. Even though the battle system has evolved considerably over the years, it has never lost this central conceit, which lets players string together intricate physical and magical attacks by memorizing a few simple button combinations.
“We introduced a new battle system, where users can execute Artes [magical attacks] with any four buttons,” Fukaya continued. This streamlined control process should help newer players feel at ease. Since the game will come out on PS4 and PC, his team also leveraged the more powerful hardware to maintain a steady 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. He’s “very proud” of the latter in particular.
The funny, quirky cast of characters is usually the best part of a Tales game, and I wondered how developers could keep things fresh after having more than 100 different party members over 20 years of games. It’s not as hard as it sounds, Fukaya assured me.
“Every Tales game has brand new characters and brand new stories,” he said, emphasizing the second point. “It’s not so difficult to create attractive new characters in a new title.” This time around, the characters are a little older as well – some in their late teens and some in their 30s, rather than a group of 15-year-olds with perhaps one “older” twenty-something for balance.
Tales of Berseria will be out on Jan. 24 for PS4 and Jan. 27 for Steam. If nothing else, Tales games have been fairly consistent over the last 20-plus years. They’re pure JRPG comfort food; not very unpredictable, but well-made and satisfying. Expect a full review when the game launches.