Press round-up – Winter 2018

Atelier Lydie & Suelle Firis

As I said last time, most of my English reviews will now be published on VGChartz. Once again, it is a significant opportunity for me so I definitely want to play that card to the maximum. In order to organize things on this end, I’ll write a report like this every new season to recap every article. That said, I will have a few blog-exclusive PSVita reviews coming, so stay tuned for that also.

Review – The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

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Massive JRPG, Trails of Cold Steel III kept me busy for something like 130h, making it one of the longest games that I’ve ever played (excluding the 400h on Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, but that’s another story). Characters, storytelling, combat, strategy… Falcom’s talent fully gathered in one memorable adventure, its only problem being the subpar graphics considering it’s a PS4 exclusive now.

Review – Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

SH2

The second part of the non-localized historical spin-off of the Ace Attorney series. This entry send us back to Sherlock Holmes’s London, where defense lawyer Ryônosuke will have again to find his way to the truth in tricky cases. A lot more exciting than the first one, Great Ace Attorney 2 sheds light on many unanswered questions and features crime cases full of humor and also incomparable atmosphere.

Review – Death Mark (PSVita/PS4)

Death Mark Akazukin

Well, you probably know this one. This is the updated review of one of my top games of last year, a horror story that I think is not going to be matched any soon. This article draws a brief recap of the sixth chapter, appeared in the PS4 version and given as free DLC on PSVita.

Review – Atelier Lydie & Suelle The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings (PS4)

Atelier Lydie & Suelle

Hugely anticipated as far as I’m concerned (since Atelier took back the GOTY spot last year), this newest Atelier game kinda fell short of the great expectations I had for it, because of its appalling level-design, the irritating DLC policy and the flat story. A serviceable Atelier game, but far from the best entries.

Review – Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet (PS4)

Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet Shinon (2)

Another new installment I was eager to experience, I even bought the digital premium edition with the season pass. No regrets, but the feeling that BandaiNamco is unable to make a SAO game without silly mistakes in it. The renewed gameplay is cool, gun-friendly world of Gun Gale Online is fun to roam into, but little presence of SAO characters makes it feel like a different IP.

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Most anticipated games of 2018

Fate Extella Link (PS4/PSVita)

Astolfo

How great to see Marvelous keeping Vita version for Fate Extella Link ! PS4 version obviously getting a huge graphical overhaul, it was far from guaranteed. But yes, we’ll be able to fight for the holy Grail in cross-play, with new fun or classy characters like cute Astolfo or sexy Sacthach. There’s even a full Mah-Jong game in the limited edition !!

Girls und Panzers Dream Tank Match (PS4)

DTM d

Girls und Panzers on PSVita already being a good adaptation, I’m looking forward to experiencing the same sensations in a prettier, smoother and richer PS4 entry. Girls und Panzers Dream Tank Match features all the characters, all the tanks and all the battles from the movie, all this also in multiplayer.

Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet (PS4)

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At long last ! Three years… I’ve been waiting 3 years for an SAO game taking place in the fantastic universe of Gun Gale Online, featured in the Phantom Bullet arc. I’m gonna be able to SNIPE at will as Shinon or the original avatar. Because Bamco finally understood that the player wants maximum choice : you’ll have Kirito and his friends plus an original character to create yourself, who’s gonna have its own story. Artworks looks extremely promising and multiplayer should be implemented again. It’s time for SAO to be back on top.

Senran Kagura Burst Renewal (PS4)

Yomi

Thanks to Senran Kagura Burst Renewal, we’ll almost be able to wipe the series history clean of Nintendo systems. The founding game telling the story of the first two ninja schools is being remade for PS4 in splendid 3D and 60 fps, with redesigned menus.

Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4)

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Clearly no one expected Shining Resonance to show up again. And when you think it’s coming back with a whole new scenario in which you have Jenuis and Excella from the start, the hype goes high ! The story would need to be re-written entirely, and I’m curious to see how.

Death End Request (PS4)

Shina

Compile Heart is in dire straits. Sales keep dwindling, new ideas and skillfullness lack clearly. Their last hope is Nanameda Kei, Compile’s new star illustrator, and the Galapagos RPG team. Taking place in an MMORPG from where the heroine Shiina cannot escape, Death End Request seems to be the innovative and deep title the company needs, not to mention it respects Compile’s spirit.

Caligula Overdose (PS4)

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Yet another remaster with additional content, but this one is interesting : adding to new friends and foes, Caligula Overdose includes an “if story” in which you’re gonna side with the opposing gakushi, and explore their personalities as you did for your allies.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 (PS4)

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Was it all a bad dream ? I kind remember playing a failed Action-RPG called Valkyria one year ago… Yeah, that was surely a dream. Valkyria Chronicles, the real one, is coming back like it has ever been, in an episode featuring the missions of the Atlantic Federation (you know, the diplomats trying to lure you in the first game) against the Empire in snowy lands. Game system, battle system… everything is inherited from the original Valkyria Chronicles (they understood that it was better not to change anything) and characters seem charismatic. This means a big 14’000¥ collector’s edition for me.

Soul Calibur VI (PS4)

Sophitia SC6a

SoulCalibur’s return was sure desired, but less expected. But still we’re gonna be able to cross swords a 6th time. Namco has mention some ideas about reboot and “simplicity”. Quite not what I want to hear but they did a good job with Tekken, so that should go well…

Catherine Full Body (PS4/PSVita)

Rin

This wasn’t expected either, even less on PSVita. Thanks to that handheld version, I’ll be able to experience that strange dating/puzzle game. Vincent, a unresolved young man, spends his days in a bar where a girl called Catherine tries to seduce him. During the night, Vincent is trapped in his dreams, in which he must escape by climbing a sort of Jenga tower ! A clear UFO that will be perfect for commuting.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim (PS4/PSVita)

13S

Let’s say it again, 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim has the potential to become the next 2D adventure masterpiece thanks to its incomparable atmosphere. A handful of high-schoolers must act before and after the end of the world, helped by strange mechas. With time and choice parameters, it looks absolutely outstanding.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

Luna

Final Fantasy XV development is going smoothly according to SquareEnix, who publishes Active Time Reports on a regular basis.There will be an early access version on PC in a few weeks, with only 4 playable characters (not the best ones). Probably SquareEnix will polish the game at this occasion, before hopefully giving all the information on the final version.

Zanki Zero (PS4/PSVita)

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Quite austere Survival-RPG, Zanki Zero was back at TGS with new interesting hints. As developers had already shown, the characters should age, and there seem to be some strange resurrection mechanic… Well, the fate of those 8 survivalists is still shrouded in mystery.

The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel IV (PS4)

Dubally

Trails of Cold Steel IV is a nightmare for Western fans of The Legend of Heroes (you, actually). The first pictures are potential huge spoilers about Trails of Cold Steel III and they’re being shared everywhere in the world as we speak. But of course, for me and Japanese fans, those informations are highly valuable for knowing what to expect.

Granblue Fantasy Re-link (PS4)

GBF qrcher

The gameplay video of Granblue Fantasy Relink surprised pretty much everyone. No one expected such high end graphics and exciting action. We should have though, because the people behind this are the geniuses of Platinum Games. Although the talented developer seem to stay on Nintendo’s side, we’ll gladly take such epic heroic-fantasy, especially since it will be in VR too.

I’m also waiting for Persona 5 Dancing Star Night (PS4/PSVita), Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night (PS4/PSVita), Project Lux (PSVR), Ace Combat 7 (PS4), Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4), Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4), Ni no Kuni II Revenant Kingdom (PS4), Code Vein (PS4), Senran Kagura 7EVEN (PS4), World End Syndrome (PSVita) and Bullet Girls Phantasia (PS4/PSVita).

Review – Accel World vs Sword Art Online Millenium Twilight

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After the considerable disappointment experienced with Sword Art Online Hollow Realization, I had stopped believing in BandaiNamco’s capacity to make something good with Dengeki’s famous IP. The choice of Sword Art Online Lost Song as base was more reason to skip Accel World vs Sword Art Online. However, Japanese articles ended up showing some attractiveness in it, which proved to be true.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Persona Vabel

Forget your desire for an epic story : this one is again quite badly structured or written. It starts as a masked witch calling herself Persona Vabel gatecrashes Alfheim Online. Nothing big, you might think, but the damsel actually comes from 1000 years in the future and makes eras collide in the process. Vabel doesn’t stop here and kidnaps Yui, whose removal, she thinks, will lead to a brighter future.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online villain

As you’d expect, Kirito and Asuna fly to rescue their daughter. Problem is that the game is a complete mess as it merged with the Accel World universe, whose characters starts coming one after another. Kuroyukihime and her pals will soon cooperate with Kirito’s group : like in Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, the VS” is just for show. The real snag is that the distortion also invited Accel World’s villains, who will block your path in every possible way.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Yui

But that leads to a very long secquence in which nothing really happens : 30 hours of eventless exploring and fighting on 40 in total. Besides, numerous events feel unclear without a certain knowledge of Accel World’s scenario, and it’s not re-explained as you progress. You do have to wait the very end and the ultimate truth about Vabel’s identity to experience a SAO-like narrative. The ending is pretty much inventive and somewhat moving, but that’s little in the whole adventure.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Kuroyukihime

While the main story is uneven, the side events in Accel World vs Sword Art Online are a lot better than before. First and adding to Persona Vabel’s identity, it leaves quite interesting hints for future developments, particularly in Yûki’s case because her destiny might change considerably in this gaming non-canon part. The second point is that character events are a lot funnier and feel newer because Accel World brings characters with personalities as eccentric as their outfits : Kuroyukihime has a bust size complex, superior beingMetatron keeps looking down and shouting at you, and Ashe Roller’s true self is a memorable laugh. SAO characters participate to the fun no less, with more wacky humor and less of the childishness Hollow Realization kept imposing us.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online kuroyukihime

Jokes also becomes quite lewder again, fan service aspect which had progressively disappeared and that we have been missing since Hollow Fragment. Renewed fan service and better sides events lead to more enjoyable artworks : nearly all of them are great (kinky or not). The side content of Accel World vs Sword Art Online hence was made a lot spicier for the core fans to throughfully enjoy the game between gameplay phases. This episode contains a few real time cutscenes, but no more anime-style ones. The 3D looking cheap on PS4, this is actually a lesser experience. As we’re talking about side content, let’s stress that there are only 2 sidequests, which weren’t very great because they rehash the same bosses/fields on uninspired writing. You do have the usual hunt/fetch quests : nothing fantastic but it’s always nice to complete them while leveling up, and there’s a nice trophy as reward.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online blood leopard

The publisher doesn’t hesitate to brag about the record number of playable characters in this episode. DLC taken into account, that makes 44 characters available in the game in a whole, that is to say… 44 times more than last year’s game ! Undoubtly an excellent decision… And that’s not meaningless PR talk because each Accel World character has a unique fighting style, while SAO characters still see their actions determined by the weapon they use (plenty of them by the way, including the bow this time). Blood Leopard for example transforms into a crimson beast to tear up enemies, Aqua Current has a variety of water abilities, etc. Those moves are thus extremely varied. Customisation is different too : you have to collect BP & materials to improve their attack stat, and acquire external modules to add various status effects. Accel World characters cannot fly unlike the others but are a lot quicker and agressive on the ground. The complementarity of gameplay of this cross-over is an outstanding success.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Rain

As for your usual SAO characters, you’ll find the same aerial gameplay you had in Lost Song. It’s still far from perfect especially in getting the right height and managing distances, but it does benefit from magic spells to make it more RPG-like. Accel World vs Sword Art Online also adds a certain number of ultimate moves, like, much to her fans’ delight, Shinon’s sniper rifle. Last innovation but not the least, Skill Connect allows the player to chain several abilities, which deals 10% more damage each time you do it (a bit like in Star Ocean series). Slowly but surely, BandaiNamco is delivering deeper combat in SAO games.

Alas, Accel World vs Sword Art Online inherits the terrible animations that were in Lost Song. Characters are stiff and battles end up a bit dull despite the effort put on more dynamic super moves, some of them meant to be impressive. Small consolation within a dated technical showing. On PSVita the frame-rate is so bad that I ended up dropping that version entirely. That’s too bad because character modeling was good on the handheld.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Lux

On PS4, it can be considered okay at best : some characters are prettier than others, one field is significantly more detailed and good-looking, but we’re still talking about a slightly enhanced 2-year old PS3 engine. The most annoying aspect was difficulty balance. The main story is quite easy but postgame gets really hard all of a sudden, not to say unfair since the game forces you to use one or more characters. Let’s say it again : it is unacceptable to impose characters if you the game doesn’t have them level up at the same time as the others. Even though you can tweak that with BP (at considerable expense) or by changing the difficulty settings in last resort (often disheartening).

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Alice 2

DLCs are symptomatic of this. The road leading to Alice is tough and getting her to join you is even harder. You can always see the good side of things and reckon you’ve finally got challenging trials ahead, but I’m not so sure about struggling to desperation to obtain a charcater you’ve bought with real money.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Shinon swimsuit 1

Nevertheless, this season pass has its merits, especially for Persona Vabel playable at once, Heathcliff included and an array of very nice outfits.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online plain

Last improvement of Accel World vs Sword Art Online, the progression system is better. The fields might feel identical to the ones in Lost Song, they are far larger in height ! Maximum altitude has been doubled, there are new underground locations/floating islands, the landscape has been made chaotic, etc, so that it feels actually new. You can go higher and farer, and the game has been made far less linear, giving a few hints instead of marking everything on the minimap. You’ll come across a few clever puzzles, true searching phases, which gives the satisfaction of overcoming the trials by your own wits and skill.

While short from being the necessary evolution to make Sword Art Online games as great as the movie for example, Accel World vs Sword Art Online does fix a number of mistakes made those past 2 years. The cross-over aspect has definitely be well conducted, ensuring a variety of gameplay and an enjoyable universe. Still not immersive enough in graphics, animation or direction, it’s however this time a nice buy for SAO fans.

A look back at some E3 2017 videos

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Transference (PSVR)

Only game to have drawn my attention during conferences, Transference is a intriguing UGO from Ubisoft. The publisher takes neurological experiences conducted in the late 90’s as base. It was about transferring human emotions into a digital space. By reflecting that in virtual reality, the French company lets us expect a mystical and deeply frightening experience.

Gran Turismo Sport (PS4)

With its Jurassic Park-like music, Gran Turismo Sport comes to reminds us that racing simulation is not just about teraflops. It’s also about impressive racing tracks, joyful atmosphere, great music and lavish show. As many aspects that Sony’s exclusive won’t lack when facing Forza 7.

Code Vein (PS4/XB1/PC)

Not very different from the trailer of last month, Code Vein’s trailer (strangely shown during Microsoft conference, BandaiNamco will have a lot of explaining to do at home) still’s worth a glimpse. It’s kind of a God Eater of darker design and world, with slower but more powerful gameplay. But more than that, the giant leap in graphics and animation is especially exciting.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim (PS4/PSVita)

Announced two years ago, we still don’t know what 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is for sure. Atlus brings it to E3 without even giving detail on its platforms or its genre… We therefore have to kill time watching this beautiful trailer until the publisher finally reveals everything. The music has a striking sense of grandeur, and the devastated and soulless Earth is intriguing.

Review – Summon Night 6 Lost Borders

SN6

Starting with Summon Night 5 released in 2015 in Europe and the Americas, BandaiNamco’s series debuted only recently in the West on… PSP! Sony’s unwavering first handheld thus was the first home of this series of strategy RPGs, which had previously been on home consoles too. Therefore, it lead the way to Summon Night 6, now coming to PS4 and PSVita.

Summon Night 6 Rage Amu

PSVita

Summon Night 6’s story opens on Rage’s (yes, that’s his official name) bucolic life. He lives in an closed and barren world called Filuja… of which he’s the only inhabitant! Filuja’s particularity is that stuff continuously rains from the sky, so Rage can make a living with food cans and other resources fallen from nowhere. This monotonous life will end when he finds actual people coming down. Amu, young and quiet girl bearing a large hunting rifle, experiences the same life and events. Before them, a huge white wall, like the surface of a cocoon. With the help of their new partners, they’ll look for a way to find out the truth about the wall, and solve the mysteries of Filuja.

Summon Night 6 Alka1

PSVita

Amu, Rage and the strange “manager” Yst turn out to be the only new characters of Summon Night 6, because their comrades fallen from the skies all belong to previous episodes of the series. The cast is fairly large tough since the entire Summon Night series turns up for this sixth game. For example, you’ll find Alka from Summon Night 5, Rachel from Summon Night 4 or Natsumi from the very first one among the 30 characters or so. That re-use is hardly an issue for us, because westerners will likely discover all those characters for the first time. The choice offered is more than satisfying and like Fire Emblem, the designs and personalities are varied. Note that in Japan, free DLCs added several secondary characters as playable ones.

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PS4

Ragu/Amu will be able to deepen their relationship with other characters via night talk. This has on impact on the end of the story because very character has its own ending provided the friend level with the main character is maxed. This gives Summon Night 6 lots of different endings.

Summon Night 6 Aty

PSVita

On the other hand, Summon Night 6 has countless references to the scenario of past episodes, which implies a good knowledge of the series in a whole. Otherwise, conversations are pretty hard to follow. From the point of view of Summon Night 6, all the previous characters come from worlds that are parallel to Filuja, which can even welcome the same person twice, but of different look and destiny. Misunderstandings are frequent and will lead to many comical situations in the dialogs between the characters.

Summon Night 6 features kilometers of chat, most of the time disconnected from the story and, frankly, not stellar even with the best tolerance you can have. The biggest issue is that very little talk is actually dubbed : most of the (never-ending) dialogs are text only and it can be tiring fairly quickly. So Summon Night 6 kinda looks like a Summon Night All Stars, not very immersive because to main story gets drowned in a flood of idle gossip.

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PS4

The progression is divided into chapters, each one including a battle, very much like Fire Emblem. That’s not the only resemblance with the king of the genre because the battle screen looks exactly the same as the legendary Path of Radiance of the no less great GameCube : characters are represented in 3D on a squared map also involving the height factor. Distance is also a key-element as weapons have various reach (sword, spears, bows, etc.) and magic can be used too. For example, katanas allow you to attack diagonally and prevent the enemy’s counterattack. The game is full of small parameters like this, creating a wide range of possibilities. As in Super Heroine Chronicle for example, the height difference is to be taken into account because it impacts accuracy.

Summon Night 6 summon

PSVita

But the long list of gameplay elements in Summon Night 6 doesn’t end here. In Summon Night, there is Summon and that’s not coincidence. Each character can summon certain creatures to assist him/her. Only way to use elements and cure, those little friends will be increasingly important as difficulty goes up : tough monsters must be attacked with magic and with the right element which supposes analysis and knowledge. Because like weapons, summon stones can be upgraded at the shop for more power.

Summon Night 6 Rachel Aty burst

PSVita

In battle, the summoner can ask nearby characters to assist him and improve the effects of the blow : that’s called Summon Assist. Even better yet, two characters can unite their summons to call a massive and powerful beast : this Summon Burst strikes on a wide zone, which makes it the strongest move in Summon Night 6. Be careful not to hit your other characters though, because friendly fire is activated.

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PS4

After the victory screen, there are still tactical choices to be made. Every time a character destroys an enemy unit (and even more for the last one), he/she earns some SP that allows him/her to learn new active or passive skills. There are lots of skills like that and they have extremely precise and varied roles/effects. By analyzing those effects, you can easily build your own playstyle. For example, Enishia can gradually replenish MP to adjacent allies (something you definitely want to have if you rely on powerful summons). “Connect” allows characters to assist each other for physical attacks, “item throw” allow you to heal distant characters, “counter” saves turns, etc. The choice is even larger because when characters change class, they can use a different weapon which multiply the potential skills he/she can use. With all this, Summon Night 6 is great for those who like micro management.

Summon Night 6 S

PSVita

The game system being that rich, Summon Night 6 would have been among the best S-RPGs if only it hadn’t made some stupid blunders. Difficulty setting is one of them : the challenge is badly distributed in the game, more than half of the chapters being super easy. It’s not uncommon to see your best trained characters taking 1HP damage every turn… in hard mode! The last missions are tougher and thus more interesting, but in a whole it’s not very compelling. Besides, there’s no permadeath and you can swap characters from reserve anytime. The only hardcore element is this : a KO character cannot earn experience. A questionable choice because it affects party balance.

Summon Night 6 battle1

PSVita

The Felistella/Media Vision-developed game suffers from other aspects. The first thing a player does in a S-RPG is to overview the map to assess the situation. That’s where it gets annoying : the camera “blocks” around 90° when you try to turn it. There’s just no way to see the map from the desired angle! That might be seen as a detail, but it’s really bothering in actual gameplay. Combat interface could be better, moving and choosing various actions not being very intuitive. Moving distance is also too low, creating bottlenecks within the group.

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PS4

Summon Night 6 features some mini-games and secondary activities. Fishing is available and fairly complete with various baits to use. Cooking can keep you busy also, provided you can get ingredients (since they’re pretty rare). Side missions will have you form groups of 3 characters thrown into some sort of survival mode in which they face waves of enemies. It’s a convenient way to get experience, except that here you don’t control the party members : the IA fights on its own, the important thing being to choose allies whose element will have the advantage.

Summon Night 6

PSVita

Of a design very much like old Fire Emblem, Summon Night 6 is visually stunning on PSVita : frame-rate and animation never waver, graphically it’s clean and detailed, characters look absolutely wonderful for a portable game. The game is strictly the same on PS4, so this version isn’t very interesting comparatively unless you want to record your gameplay. The sound environment is uneven : sound effects are way to discreet to liven up the atmosphere, but some musics are very cool, like the victory themes or the 3 village melodies.

Benefiting from a rich battle system and a great casting, Summon Night 6 could have been a reference in its genre had the story and challenge been more compelling. Beautiful, but not always passionate, it can still be attractive for fans of the genre for its design and its unit management.

Review – Tales of Berseria

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Hard to explain the story of Tales of Berseria without spoiling it like the western trailer did. So let’s skip the details and just say that the heroine Velvet travels seeking vengeance against a man called Artorius, who happens to have been her stepbrother. Velevet and Artorius’s entwined fates take a great importance since she’s so determined to slaughter the man who’d come to be the older brother she’s never had.

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Tales of Berseria main topic is resentment and Velvet is the right incarnation of that. Transformed into a gôma (demon, former word to designate Tales of Zestiria’s hyôma), she manages to keep a human appearance, save her now ghostly black hand. That cursed arm allows her to eat onter gôma and humans, which she will do without faltering if it serves her purposes. Locked in a the highest security jail in the world, she’ll eventually escape thanks to the help of a Seirei (former name of Tales of Zestiria’s Tenzoku) called Shirizu.

It’s a personal thought, but the major problem I see in this latest Tales is that it struggles to go beyond the theme of vengeance : the main story has too few plot twists and doesn’t show moral values as strong as in past episodes. There’s no transcending the basic setting to go towards a more complex truth. The narrative is kinda even and didn’t always keep my interest on 70 hours of play.

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While the main story can disappoint in a whole, it is well structured despite the lack of major events in the first stages of the adventure. Tales of Berseria sets a few interesting secondary themes like child/parent relationship, focused on Eleanor. The young Templar has a major role in the story and will be at the center of the most emotional moments. She is the character representing principles and values, herself driven to cause irreparable harm while being tormented by her past.

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The other interesting aspect of the narrative is that it explains who Tales of Zestiria’s world (it takes place hundreds of years before the latter) was formed. It does it extremely well because it makes you experience the genesis of key-elements of the former in remarkable fashion. In particular, the birth of the Kamui was a powerful scene, maybe the climax of the game. You also come to witness the rise of the dôshi (the hero of the people, Sorey’s role in Tales of Zestiria) who is… Artorius himself! The “bad guy” of Tales of Berseria is actually the savior of the world because he’s nearly eradicated the gôma that threatened humans. Hero or not, Velvet’s hate will never falter against this man who took everything from her, and she doesn’t care if the whole world turns against her. This is the greatness of Tales of Berseria’s narrative : you actually fight against what you were in Tales of Zestiria. Good is evil, and evil is good. This clever point of view of the story is most interesting to experience.

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Cutscenes and the general direction support the narrative in a quite efficient way, but here again it’s towards the end that you’ll be really blown away. Some real time cutscenes are among the greatest in the series, like the duel between Rokurô and Shigure, or the final confrontation. The extreme precision with which battles are drawn is something you rarely find in JRPGs, at least not at this level of quality. Tales of Berseria also has I think more convincing villains than the previous game. The tokutô taimashi, the elite templars at the head of the seiryô (totalitarian Church founded by Artorius) are formidable opponents and have close ties with some of your characters. Those characters have a sort of powerful aura in them, a charisma not especially coming from their “wickedness” but more more in their strong beliefs and the honor they put in them.

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Your party won’t disappoint either, because as always BandaiNamco’s character design team makes an amazing work to describe and give an unforgettable personality to the heroes. It kinda came as a surprise, but the most fascinating characters has actually been Aizen : the lieutenant of the valorous pirates you’re journeying with is victim of a curse that makes him the most unlucky person in the world. Every time he casts his coin representing the goddess on one side and the reaper on the other side, he gets the reaper side! The famous skits of the series are of course back and they’re full of hilarious joke often related to his bad luck. Besides, the way he corresponds with Edna through letters is extremely fun too, but also touching when you know what fate awaits the brother and sister.

The battle system is a variant of the one seen in Tales of Zestiria : we’re still in real time and the action is still based on dodging. L1 is used to enter defensive state and trigger sidestepping and such, so as to replace yourself when attacking. By default, the character moves freely on the battle zone, so he can escape danger more easily. This time, X, Δ, O and all have one unique combo or magic. For example, Velvet performs a kick combo of fire element on O while while X makes her draws her hidden blade. Eleanor has a more hybrid attack style, composed with efficient spear combos and high-end magic. Note that you can modify all those combos anytime by inserting the skills you prefers to any of the buttons. You’re not even forced to stay on the same buttons : you can mix them to create further combo combinations.

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The general architecture of battle too is close to Zestiria’s. There’s something called Soul gauge divided between small blue spots that sets the number of hits you can chain. Above this number, the gauge turns red and you may get countered. You therefore have to keep a minimum «stock» of blows at all times. The maximum level of Soul can go up and down, which might be trouble for the player. You can get Soul points in the following cases : by stunning an enemy, destroying an enemy or picking a small blue square on the battle area (in this later case, they pop if an ally is KO or when you dodge). Precise and reactive players who will manage to keep a high level of Soul at all times and fully enjoy the fight. But if you have less good reflexes, the system is highly punitive.

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I’ve put some thinking into this all long my 72 hours of play, and I keep thinking that the system is not ideal, even more so if you compare to Zestiria or Xillia1&2. It’s certainly exhilarating when you have the upper hand in battle because chaining combos and Breaksoul feels dynamic and awesome, but at the same time it’s really unfair to the player if he makes mistakes because he finds himself lacking Soul. In such case, getting back in the fight is difficult and you often have to wait because you can perform long enough combos. The other downside is the boss battles : while you always have some chance to get back Soul against countless small enemies, it’s however quite rare against a solo boss, who by the way is resistant to stun. As a consequence, the boss fights, which are the pinnacle of any JRPG, here in Tales of Berseria actually are the less exciting ones. BGs are back and are still used to unleash the powerful Mystic Artes, but you need to perform Breaksoul to earn them. So no Soul → no Breaksoul → no Mystic Artes. Worse, you lose BGs when you are KO… a sad vicious circle that makes boss fights almost a chore.

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By pushing R2 longer, you can perform the Breaksoul I’ve been talking about. This is a special ability unique to each character and that adds some strategy to this Tales of. For example, Rokurô can launch a powerful counter after a successful guard on an enemy’s physical attack. Magilou is a nightmare for magical creatures because she can cancel and absorb magic from casting enemies, herself launching a magical counterattack too. Eleanor launches the enemy upwards to follow with an aerial combo. Breaksoul being able to break enemy guard, it is key to victory because opponents are highly liable to defend. Breaksoul also makes you recover HP and BG, but costs a Soul point. The tactical intend of this system is very clear and the swift character changing makes it quite relevant. Note that there sometimes is a second Breaksoul (like Eleanor’s), which heals you even more and allows for longer combos, then ultimately to the amazing 2nd Mystic Artes.

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Velvet will call the demon in her arm to steal a enemy skill. Similarly to Final Fantasy’s Blue Magic, the attack that Velvet will launch depends on the type of enemy encountered. The boss in the video gives a sort of cross-shaped blue flame whereas by «stealing» Ents, Velvet will scratch the ground violently, causing a mini-earthquake. Those powerful skills have cost : Velvet’s HP will gradually diminish when her black hand is deployed.

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The equipment menu is also much like in Tales of Zestiria, but the whole system has totally changed. Now the characters can learn passive skills from the pieces of equipment, provided they keep those on them long enough. Pretty much what you had in Final Fantasy IX for example. Upgrading equipment is a major part of Tales of Berseria’s gameplay : you can dismantle old gear to get raw materials and reinforce new weapons and armor. Each time you upgrade, the piece of equipment receive bonus stats, additional passive skills and greater Soul & BG upper limit.

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In terms of side content, Tales of Berseria has quite a lot in store. First thing, you can send your ship explore far waters. It can come back with new recipes, ingredients or even the much desired swimsuits for your characters. Those may not be extremely pretty compared to the DLC outfits, but at least they’re free. You can also earn “treasures” which are easter eggs to former Tales of games. That said, it’s less compelling than Tales of Zestiria’s “discoveries”.

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Tales of Berseria has a couple of poor mini-games, except for one : it’s a card game very much like the Japanese game koi-koi, made with cards representing former Tales of characters. You draw a card each turn, and you try to regroup them by game or by role. A quite interesting mini-game that reminds us of Tales of Vesperia and Tales of Xillia 2. Another optional event, “dangerous” battles (when you encounter two enemy symbols at once) sometimes lead to even more dangerous fight featuring rare monsters. The game also contains hidden islands interesting in one particular aspect : that’s the only place where you will be able to use your PS4 share. BandaiNamco unfortunately keeps that retarded mentality of denying player the ability of sharing their experience of the main story.

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Finally each character has his/her own sidequest in which you’ll have to revisit every town and every dungeon. Rokurô continues his quest for power by chasing powerful beasts, Magilou will organize comic performances, Laphicet tries to make a legendary elixir, Aizen is looking for present for Edna… More amazing still, Millia and Jude from Tales of Xillia will infiltrate Velvet’s world in a rather surprising form!

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Exploration is a little disappointment in Tales of Berseria. Level design is nothing special, and dungeons are significantly less interesting than Tales of Zestiria’s. Only one had you solve a real puzzle to advance, the only one that made exploration a little exciting. Graphically too, there’s no revolution in sight : still developing on PS3 at the same time, BandaiNamco keeps a worn out 3D engine. Characters still get beautiful models, animations and moves are precise and lively, but the environment around you looks mediocre at best. Dungeons in particular are seriously bland, and are direct copies of what we’ve seen in Tales of Zestiria. Only advantage of this new Tales of, teleport bottles can get you into town in a flash.

To conclude, still a fascinating Tales of to experience despite the somewhat flattish main story. Scenario structure, direction, cutscenes, characters and sidequests enrich the game experience more than enough to spend long hours of play. I still consider it a little less good than Tales of Zestiria because the battle system is not perfect and exploring not as interesting.