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April 3, 2017

Tales of Berseria is…

So I had a moment with Tales of Berseria the other day.

I was pretty much in the last stretch of the game -- more than capable of waltzing right into the final dungeon, at least after I tied up some loose ends vis a vis the sidequests that opened up.  I did as many of those quests as I could, since I worked under the assumption that -- by virtue of the game taking up much-needed memory space on the PS4 -- I might never get the chance to play it again.  As of this post, I’ve finished the game.  I didn’t do everything (like the post-game dungeon) because I need to move on to other stuff.  But I’d say 95% of the stones were turned.

In any case, one of those sidequests got a real reaction out of me.  I didn’t cry or anything, though.  It’s just that…well, I won’t go into detail about it, because it’s a spoiler for both Berseria and (to a lesser extent) its predecessor Zestiria.  But it does involve/clarify a core character’s fate, which is just as dire as you’d expect.  Said character -- Eizen, the one who had become my favorite character -- happened to be the one I was using as an avatar on the field at the time.  So when the cutscene finished and I regained control, I could’ve gone on to do other stuff.  Fight more daemons, search for treasure, et cetera.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t really do anything.  I took Eizen to the edge of the area -- a grassy, pleasant plateau that just made it through the rain -- and stared out at the world beyond.  The fields, the mountains, the clouds, the sky; all of it stretched before me, with blooming flowers set behind my avatar’s feet.  I drew a slew of deep breaths -- one slow, chilled sigh after another.  It wasn’t something I did out of exasperation or frustration.  Certainly not despair, either.  I guess the closest word would be “melancholy”.  I had every right to be melancholic, I think, since at long last I had learned the circumstances behind Eizen -- the one question that had been on my mind since I first learned he would be a playable character.

But as impactful as that moment was, I don’t think that’s the sole reason I stood there on that plateau.  I know it wasn’t.  I knew it then, and I know it now.  It was in that moment, when I had the truth sealed firmly in a recess of my mind, that I realized the end of the game drew near.  So did the end of my adventure.  So did the end of countless battles.  So did the end of innumerable laugh riots.  So did the end of my travels -- my privilege to travel with Velvet, with Laphicet, with Rokuro, with Eleanor, with Magilou, with Eizen.  And so, as I stood on that plateau, one single, simple thought came to mind.

“I’m gonna miss these guys.”

I wasn’t wrong.

Tales of Berseria is a long game.  Very long.  Not counting game overs and lost progress, Zestiria took me about 56 hours to beat.  By the same metric, Berseria took me about 77 hours to beat.  I could’ve beaten it sooner.  I should’ve beaten it sooner; this spring has seen an onslaught of weighty, gold-star releases, and by the time you read this you’ll probably be well on your way with the show-stopping Persona 5.  But even of another massive JRPG is right around the corner for me (and all of us), I wanted to play Berseria as much as possible.  I did sidequest after sidequest and fought daemon after daemon.  It wasn’t just for bragging rights, or a virtual trophy, or even for the sake of pretending I was some kind of completionist.  Well, maybe that last one factored in on some level.  But the more I played, the more I could pretend like the game could never end -- that I’d never have to say goodbye.

It’s been a while since a game made me feel like this.  Arguably, there’s never been a game that could make me feel like this.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration; maybe it isn’t.  Either way?  It doesn’t change my intense love for the game.  Nor does it strip away its merits, or the respect I think it deserves.  For that reason -- for the fact that I’m legitimately getting misty-eyed while writing this post -- I have to make an assertion.  Tales of Berseria is, without a doubt, one of my favorite games of all time.

I won’t even try to rank it, because the proverbial “Top Ten” list is a nebulous cloud of titles and half-formed memories.  But it’s up there, because it should be up there.  Tales games before this one have been legitimately, consistently good.  The same is going to apply to Tales games after this one.  But this game -- this, of all entries! -- is the one that broke a barrier no others have managed to breach.  It’s a thrilling prospect, since it could mean that this is the new standard that Berseria’s successors will follow.  But with it comes disappointment, and even frustration, for the worst possible reasons.

My fear, if not my belief in the greatest injustice in the gaming world, is that Tales of Berseria will go completely unnoticed and untouched by most of the populace.  It’s not the biggest name in the JRPG pantheon.  It’s by no means a mainstream franchise, with conventions and aesthetics that may invite scorn instead of praise.  And worst of all?  It’s a title that’s released in a season drowning in high-profile, must-have games.  I’d imagine that even a JRPG enthusiast will wipe the calendar clean, knowing full well that Persona 5 would crush April (and beyond) underfoot.  And I can’t stand the thought. 

I want people -- as many people as possible -- to enjoy the franchise that’s steadily tried to support the genre and the medium alike.  Admittedly, my motives are as selfish as they get; even my high-minded ideals don’t mean much when the subtext is “everybody come and like this game I like”.  But I hope you don’t mind me being a little selfish.  If it’s for the sake of art, I’ll gladly play the role of the dastardly villain.

So yes.  I am absolutely going to write more about this game; in my eyes, it deserves nothing less than whatever tribute I can offer.  If it manages to convince even a single person to give it a try -- to set aside some time in an utterly frozen gaming schedule -- then I’ll have returned the favor.  I want to do much more than that, and reach more people than that, obviously.  But I have to start somewhere.  And I hope that you guys will come along with me on this brand new journey.

Why?  Because in the end, Tales of Berseria is a lot of things.  And who knows?  Maybe one day soon, it’ll mean as much to you as it does to me.

See you next time.

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