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Tales of Berseria is a role-playing video game, where players navigate the game’s world through the game’s characters from a third-person perspective. As with previous Tales games, characters can interact through Skits, animated clips that play outside cutscenes and battle: characters are represented by head-and-shoulder portraits, and conversations can range from serious to comedic. New to the series’ Skit systems is a cut-in effect, where at certain moments within skits characters in various poses will appear in response to the dialogue.
As with previous Tales titles, the game uses a variation of the Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS). Berseria’s version is dubbed the “Liberation-LMBS”: when in the battle zone, players can freely move around the arena and rotate the camera at will. Characters fight using physical and magical attacks, along with performing skills known as Artes that have various effects on enemies such as stunning them or causing status ailments. Artes can be directly mapped to different control buttons. Abilities outside normal combat include guarding against attacks, side-stepping around opponents, and escaping from battle.
A key element in battles is the Soul Gauge, which replaces the move-governing mechanics of earlier Tales games: each character has a separate gauge showing up to five Souls, which are used up when Artes are used. While characters can still attack, their attacks can be easily deflected by enemies, but the Soul Gauge automatically recharges with time. Souls are dropped by enemies in battle which can be “stolen” to refill the gauge, a mechanic that enemies can also use to steal Souls from the player. If enough of the Soul Gauge is full characters can activate unique states called the Break Soul, where they can exceed their combo limit and bring unique effects into battle: for instance, Velvet’s Break Soul triggers her arm to become bestial and different elemental attacks are triggered depending on enemy type. The main party consists of four characters which can all be assigned as the controlled character during battle, with the other available playable characters held in reserve. A mechanic called the Switch Blast can be used when changing characters: by consuming a portion of the Blast Gauge, the controlled party member switches out for a reserve member, who delivers a free attack. The Blast Gauge is also depleted by performing power attacks called Mystic Artes.
Berseria takes places in the Holy Midgand Empire, a powerful country that rules over this world’s archipelago of a continent. The game’s world is shared with Tales of Zestiria, although the events will occur in the distant past of Zestiria. There are countless numbers of islands around, and Midgand’s rule crosses even the seas. Areas of land and islands in the game are divided into “territories.” Along with humans, one of the other main races is the Malakim (singular: Malak), supernatural spirits whose wills are sealed and used by humans as slaves to utilize their magical abilities after being made visible to even normal humans due to the Advent, an incident 3 years prior to Velvet’s escape from her prison. Throughout the empire, a disease known as Daemonblight causes those infected to lose their humanity and sense of rationality and transform into monsters known as Daemons, who pose a threat to the world. Along with the rulers of the Holy Midgand Empire exists a theocratic order known as the Abbey, who are of great political and religious importance and are influential in imperial affairs. The Exorcists, soldiers from the Abbey, are tasked with bringing peace and order by purging the world of Daemons and are willing to go to extremes to reach their goal.
When she was a child, Velvet Crowe and her younger brother Laphicet were saved by her brother-in-law Artorius when a Scarlet Night happened and the Daemonblight consumed their village—Velvet’s pregnant older sister Celica is killed by the disease through an event known as the “Opening”. A few years later, Velvet lives with Laphicet and Artorius in another village. The Scarlet Night returns, with the entire village succumbing to the Daemonblight: when Velvet finds Artorius, she sees him sacrifice her brother as part of a ritual, known as the “Advent”. Artorius attempts to use her for the Advent as well, but she fights back and the Daemonblight possesses her arm, mutating it and turning her into a Daemon called a “Therion”, with the ability to absorb Daemons. In a rage, she slaughters the surviving Daemons, then witnesses the summoning of Malakim into the world, including a reincarnated Celica, now an emotionless Malak called Seres. She is thrown into a prison for Daemons in the prison island Titania, swearing to kill Artorius and avenge her brother’s murder. Over the next three years, Artorius forms the Abbey to bring peace to the Holy Midgand Empire, and is seen as a savior by the people for establishing the Exorcists.
After three years in prison, Velvet, now embittered and possessing the power to absorb and produce malevolence from her mutated arm, is freed by Seres, who has regained her emotions and broken away from Artorius. During her escape, Velvet also aids Rokurou and Magilou. During the escape, Velvet and Seres fight against the Praetor Exorcist Oscar Dragonia, and Seres takes a fatal attack when Oscar turns one of his Malakim servants into a dragon to face them. Absorbing Seres at her own request, Velvet makes a final attack on Oscar that blinds him in one eye before he escapes. She, Rokurou and Magilou then escape the island on a ship. Over the course of their journey, they also meet Eleanor, who is one of the Abbey’s Exorcists but beginning to doubt their methods; Laphicet, a Malak formerly in service to Praetor Exorcist Teresa Linares until breaking free and traveling with Velvet; and Eizen, a Malak who travels with pirates who grant the group sanctuary. Eleanor is initially reluctant to join Velvet, attempting suicide before being stopped by Laphicet and learning the full truth behind the Abbey’s plans. Magilou in turn is used by the Abbey as a spy before turning against them.
They eventually learn that Artorius, Oscar, Teresa, and Legate Exorcists Shigure Rangetsu and Melchior Mayvin are trying to purge the Daemonblight by erasing all emotion from humankind: to do this, both of Velvet’s siblings were sacrificed during the Scarlet Nights in order to summon the Empyrean Innominat, an extremely powerful Malak, into the world. They were ultimately successful, with Innominat taking on the form of Velvet’s deceased brother. Laphicet is then revealed to be the reincarnation of Celica’s unborn son. The group pursue each of the Exorcists, fighting and defeating them. They then face Artorius, who merges with Innominat in the final battle before Velvet kills him once and for all. Innominat begins going berserk, and Velvet decides to seal herself away with him, nourishing him with her malevolence while being with the brother she loves. Laphicet becomes Innominat’s replacement with the help of Oscar, Teresa, Shigure and Melchior, reincarnated as extremely powerful Malakim that would serve Laphicet as his Lords. Laphicet then transforms into a benevolent dragon and purifies the land of Daemonblight, at the cost of humans not being able to see the Malakim. Eleanor decides to become a “shepherd” to guide the people, Magilou records the events of the world in her role as a scribe, while Laphicet renames himself as “Maotelus”—these events foreshadow and set the scene for Tales of Zestiria.