The Unknown Gamer

The Legend Reborn

Ever since it was announced, I had been looking forward to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As a huge fan of both the series as well as open world games in general, the premise behind this game was irresistible. I even jokingly referred to it as The Zelder Scrolls since it seemed to have more in common with games like Skyrim than it did most previous Zelda titles. As it turns out, this description was not too far off.

There are plenty of excellent reviews of this game out there that go over all of the finer mechanic details. Many sites are proclaiming this to be the best Zelda title of all time, though some are a bit more measured. The game is, without question, a masterpiece. However this is absolutely not an Ocarina of Time style of game. This is Zelda re-imagined as a true open world game, and in many ways it is more open than Skyrim. After leaving the tutorial area (the only thing the player is forced complete), all of the game's content can be undertaken in any order. For exceptionally skilled, it is even possible to beeline straight to Ganon and take him out with only three hearts. The game rewards you for completing content, and encourages exploration, but doesn't do much handholding outside of the very beginning.

Before I provide further thoughts on what I enjoyed, no game is perfect, and there are a few legitimate complaints that I feel are fair.

  • Amiibo-exclusive content: Some items in the game require an amiibo to unlock, including Link's iconic horse, Epona. This does leave a bad taste in my mouth.
  • The game does not heavily put a focus on plot. Most of the world's lore is revealed through discoverable flashbacks, which are optional. While enough of the characters' personalities are revealed through this method, I personally prefer Twilight Princess when it comes to story. I was especially disappointed in the lack of characterization behind this game's version of Ganon. On the flip side, I liked this game's take on Princess Zelda.
  • The game does a good job with cooking, but other than that there isn't really much of a crafting system, per-say. It is a bit disappointing that Link can pick up piles of wood and monster horns, but can't even make his own arrows. This is something Horizon: Zero Dawn does much better.
  • While the game does well by using a heavily stylized art style, the graphics are nowhere near current gen. Additionally, both the Wii U and Switch versions suffer from frame rate drops and other performance issues.
  • Some of the English-language voice acting is terrible, and you cannot switch to the Japanese track. (Update: This is now possible with recent patches!)

These flaws are ultimately minor in the grand scheme of things, and are more than made up for by the massive open world. This game is an explorer's paradise, and venturing off the path is often rewarding. Hidden puzzles, shrines, and other secrets can be found all over the place. It is possible to go into difficult areas early on, and even conquer them through skilled play. The game can feasibly be beaten in under an hour with perfect execution, or players can simply take in the mountains and caverns around Hyrule. Completing shrines and exploring ultimately serve to build up Link's general power and arsenal of abilities, which in turn makes some of the more difficult content easier to tackle for gamers with mere mortal skills.

Because of this aspect, the difficulty curve is relatively high compared to almost every other Zelda, perhaps with the exception of Zelda II. Many of the enemies are capable of doing a massive amount of damage to even a well-equipped player, making combat an often-deadly affair. No longer do hearts just randomly appear out of pots, either. Link can only regain health by eating food. This means that a certain amount of prep work on the part of the player is recommended. At the same time, those with exceptional skill can avoid damage by performing well-timed dodges, blocks, and counters. Stealth mechanics are also present, allowing for sneakier solutions to many monsters. Nailing the timing of every attack, in practice, requires a high degree of finesse that most players won't be able to achieve. Building Link's strength and abilities by clearing shrines and the divine beasts eases the challenge, but the game doesn't force it.

While the reviews are extremely positive for this game, it may be a bit jarring for those who don't like open world games or were hoping for a more story-driven affair. I can easily see how some players, at the end of the day, would simply have preferred another Ocarina of Time style game. It is hard to fault that, since that formula works well and has produced some excellent titles. At the same time, it is also important to state that Breath of the Wild fulfills the promise of the original Zelda game. You are plunked down in a vast fantasy realm and are encouraged to explore it. For those of us who spent many youthful hours burning every 8-bit bush and pushing every pixelated block in order to uncover Hyrule's secrets, this game does a wonderful job of revisiting that concept in a more advanced fashion. Some might accuse Nintendo of jumping onto the open world RPG bandwagon, but in reality I believe that series such as The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher are (at their core) really built upon the same concepts introduced in the original Zelda. For that reason I find it hard to see Breath of the Wild as anything but an excellent vehicle in which to recapture the magic of the 8-bit game.

Ultimately I do agree with the assessment that many reviewers are delivering: This may just be the best Zelda yet, and it will be hard for Nintendo to top this one. Without question, this is a game that everyone should pick up, even if it means buying a Switch. It is simply that good.

Some of my Favorite Games

I've played countless games over the years, and sometimes I have a hard time determining what my favorite game actually is. Some games have left a deep impression upon me, and others are just simply fun to play. Trying to actually rank these games is really an impossible task, to be honest. Instead I'd rather just provide a blurb about why each game is special to me.

The Legend of Zelda

The original 8-bit Zelda adventure cannot be omitted from this list. This game occupied many hours of my time in grade school and set the stage for my lifelong love of fantasy adventure games and RPGs. It also spawned one of the greatest game series of all times. While Zelda feels a bit clunky now, it is still a fun game to play every once in a while for nostalgia's sake in order to go back to the roots of the series.

Final Fantasy IV

The original 16-bit Final Fantasy title practically defines the JRPG subgenre. In a large departure from the 8-bit games I had played previously, where the story was generally relegated to the manual, FFIV actually had a cohesive in-game narrative and characters with personalities. Though often regarded as cheesy by today's standards, this game's story captured my imagination in ways that previous games had not. When in a pinch I often site FFIV as my favorite of all time simply because of the lasting impression it made upon me. This game has been remade a number of times, and I can surprisingly recommend the DS version since it did a pretty good job of translating everything into 3D without wrecking the game.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

The 16-bit Zelda offered a bigger and better adventure than the original in just about every way possible. Not only were the graphics and sound more advanced, but the world and story were expanded upon. Link's arsenal was also improved with items like the Hookshot. As with many of Nintendo's first party 16-bit titles, this game stands the test of time very well and is still better than the majority of games released today. It also solidified much of the lore behind the world of Hyrule and set the stage for the subsequent games in the series.

Super Metroid

The third title in the Metroid series was a winner and solidified what it meant to be a Metroidvania game before the term was even coined. Much like 16-bit Zelda, it offered a bigger and better game than the 8-bit original by expanding the game map and giving Samus a bunch of cool power ups. The game also provided a great ambient atmosphere (by 16-bit standards) by making use of the console's sound capabilities. Super Metroid also remains a favorite for speed runners.

Final Fantasy VI

While I personally prefer FFIV just a bit more, FFVI is a close runner up in my book (and many gamers do prefer it). It features a bigger cast of characters and is an overall longer game, though I personally feel that it is a bit too easy. It is one of the most impressive 16-bit classics from a technical perspective, featuring excellent sprite art and a memorable soundtrack.

Chrono Trigger

In the same vein as the 16-bit FF titles, Chrono Trigger is also a classic and is technically even more impressive than FFVI, with yet another awesome soundtrack and some of the most impressive sprite work of the era. Towards the end of the 16-bit days, Square's titles pushed the limits of the hardware in many ways. Frankly many of these games (in retrospective) look better than the early PS1 games that followed.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

The original Metroidvania-style Castlevania game. It featured excellent game play and a huge map with many hidden secrets, large bosses, and a rocking soundtrack. This is a game I replayed quite a bit on my PS1, and it may even edge out Super Metroid as my favorite Metroidvania game.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The original 3D Zelda game, and (in my opinion) the best N64 title. Ocarina of Time is an epic adventure and paved the way for many 3D adventure games that came after it. It built upon the lore established in A Link to the Past and improved the story aspects of the series even more. Nintendo also managed to do a great job fixing the camera issues that plagued earlier 3D games (including Super Mario 64 by introducing an innovative targeting system. The 3DS version that came out later improves the game's models and textures (it also includes the Master Quest), so I recommend picking that version up if you've never played it.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike

My personal favorite fighting game, though I readily admit I suck pretty badly at it. There isn't much to say here. I just really like a lot of the characters as well as many of the mechanics it introduced, including parrying. It is also the game that elevated Daigo into legendary status. The spritework in this title is very impressive as well, and it is a shame that we didn't see many other games on the CPS3 hardware before Capcom abandoned it in favor of 3D-based engines.

Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete

A remake of the 16-bit Sega CD title, Lunar 2 is a classic anime-style 2D JRPG with a compelling story and characters. It also had a higher difficulty curve than the 32-bit Final Fantasy games. While Lunar: Silver Star Story got remade again for the GBA and then PSP, Eternal Blue has not seen any such love since the 32-bit era. Sad, because I feel the sequel is a stronger game. It is also a shame that the series has not really gotten much love in recent years at all. Personally, I'd love to see someone make a new Lunar game with Tales-style combat. I honestly think that would work out really well, but maybe that's just me. The English-language version of this game is notorious for the crazy pack-ins as well, which I can proudly say I still have preserved in the original game box.

Final Fantasy IX

Personally, I felt that Final Fantasy VII is the most overrated game of all time, and that Final Fantasy VIII is just plain garbage. I almost passed on FFIX entirely, but am glad I didn't. To me, FFIX ended up being a nice callback to the 16-bit titles I was more fond of. Like almost every 32-bit game Square made, the story does get oddly weird and disjointed at the end, though it gets bonus points for Vivi to make up for it.

Quake III Arena

My personal favorite FPS of all time. This is also one of the few games I was actually relatively good at on a competitive level, though not exactly professional grade, but I spent many hours fragging away from my dorm room. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Quake Champions, even though I know I no longer have the reflexes of a 20-year old and will likely get pwned while trying to rocket jump again.

Diablo II

Another game I spent way too much time playing back in the day. Overall I preferred Diablo II over Diablo III for a variety of reasons, though I cannot deny the possibility nostalgia played a big factor. I always used to love playing through the game while trying out different types of build, and I have a soft spot for Deckard Cain. There isn't much to be said except that this is a classic clicky action RPG.

Metroid Prime

I personally consider Metroid Prime to be the best first party title on the Game Cube, even better than Wind Waker. When it was announced I was skeptical about it, but I ended up loving the way they transitioned the series into 3D without screwing it up. It is unfortunate that Nintendo had to destroy the series with Other M. This game is far superior, and takes a lot of queues from Super Metroid when it comes to setting up a game with excellent atmosphere and exploration.

Neverwinter Nights

NWN was more than just a game. It was an ambitious title that implemented 3rd. Edition Dungeons and Dragons relatively well on the PC. While the main game was merely OK compared to Baldur's Gate, the real reason NWN was great was because it included a very powerful game editing tool and a vibrant mod community. The community created many impressive modules that you could play online with your friends. The Hordes of the Underdark expansion was also quite impressive when stacked up against the original quest.

Tales of Symphonia

ToS is the first Tales game I played and I was instantly hooked to the story and combat. It executed many JRPG cliches well and provided a huge amount of replay value, and a cast of enjoyable characters. Even though this game has clunky combat compared to later games in the series, it is still a great title to play through. The dungeon design and puzzles are also very good, which is something later games have had issues with. While the original Game Cube version is hard to come by, there was a PS3 re-release that also includes the Japanese voice track, though this is one of the few games that the English voices are actually good.

World of Warcraft (Vanilla & TBC)

Unfortunately, I spent so much time in this game that I couldn't justify leaving it off. WoW was the game that popularized the MMORPG to the unwashed massees. Unfortunately, it also partially ruined the genre. To this day, the majority of MMORPGS, even the good ones, are WoW clones.

I also think that the game lost its soul with Wrath of the Lich King. The original game and TBC kept a good balance of challenge, time sinks, exploration, and the need for maintaining a community of other players. At the same time, it wasn't as needlessly grindy like EQ or FFXI. Blizzard maintained a tedious balance in the early days, but threw it out after the 2.x line in favor of instant gratification mechanics that made the game even more accessible, but at the cost of the game's community.

Arguably there are other MMOs that have surpassed WoW, but the glory days of raiding Blackwing Lair are hard to forget. I doubt I will ever go back to the game at this point, even though quite a few of the people I used to raid 40-mans with still play it religiously.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Personally, I feel that Twilight Princess perfected the OoT formula. While possibly an unpopular opinion, I like this game just a bit better than the other 3D Zelda titles. People do criticize it for being very same-ish, but I personally feel this is the first version of Hyrule on display that actually feels like a lived-in world. I also thought the slightly darker and more serious tone of the game work to its favor. Midna is my favorite helper character the series, since she has her own motivations in the story aside from just helping Link. Also, dual Hookshots.

Tales of Vesperia

While I enjoyed all of the Tales games to a degree, ToV is probably still my favorite. I think it still has the best combat in the series as well as some of the coolest characters (though ToB comes close in both areas). This is a game I liked enough to import the Japanese PS3 version, because it added even more stuff when compared to the original XBox360 version. ToV is a game I replayed quite a bit in order to complete all of the side quests and optional item collections.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It is often a subject of disagreement when it comes to which Elder Scrolls game is actually the best. While an argument can be made for each one, practically, I personally think that the most recent entry is the best from a game play perspective. Daggerfall does not stand the test of time well, and Oblivion suffers from a certain clunkiness even though the main story quest and many of the guild quests are arguably better written. I also shamefully admit I didn't actually play Morrowind, which a lot of people prefer. Even several years later, Skyrim continues to have an active and vibrant mod community, which adds longevity to the game. I have hundreds of hours logged, but I still discover something new with each playthrough. It doesn't hurt that I'm currently running Skyrim SE with over 200 mods, which makes the game look pretty impressive on my high end hardware.

Tales of Berry Sauce

I am a rather ardent fan of Namco's Tales series, which is one of the most venerable JRPG franchises not published by Square-Enix. Like many gamers in the West, my first foray into Tales was with 2004's Tales of Symphonia. Since then, I have played through all of the main titles that have been released into the English-language market. Unfortunately, the games in the series after Tales of Vesperia have been somewhat lacking. There has always been something about each game that has held it back from greatness. In comparison to ToV's relative polish, it felt like Namco had started to phone it in.

Some people may disagree with my thoughts, but I found that each of these games contained serious flaws:

  • Tales of Graces F: Not only did it have an annoying story and characters, but its world design was uninspired.
  • Tales of Xillia: There were many poorly executed plot cliches, and the villains had stupid motivations. It was also too short.
  • Tales of Xillia 2: There were even more poorly executed cliches. The game was also built off of reused content from ToX.
  • Tales of Zestiria: The backstory had many confusing holes, and the game was plagued with both technical issues and poor overall design choices.

These games were still fun, of course, but none of them made me want to play through again them again on New Game+. In contrast, I've played through Vesperia dozens of times, both on t he XBox360 and PS3 versions. I did honestly find ToZ to be the best of the post-Vesperia bunch, despite its issues. The characters were fairly decent, and the story wasn't a total convoluted mess like both ToX games. The biggest issue was the overall game flow. Namco attempted to give the game an outward appearance of being more open world in nature, butthe game suffered heavily for it. Had they stuck to the more traditional maps and focused on cleaning up the holes in the story, I think it would have ended up a lot better. Fortunately, Namco seems to have learned its lesson, because Tales of Berseria feels like it was made in response to the problems with the previous game. Serving as ToZ's much needed prequel, it manages to explains much of the confusing backstory, and fixes almost all of the problems that had been plaguing the series as a whole.

Simply put, Berseria is the Tales we've been waiting on for nearly a decade.

Before I get into the game proper, I do have one big complaint about it. Graphically, this is best looking Tales yet, but it does not look current gen; by any measure. This is a port of a PS3 game (the PS3 version is Japan-only), though Namco appears to have put a bit more effot into boosting the PS4  and Steam versions this time around. The stylized graphics do help you ignore the last-gen graphics, but you'll still be disappointed if you were hoping for the series to move into the current generation. I'm honestly a bit disappointed that the series is being held back by old hardware, even though Japan still has a decent PS3 install base.

Getting that out of the way, I can move onto the actual game. As previously stated, this is a prequel to Tales of Zestiria, and is set roughly 1,000 years into the past. Many of the same thematic concepts are used, and some of the same locations are present in the game, though it is a clear that there were big changes to the world between the two titles. I would recommend playing through ToZ in order to fully appreciate everything that goes on in ToB ,but it isn't absolutely necessary. The game stands on it's own, but some of the characters and plot points are better understood if you've played Zestiria. Essentially, ToB is the story behind the conflict between the first Shepard and the first Lord of Calamity. The catch is that in this game, you're the latter.

Overall, Berseria does a much better job of explaining the Empyrians and the origins of the Shepard. More importantly, the backstories of a couple of the seraphim party members from ToZ are fleshed out significantly. The story surrounding Zaveid, Edna, and Eisen becomes a major part of the game's plot, for example. The world these games exist in feels significantly better after completing ToB, even though the ending has a bit of a tragic bent. The only big hole it leaves open are Lailah's origins. There may be some vague clues regarding her origins if you read between the lines, but it is hard to tell if they coincidences or intentional hints.

Ultimately, what makes this game significantly better than the previous few Tales adventures are the party members. In a character-driven series,  having an enjoyable main cast is absolutely crucial. From the beginning, the game focuses on making sure the protagonist is very well understood. The introductory part of the game is a bit slow, but it explores how Velvet's family was ripped away from her by her brother-in-law Artorius. This provides a frame of reference that explains why Velvet has given up her humanity in order to seek vengeance, and justifies the extreme lengths she's willing to go to in order to achieve her ultimate goal. While she keeps her rage bottled up well most of the time, taking on a usually uncaring and stoic demeanor, it is always tediously close to boiling over. Most people in the world see Artorious, who becomes the first Shepard, as the savior of humanity. Velvet simply sees him as the guy who killed her little brother. The end result is that Velvet is a badass anti-hero who is willing to take on the most powerful organization on the planet in order to avenge her little brother, burn down towns, and commit general acts of violence. When people start referring to her as the Lord of Calamity, she willingly takes on the title and uses her infamy to her advantage to sow further discord and chaos.

While Velvet is not an inhuman monster (though she's more than happy to portray herself as such), even her soft sports are a bit warped. When she kidnaps a young malak, she soon starts projecting onto him because he reminds her of her brother, even going as far as naming her new recruit after him. This seems just a bit unhealthy, though it works out in the end because this is a JRPG and even the toughest traumas can be overcome with a few words of encouragement from your friends. I would go as far as saying that Velvet has an otouto complex. She's not exactly a well balanced person, but I don't think the game attempts to portray her as such.

Along the way, Velvet assembles a team of rogues to help her bring the Abbey down. There's a demon samurai who wants to kill his elder brother, the malak pirate (Edna's brother, Eizen) who hates the Artorious' organization for using his race as slaves, and an insane witch who abuses her Normin minion These people have their own grudges, and are basically using Velvet's personal war with the Shepard as their ticket to getting their own taste of revenge. The malak Velvet kidnaps quickly turns against his former masters as well, because they were using him as a tool. They party also captures an exorcist later on, who under extreme duress, ends up developing a bit of a case of Stockholm Syndrome. While genuine camaraderie is fostered between this group, every generic NPC basically considers the Lord of Calamity and her crew a bunch of terrorists.

Of course, this is still a JRPG, and it plays the grey area very hard to justify the death and violence that Velvet's team deal out. The group starts out villainous, but they morph into unsung freedom fighters by the end of the story. There is a long-standing JRPG trope wherein any organization that resembles the Catholic Church is ultimately evil, and it ends up being used heavily in this game. Artorius' ultimate plan is to use the power of the Empyrian Innominat to sap the entire human race of free will, turning the populace into a bunch of mindless automatons. This achieves his vision of an ideal world. While Velvet is still out for revenge until the bitter end, she ultimately winds up saving the world from a fate worse than death.

The story is still cheesy in that Tales sort of way, but it is above par when compared to the last several games. Just like with Vesperia, allowing the party to have a rebellious streak allows for a more satisfying experience when compared to the typical naive teenage swordsman and his staff-wielding childhood friend (like we saw in Star Ocean 5). Velvet and Eizen are both royal badasses on par with Yuri Lowell. The combat is also well refined and is a significant improvement over the battle system featured in ToZ. While I do feel that mystic artes feel a bit watered down (they did in Zestiria as well), the overall feel and flow of battle is very good. Velvet's consuming claw mechanic is awesome to use, giving you the sense that you're controlling a powerful character without actually being too overpowered. In ToZ I avoided a lot of battles because of the overall clunkiness, but in this game I found myself wanting to enter combat frequently on order to wreck things with Velvet's demon claw.

Overall, Tales of Berseria is a game I can absolutely recommend. It is a wonderful return to the former greatness for the Tales series. Let's just hope that Namco doesn't spend another 10 years coming out with another one that is as good.

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