It has been a while since I bought a new jrpg and played it all the way through in under six months... To be blunt, most new jrpgs just aren't worth finishing these days. I gave up on Atelier shortly after Mana Khemia, Square hasn't produced anything interesting in ten years (for a story-addict), and most of the best old series are dead or in semi-permanent hiatus stasis.
Before this, I played Zestiria, and if you read my comments on it, I mostly liked it, though there were some aspects I wasn't particularly impressed with (the Armatization system, the translation of the skits, etc). If I were to give Zestiria a 7 out of ten for making a good effort and keeping my interest to the end, I'd rate Tales of Berseria a 10/10... the rarest of things, a modern jrpg kamige.
I almost never give 10 ratings, whether of VNs or of Jrpgs. The reason is simple... even kamige rarely get everything right. In the case of a JRPG, this is even harder than with a VN, since it not only has to have an impressive story and presentation... it has to reach a level with the gameplay, music, and visuals that is impressive as well, if not perfect. Tales of Berseria is one of those rare games that manages all of that. Since I'm not a technical critic, my impressions of the visual and sound aspects are emotional reactions more than anything else.
For character designs, the only character design that set my teeth on edge besides the Normin characters (returning from Zestiria) was Magilou... I have a serious distaste for jester costumes, and Magilou's is just plain ugly to me. This is an aesthetic comment, based on my personal sense, and I realize it won't be shared by everyone else. On the other hand, Velvet is... perfect. The visual change from the village girl, to the ragged prisoner, to the vengeance-seeking daemon in a ragged black coat, red bustier, and skirt was visually striking and very definitive of her in her roles in the early story. Most female character visual changes during a JRPG tend to be... unpleasant (I love long hair, so that tendency for some of the females to all of the sudden cut their hair drives me insane). Velvet was a rare exception in that. For fans of Zestiria, seeing Eizen not as a giant man-eating lizard but as a bad-ass pirate in black was a nice intro to the guy who had so much influence on Edna from the previous game. His fist-fighting style, his voice (Japanese), and his visual design are all as I would have imagined them, considering how Zaveid refers to him in Zestiria. In addition, seeing a younger Zaveid, before his Zestiria way of living was established, was a nice treat... and getting the background behind his words in the first game is also nice. Laphicet, who is essentially Velvet's biggest partner throughout the game's story, has a fairly mediocre design (someone has a shota-complex in that studio), but his magic is fairly awesome to see, and his voice is actually pretty good, for a child-styled voice (most are too high or too low, even in Japanese). Eleanor has a personality that will grate on some people, and her visuals fit it quite well, since she has a very straight-laced personality (though she does loosen up as time goes by). Rokurou is probably the third-best design of the group... his facial design, the movements of his eyes and expression during combat scenes, and his hybridized Japanese-style clothing all fit together nicely with his psychotic personality to create a solid character who partners up well with Eizen as one of Laphicet's male role models.
Story-wise, this game is essentially a long revenge story... it isn't about saving the world. The enemy is 'saving' the world. No, Velvet doesn't give a flying bit of monkey poo about the world. She is far more interested in murdering her step-brother for his murder of her younger brother in the incident that stripped her of her humanity and destroyed her village. She is cold, ruthless, and filled with hatred that, when combined with her daemonic hunger, makes her a pretty scary character. She would make an excellent second-to-the-last-boss in most JRPGs, simply because of how intense she is, retaining a level of humanity that strikes to the heart while acting in a manner that is almost too focused on the results to be a fully functional human being. Oh, she has her soft moments... but as the saying goes, even the worst of villains will sometimes be kind to a child or save a puppy.
That is perhaps what is most exhilarating about this game. Most of the player characters are unabashedly selfish in motive, acting solely for their own sake, regardless of the cost to those around them. For a world being consumed by a blight that is actually worse than the one in Zestiria in some ways, this makes them true villains, even if their enemies are just as bad in their own way. Velvet's fighting style is visceral, brutal, and it perfectly fits the action-oriented battle system of this series. Feet, fists, and blade all in one ball of fury (literally) that sometimes strikes out with a demonic claw to devour her enemies.
That brings me to the battle system... except for two major elements, this can be considered to be functionally the same as most other Tales games since Abyss. The first of these elements is the 'souls' system. In this system, you can gain more action points (SP) for future combat actions by inflicting status ailments or killing enemies, thus strengthening you at their cost... but in exchange, if you let them inflict ailments on you, you lose souls, and this severely limits how you can act once it gets down to one or two. The solution to this is the second element... the 'soul break', where you can, at three souls or above, sacrifice a single soul to use a special move that has various effects on how you fight. Since I fought with Velvet throughout the entire game, I'll just speak about hers. Her ability allows her to strike out with her 'claw' and 'therionize' (eat) a part of her enemies (incidentally also breaking their guard and leaving them open to further attack) and gain a boost of some sort based on the type of enemy she ate. The primary advantage of this state is that she can continue attacking until the effect runs out, ignoring her remaining number of souls. It also heals all status ailments and debuffs and some HP, as well as making you invulnerable to ailments and knock-backs. Unfortunately, it also immediately begins to drain HP, and if you maintain this state for too long, it is entirely possible to run yourself down to a single hp, if you aren't careful about getting hit. Since killing enemies can also restore hp, this isn't an entirely bad state to be in, and if you have enough souls stored up, you can maintain this state by 'eating' an enemy whenever it is about to run out. On Normal mode, I felt like I was playing a Tales version of Dynasty Warriors at times (with a greater variety of attacks), lol.
Second in importance for gameplay, at least as far as I was concerned, is the equipment skills... basically, every equipment type has a single skill that the equipable characters can learn permanently by earning enough Grade while wearing it. I had all of the ones available by the end, and I hate to imagine how much harder most of the game would have been without them. Why? Because stat increases due to experience gaining are insanely minimal in this game, leaving you reliant on equipment-enhancement and equipment skills to make up the gap... oh and player skills, but that goes without saying. On harder difficulties, it only gets worse (believe me, I had some horrible experiences when I set it to the harder modes for the hell of it until I got used to the changed rhythms of battle).
In any case, now down to the story... to be blunt, no other Tales game even gets close to this game in terms of story and presentation. Vesperia was good, but it didn't have anywhere near as much of an impact as this one did on me. I cried, raged, and laughed with the characters from beginning to end, despite having weeks-long gaps between my playing sessions. That is how deep an impression this game left on me, that I could pick it up after a fairly long hiatus and get just as absorbed into the narrative as if I'd never left. By the end, I was weeping for both sides of the conflict, while agreeing from the heart with Velvet and her crew, it was easy to empathize with Artorius, despite his inhumane actions and manner. As revenge stories go, it was far deeper than you'd expect, while retaining the essence of how it began from start to finish... a feat that is greatly impressive to me. Not to mention that Velvet and crew's journey was never, at any point, about saving the world... a huge advantage over other jrpgs in and of itself.
A few Linguistic comments
In the Japanese language terminology there were some really interesting (for me) differences in how the same elements were referred to between games. Whereas the Japanese term for the Malak in Zestiria had nuances of divinity to it, the term used in this one referred to them as 'spirits', with a nuance of something that could and should be used as a tool. As for the daemons, the difference in terms was even more telling between the games. In Zestiria, they are 'hyouma' (Hellions), a term which can be translated as 'possession demons', divesting the individual in question of built-in responsibility for what he has become. However, in Berseria, they are called 'gouma', a term which can be translated as 'sin demons'. This simple alteration of phrasing marks a drastic difference in attitudes between the Shepherd-equivalents (the exorcists) of Berseria's age and Sorey in Zestiria. This difference in attitude is reflected throughout the story, creating an atmosphere that is drastically different from the one in Zestiria. 'Subtle' isn't a quality you usually ascribe to JRPG makers, so I was all the more impressed with this game for the linguistic aspects.
EDIT: Ah, if you didn't figure it out from the text above, this game made me back into a fanboy for the first time in a while. Sixty hours across one and a half months plus complete satisfaction in how it ended and the process of how it reached that ending... such a rare experience for me these days.