Game demos are great things. They help us get a feel for a title before ponying up our money, and it's rare the a company gives us that opportunity these days. Still, they can seriously backfire if they give a poor impression of a game, especially if the actual game is far better than the demo suggests. I was reminded of this while playing the demo for Tales of Berseria, the latest entry in an action-RPG series that I quite enjoy, and was about as underwhelmed as I expected to be. It's not that I expect the final game itself to be bad, it's just that it's the kind of game that probably shouldn't offer a demo in the first place.
Role-playing games are perhaps the most difficult kind of title for which to provide a demo. They tend to have complex combat systems and rich stories that aren't well-suited to picking up the action in the middle of the game. I've played many RPG demos and enjoyed very few of them. They're either far to short to give you a good idea of the game, start you at the very beginning during a dull tutorial segment, or plop you in the middle of a situation that you don't understand at all. Tales game demos tend to favor that last approach, which might just be the worst of the three. Did you play the demo for Tales of Vesperia back in the day? It was also a confusing mess.
Tales of Berseria's demo did at least a couple things right. It gave a good idea of the game's frame rate and provided a nice look at how the graphics have improved since the last Tales game. It actually looks like it belongs on the PS4. We also had access to a combat tutorial which was less confusing than Tales combat tutorials normally are, so that was nice. Unfortunately, the story part of the demo had a particularly bad showing. It opened up with a skit that would be fairly insulting to women at the best of times, but was just a horrible introduction to the game out-of-context as it was. The rest of the "story" as presented consisted of other puzzling out-of-context skits and some dull tutorial text spoken by the game's resident obnoxious mascot character. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm a fan.
Of course, Berseria is hardly the first game to be hampered pre-release by a poor demo. Remember the Platinum Demo for Final Fantasy XV? What the hell was that thing, anyway? Playing kiddie Noctis, running around weird areas that showed off mediocre special effects, and holding down square to wave a hammer at enemies wasn't a very good way to sell people on the game. Only the final fight in the demo was anything like the actual game, and it turmed out that the combat system was heavily modified between the Platinum Demo and release, anyway. I thought it was all right at the time, but looking back at it after having played Final Fantasy XV itself, that demo was a real mess!
There was value in both these demos for players who were already firmly on the hype train. Berseria's demo convinced me that its combat system is an improvement over its predecessor, Tales of Zesteria. The Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo awarded players with a carbuncle pal who turns out to be massively useful in the final game, resurrecting Noctis when he goes down in battle. As for giving curious newcomers any sort of positive experience, however, both demos fell very flat.
Demos like these that aren't well-representative of the final product can be very bad for sales. The Platinum Demo worried many fans ahead of Final Fantasy XV's release, with its bad taste only going away when journalists began waxing enthusiastic about preview builds of the game. As for the Tales of Berseria demo, well, I doubt it's going to convince anybody who wasn't already firmly entrenched in Tales fandom to give the game a try. As much as it pains me to say it, when it comes to complex RPGs, maybe demos just aren't the way to go.