Review: Tales of Hearts R
Although Western support for the PlayStation Vita is at an all time low, the system’s popularity in Japan has resulted in a steady stream of JRPGs and anime style games. This includes Bandai Namco’s effort; an entry in their long running Tales franchise, and a re–imagination (that’s what the ‘R’ stands for I think) of their 2008 Nintendo DS game; Tales of Hearts.
This is the first time the game has seen a release outside of Japan, and whilst the bland environments and sparse overworld initially look like the potential result of an old DS game now displayed on the Vita’s large screen, the original had a very different 16bit art style. This look is not inferred, instead you’ve got a game made up of polygons, and one that’s lost the retro charm of the original.
Whilst the graphics are crisp, and the game takes advantages of Vita specific functions such as the touch screen and right analogue stick, there’s no denying that, excluding the detailed anime skits, the game isn’t very impressive. The Vita’s large screen and sharp fidelity mainly end up highlighting how barren and empty the game’s world is.
Any sense of exploration and adventure is compromised by the game’s lack of character, and the responsibility of keeping the player interested is left to the mechanics. Combat it fairly enjoyable, and offers something new thanks to the addition of the simple–yet–effective cross chase ability. This allows you to dash after your opponent to link lengthy combos, and team up with allies for special attacks. Combine this with the dynamic and engaging battles the series is known for, and you’ve got a system that works great and is fun to play.
If you’re looking for more depth this comes in the form of tactics and strategy – as far as the action goes you’ll master using Artes and timing blocks long before you’ll see the end credits. But Tales of Hearts also has extensive options for configuring the behaviour and actions of your party. This isn’t strictly necessary, and you can technically beat the entire game through a combination of mashing the cross and circle buttons, but it’s a nice option for those looking for a little more strategy.
Everything else is a bit of a mixed back. The game is quite easy which I guess is good – without wanting to sound too harsh I would have probably stopped playing if at any point the experience had become frustrating. If never feels like you’re on auto–pilot either however, and knowing where to go next does require you to pay a small amount of attention to the story, and the experience never degrades to simply following a line on the map. The game’s best dungeon (by far) is unlocked after completing the main game, and what makes it good is its insane length and satisfying challenge.
For those already familiar with the series, Tales of Hearts is a standard affair, and the entire experience is a predictable and safe entry in the franchise. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Vesperia, Tales of Graces F or Tales of Eternia, but liked it more than Tales of Legendia, Tales of the Abyss and Tales of Xillia.
A compelling narrative could have easily held together what is otherwise a fairly mediocre experience, but here too Tales of Hearts falls flat. The Western appeal of the Tales storylines is varied, and this particular entry feels like it sits just across the boarder of games in the series that were worth translating into English at all. The translation job isn’t as polished as usual, and some questionable interpretations have been made – including the renaming of the protagonist to ‘Kor Meteor’. On the plus side the decision not to dub the game means it still has its original Japanese voice track.
The story begins with main character Kor Meteor receiving a magic ‘Soma’ weapon, and around this point it becomes apparent that the only thing interesting about him is his stupid name. Next he runs into main love interest Kohaku, who is initially a more compelling character than our uninspired protagonist. Unfortunately the main storyline revolves around her literally having her personality removed, and it’s up to Kor Meteor, along with a lobotomised Kohaku and brother Hisui, to travel the world and find its pieces. I appreciate the irony that the female characters in these games often end up feeling one–dimensional, but acknowledging this and embracing it as part of the story is not a solution.
Specifically in the field of Vita ported JRPGs there are alternative games that are both more impressive to look at, and to play. Unless you really really like Tales games, and have already spent the two hundred plus hours needed to complete Persona 4 Golden, Final Fantasy X/X2 and Ys: Memories of Celceta then Tales probably shouldn’t be too high up on your must–have RPGs list.
Whilst Tales of Hearts isn’t necessarily a bad game – it’s just, like its overworld, bland. There was still enough on offer for me to finish its (mercifully quite short for a JRPG) thirty hour adventure, but it’s not the game you’d bother to recommend to a friend who usually doesn’t like the genre. Instead this is exactly the kind of game a person could cite when making such a statement. “JPRGs sucks because of games like Tales of Hearts” – a statement that’s not at all true, but Tales of Hearts is quite boring.