Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Originally published as Tales of Hearts on the Nintendo DS, Tales of Hearts R brings the title to the PlayStation Vita with a redesigned battle system, 3D environments, and fully rendered character models. More story scenes and an additional party character also accompany this release. Let’s take a closer look at the game.
The story begins with an anime cutscene showing Kohaku and Hisui running from the witch, Incarose. As the two escape the witch’s grasp, the focus shifts to Kor Meteor, a sixteen-year old boy from the small town of Seaville. Kor is being trained to fight with a sword by his grandfather, who ultimately bequeaths upon Kor a “Soma,” a weapon that manifests itself based upon Kor’s Spiria. Shortly thereafter, Kor’s grandfather leaves to visit another village, leaving Kor to tend to the house.
During this time, Kor stumbles upon Kohaku, who has washed up on the beach near his house. The two quickly become friends and set out for a point near the village, where Kohaku’s brother is reunited with his sister. The story takes a darker turn as Incarose finds the trio, casts a spell on Kohaku, and mortally wounds Kor’s grandfather. In an effort to save Kohaku, Kor enters her Spiria, which is the embodiment of a person’s heart and emotions. Within her Spiria, Kor discovers monsters known as Xerom, which he had only known as monsters from a storybook. He also meets a girl who Kohaku claimed lived within her Spiria.
During his attempt to heal Kohaku, Kor manages to shatter her Spiria core, sending the various shards (each embodying a different emotion) scattering around the world. In order to rectify his mistake, Kor joins Hisui and Kohaku on a journey to locate the shards and reassemble Kohaku’s Spiria core. Along the way, he meets a wide array of people, some of whom join his party, and some of whom are under the effects of “Despir,” which is caused by the presence of one of Kohaku’s shards. The despair depends upon the emotion embodied in the shard, and can affect as little as a single person or as many as a whole town. In the process, Kor finds himself caught in the middle of a quarrel between the military and the church, and discovers that he isn’t the only one seeking Kohaku’s shards.
The one criticism that can be given to the game’s plot is that the beginning moves very fast. It’s not long into the game that Kor meets Kohaku, and the two quickly become friends, despite Kohaku being suspicious of Kor upon their initial meeting. Kohaku is attacked, her Spiria core shattered, and the main journey started within the first hour of gameplay. Also, the addition of Gall as a party member feels a bit unexplained. Essentially, he shows up in a forest from out of nowhere and just joins your party. All of this feels kind of rushed; thankfully, beyond this point, the plot starts to even out. The addition of future characters to the party feels a lot more natural, and the growing direction of the story is teased out as Kor travels from locale to locale, seeking out Kohaku’s shards.
It doesn’t take very long to discover that there is a deeper story to be had here, but this much does not feel forced at all. Even before deeper plot points are introduced, you can easily deduce that there is something greater at work; from the beginning, there is a repeated theme about a “Sleeping Beauty” story, as well as the mention of the world’s two moons colliding. While the story may seem a bit simple, childish, or even immature at the very beginning, it quickly becomes deeper, involving political conflicts between the world’s military and church and a sinister plot by a particular member of the capital’s military.
The game plays out in a few different arenas. These can be summarized as dungeon, town, world map, and battle.
Dungeon gameplay varies. Some areas are more linear than others, although none feel particularly labyrinthine. These areas feature treasure to be found, and some also have puzzles to be solved. None felt too difficult to get through, yet, at the same time, there are enough areas to explore to save the dungeons from feeling too empty. As the game progresses, the player is eventually provided with the Sorcerer’s Ring, which will be needed to activate certain switches and clear obstacles in order to progress through dungeons and reach hidden areas.
Towns can vary in size, from Seaville’s compact district with only a few buildings and people, to the numerous locations of the capital city, Straga. Aside from size, though, most towns contain the same features: items and armor shops, the primary quest points, sub-quests, and people to talk to. Talking to random people can sometimes reward the player with items, making it worth the time to explore the locales and not just head straight for the next main point. Some towns also feature mini-games for the player to take part in.
The world map is rendered as a 3D environment upon which the player can freely roam. While there are some limits to where players can go (for example: if you’re supposed to head to Town A, but try to enter Forest B, the game will force you to turn back), there is still a wide availability in terms of what one can do on the map. Treasures can be located, along with special areas that offer optional skits and other bonuses.
Battle is perhaps the most complex arena that players will take part in. Battle primarily consists of normal attacks (which are executed using the X button and any–or no–combination of the directional pad buttons) and artes (which are executed with the circle button and can also be coupled with the directional pad buttons). Players can also roam freely about the battlefield using the left analog stick. The battle screen also contains a Spiria Drive gauge, which, when filled and utilized, will provide the player with a variety of advantages. These advantages increase as the Drive levels up throughout the game, eventually allowing access to Mystic and Dual Mystic Artes. Players are also given other strategic options as the game progresses. A mechanic is eventually introduced that, if timed correctly, will allow players to deflect certain attacks from enemies and continue in the combo chain the player previously began. Perhaps the most unique battle mechanic to Tales of Hearts R is that of the Aerial Chase Linear Battle System, which allows players to execute a Chase Link via the use of Break Attacks. During this limited time, players are able to send their enemies flying around the screen, chasing after them with the use of the square button. At times, the portraits of other party members will flash, allowing players to perform a dual attack with that particular party member. The Chase Link eventually expires at the end of its timer, or when the player executes a powerful finishing blow.
Tales of Hearts R includes skits, a staple of the Tales series. These skits present short conversations between various combinations of characters, some of which are serious while others are more comical. Within some skits, the player is provided with response options which, depending on the choice, can deepen the bond between two characters. This brings us to another gameplay mechanic: that of Somatic Bonds. Throughout the game, the bonds between individual characters will grow, both through the aforementioned skits and through battle. These bonds open up new skills that the characters can share and also affect the Cross Chase Charge, which is the previously mentioned combination attack that can be used during a Chase Link.
Cooking is also featured within the game, which allows the player to create various dishes, which have varying effects on the party. Throughout the game, players can discover new recipes and ingredients to create new dishes. Players can buy recipes, and they can also hunt down the Wonder Chef, who will provide new recipes (as well as the ingredients to make them) to the player’s party. Different characters have different preferences about dishes, and some characters are better at different recipes than others.
Character progression takes place using the Soma Build screen, where players can spend Soma Build Points, which are awarded when characters level up. The Soma Build is made up of five different characteristics: Fight, Belief, Mettle, Endurance, and a fifth characteristic that is specific to each character. Spending points in each of these areas will increase a character’s stats and unlock new artes, skills, stat bonuses, and even Soma forms. In fact, this is one of the most unique aspects of this leveling system: players do not acquire new weapons via shops. Instead, characters gain access to new weapons periodically as the various areas of the Soma are leveled up. Players can also unlock special artes and skills by meeting certain requirements while leveling up neighboring attributes.
Tales of Hearts R provides players with a wide array of gameplay experiences. The battle system is fast-paced and challenging, offering players plenty of incentive to go beyond simply mashing buttons to win. The Soma Build system offers a unique level-up experience that, while seemingly simple on the surface, requires the player to think and consider how he/she will distribute points, as the player must choose which rewards to work towards. The only downside to Tales of Hearts R’s gameplay is how battles are initiated. While other Tales of games show the player’s enemies freely roaming about the screen, Tales of Hearts R features random battles. This means that players who wish to simply move from Point A to Point B without engaging in battle are out of luck, unless a certain item is used to reduce enemy encounters. Other than that, Tales of Hearts R’s gameplay is fun, varied, and certainly entertaining.
Tales of Hearts R maintains its original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. For gamers who are used to watching subtitled anime, or who make a habit of playing subbed-only games (or who prefer to turn on the original language voiceovers, anyway), then this should not provide a problem at all. Players who are used to–or prefer–dubbed games may find this a bit off-putting. For the most part, the subtitles do not affect the ease of gameplay. The only exception is that sometimes the text goes a bit fast during cutscenes, and there are certain, non-critical moments that are not subtitled. An example of this is when players first enter into battle. Characters can be heard speaking as battle starts, but there are no subtitles to translate what is being said, so, unless the player speaks Japanese, the meaning of these statements goes unknown. This certainly isn’t game breaking by any means, however.
Graphically speaking, the game isn’t as impressive as it could be on the Vita. The enemy models and backgrounds could certainly have been given some greater detail, but this is an easily forgivable point when considering the fact that the game was practically redone for the Vita. While the original DS version featured a battle system that took place in a 2D environment–and characters were rendered as 2D sprites over a 3D background–the Vita version features 3D environments with fully-rendered character models and a battle system that is much more reminiscent of Tales games, such as Tales of Graces and Tales of Xillia. Could the graphics have been better? Yes. The graphical overhaul certainly earns the game some forgiveness in this area, though.
The game also features plenty of anime-styled cutscenes. While the art does not appear to be done in HD, the cutscenes are still very well done and quite plentiful. While other Tales games also offer anime cutscenes, they seemed to be very spaced out. While Hearts R may not be saturated in anime-styled cutscenes, it certainly contains a considerable number of them, even if some are relatively short. The character models are also relatively detailed, although they could have dealt with a little more in the area of facial expression. For example, one scene shows a character saddened over the death of someone close to him, yet his character model’s face does not really reflect sadness. Thankfully, the voice actor more than makes up for this.
So, yes, the graphics could be better, but they aren’t terrible by any means, and leniency can certainly be given considering the amount of work that went into bringing the game to the Vita.
The game features plenty of positive lessons for players to learn from. For example, there is the lesson of taking responsibility for one’s actions. Kor sets out on his adventure to atone for breaking Kohaku’s Spiria core. Instead of washing his hands of the situation, he takes responsibility for what he has done and seeks to rectify it. Kor’s devotion to his mission and to protecting Kohaku is admirable, and is something we Christians could stand to learn from in terms of protecting those who cannot protect themselves. There is also Kor’s ever-present motto of, “Kor Meteor doesn’t try. Kor Meteor DOES!” Such an attitude is certainly appropriate for the Christian life, as sometimes we simply need to get up and do what God has called us to do, as opposed to thinking about it, weighing it, and worrying over it. The inclusion of character bonds and their subsequent rewards could also inspire players to think more deeply about the bonds they have formed with other people and the benefits that have come from those bonds.
There are some undead-looking enemies in the game, including zombies, flying mummy-esque things, and a grim reaper enemy.
Central to the story is the Valentin Church, one of two factions that players will tussle with. The church is shown to be in competition with the Imperial Army, and does not necessarily seem to have the purest of motives. Additionally, the church worships a god whose assistant is depicted as a “winged whale,” which is said to forgive transgressions. Players can even walk into a confessional of sorts, where Kor will confess to numerous transgressions.
There is also the inclusion of artes, some of which are magical in nature. While not necessarily referred to as “magic”, characters can call down lightning, fire, and meteors, among other things, and they can also heal one another. It’s clearly fantastical, but if you are sensitive to this kind of content then you may not want to get involved with the game.
Kor gains access to something called the “Sorcerer’s Ring,” which allows him to concentrate his Will in the form of fire (and later, energy) to trigger switches and clear obstacles. While the actual results aren’t really any different than using an arte in battle, some players may take issue with the name “Sorcerer’s Ring.”
Well, it’s an RPG… You will inevitably beat up enemies in battle using physical attacks as well as magical attacks. Cutscenes will also show characters attacking each other in similar fashion. Swords will clash, characters will be thrown around, and general fantasy violence will ensure; however, there does not appear to be any blood or gore.
There is some lewd humor; for example, a character is told to have some “peanuts.” One skit shows Hisui and Kor making comments that sound as though they could be referring to a female character’s breasts, only for their comments to truly be aimed at bags of money.
One female NPC shows some cleavage, and Ines (a party member) wears a top that reveals her midriff. There are also swimsuit costumes available for the characters, including the female characters.
Kor makes a joke about his nipples.
None was observed during the review play time.
There is some mild swearing (d*mn, a**, etc.) and substitute cuss words in the vein of h*ck.
Tales of Hearts R is a must-have for any Tales fan who owns a Vita. With everything a Tales fan should expect from the series (minus the free-roaming enemies), this installment is sure to deliver in terms of engaging gameplay and enjoyable plot.
*A copy of this game was provided by Bandai Namco Games for review.
The Bottom Line
Tales of Hearts R presents the core action RPG battle system fans of the series have come to expect while adding its own flair to the experience. The game provides a fairly solid plot once you get through the opening portion, along with a sizable cast of characters. If you can handle a few content concerns, then this game is a must-add to your Vita collection.