Review: Tales of Hearts R (PSV)

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Title: Tales of Hearts R
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (1.6 GB)
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Tales of Hearts R is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay
Back in mid 2013 Shahid Kamal Ahmad (‎Senior Business Development Manager at SCEE) started a Twitter campaign to see what RPGs Vita fans wanted localized using #JRPGVita to track them. There were a ton of tweets for various unlocalized games, such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and Valkyria Chronicles 3. However, the largest response was for the Tales series with Tales of Hearts R topping the list. At the time, I had no experience with the Tales series nor with Hearts, but after playing through this game I can see why fans were excited to get to play it.

Tales of Hearts R is a remake of the unlocalized Nintendo DS game Tales of Hearts. Although the story remains the same, the rest of the game was significantly enhanced for the Vita version. The graphics have been recreated in 3D and combat is also now 3D like more recent Tales games. Hearts R also has additional characters, story elements, and side quests as well.

The main character of the story is Kor Meteor, a young boy living in a small town who kicks a series of events into motion when he meets a girl named Kohaku Hearts washed up on the beach. She and her brother, Hisui, are on the run from a strange cloaked woman and in the process of protecting Kohaku, Kor accidentally shatters Kohaku’s Spiria. The pieces of her Spiria (which form the basis of human emotion) scatter across the world leading Kor to journey with Kohaku and Hisui to help regain them. Along the way they assemble a motley crew of Somatics, people capable of wielding weapons called Soma, and discover several factions who are also seeking Kohaku’s Spiria fragments for sinister reasons.

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There’s something about the story that feels deliberately old-school. JRPGs are rife with “plucky young teenager goes on a journey to save the world with the power of friendship,” and Tales of Hearts R ends up solidly on that list. In addition to that, if the title wasn’t enough of a give away, Hearts R has plenty of romance and focuses enough on “Love (and emotions) as a force” to give Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar a run for its money.

On the whole though, the story works well. The characters are enjoyable enough to feel empathy for and dynamics between them are fun to watch develop. It helps that the story advances at a good pace and has a few twists to it that keep it going. The romance between the characters is silly in the typical anime-romance kind of way, but I couldn’t help but root for some of the pairings. The only real problem I had with the story was the last few hours, during which the few remaining puzzle pieces are fairly obvious. Yet the game trudges through a couple of filler-feeling plot extensions before finally arriving at the end.

Tales games are known for their action-RPG gameplay and Hearts R is no exception, offering up a well-crafted combat system. Once a battle starts, the party and the enemies are tossed onto a 3D battlefield for a real-time action-based combat system. The player controls one character (which can be any current party member) while the other members are AI controlled. During the fight, normal attacks and special skills, called Artes, can be chained into combos for an almost fighting-game-like system.

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The player has a ton of options, both over their own character and their AI partners. In addition to normal attacks, the player character has access to eight Artes at a time (mapped to circle button + directions or by flicking the right analog stick). Allies Artes can be mapped as well, with each character having the option to set four Artes. These can be activated by the player by tapping that character’s portrait during battle, great for forcing an ally to use a buff or to a revival skill. One thing to note is that while the game is compatible with PlayStation TV, this feature isn’t remapped for the controller, so it may be more difficult to use there.

Outside of that allies are not directly controlled, however the game offers plenty of ways to affect how they fight. Broadly, allies can be set to adopt different strategies such as focusing on healing, supporting, or damage. More minutely, players can set up conditional commands for the allies such as using items when a character dies or using a certain attack on weakened enemies, similar to the Gambit System in Final Fantasy XII. If that’s not enough, the game can store four sets of strategies and they can be swapped mid-battle from the pause menu.

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One of the most fun aspects of the combat in Hearts R is the Chase mode. Occasionally during a battle an enemy will become marked with a blue circle. Hitting a marked enemy with a strong attack will activate Chase mode, allowing the player to hit square at any time to teleport to the enemy. This allows the player to combo the enemy and knock them away and then teleport behind them to continue attacking. When done correctly it leads to knocking the enemy all over the battlefield, ping-ponging them off of combo attacks before ending the combo with a finisher. It’s definitely the most fun way to make quick work of a troublesome boss.

In terms of content, Hearts R is pretty robust. The story took me about thirty-two hours to complete, but that was without doing too much of the side content. There are plenty of side missions to complete and collectables to find plus some optional areas and bosses. Dungeons feel well designed with some interesting, though not too difficult, light puzzle solving; a lot of which are the normal block or switch puzzles one would expect from an older RPG. Another aspect of older RPGs that unfortunately shows up in Hearts R is random encounters. It’s not a deal breaker, but those showing up here reminds me of why I was glad when RPGs started moving away from random encounters.

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Visuals
The biggest knock on the game is definitely the graphics. The maps take the biggest hit with the world map feeling a bit barren at times. Dungeons and towns look a little better but not much. Characters look a bit outdated compared to what the Vita could probably handle. I’m also not a huge fan of the character designs in general. Kor feels like he fell out of a Yu-gi-oh game and Gall especially looks dumb in my opinion. The party as a whole doesn’t feel like they mesh well from a design aspect. Fortunately there are a few unlockable costumes in the game to change how the characters look (and, because this is 2014, some DLC costumes as well).

Animations are a mixed bag. In battle they’re fine but during cutscenes the characters shuffle around in a way that’s silly and feels like an old PSOne game. There are also anime cutscenes for certain big events in the game. The animation itself is fine but some of them are wide-screen, filling up the entire Vita screen, while others are 4:3 and have black bars on the sides. I’m guessing some were redone from the DS game and some weren’t. In addition, some of the scenes show signs that they were compressed a bit too much.

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Audio:
Tales of Hearts R marks a departure from how Bandai Namco usually handles voices in their Tales games because it only has Japanese voice tracks. The Japanese voices are good although astute listeners might be able to pick up on some of the localization changes through listening to the original audio. The most obvious of which is that the localization changes the name of the main character from Shing to Kor. So while the text will say “Kor,” you can hear the other characters calling him “Shing” in the audio.

On the soundtrack side of the audio, the game is solid. Background music in the various areas of the game can feel a bit generic, especially when in some of the more common areas of the game, but the overall quality is good. For example, the music in the desert area sounds pretty similar to the music in almost every other RPG with a desert area. One disappointment in the music was that the song during the intro was changed from the Japanese version, probably due to licensing. But given that I only knew that from looking it up online and that I only watched the intro the first time I loaded the game, it’s a pretty small complaint.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
Tales of Hearts R is a wonderful adventure. It’s got some aspects in the story and characterization that make it feel more old school than some of the more recent RPGs I’ve played, but perhaps in a good way. The combat system is a ton of fun to experiment with and the game offers a good amount of content that’s well paced. It’s clear why this game was one of the front-runners for #JRPGVita and I’m glad that the powers-that-be brought the game out for us.

I’m the type who often immediately switches to a new game once I’ve finished one, but for Hearts R I ended up loading up my Save to go look for some more secrets and I am even considering starting up a New Game+ Save file. I’d definitely recommend Tales of Hearts R to fans of JRPGs who are looking for something to keep them busy.

Score
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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  • andrew snowball

    Well I have to say this review has sold Me now I have to go get this game