Tales of Hearts R Review (PS Vita)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said I want a Tales game for Vita. I have a great deal of affection for the PS Vita, and for me, Tales has been conspicuous by it’s absence. The arrival of this Tales of Hearts R review then, fills me with a great deal of excitement  – excitement which isn’t even subdued by the fact that, honestly speaking, this entry in the Tales series is arguably my least favourite.

 

Which is an unnecessarily negative way to start a review. So I’ll try to put that right by qualifying that as quickly as I can in this review – while maybe pointing out in the same breath that it’s also one of my favourite Vita games of the last six months. Which, given the Vitas brilliant track record this year, is really saying something.

 

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So, my least favourite Tales game, then. I think it’ really boils down to three things. One, it’s not as memorable or as sweeping an epic as Symphonia. Its charcters don’t resonate as strongly with me as Vesperia’s and it’s not as accomplished or aesthetically striking a JRPG as Xillia  – I think what I’m getting at here is that there’s no one element in Hearts that really stands out as being overly distinctive, or the best in its lineage.

 

Perhaps that’s too much to ask from a Tales game that began life on DS. That’s not to belittle the DS, but this is still a port of a less ambitious entry in the series and sometimes that shows. As a result what we have here is as traditional a JRPG  template as you could expect, albeit one that’s been executed with a decent level of polish and is never anything short of being solid and thoroughly enjoyable.

 

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So lets start at the beginning. I’ve covered the opening parts of Tales of Hearts in detail here – enough to give you a good grasp of the basic plot. I’ll summarise it here for you as succinctly as I can so as not to bore you to tears.

 

You play Kor Meteor (more on that name later), a soma-wielder who, with a special device, is able to conjour a weapon using only his mind. His peacefull life is shattered when a young girl is washed up on the beach by his home – a girl who’s being pursued by an evil witch. In the opening chapter, said witch tracks the girl down, something VERY BAD happens – and Kor has to enter her conciousness using his Soma to revive her. Somthing VERY BAD 2 happens again and her Spiria Core, her emotional center, is fractured.

 

Trust, shame, fear etc are scattered all over the world  – pretty much like my own Spiria Core every Saturday night – and Kor and the girl’s over protective brother set off to reclaim them. And so begins another epic journey where a young man has to travel really far to collect things.

 

No one at Bandai Namco is winning any prizes for groundbreaking or original story telling, that much I can tell you now.

 

 

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But, and this is a big BUT – I really couldn’t care less!

 

I’m sick of people like me, telling people like me, how the JRPG is running out of ideas. Fact is, sometimes I LIKE this level of unoriginality – or as I prefer to call it in this review, ‘familiarity’. No sooner than I was rolling my eyes at Kohaku’s core fragmenting all over the world, was I also settling into the cosy, steady rhythm of the classic overworld-town-cutscene-dungeony bit-boss-overworld-town cycle.

 

It’s a gameplay rhythm I like. Well-worn sure, but I still like it – and as a result I REALLY like Tales of Hearts R.

 

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While there’s nothing to really surprise here, that’s totally okay just as long as everything it’s giving you is nice. And it IS nice.

 

Visually it’s like a pin-sharp PS2 game. Bold, chunky, simple and colourful – there’s a clean simplicity to it’s design that I find very pleasant  – so pleasant in fact it made me wonder just how lovely it would be to get some older PS2 JRPGS on to Vita. The simplicity of the visuals sit nicely along the character portraits and the cutscenes so no transition is too jarring – and the gameworld feels very light and breezy. Which is always how I like it.

 

If I has to make one criticism of the game and it’s environments is that the dungeons areas are a bit simple and bland – and this is particularly true of the first two thirds of the game. It would have been nice to have countered this criticism with the fact that they’re relatively short and don’t outstay their welcome  (I have a particular issue JRPG dungeons that like to be a dick – like Eternal Sonata’s Fort Fermata for example) but I can’t – because while they are short, Bandai Namco have inserted wholly unnecessary and really-rather-irritating incidental puzzles into them, which, without fail made me sigh a little in sadness.

 

Maybe I’m stupid and unjust in my hatred of incidental puzzles – maybe that’s what people like? I guess that’s for you to decide.

 

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But enough about that, it’s not a deal-breaker by any means – and more of an annoyance that an out and out ‘Bad Thing’. Mercifully, what isn’t a Bad Thing is the battle system. Which is always handy in a JRPG, because you’re going to be doing an awful lot of Battle Systeming…

 

Sorry, fighting.

 

Tales of Hearts R implements the Linear Battle Motion System you know and love – D-Pads locks you to linear plane of motion, while the left analogue lets you run freely – and hitting an enemy while using the analogue lets you re-target on the fly, or you can still cycle tough with the right trigger.

 

Where Hearts deviates is in the addition of the Chase system. To put it simply, wailing on an enemy a couple of times will place marker on the enemy for a short time. Hitting the enemy with a break move while the marker is active – usually the last hit in a combo, or pressing L+X or using a certain Arte – will break the enemy and send them flying, at which point you’re now in chase mode. Hitting Square will send your character flying towards the enemy where you can continue your combo – usually in the air, which makes Tales of Hearts R’s battles much more aerial combo driven.

 

While in Chase, you can rack up big combos (great for XP bonuses in some challenges) use finishing moves by holding the attack button – or, when an allies portrait glows – team up for a more devastating attack (which is that screenshot above).

 

It really enjoyed Tales of Hearts R’s battles. Admittedly they take a while to get going as you need enemies that can take the punishment necessary for the bigger combos, but as you unlock more artes and the enemies get harder there’s a lot of room for experimentation in Tales of Hearts R, and that’s welcome. It’s not always necessary, but it’s satisfying all the same – particularly when you come across some of the more smug boss characters and then have your whole party give them a merciless beating.

 

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Likewise, behind the scenes as it were, the in-menu tinkering – from skills, cooking to the distribution of soma points is really very engaging. Every character has a Soma, with five skill tress that you can pour points into – these determine which artes you unlock, how your soma evolves and which skills you can use. I found myself enjoying the process of saving up points so I could splurge them before a boss battle and it helped to give the illusion that I was genuinely shaping a character how I wanted them to be.

 

Perhaps more importantly though, despite it lacking in originality, and despite it not being the most gorgeous Tales offering out there – these elements help Tales of Hearts R feel like a decent-sized console Tales game. You never feel as though you’re being short changed.

 

This is exactly what I’ve been hoping for on Vita. I will admit that I had to let Xillia 2 pass me by this year. I want to play it, of course I do, but the fact is, it’s getting increasingly difficult for me to play though an entire sit-down-on-the-couch-on-console-JRPG. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to it – and more often than not, they go unfinished. And I HATE that.

 

This is not a problem I had with Tales of Hearts R.

 

Tales on the bus, Tales on the train, Tales in bed, Tales while I’m boiling pasta in the kitchen, Tales in my lunchbreak at work, Tales while I’m waiting for my friends to turn up at the pub. Basically – Tales all over the damn place. And I’ve LOVED that – and I think you’ll love that too.

 

Tales of Hearts R then, is absolutely deserving of a place in your Vita collection. In fact, I’ll actively tell you to buy it – not least because the better this performs, the more chance we’ll get another one – and the thought of that makes me a very happy man indeed.

 

Buy it!

 

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Oh, one last thing I almost forgot. Kor. Kor Meteor. There are some issues with this game’s localisation – perhaps the most obvious being his change in name from Shing. This is a minor itrritant for me as the Japanese voice continues to call him Shing, even though he’s named Kor in the text. The localisation is often prone to a little embellishment as well at times, being overly verbose where the voice is not.

 

For me personally, this is really a non-issue in terms of my enjoyment – in so far as I really enjoyed Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment despite it’s bad localisation. However, I think it’s right that I should bring it up – as I didn’t do so for SAO and was, rightly called out for not at least mentioning it in this Tales of Hearts R Review

 

So there it is. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to throw your toys out of the pram because of it. 😉

 

 

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