Tales of Hearts R (Vita) review
"In many ways, Tales of Hearts R feels like the ultimate traditional Tales game. For that reason alone, Tales of Hearts R is a worthy addition to any PS Vita or PlayStation TV library."
What was your first Tales game? If youíre like me, you first encountered Bandai Namcoís answer to Final Fantasy in 2003, with the Gamecubeís Tales of Symphonia. For many, that title established what a Tales game is. The definition has been slowly changing over the years, however, with more recent installments like Tales of Graces F and Tales of Xillia significantly changing key aspects of the franchise.
With the latest release, Tales of Hearts R for the PlayStation Vita, the series has gone back to its roots. Whether or not thatís a good thing depends on what kind of Tales fan you are.
Tales of Hearts R opens like many Tales games do, with an unassuming hero named Kor Meteor just learning to use a Soma. Itís similar to a Green Lantern ring, in that the weapon pulls power from the userís heart--or Spiria, in this world--to create a weapon. It doesnít take long, however, for our hero to be thrust into the thick of it as a mysterious girl has her heart shattered and its pieces spread throughout the world. Now he must journey with the girl and her brother to rebuild her heart and maybe even save the world in the process.
If the story sounds familiar, youíre not alone. As in every Tales game, the central plot is largely predictable. There are a few surprises along the way, but those expecting shocker after shocker arenít going to get it here. Thankfully, the familiarity works in its favor as it feels like the kind of story youíve heard a thousand times before from a grandfather, but which never stops being fun to listen to.
Tales of Hearts R's true strength lies in its varied cast of characters. The party is soon joined by an older warrior that speaks in jive, or a young aspiring painter with dyslexia. Like the cast you love in the best Tales games, these characters essentially make the game. Their interactions with the protagonist and with each other really make you feel as if they are becoming closer to one another over the course of the journey.
Like every Tales game before it, Tales of Hearts R benefits from a really strong localization. The only difference this time around is that there is no dub. Its absence does create one little problem. The localization renamed the protagonist to Kor Meteor, while his Japanese name is Shing Meteoryte. With the original Japanese dub intact, everybody refers to the hero as Shing despite the on-screen text identifying him as Kor. Itís a little weird, but no game breaker.
Of course, there are some Tales fans that donít care at all about the story and just want to play around with the franchiseís excellent combat. Iím happy to report that Tales of Hearts R boasts an excellent combat system that excellently blends traditional combat with some exciting new ideas.
Starting out, the combat may seem familiar to anybody who has played Tales of Symphonia or Tales of the Abyss, at it uses base attacks that consume nothing and artes that consume TP. Thatís where the similarities end, however, because the game introduces the TC system. In short, every arte consumes one TC alongside its requisite TP. Once a character runs out of TC, they cannot use anymore artes until the TC gauge refills. It only takes a few seconds, but it still forces players to think about what combination of artes they should use after a standard combo. Things get more complex once characters get 10 or more TC, as players can start chaining together artes to create 200-hit combos.
Alongside the TC system, the combat puts an interesting focus on aerial combat. Many artes can knock enemies in the air and keep them up there for seconds at a time. In fact, itís not uncommon to see characters keeping enemies helplessly in the air for 10 seconds or more. The combat also introduces a system that allows you to break an enemyís defense and knock them into the air. From there, you can keep knocking them around in the air until a gauge depletes.
While Tales of Hearts R evolves the franchisesí traditional combat in significant ways, the rest of the game isnít quite as forward thinking. Whether it's the result of a conscious decision on the part of the team or a hardware limitation, monsters no longer roam dungeons and the field. In other words, random encounters are back and they are quite frequent. The combat is thrilling enough that the random encounters never feel tiring, but itís certainly something to consider.
For the first time since Tales of Vesperia, the game also brings back a world map thatís free to explore. While it lacks many of the secret areas that made world maps so endearing in traditional JRPGs, itís still nice to see one alive and kicking when all other JRPGs seem to be ditching them in favor of open worlds.
In many ways, Tales of Hearts R feels like the ultimate traditional Tales game. While it doesnít feel quite as revolutionary as this yearís Tales of Xillia 2, part of me likes Tales of Hearts R more simply because it captures that classic Tales feeling that hasnít been seen since Tales of Vesperia. For that reason alone, Tales of Hearts R is a worthy addition to any PS Vita or PlayStation TV library.
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (November 19, 2014)
Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.
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