Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS Vita
Release: November 11th
If there is one thing Sony’s struggling little hand held isn’t lacking, it’s role-playing games. Specifically, Japanese role-playing games. Besides the plethora of titles made specifically for the Vita, such as Persona 4 Golden, there is a huge library of PS1-era games and PSP games available through the PSN store as well. Anybody looking for an RPG to play should find plenty to fit their taste.
What the Vita has been lacking is an entry in the long-running Tales series. If you wanted to play a game from that series on your Vita, you were pretty much out of luck. Until now anyways, as Bandai Namco has released Tales of Hearts R, which is a remake of a 2008 DS game that was only released in Japan. Featuring a revamped & sped-up battle system, additional cut-scenes and playable characters along with a graphical upgrade, is this Tales of Hearts R the definitive on-the-go experience for Tales fans?
Tales of Hearts R focuses on the story of a young and very naive (but extremely positive) country boy named Kor Meteor. He lives a pretty uneventful life in a backwater berg with his grandpa until he runs into Kohaku & Hisui Hearts, a brother and sister on the run from an evil witch named Icarose. In trying to help, Kor accidentally shatters Kohaku’s “spiria” (essentially her essence). Kor vows to track down and restore the various parts of Kohaku’s spiria and help Kohaku & Hisui defeat Icarose, who also killed Kor’s grandfather while pursuing the siblings.
Tales of Hearts R sort of hits a middle ground between newer and older games in the series, which makes sense seeing as it’s a remake of a 2008 DS game. The battles are pretty quick, almost on par with modern Tales games such as Xillia. This is excellent because if you go back and play a much older title like Tales of Symphonia, it seems incredibly slow by modern series standards.
While you get armor and accessories through buying them in shops and finding them in chests like you do most RPG’s, weapons in Tales of Hearts R are an entirely different matter. Before I mentioned “spiria,” which makes up people’s essence in Tales of Hearts R. In terms of actual gameplay, it’s also how you build your characters. Each character has a spiria with different values (belief, charm, honesty, etc.), and with each level up you get points to level up those values to gain new abilities and spells as well as upgrading your weapon, which is called a Soma.
This would be all well and good if you could plan better on how you are going to build you character, but the game doesn’t give you any real guidance on how to do that. Say if you wanted Kohaku to focus mostly on healing rather than offensive arts, or really build Hsui’s soma so it’s powerful early on; there’s no way to plan for that build. Beyond the next immediate upgrade, it doesn’t tell you what investing in that value will do. It never feels like the game leaves you ill-prepared for a boss battle because you didn’t upgrade correctly, so that helps balance it out. But it still would be nice to really plan out how my party evolves.
And while the battle system itself feels decently modernized for a Tales game, Tales of Hearts R shows several annoying signs of being from an older school of JRPG design. There’s no fast travel, for instance. While the world isn’t huge, this makes several points where you have to backtrack (occasionally through a dungeon filled with monsters you already to go through once before with nothing new to it) irritating. Also, nearly all the dungeons have puzzles that barely qualify as such, either just being insultingly simple or unnecessarily obtuse, never actually clever or legitimately challenging. Finally, random encounters that happen way too often. This is something that barely exists in RPG’s anymore, and hasn’t been in a Tales game in years. You could always just see enemies on the field and easily outrun them if you didn’t feel like fighting. If it wasn’t so rampant I wouldn’t mind, but there’s no option to adjust the frequency and when you run into several battles a within a few feet of the boss of a dungeon, that’s just too much.
Ultimately though, Tales games often live or die by their characters. After all these are characters you will spend at least a couple dozen hours with ( I spent just about 30 completing the game, but doing almost no side quests), so they better be pretty interesting. Tales of Hearts R, thankfully, boasts one of the better casts of the series, even if it only offers a Japanese-language track. Yes, that’s probably better for purists, but I’ve enjoyed the English-language performances in most of the Tales games, so it was a tad disappointing.
Kor starts off annoyingly nieve (i.e. he’s never heard of coffee, like it was never even spoken of in his village), but his can do attitude really grows on you as the game goes on without getting to the point of being cheerfully annoying. The romance between Kor & Kohaku is your usual teenage anime stuff, but still feels sweet & sincere. The writing in general is top notch, as I found nearly every character pretty enjoyable, funny and endearing. Even if they almost all fit into the usual anime stereotypes, like whiny brat (Beryl) and mysterious busty warrior (Ines), they really own those roles well.
On a system filled with top-quality RPG’s, it might be a little hard for Tales of Hearts R to stand out. In spite of its really strong cast, it bears some annoying hallmarks of old school JRPG design. If you are looking for a solid Tales experience on the go (or have played most of the RPG’s available on the Vita and are looking for something new and fun), Tales of Hearts R will definitely fit the bill without feeling like it’s been compromised in any way to fit on to a portable system.
(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.)