Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord - Review  

Escape from the Plot
by Michael "Wheels" Apps

Click here for game
60-80 Hours
+ Fun and flexible battle system
+ Large party right from the start
+ Lots of optional battle challenges
- Tortuously paced story
- Can't skip, only fast forward cutscenes
- Plot and battles never quite mesh
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is a strategy RPG from Aquaplus and Sting. More accurately described as a combination of a visual novel and SRPG, Tears to Tiara II pairs lengthy story sequences with deep strategic combat against the backdrop of a fantasy take on Roman-era Europe. Sadly, the pairing doesn't work out very well in the end. The plot is poorly paced, becoming way more verbose than necessary and endlessly delving into drawn out backstory without much relevance to current events. Battles are integrated poorly as well, with overly long stretches without combat and transitional scenes that don't mesh with the corresponding battle. If not for the high quality of the battle system and some fun characters, these issues would easily crush the game. Thankfully, for those with a high degree of patience, there is a good deal of fun to be eked out of Tears to Tiara II.

   The story begins in Hispania, this fantasy world's version of Spain. The Divine Empire is busy enslaving the people and destroying the temples to old gods. The game starts out with a decent hook, as the young heir of the former ruling family of Hispania, Hamil, fights to save the life of a girl claiming to be a goddess. Hamil seemingly transforms into a more powerful being and takes out many enemies, as he kicks off a rebellion against the Empire. The game then flashes back to prior events, and this is when the pace of Tears to Tiara II begins to unravel. With only a few tutorial-style battles to break things up, the first five to six hours move at a glacial pace back to that opening scene. There is backstory to cover about Hamil and his father's failed rebellion, the goddess in human form known as Tarte who has come to help him, and of course the slowly-building rebellion. The level of verbosity and superfluous conversation reaches absurd levels, and many players will be very thankful that a fast forward button is available.

   This is really a microcosm of the overall pacing issue, though things do eventually improve when battles are longer and more frequent to help break things up. There's nothing particularly wrong with the overall story of fighting against the Divine Empire. It touches some more mature wartime subjects, though never with a great deal of maturity. The cast is entertaining, and there are some lighthearted and enjoyable moments, though sometimes these seem to be inappropriately close to the more somber ones. The problem is even the most basic conversation or plot element seems to require an agonizing amount of dialogue. There is also a tendency to veer off into extended and completely unnecessary backstory that adds nothing to the main plot. The way the sequences are told doesn't help either. Generally, still images are used, often for long amounts of time before a different scene is shown. This makes many segments feel even more slow and stale. Many do use the battle engine to show characters moving and acting, and these feel noticeably stronger, but are seldom used in the longer story sequences. It's unfortunate, as all the makings for a fun story are there.

Can we just get to the
                                        fighting already? Can we just get to the fighting already?

   Thankfully, the battle system doesn't suffer from as many issues. It has a pretty basic setup where player and enemy turns are segmented, and terrain is pretty simple with no elevation to worry about. The engine is 3D, but pulled back to where players should never any issues getting a good view of the battlefield. The character models all have a nice look to them, as if they were originally 16-bit sprites forcibly pulled into the new millennium. Generally the goal is simply to wipe out the enemy force in a battle, but there are alternate objectives in each battle, some of which offer bonuses. Nicest of all, once beyond the quick tutorial battles of the game's torturous first chapter, the player is given a large party right off the bat and the gloves are taken off. Players have to use Hamil and Tarte in specific battles throughout the story, but which characters players focus on is otherwise left open.

   Making this large party aspect more fun is the ability to swap characters in and out mid-battle. In every battle there will be an elephant pulling the cart used for this purpose. This means players can move the cart to strategic positions to help get reinforcements quicker, though if the cart is defeated no further reinforcements can take place for the remainder of that battle. Further adding flexibility is a number of options that allow tweaking the difficulty to a player's liking. One of these is the ability to simply switch between three difficulties at any time in battle. Secondly, after falling in battle players can simply restart, keeping all the experience gained in the failed attempt to make the next try a bit easier. The biggest, however, is the ability to rewind to the start of any previous turn with no cost or penalty whatsoever. This allows trying out different strategies to see how they work, undoing disastrous turns without restarting battle, and other options that really take away a lot of the frustration that SRPGs can sometimes run into.

   Tears to Tiara II doesn't provide much in the way of customization outside of equipment and the ability to learn and equip stat-buffing skills. Thankfully, the large selection of party members provides a good mix of classes, and even those characters that share classes have their own unique abilities that help ensure there isn't much overlap. The two main characters, Hamil and Tarte, can also transform into more powerful forms for two turns when after a certain amount of time passes in battle. All characters also build up a special charge meter, which can be used to buff abilities or gain extra attacks. Despite no other real-time elements in the game, these extra hits will only occur if the player hits a button when prompted during the attack animation. Players have a wide variety of options in combat to work with, and there isn't normally any one particular way to finish any given battle.

Don't you dare mess with my
                                        elephant! Don't you dare mess with my elephant!

   In addition to strategically using character skills, several other factors also come into play. The game features a number of different elements such as the fire, wind, holy, etc. which characters have an affinity to, and certain skills and spells use as well. Which elements are currently buffed or weakened is shown by a wheel-shaped indicator that changes each turn. Players must pay close attention to this, along with the innate element of enemies, to effectively use skills.  As nicely as this is implemented, a few other battle elements don't work quite so well. These include traps, which are hidden throughout many maps and cause a character to take damage and end their turn when they move onto them. Though they equally affect enemies and allies, they mostly prove to be annoying, with no real way to track them down outside of trial and error. It's the one instance where players may be tempted to use the turn rewind system, though their effect isn't bad enough to turn the tide of a battle towards defeat. In addition to this, there are also certain skills characters can only use before moving, which would suggest that they're more powerful. In actuality, aside from some healing spells they don't tend to be any more powerful than any other skill. All said, the issues are mostly minor and combat is deep and fun, and quite challenging for those that want it to be.

   Though the highlight of the game may be its battle system, that system often feels at odds with the story. Natural spots for battles often pass by without an inkling of combat, only to have battles forced into an odd location just for the sake of the plot. That said, conversations and plot development during battle is a rarity. This disjointedness might be explained by the presence of two different developers, making it seem as if combat and story were handled independently without taking the other side into consideration.

   Strategy RPGs and visual novels seem like a suitable match given the history of great stories in this sub-genre. A fine union may still be possible, but Tears to Tiara II is certainly not it, and not because of a lackluster story. The two elements never quite mesh together consistently. Thankfully, the battle system is a lot of fun with only a few annoyances. After a torturous first chapter things open up, a large party becomes available, and players can delve into optional elements in battle that will offer a challenge to SRPG fans. It's not that Tears to Tiera II can't be fun, but it's just that there is so much padding that only the most patient of gamers will be able to find that enjoyment.

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