Tales of Hearts R - Review  

Corudu Durinkusu!
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Fast, combo-driven combat
+ Great level design
+ Excellent localization
- No English voice work
- Combat not as deep as other Tales games
- Random encounters? Really?
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   "Kor Meteor doesn't try. Kor Meteor DOES!" This cheesy motto, one that would make Yoda proud, lies at the center of Tales of Hearts R, a remake of the Nintendo DS RPG Tales of Hearts and the latest in the long-running Tales series to reach western shores. While it's certainly not the worst Tales game on offer, or even the worst game the series has to offer this year, it nonetheless carries a number of flaws that hold it back from greatness.

   Tales of Hearts R stars Kor Meteor, a terribly named teenager whose sheltered world is turned upside down when a young girl named Kohaku washes up on the shore of his village. The girl and her brother are being pursued by an evil witch, and after an encounter with her leads to the death of Kor's grandfather and the destruction of Kohaku's "spiria", the three of them set off on an adventure to save Kohaku and ultimately the world itself. Spirias are sort of like a person's heart, governing their emotions, but can also be used to power weapons called somas, which Kor and his allies will need to fight the monsters that stand in their way.

   While the game's story starts off a bit slow, it definitely ramps up as the story goes on. Many of the themes and plot devices bear more than a passing resemblance to Star Wars, including the mysterious power of spirias and eventually even a planet-destroying moon. The characters, as per usual in the Tales series, can be a bit clichéd, but are all likeable and relatable. The localization quality is quite high, easily on par with Tales of Graces f or Tales of Xillia, though Bandai Namco sadly chose to forego localizing the voice work for the first time in the English history of the series. This can actually lead to a handful of amusing scenes in which the Japanese voice actors use seemingly random English phrases, like "cold drinks", in place of the Japanese equivalent, which really stand out as bizarre. Still, it's more than a little disappointing that no voice work was recorded for the English localization, as a few of the characters, most notably Beryl, have some interesting speech patterns that would have been great to hear spoken.

Kor Meteor doesn Kor Meteor doesn't do what Kor Meteor does for Kor Meteor. Kor Meteor does what Kor Meteor does because he is Kor Meteor.

   Combat basics will feel pretty familiar to longtime Tales fans, but there are enough twists to keep things at least moderately unique. While the combat doesn't retain the level of tactical complexity of Tales of Graces f, it runs at a much quicker pace and includes a combo system that makes racking up ridiculous hit counts shockingly easy. As always, each character moves on a line and can perform basic attacks and artes using the directional buttons in combination with X or O. Artes cost TP to use, but also use up a secondary resource called TC. TC is basically the number of artes that can be strung together in a row without needing to break the combo, and as the game progresses, this value can be upgraded to seven or higher. Coupled with a basic attack chain that can be upgraded as high as seven hits as well as several TC-restoring skills, players can string together incredibly high combos with only a single character. Oftentimes by AI controlled characters can do so on their own.

   Tales of Hearts R also introduces the chase link system, which allows players to start ludicrous attack chains on specific enemies. When an enemy has been dealt enough consecutive hits, a blue glyph will appear over them, indicating that a chase link can be initiated. At that point, all players have to do is perform a break attack, which can be accomplished in a number of ways. With the right skill equipped, certain artes can act as a break attack, and players can also hold down the left trigger to turn their next regular attack into a break. Finally, the last hit in any normal attack combo will always be a break attack, so even players who aren't paying too close attention can still get in on it. Once the chase link has started, a number of new abilities become available. Characters can instantly warp to the enemy's location by pressing the square button, special link attacks can be performed by touching a party member's health icon on the Vita's touch screen when prompted, and characters can also turn subsequent break attacks into powerful finishing moves, though doing so also ends the chase link.

   Players can also enjoy unprecedented control over their party's AI, using a limited scripting system that bears a striking resemblance to Final Fantasy XII's gambits. While the game's core AI can handle itself well enough, players can create special rules for using certain skills or targeting certain enemies, and players willing to really take the time to work on it will be rewarded with extremely smart companion characters. The game's character customization system also allows for a fair bit of variety. Each character earns points at level-up that can be distributed to one of five different branches in their somas, and for the most part, they all have both physical and magical skills to learn. This system is also how characters get new weapons, and depending on which path players take, those weapons may be physically balanced, magically balanced, or a mixture of both.

Yeah, yeah.  Hurry up and get that cold drink you promised me! Yeah, yeah. Hurry up and get that cold drink you promised me!

   Unfortunately, the game also takes a number of backward steps that longtime Tales fans will likely be irritated with. The series returns to random encounters for the first time since Tales of Legendia, which sadly gets in the way of the terrific, puzzle-centric level design the likes of which has been absent from the series since Tales of Symphonia. The game also inexplicably removes the ability to quickly recover from being knocked backwards, which has been a staple of the franchise ever since it started using 3D visuals. That said, free-running — the ability to move in any direction rather than a straight line introduced in Tales of the Abyss — has never been easier or more useful. Free-running is done automatically when using the Vita's left analog stick, and launching an attack while free-running instantly changes the player's target to whichever enemy was hit.

   Tales of Hearts R doesn't really push the Vita too hard from a visuals perspective, but the graphics are still sharp and attractive: a step up from the PS2 titles, but not quite as good as the PS3 ones. The actual artwork varies: the character designs are great and there's an impressive variety of different enemy models, but the environmental locales are a bit mixed. There are some absolutely terrific areas, like the Beanstalk dungeon, but there are also a number of really bland, boring areas as well, such as the port towns which are almost carbon copies of each other. The music is extremely forgettable, typical of Motoi Sakuraba's work on the series, but it's not awful. As mentioned earlier, the voice work isn't localized, so players hoping to hear an English voice cast are out of luck.

   While it isn't a monumental triumph like the last couple of main-series Tales games we've received, Tales of Hearts R is still an enjoyable, if somewhat unimpressive, entry to the Tales franchise, one that's more than welcome in the wake of the incredibly disappointing Tales of Xillia 2. It's much shorter than a typical Tales game, rounding out at around thirty hours, which actually works in its favor, as its fast but simplified gameplay isn't strong enough to support it for much longer than that. While it could have been improved in a number of ways, Tales of Hearts R is a satisfying Tales experience that ought to satiate fans until the next big game.

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