Tales Of Hearts was originally a title made from the ground up for the Nintendo DS and later ported to iOS. With neither iteration ever making it to the west, the release of Tales Of Hearts R looms for the PlayStation Vita, and gives Tales fans the first handheld taste of the story. Fans of the series will find the same familiar gameplay and story that they have come to expect. However, despite being an improvement over past versions of the game, the Vita edition of Tales Of Hearts R is still slightly held back by hardware limitations that detract from the overall experience.
Tales Of Hearts R is a JRPG that has players entering the world of Celland, which is under constant attack by monsters that consume the crystalized essence of a person’s emotions, called spiria. In order to combat these monsters, which are called xerom, weapons dubbed soma were created based on the strongest people’s spiria. Those who wield Soma are able to fight off the xerom and enter the spiria of people that have become infected by their evil and purge them of it. You take on the role of Kor Meteor, a young man who inherits his grandfather’s soma and subsequently runs into Kohaku and her brother Hisui outside his village where they are being attacked by Incarose, an evil sorceress and her xerom. Soon Kohaku is infected with xerom and Kor is pulled into their adventure to save Kohaku’s spiria.
The story of Tales Of Hearts R starts off rather basic and evolves with subplots and various other elements as new characters are introduced. The overall plot is actually quite enjoyable and plays out almost like a television show, complete with anime cutscenes. Unfortunately the presentation suffers from the lack of an English voice track, but fans requested the included Japanese voices and developers stated that the lack of space on the Vita is why there is no English option at release. Even if it does hinder the overall experience for western gamers it is possible that Namco may release an English voice track as DLC. Until then players are stuck with Japanese voices and forced to read subtitles.
The gameplay mechanics of battle and the overall progression that many Tales fans are familiar with generally stay the same. Players will travel from locale to locale and city to city upgrading their armor and gathering party members of varying capabilities along the way. Battles are in real time with players controlling the party leader as they mash buttons to attack and cast spells known as ‘artes’. There are a few changes here and there, such as having to distribute points to various stats on each character when you level up, and the unlocking of new and more powerful somas as you reach leveling milestones. Players will also earn special titles by progressing in the story, which involves completing certain character events and challenges within the game.
Skill linking, the ability to share skills with other memebers of your party, and bonding, the building of relationships between characters, both return but they unlock with general progression and no longer require players to ‘link artes’ like other recent Tales games. Bonding allows other characters to use a specific character skill as their own and can be equipped in the skill menu. Artes abilities can be mapped to various combinations of the d-pad and face buttons. The touchpad is implemented here to allow you to control party member’s artes by directing them with a swipe of the touchpad. This can be helpful if you want someone to heal at a certain point but the whole mechanic felt tacked on and unnecessary. The slight changes made to all of these mechanics are clearly done due to the hardware limitations, but thankfully they don’t make the game any less enjoyable.
One change that does impact the experience is that unlike previous western released Tales titles, Tales Of Hearts R favors random encounters instead of the player being able to dictate how to confront enemies as they are seen on screen. There is also an over world map that links all the areas, instead of every area being linked together. These alterations seem to be meant to simplify the title for handhelds, as well as making it more accessible for less experienced players. However, the random battles end up feeling very intrusive since past Tales titles excelled largely due to their absence.
The main aspects that differentiate Tales Of Hearts R from its DS brethren are the full 3D graphics, new playable characters, new anime cutscenes, and full voice acting. All of which add to the experience and really ‘pop’ on the Vita screen. Of course the DS version was never localized, but the scenes are quite amazing and the graphics do really look great on the Vita. The characters are all properly introduced and have depth. The gameplay and progression allows players to really decide to either develop a well-rounded team, or put points into their strongest aspect and run with it. It allows players to almost personalize the character in ways similar to other Tales titles on more powerful hardware.
Tales Of Hearts R is an attempt to localize a game that fans of the series have been clamoring for. However, the lack of an English voice track does sour the experience a little. If you are able to look past this you will find yourself enjoying a deep RPG that is full of adventure and exploration. Despite a few issues, Tales of Hearts R wholeheartedly lives up to the pedigree of the Tales franchise, while remaining playable in a convenient portable experience.
Tales of Hearts R Review
- Available On: PlayStation Vita
- Published By: Bandai Namco Games
- Developed By: Bandai Namco Studios and 7th Chord
- Genre: RPG
- US Release Date: November 10th, 2014
- Reviewed On: PlayStation Vita
- Quote: "Despite a few issues, Tales of Hearts R wholeheartedly lives up to the pedigree of the Tales franchise, while remaining playable in a convenient portable experience. Tales of Hearts R is a worthy portable edition that fans may enjoy."