By Annie Gallagher / January 28th, 2015
|Title||Tales of Hearts R|
|Release Date||November 11, 2014|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Teen|
Tales of Hearts R is a game that has had my attention ever since I found out it existed. The original Tales of Hearts on the Nintendo DS was never released outside of Japan, so this remake finally gave us a chance to experience it for ourselves. It originally looked like it would never happen due to Bandai Namco being understaffed for the Tales games. However, they ended up pulling through for us in order to release a game that Hideo Baba himself said he really wanted to localize. So, the question that remains is whether Tales of Hearts R was worth the wait.
Tales of Hearts R stars Kor Meteor, a brave, yet naive young fencer who meets a girl named Kohaku and her brother, Hisui. The story begins when Kohaku’s Spira Core (basically the manifestation of one’s soul) is shattered and has its pieces scattered across the world. As a result, Kohaku is left without her emotions, and is not herself. To fix this, the three of them go on a fetch quest to find the pieces, so they can restore her Spira Core and her emotions.
To be completely honest, the main storyline was incredibly boring for the first 15 hours. The main problem is that there is very little motivation for the player to want to retrieve Kohaku’s Spira Core. This is because we were just introduced to her and know absolutely nothing about her personality. As a result, we only get to see her as a character that LITERALLY has no personality. This plot device would have worked excellently if it occurred after we had known Kohaku for a long time. Unfortunately, though, you just go through a MacGuffin fetch quest and see her regain one emotion at a time.
It also does not help that, at the start of the game, our characters are incredibly unlikable. Hisui, in particular, is constantly threatening and berating Kor because he is overprotective of his sister and thinks Kor intentionally shattered her Spira Core. Kor almost never decides to stand up for himself, which just makes things more frustrating. It also doesn’t help that Kor’s incompetence also starts to get rather grating, as well. You are also stuck with Ines, an obnoxious slave driver who only cares about money, and Kunzite, a robot whose lack of emotions makes him often come across as rude. Thankfully, both Gall and Beryl were pretty likable from the start. I have heard that some of the poor characterization was due to this game being localized with a lower budget than other Tales games, so that may be something to keep in mind.
Thankfully, the game’s story actually does improve eventually. Granted, it takes way too long to do so, but better late than never, I suppose. Specifically, it starts to pick up once the main villain is introduced and after Kohaku regains her emotions. This is mainly because, unlike the beginning, there is an actual risk involved and much better motivation. You technically still had villains in the first fifteen hours, but most of them are either irrelevant to the main plot or have very little presence. It also helps that the characters not only stop being annoying, but they even become likable. Technically, all the characters do retain their original personalities, but they are handled in far more amusing ways than before. Hell, even the game’s humor becomes a lot better. The skits between the characters were often legitimately funny and creative. Granted, there were a few clichéd gags about the women getting overly angry, but the majority are just brilliant.
Graphics wise, this game seems to be about PS2 level, which I feel is acceptable for Vita standards. It may not be the most impressive I have seen on the system, but it gets the job done. The anime cutscenes looked very smooth and well animated. However, I will say that some of the character designs were kind of bland and uncreative. For example, Kor looks practically identical to Lloyd Irving, and Chalcedony looks suspiciously similar to one of the angels from Tales of Symphonia. The enemy models all look rather bland and are not particularly memorable, without any special features to them. The landscapes are also lacking in variety. Throughout the course of the game, there have been multiple desert, forest and sewer areas that looked exactly the same each time through.
Another annoying aspect is that you are unable to turn or scroll the camera. As a result, it often becomes difficult to see anything hidden behind the scenery or behind you. This would not be too much of a problem if it were not for the fact that this is a JRPG from 2014 that still uses random encounters. Random encounters on their own are not a huge problem, but, when you need to backtrack just to get a decent look at something, they tend to get rather intrusive. Yes, there are items that can stop encounters, but they only last a limited amount of time. As a result, trying to move around to get a better view wastes time and causes you to burn through these items more quickly. This becomes even more problematic when dealing with puzzles. There are points when puzzles span the entire room and you are unable to see the entire room. As a result, you will often need to run around figuring out things through trial and error while you burn through your Sacrosants (that you can only carry 15 of, by the way), which will end up leaving you without any while you get bombarded with encounters later in the dungeon.
Sound wise, the sound effects are well-placed and give the desired effect. For those unaware, there is no English dub for Tales of Hearts R, so, if that bothers you, it is something to keep in mind. The voice acting itself is a bit too over-the-top and exaggerated. Another strange thing is that the names were changed for the North American script, but the Japanese dub still refers to the original Japanese names. As a result, I can imagine things being a bit awkward for anyone fluent in Japanese. The music, for the most part, is pretty good albeit not amazing. In particular, I liked a lot of the boss themes and a few dungeon themes stuck out. The rest tend to be songs that are enjoyable in the context of the game, but not something you would listen to in your spare time.
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