As a Tales fan, a JRPG fan, and an anime fan, one might be justified in accusing me of favoring the series. One would be wrong in the case of
. While it has its strengths, this recrafted entry in the series was hard to stomach on so many levels; so much so that I couldn't even cut it the breaks that it I might normally have been inclined to.
The story begins as Kor Meteor, the far-too boyish protagonist receives his grandfather's coveted “Soma” weapon. Only Somatics can use them, and they are awesome apparently. Kor has a run in with a mysterious girl and her brother the second he leaves the town he's never left. A silly mistake while encountering her “spiria” breaks the girls emotions into pieces that somehow wind up all over the world. A whole lot of nonsense words, shoddy plot advancements, poorly timed and overabundant “jokes,” and several empty-as-a-shell character antics later you've got a less than passable plot that takes me back to the old days of JRPGs when a handful of the game's coders got together to write the script themselves over sake and rice balls over the weekend.
The game has come a long way from its 2D sprite iteration and now has a sprawling 3D world with numerous locations plus some great new character models. Their movements are smooth, the animations are good, and each visual detail is crisp on the small screen. That's good for the characters but bad for the world because the backgrounds are bland and unimaginative through and through.
I never understood why Tales does what it does with voices (forced English on some, selling Japanese voices as DLC) but I figured having the Japanese voices on this little Tales game couldn't possibly go wrong right? Wrong. Wrong. Riding atop the absent-minded and censorship-riddled English text translation is a set of voice performances that frequently go beyond the limits of acceptable melodrama. The actors (or at least the voices they use) are poorly cast in most cases. These characers sound like they are doing voice tests for a Saturday morning anime aimed at an audience of Kindergarteners. Generally it's a cacophony of hammy back and forth performances.
The music is a little more a matter of taste but I can tell you it is not as impactful and soaring as we get from the console iterations. It's not bad though, the tracks fit their locations and keep the lengthy story moving along. Some extra sound effects could have helped. On the technical side I detected no defects worth mentioning.
Looking for good news? There some in the gameplay. First the grievances though. It was a bit of a shock to be tossed back in time to when random battles were the way of things. It didn't really trouble me since I survived those days just fine but you might want to know there are no more enemies on the field to avoid or sneak up on. Tales games are basically linear with options to keep exploring, but Hearts R is extra linear. That fact permeates not just the place to place journey but the innards of the dungeons as well. Don't expect much extra exploring or side quests either. You might wish to cut all of that some slack though since the campaign is still long without those things.
Now, the heart of Tales games is often the battle system, which has come a long way in recent times. In Tales of Hearts R the game gives us a gem of a fighter. It begins tame and at first I didn't see much hope that it could improve but eventually I was able to do some amazing things that even made Xillia 2 look a bit tired.
The basics of the system are what you'd expect, Attack, Block, Jump and you have your assignable Artes. There's a free run mechanic that lets you run all over the map using the left thumb stick while the right stick is reserved for assigning Artes shortcuts. Sometimes it's awkward transitioning from free running with the stick to using the D-pad to unleash the skills associated with its use but if you are fast and have small hands you will be fine.
Tales has made fun use of the Link system for awhile now, and Hearts has the Cross Link system for you to experiment with. It allows you to link up with partners and execute devastating combos (and fantastic finishing moves) with your comrades as well as providing the ability to blink from place to place all around the enemy to really give them a satisfying thrashing. Once you open up new Artes and find the link combos that work best, then start hitting your combo extension windows you can really push the pace into gear. Or you can also just mash away with a little knowledge and get by, but the game won't be much fun.
There's a different leveling system for this entry, one that is elegantly simple. Battling gives you points and points are allotted to the five available traits: Fight, Mettle, Sincerity, and Endurance. The game will tell you what you accomplish by allotting these points to each area. It's actually a nice and simple way to customize after the micromanagement of Xillia 1 but better than the “it just doesn't matter” Allium extractor route in Xillia 2 .
The controls are a mixed bag, they can be unruly while trying to get around town. As I said before it's almost impossible to not miss a beat when transitioning between free run and d-pad attacking. All is typically well on the field and in dungeons.
A long time ago we bought handheld systems so that we could enjoy our favorite franchises on the go. The caveat was that we knew full well the games we would be playing would be inferior, heavily gimped versions of their big brothers. With today's handhelds, especially one like the Vita, there isn't much excuse for the quality of the experience to drop this significantly between the two of them.
I realize this seems a bit harsh and others aren't saying the same kinds of things, but they are strolling through poppy fields. In this shortage of JRPGs we are letting anything go, and this game needs serious help rather than free passes. Give it a go only if you really need your Tales on the go.