WORTH THE WAIT
Even though the Tales series’ fanbase has grown exponentially over the last few years, it felt like a longshot that its western fans would ever get to experience one of its Vita entries. When it was finally announced earlier this year that we would in fact get an English version of Tales of Hearts R, fans everywhere thanked Hideo Baba (producer of the Tales games) and Bandai Namco for taking a chance. I am one of those fans. We all understand that releasing a Japanese Vita game in an English market hasn’t seen the greatest success, and yet they still chose to do it… for us. However, even though they chose to release it here – it doesn’t actually mean that it would turn out to be any good.
Happily, I am here to put any fears you may have to rest. Tales of Heart R is a fantastic game that all JRPG fans should play.
The story is a familiar one — a boy and his friends go on a quest to save the world from an unknown evil. The boy in this case is named Kor Meteor. Yes, it’s a strange name; which is the case for most of the main characters, but that’s okay. JRPGs are usually riddled with strange names so I have just started accepted them as normal.
In the beginning, Kor is given a special weapon from his grandfather, called a Soma, right before he meets a girl (Kohaku Hearts) who, to no surprise, is in danger.
Being the honorable hero he is, Kor decides to help Kohaku. Unfortunately, Kor fails to protect her from the witch, Incarose, and Kohaku’s spiria crystal is shattered and spread all over the world.
To explain the severity of the issue, a person’s spira crystal makes up their personality and holds all of their emotions. So naturally, Kohaku was left as an empty shell. This doesn’t sit well with Kor and friends, so they set off to find her missing spira shards to help her get back to normal, which quickly grows into a more epic quest to save the world.
The story really appealed to me because it reminded me of the anime/manga series Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. In that series, a very similar tragedy happens to the lead female, leaving her as an empty shell, while her friends go on a quest to fix her. I absolutely loved that show, and it was awesome to be able to play out a similar story in a Tales game. Tales of Hearts R’s story is by no means the best story out there, but it is a really charming one.
Questions have risen online lately about the quality of the localization and translation. Given that the game only has Japanese audio, a lot of emphasis is put on the english subtitles to understand what is going on. A few of the characters have extremely unique ways of saying things, and one of them constantly uses the wrong words in all the wrong places. This has led people to thinking that it was mistranslated or that the localization was poor because they didn’t make each person sound perfect. That is not the case at all. The localization was near perfect, and the different character quirks made for some enjoyable and hilarious conversations.
Though now is the perfect time to mention that I am absolutely not a fan of the lack of an English dub being included. I understand that it was solely a monetary issue – as hiring English voice actors would increase the cost to make the game, therein lowering the potential profits the company could see from the title, possibly making the game a failure. It’s all about costs at the end of the day, and Bandai Namco had taken a risk bringing the title stateside. I get it, I really do. But part of the charm in Tales games is hearing the HUNDREDS of skits (small cutscenes). Reading them does not give you the same understanding of each emotion that the characters go through. Japanese voices do not express themselves the same way we do in English – which makes reading subtitles the same as reading a text message or an email, and we all have made mistakes understanding the emotions behind those, haven’t we? That being said, I am happy Bandai Namco took the chance to bring it over, and hope that it sees enough success that they will make sure to include an English dub on every Tales game going forward.
Graphically, Tales of Hearts R looks as good as any other JRPG on PlayStation Vita. It looks no better or worse than Persona 4 Golden, which is widely thought of as the best Vita game, and looks better than Ys: Memories of Celceta. What is especially great about Tales of Hearts R is that it looks just as good when it is blown up on a big HDTV using the PlayStation TV.
I spent the majority of my time playing in on PSTV using my DualShock 4, and it felt just like playing previous Tales titles on PlayStation 3. There are only a few touch commands included in Tales of Hearts R, such as touching a players portrait to include them in a bigger attack. These commands are much easier to do while playing on Vita, but not impossible to do on PSTV. You can map the touch commands to the analog sticks and the touchpad on the DualShock 4, which makes it possible, but just a little bit more of a hassle. That being said, none of the touch commands are essential to succeeding in the game, and can easily be forgotten and never even used.
The gameplay and battle system are extremely similar to every other Tales game, which is a good thing. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Tales of Hearts R’s battle system felt like some of the older Tales games, and was a little bit more stiff than the more recent games like Tales of Xillia and Tales of Xillia 2. However, that doesn’t make it bad — in fact, the battle system was extremely fun and fast paced.
My biggest issue with the gameplay is the return of random encounters. I have never been a fan of this system, and very much prefer to see the enemies on the screen, allowing me the opportunity to avoid them by running around them. I hate being stuck in a dungeon, not knowing how to solve the puzzles, and have to encounter a battle every few seconds. It makes me forget what I was doing, and by the time I realize it and start to move forward, another battle happens and the process resets. This is a minor gripe at best, but it was still an annoyance.
The Verdict: 8.4 out of 10
Tales of Hearts R was an absolute delight to play on both Vita and PSTV. It uses everything the series is adored for — from its silly jokes and anime tropes, to its charming story, to its addicting battle system, it is everything I have wanted in a handheld Tales game. The lack of an English dub and random encounter battles hurt the overall product a little bit, but not enough to skip the game. If you are looking for a great traditional JRPG on your Vita, this is the one.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.