Tales of Vita.
The Tales Of series, which is hugely popular in Japan and has managed to gather quite the following in the west, already has a fair few entries for JRPG fans to get their teeth into. However, Tales of Hearts R, the latest offering from Bandai Namco to make its way over here, manages to stand out from the other titles in the series simply by making an appearance on Sony’s handheld consoles, the PlayStation Vita. An epic JRPG for the neglected Vita is surely something to be excited about, right?
Fans of the series will find a lot of familiarity in Tales of Hearts R. The game is a remake of the Nintendo DS released Tales of Hearts, from a few years back, and manages to carry with it many of the best parts, and the not so popular aspects, of the Tales of series.
Tales of games are not necessarily known for their deep and original stories, and Tales of Hearts R is no different in that respect. Filled with stereotypical JRPG characters, the story meanders for a large part of the game before picking up pace. It is an enjoyable tale, but not one that will stay around long after the game is finished.
The main quest for the majority of the game revolves around a woman named Kohaku who has had her soul, known in the game as her spira core, shattered by a witch and spread around the world. This leaves her as an emotionless shell, and it is down to the protagonist, entertainingly named Kor Metoer, and Kohaku’s brother Hisui, to go on a grand adventure to gather these shards and make Kohaku whole again.
Thus begins a long journey which will see the small group growing in size as new, and sometimes more interesting, characters join the cause. Towns will be visited, dungeons will be explored and, thanks to Kor’s grandfather, Spira Cores will be emptied of evil. Entering an afflicted person’s Spira Core to remove monsters is not the most exciting part of the game, largely due to the lack of variety in people’s souls, but serves a purpose as the player works towards unlocking the larger story. There is a lot more going on than just some woman being picked on by a witch, and players will find plenty of side quests to keep them entertained as they try to figure it all out.
Also keeping the player entertained is the rather good combat, something the series is known for. Players will find themselves taking a party of four characters into battle, with both action and a strategic flavour giving the player plenty to think about. Managing the other members of the party as they are controlled by the AI, in between indulging in some basic melee attacks and spells (known as Artes), becomes more complex and offering more options as the game progresses, giving the more strategic player a chance to flex their muscles as they assign the other characters to ever more defined actions. This and the ability to juggle enemies into the air and continue to attack them ensure that the combat is both fast paced and a lot of fun.
Which is why it is such a shame that Tales of Hearts R uses random encounters. I know that this is down to taste, but I personally find random encounters, in which the player will be wandering around quite happily and then suddenly be thrown into combat with no warning, quite frustrating. Sure, there are ways that the player can lower the frequency of random encounters, or increase them should they be farming for experience, and the player can always try to escape a battle if they really can’t be bothered, but I like the idea of stealthily sneaking past enemies if I want to avoid battle. Anyway, random encounters are not a game breaker, they are just an annoyance and don’t detract from an otherwise very good JRPG.
With the random encounters and everything else the player will be doing, they are likely to gather plenty of experience which they can use to improve their characters as the game progresses. Leveling up will be rewarded with skill points that can be used to unlock new abilities or Artes, along with improving their attack, defense and support roles. The system is not too complex, but allows for specialization of characters as the player sees fit.
Visually, Tales of Hearts R is quite an achievement. It is not the nicest looking game on the Vita, but given the games’ humble origins, it still manages to be quite impressive. The soundtrack is also nice and lively, and the Japanese voice work with English subtitles works well most of the time.
It may not have the best story or the most interesting cast of characters, and the random encounters are something that many players will hate, but Tales of Hearts R still manages to be a thoroughly enjoyable JRPG. The fact that it is on the Vita, a platform screaming out for quality games, is just the icing on the cake. With a huge amount of content and an accessible but deep combat system, Tales of Hearts R would be a good fit in any Vita owners library.