I can’t really review this game without first mentioning that the Tales series of JRPGs is one of my favorites. I honestly think they’re the best example of the genre out there, even better than the vaunted Final Fantasy, and while there’s been a couple stinkers like the questionable Tales of Legendia and the abysmal Tales of the Tempest you’re generally in for a good time when you pick up one of these games. Tales of Hearts R, a port of the original Tales of Hearts that was released for the Nintendo DS only in Japan, is the latest in the series and the first to come to the PS Vita in the West. While the transition isn’t perfect, it certainly does the job. If you’re looking for a new adventure then you can’t really go wrong here.
Tales of Hearts R stars the unfortunately-named Kor Meteor, whose name in the original Japanese was the even more unfortunate Shing Meteoryte. It sounded vaguely like a male porn star, so I suppose I can see why they’d change it. Kor is a Somatic, a warrior who commands the power of human emotion, or Spiria, via a magic weapon called a Soma. Somatics are tasked with curing individuals of despir, a mental illness caused by imbalances in their Spiria, and do so by physically entering that person’s heart and cleaning it out. When Kor meets the mysterious girl Kohaku and accidentally damages her Spiria, he takes it upon himself to fix what he’d done. Naturally, there’s more to what’s going on than Kor knows, so he’ll end up joining forces with a colorful cast of characters on a quest to save the world.
This is a Tales game, so we definitely need to talk about the combat first and foremost. The system used in Tales of Hearts R is a solid example of the series’ action-RPG gameplay with elements lifted from several other titles. While it uses something similar to the Chain Capacity point system from the PS3 Tales of Graces F to moderate your use of special Arte attacks, normal attacks can be performed for free. As long as chain points are available, Artes can be chained together easily, but you’ll have to end your combo when you run out. They regenerate over time and it’s easy to restore the TP used to power them by using normal attacks, so the character you control is free to go hog wild during combat. AI characters are fairly intelligent and can be customized using programmable strategies a la Final Fantasy XII; in particular, healers are great at keeping you alive so you don’t have to worry too much and can focus on pressing the attack.
One system unique to Tales of Hearts R is the Chain Mode system. Repeated attacks on a single enemy will eventually weaken it and leave an opening. Certain followup attacks, most commonly the final hit of a normal attack combo, will activate Chain Mode and knock them into the air for a beating. Your character can freely warp to enemies in Chain Mode to continue smacking them around, which both looks cool and allows you to unload without worrying about positioning. You can also team up with other party members using the Vita’s touchscreen. When you’re done, you can end Chain Mode with a giant finisher attack for huge damage. Enemies will try and resist being put into Chain Mode by launching counterattacks during your combos, but a properly timed guard will allow you to counter-counter for damage and a stun.
In other words, the combat is the high point of this game as is the norm with the Tales series. Character building via the Soma system is another method of keeping you focused on progression. Leveling earns skill points that can be placed in one of five trees on a per-character basis. Each tree grants varying stats as you invest in it and will also offer new skills and Artes at certain breakpoints. What’s more, certain trees will grant additional skills, stat boosts or Artes if they’re leveled up along with another tree. While each character tends to lean toward a certain playstyle, there’s nothing stopping you from going a different direction if you’d like. For instance, archer Hisui learns a combination of physical, magical and backup healing Artes so you can use him in a variety of roles ranging from magic-based DPS to off-healing. Other classic Tales systems are available, of course, like cooking and item collection, which work as you’d expect from previous games in the series.
That’s not to say the rest of the game isn’t great. Tales of Hearts R continues the series’ tradition of being some of the best-quality localization jobs available in JRPGs. One of the key points of the modern Tales games has been strong characterization and that’s certainly the case here. Even if anime tropes are in abundance, the game goes out of its way to flesh out the characters such that you’re not going to mind spending hours following their story. Admittedly, this game clearly didn’t have quite the budget that some previous titles did. Most notably, there’s no option for a dub available at all, so all voiceovers are in Japanese with subtitles. It’s really a matter of taste as to whether or not you’ll find this a problem, though you’re bound to find the odd typo in the text here and there a bit gross regardless.
Still, the writing’s good enough to keep you interested and the combat makes the game worth playing. It’s easy to recommend Tales of Hearts R to fans of the Tales series and to JRPG fans as a whole. It’s a bit more rough around the edges than we’ve come to expect from these games, but that doesn’t ruin the experience. You’re in good hands here, and chances are you’ll be picking up the next one Namco decides to localize.