In 2008, Bandai Namco released their third and final Tales game for the Nintendo DS, Tales of Hearts. While this version was never localized, a full remake was made in 2013 for the PlayStation Vita that managed to make itself stateside after about a year. It was highly anticipated by fans, as this would be the first time we would be able to experience the Tales of Hearts story in English, seeing as how the fan translation of the original DS version was never completed.
In Tales of Hearts R, we are introduced to Kor Meteor, a young man with a good nature but nothing else really astonishing about him. Not long after our story begins, Kor finds a girl washed up on the beach in his small village. While attempting to save her, she suddenly comes to and immediately accuses Kor of dubious deeds in a very typical “anime humor” sort of way. After it is established that he is in fact not a suspicious person, the girl, our heroine Kohaku, asks Kor to take her to his grandfather, as she is searching for him. In the process of seeking him out, Kohaku is attacked by a witch, named Incarose, who had been pursuing her. With barely a wave of her hand, Incarose disables Kohaku by infecting her with a disease called Despir, which directly affects a person’s soul, or Spiria. After delving into her Spiria and the first of numerous associated dungeons, Kor only manages to make things worse by inadvertently shattering Kohaku’s soul. From here, he must journey with the now emotionless Kohaku and her irate brother Hisui to repair her Spiria, stop Incarose from achieving her goals, and discover the mystery behind a girl hiding in Kohaku’s Spiria.
Every Tales game has a characteristic genre name associated to it that ties into what the overall plot is about. The one for Tales of Hearts was, “A Meeting Between Hearts RPG”. This game is certainly true to that, as there is a lot to do with developing the bonds between characters and their hearts. That said, it doesn’t really do too much outside of your usual RPG story revolved around love and friendship. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but considering a few of the game’s other faults, improvements could have really helped to make Hearts R an experience that stands out among other Tales games. It left me feeling compelled to continue the game not because I found the story engaging, but because I hoped that it would become engaging. Thankfully, it does start to pick up, but it isn’t until a bit too late in the game and as a result doesn’t make a big enough change in the experience.
Thankfully, the game makes up for this with some decent character developments. All of the original characters, which is everyone except for Gall, develops well throughout the story. They all noticeably grow from who they were in the beginning, although Kor is a bit of a stereotypical RPG protagonist and that never really changes. Unfortunately for Gall, it is easy to tell he was not meant to be there. Everyone else has a rather important role that is incorporated into the plot. Gall merely mentions what happened to him in his past and will casually mention it again whenever it is relevant the story. The other new addition to the party, Chalcedony, was present in the DS version as an NPC, so it’s easier to incorporate him in a way that feels more natural.
One of my biggest gripes with the plot was how often Kohaku was unavailable to your party in the first portion of the game. Granted, it makes sense due to the events of the story, but it’s really unfortunate to have the main heroine be largely unplayable for the first third of the game. I found myself annoyed with how long this part of the story was taking and just wanted to have the girl back to normal so I could move onto the next arc already. It didn’t help that whenever you finally thought you made some progress, sometimes an annoying antagonist would come in and immediately nullify your work.
Combat is where I feel like Tales of Hearts R shines the brightest. The ability to use your special attacks, or artes, is based on a number displayed by your character’s portrait in battle. It builds up over a few seconds of performing no attacks, then allows you to execute your artes without overusing them to the point that it makes battles too easy. You can increase this overall number with better gear that you get throughout the game. It’s a very fun and fluid system that works well. Without a doubt, it is one of my favorite Tales battle systems to date.
But just because I find the combat a lot of fun doesn’t mean I want to constantly be swarmed with encounters; and Tales of Hearts R is more than eager to do just that. The encounter rate is one of the worst I’ve experienced in a Tales game. It doesn’t help that it goes back to the pre-Symphonia style of truly random encounters in that you can’t see enemies on the map. Thankfully, the Tales series has always had the saving grace of the Holy Bottle, an item which will lower the encounter rate for a short period of time. I felt like I needed these a lot. When that wasn’t enough, there’s the Sacrosanct Bottle, which completely shuts off encounters for about a minute. I found myself using these items too many times to count in the second half of the game, as the encounter rate was becoming obnoxious. Even with these bottles in use, no grinding was ever needed at any point to defeat the next story boss, which goes to show how unnecessary the rate was. Worse yet was dealing with this in places where you’re trying to solve puzzles, especially if they are larger scaled. Some of these are fairly simple puzzles that are made slower to solve just because there’s another encounter just a few feet away to distract you. It also made the cookie-cutter, labyrinthine Spiria dungeon all the more boring and drawn out. As far as I know, Hearts R is the only Tales game to have a Sacrosanct Bottle, so the developers must have realized their encounter rate was too much, yet didn’t feel the need to tweak it.
I will, however, sing praises to the game’s Soma system. Soma are essentially accessories that our characters wear that allow them to summon their weapon at will. Because of this, you only purchase armor upgrades through shops. Weapon upgrades are done entirely through upgrading a character’s Soma Crystal, as well as skills and passive combat perks. You level up normally, but you gain points every level to distribute into different “branches” of a Soma Crystal to learn new skills and obtain new weapons. In this way, it feels a lot like the License Board in Final Fantasy XII, minus visible nodes that you can plot a path to. It’s a nice, underused system that I definitely like to see more of, especially when it is done well, as Tales of Hearts R does.
Visually, Hearts R has a bit of good and bad. It is a nice looking 3D Vita RPG with environments and character models that are very fitting to the Tales style. Battle animations are fluid and well executed. One glaring issue, however, is the anime cutscenes. Tales of Innocence R had entirely new cutscenes and even a new opening animation, completely different from the one it had on the DS. (Both are incredible, by the way.) Tales of Hearts R is a mixed bag, to say the least. On one hand it also has new cutscenes added here and there throughout the story. But it also reuses all of its DS cutscenes, complete with their original resolutions. This means that one moment you’ll have a cutscene that is in a crisp, 16:9 resolution, then the next will be a somewhat blurry 4:3 from the DS, occasionally edited to have party members exclusive to Hearts R included in them. Not only this, but Hearts R also uses the original DS opening without alterations, aside from fitting it all into one screen rather than two, and removing a rather nice few seconds of animation to add in a shot of Gall. This is one of the things that makes it clear that Hearts R was a rushed remake compared to Innocence R, which was regrettably never released in English.
This may be a minor nitpick and something that most people may not have an issue with, but I felt as though Mitsumi Inomata’s character designs were lacking for the cast, as well. This goes back to the DS version and doesn’t directly affect the Vita remake. But comparing the designs of Kor and company to previous games she has designed, it just didn’t seem like there was more than maybe one character that had a flashy, outlandish, or frilly outfit that makes her style so unique. Her designs are one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about her style. I suppose Beryl is somewhat close, but I would say that most of that is in her hat.
Out of everything in Tales of Hearts R, I have to say that I am most disappointed in the soundtrack. Though this issue goes back to the original Hearts, the soundtrack just feels very bland. I listened to the battle theme literally ten minutes prior and I’ve already forgotten how it sounds. I can’t remember a single melody from the game aside from the Japanese opening theme, but that was composed by DEEN and not Motoi Sakuraba. Don’t get me wrong; I am in no way saying that Sakuraba is a bad composer. I just think that this composition is very lacking compared to previous games in the series. Tales soundtracks have just had a hard time standing out in my mind since Abyss, which I haven’t played in over a decade and still occasionally find myself humming tunes from. I can’t blame Sakuraba for this, though. Listening to his compositions in other series, such as Dark Souls, Valkyrie Profile, Baten Kaitos; it is clear that this man has an incredible talent. But he is so held back when composing for Tales games that everything bleeds together and nothing moves me. The most I have felt moved by a Tales soundtrack since a few songs in Vesperia were the elemental trials in Zestiria, and those were composed by Go Shiina. I just want the man to be given freedom to create something phenomenal, as he has many times with older Tales games and other series.
When it comes to Tales of Hearts R’s localization, the best way I can describe my feelings is simply “conflicted”. It’s a relief to finally have an official localization of one of the DS Tales stories. Although at times I wish we had gotten Innocence R instead, but that’s a whole ‘nother subject. My biggest gripe with the localization is in some particular naming; why is Shing Meteoryte named Kor Meteor? It’s so obvious from the voiced dialogue what his name really is. Normally I don’t pick at name changes in localization, because usually they are for the best. Usually. But I just can’t get behind this one. Certainly there is meaning in the name Shing that is lost in translation, but something about it just sounds so wrong. Even Kor Meteoryte would have sounded better than Kor Meteor.
The lack of a dub due to a very, very budgeted localization makes a lot of the sentences during voiced scenes seem strange, even to someone who knows very little Japanese. You’ll find a line of dialogue that would take a moment to read aloud, but the Japanese voice said something for only a second or two. The reverse is true as well. Now, I’m not saying that the lines are necessarily bad, but it is a bit jarring at times. It’s clear that this game was written with a unique dub in mind, but it simply wasn’t possible because of the budget. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t have a dub, but otherwise I do feel like Hearts R has a decent localization, give or take some typos. I do also wish there had been subtitles for select battle dialogue, such as pre-battle character quotes and when defeating specific bosses that say something before the battle ends.
When it all boils right down to it, Tales of Hearts R is a decent entry in the long running Tales series. It is far from one of the best, but it’s not a bad experience. I would recommend it to anyone who already enjoys the Tales series and wants to see what else it has to offer, but I wouldn’t personally tell someone who hasn’t played a Tales game to start with this one. Nor would I suggest it anytime soon after starting with a different title. Despite having one of the best combat systems in the series, I feel like it wasn’t a very memorable experience and it was clear that both the development and the localization were rushed, creating a product that is merely a smudged image of what it could have been. It is worth looking into for fans of the series, but someone who is new to Tales may want to stay clear and look into one of the more well known titles. It’s just a shame that this game sold so poorly, as that doomed the localization of the superior Innocence R remake, and completely destroyed any chances of the rumored Tempest R from being created. It was even the DS Tales game that needed a remake the least.
Pros & Cons
+ Enjoyable combat
+ Soma system is fun and interesting
– Mundane soundtrack
– Obviously budgeted localization
A decent remake that suffers from rushed development and localization that gives an awkward but moderately enjoyable experience.
PlayStation Vita, iOS
7th Chord, Bandai Namco Studios
Bandai Namco Games