A pretty, young lady named Kohaku washes up on the shore of a small seaside village, and is discovered by a local young man. The young man soon discovers that she is on the run from a witch who has been chasing after her. Having been awestruck by her cuteness, the youth, named Kor, can’t help but want to help her find her brother Hisui, who should have washed up on shore with her. Once the three come back together, they decide to head for a nearby forest that is said to house a Soma, or a special kind of weapon that is powered by and shaped from a person’s heart.
However, the witch that is hunting for Kohaku soon finds the three, and a fight ensues. In the crossfire, Kor’s grandfather is killed and Kohaku is left wounded and acting strange.
In a state of both panic over Kohaku and anger over losing his only family member, Kor tries to use a secondary function of his Soma—to dive into somebody’s Spiria (think of it like your heart)—in the hopes of purifying Kohaku, or to at least ascertain what is wrong with her. However something terrible and unexpected happens while Kor is inside her Spiria, and it is instead torn to shreds and scattered all across the world, leaving Kohaku without a heart, basically turning her into nothing more than a vegetable. Now, in order to save the girl, Kor must travel around the world with her reasonably upset, but overprotective big brother, and collect these shards of her heart, all the while trying to evade the pursuing witch.
As it should be expected out of a game with “Hearts” in its title, the story does veer into “the power of love” and “with our hearts combined” territory at times. If you’re turned off by these kinds of stories, Tales of Hearts R won’t really do anything that will change your mind. If you can put up with that sort of thing, though, the game does a reasonably good job telling its story.
The greatest criticism Tales of Hearts R has been faced with, even before its release, has been the translation. Hearts R is the first in the Tales series in a while to be released with just Japanese audio, and no English dub to speak of. Furthermore, for some reason it features a lot of out-of-place localization choice, many of which are just totally random, unexplainable, and unnecessary name changes for characters, plot concepts, and especially for the arte attacks. The biggest example of this is that, originally, the protagonist was named Shing instead of Kor. Now, as odd as Kor is, it can be debated whether or not his new name is an attempt at replicating the meaning of the name in Japanese, similar to how the Inazuma Eleven, or Phoenix Wright games were handled. However, even that makes little sense since those games didn’t feature Japanese audio.
The inconsistencies between what was originally there, and what was decided on for the localization, are extremely obvious when the original audio is presented instead of a dub. It honestly feels like Bandai Namco went into this project with the full intent of producing a dub, but somewhere along the line had to cancel it. So, what we’re left with is some sort of Frankenstein-esque translation that feels like it’s made to be dubbed, and the original Japanese that doesn’t always match up, especially for those that do understand the Japanese language.
That said, even those who aren’t familiar with Japanese will still experience an odd moment here and there. Such as a character basically saying one word like “thank goodness (yokatta)” in the Japanese audio, while the text boxes give us long sentences such as “Oh, thank God! You’re okay, I’m so glad you aren’t hurt! I worried so much about you!”
Is that deal breaker? That’s up to you. It wasn’t for me, but it does feel awkward to sit through at times, which is a pity, as the rest of the game’s localization isn’t bad. It is generally a great read, flows really naturally, and has a lot of personality. I felt it was pretty true to all the characters, too, even if the editor punched up the dialogue a bit to give it more pazazz, although that’s a fairly common practice. Overall, this is by no means even close to Bandai Namco’s last huge failure that was Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, and Tales fans have been put through far worse in the past; so, perhaps Hearts R is being judged a tad too harshly. Ultimately, your thoughts on the matter will come down to personal taste and how much value you place in a good localization.
With that soapbox out of the way, let’s move on to the real meat of the game so I can tell you how Tales of Hearts R is the best portable Tales game I have ever played. Fully realized battles. I feel like this just can’t be ignored. The battles in Hearts R are in full 3D, and anyone who is familiar with how Xillia played should be able to get adjusted to Hearts R very quickly. Having a free range of movement in the battles adds so much, and creates for a more dynamic gameplay experience. Likewise, Hearts R features an intricate combo system that focuses on aerial combat, and the amount of the time you spend in the air is just extremely fun. Sending enemies up high with ridiculous combos, and jumping up and slamming them back down to the ground to finish them off.
Add a rewarding guard system that allows you to cancel out certain oncoming attacks, as well as the powerful mystic artes, and you have yourself a great battle system that is a lot of fun. What’s more—and even though it is a small thing its presence is felt greatly—is that the Vita has a second stick, meaning you can finally have the full console experience of how battles work in portable form.
Dungeons, at first, are not as impressive as the battles, and can be a bit on the short and simple side; however, as the game progresses, so do the dungeons, and they become far more interesting and better thought-out. There are some good brainteasers in the game with the puzzles you have to solve. More often than not, these are are floor panel puzzles, but other puzzles come into play later. The sorcerer’s ring also makes a full return, and is implemented a lot in later dungeons. Overall, I was somewhat underwhelmed with the dungeon designs when I first started the game, but was very happy with their designs towards the end.
Hearts R is also packed with the large amount of extra content fans can usually expect out of the console Tales games. A substantially large amount of voiced skits, unlockable costumes and attachments for the characters to wear as well as DLC costumes, too. Side quests that tell you more about the cast, as well as one huge whole game long side quest that sees you collecting namcoins, and a coliseum where you can go head-to-head in battles or play some mini-games. There are also added bonus skits that unlock if certain events are met, plus some extra little stories for all the costumes. The bonding system that Hearts R has is something that I really enjoyed, too. It was a lot of fun to watch the characters’ relationships grow, and see the little conversations they had with one another. It was always changing as the game went on, and there was a sizeable amount of chatter between the cast mates. The game really rewards you for going off the beaten path, and every crevice of the world has some little extra story, or some interesting sight to see.
Overall, Tales of Hearts R is a great game, and is the closest I’ve felt to having a console quality Tales release on a portable system. The combat is well done, and the amount of content in the game easily warrants its price. It is a full experience and nothing feels watered down, with the exception of the localization, which struck me as a terrible attempt to save money; the game would really have benefited from a full dub. That having been said, if you’re already a Tales fan or simply a Vita owner looking for a solid JRPG to play, you could do far worse than Tales of Hearts R. This is hands-down the most fun I have had with a Vita game in a very long time.
Food For Thought:
1. For a character that wasn’t in the original Nintendo DS version of Tales of Hearts, I found that Gall still somehow stole the show. He even ended up one of my favorite characters in the whole game, and I can’t imagine playing Hearts without him now. I was surprised by how naturally he fit into the group, and how much he added to the story. Gall might be one of the best additions to the game.
2. The Japanese audio is the only vocal language option available in the game; however, it can also be turned off. This may help the localization feel more natural, or be something that people who may not be comfortable with the Japanese can choose. But even if it does help, I would really recommend leaving the acting on since it is quite good, and really helps to add emotion to scenes that may just be stiff otherwise.
3. The main villain at the end of the game has a name that sounds like a pencil company. And on top of that I found that Kor’s soma looks way too much like the Duel Disks in Yu-Gi-Oh.
4. The game has a lot of fun battle victory quotes, but my favorite is one you can get early on in the game:
Gall: Sweet dreams, scum.
Hisui: Ooh, nice line!
Kor: Yeah that was super cool!
Beryl: Shame your fly is open.
Gall: Wh—?! Aww, Maaan!