September 17, 2015

That's A Wrap: Tales of Hearts R

warning: may contain spoilers

Tales of Hearts R is the much needed localization of Tales of Hearts, the 11th main entry in my beloved 'Tales of' series by Bandai Namco. The game was originally released for the Nintendo DS in 2008, but has since been treated to a full makeover and released on the PS Vita. We've been waiting 7 years for this entry to finally join the others in the English-speaking world, and I've been desperately itching to finally dive into it.

As a game that was originally only released in Japan, I hadn't heard much about Hearts. When it finally came over, the general consensus seemed to be that it was not the best of Tales, nor the worst. Everyone I heard from basically said it's a slightly flawed, mediocre Tales game, but a Tales game nonetheless, and as such, I have to play it!
The game begins with a beautiful opening video laced with cryptic - albeit familiar sounding - poem. The game actually employs a very heavy "fairy tale" or "story book" motif, weaving together familiar stories like Sleeping Beauty with the unique fiction of the game. I really enjoyed this idea and the way it was handled for Hearts R.
We're then introduced to the main character, whom I find annoying and young... y'know, in the bad way. After that, the game makes clear that you'll have to develop the map yourself - fine by me - and finally takes you into a much needed battle tutorial.
In short, my first impression was that it definitely felt like a Tales game, but I could see right off the bat that the story and character development was going to be lacking.

But before we get into that, let's take a moment to evaluate the game's looks. On the whole, the game looks much more like Tales games of old, which, to me, is a great thing. I much prefer the colorful pops of titles like Vesperia (which was released the same year as the original Hearts) to the moody, modern look of, say Xillia. All in all, the graphics are pretty tight. They make the best of the Vita's tiny screen, and never loses quality throughout the game. Occasionally, you'll be taken from the main engine look to experience bits in either full motion video - which are bloody gorgeous - or a newer technique in which you view a hand drawn still while dialogue presses on. These vary from solid to shotty work.

As far as the soundtrack in concerned, these tunes will feel familiar to any Tales fan. That said, I can't say there were many - if any - tracks that really stood out to me. In fact, as I type this, I'm trying just to remember the battle theme, and not coming up with anything. Keeping with the game's "M.O.", the musical accompaniment is mediocre at best. What I did appreciate about this release is that it kept the game's original Japanese dialogue intact. As a matter of fact, it's your only option. Now, to clarify, if my research is correct, the dialogue for Hearts R was not transferred from Hearts, but rather completely recorded. What you're hearing is an all-new set of vocals from our cast. Regardless, I much prefer the ingenuity of a cast that was selected for the characters, rather than the desperate substitutes usually made for English dubs. I didn't mind the Japanese dialogue at all, and in fact, I learned a great deal from it.

Our story begins with a playful battle between the game's protagonist, Kor and his grandfather. Kor appears to be training to gain his own soma - a rare battle accessory that channels the character's heart to produce a weapon - and develop his spiria, but Kor is still very inexperienced, in spite of his proclivities…
The title "Tales of Hearts" serves many purposes. In addition to a couple of characters literally named Hearts, the whole plot and themes of the game revolve around the concept of one's heart, or soul, or whatever you call that thing that makes you you. At this point the game has already introduced this via two heart-centric attributes: Somatics and spirias. In Hearts R, "spiria" is the word used to describe the physical manifestation of one's heart. It's detailed that a person's spiria is made up of a number of different emotions, such as fear, anger or joy, and obviously one's character is dependent on the development of these areas of their spiria. Somatics are a special class of people who are able to channel their spiria through their soma, and produce weapons and capabilities that reflect who they are. For example, Kor's grandfather's soma produces an axe, but when he gifts the soma to Kor, the boy produces a sword instead. In addition to weapons, somatic possess the ability to enter into other's spiras. This is typically done to treat an illness called "despir," which is essentially when one emotion gets out of hand and causes manic behavior from its host.
That brings us to our major plot point - while poking around in a random girl's spiria, Kor accidentally shatters her core, sending shards of her spiria shooting out in every direction, all over the world. Kor then vows to find and piece together the girl's spiria once more, and thus begins our adventure.
I found the writing in Hearts R to be very childish, and also more emotive than past games. Speaking of writing, even with my beginner Japanese, I noticed a lot of poor (perhaps intentional) translation. Certain phrases were dragged out or made up altogether for the sake of suiting the "English version" of the game instead of retaining it's Japanese originality. I had hoped we were past this in entertainment. It got to be vEry (fuck you, Sean.) annoying.
I found the story itself to be fairly plain and predictable. Tales games often have really deep, twisted and fun plots, and Hearts R just didn't satisfy. It does pick up considerably, perhaps about half way through, as the true power of the plot lays in the handful of surprises the game manages to throw at you (some unpredictable allies, enemies, boss fights, etc.).

So now that I've thoroughly insulted the cast, let's meet them! I've already mentioned the game's lead, Kor "Shingu" Meteor. Yes, for whatever reason they felt the need to change his name from the perfectly acceptable Shingu, to the unbelievably cheesy and unfounded "Kor". This dork is meant to be our fearless leader…

That's his motto, and he reminds you of it all the time. Kor fights with his inherited soma, which produces a single sword. Naturally, as the game's protag, he's very easy to level up and quickly became my strongest character. I also briefly mentioned Kor's grandfather Sydan Meteor, who turns out to be a legendary somatic and a rather important part of the plot, in the end. You don't get to play as him, but he does carry some weight regardless.
The next member of your party is the aforementioned random, broken spiria girl. Her name is Kohaku Hearts. You briefly meet her in the beginning of the game as she runs from a spooky witch, but for the better chunk of the game, she's a soulless shell who follows Kor and the gang around, awaiting her mended heart. When not being a total dead weight, Kohaku fights with a baton-type weapon and seems to excel in artes. I don't really know though because I never used her.
Helping Kor in his mission is Kohaku's hot-headed, over protective brother, Hisui. What the hell, BanNam?! "Shingu" was too much, but "Hisui" was totally cool? Sheesh. Hisui is very quick to piss you off although he does produce a few laughs. He's very over-the-top and insists on being a part of every damn scene. Hisui fights with a pair of soma that produce crossbows, however he's a natural healer, and served as my party's sole medic throughout the entire game.
Next up is Gall Gruner. He's your first, second or fortieth sign that the game has no intention of developing characters. He literally pops out of nowhere, at the most awkward time, and says "I'm just gonna follow you around because I'm a grumpy old man and shit!" Okay, maybe he didn't put it quite like that, but that is actually how he joins your party cough last minute add in cough cough. Not complaining, though. Gall is your much needed brute strength and in keeping with Tales gimmicks, he's not even that old! Gall fights with a pair of soma that produce an axe and a machete, and he's your first partner that actually helps you beat enemies.
Early in the game, you're introduced to the traveling merchant/courier, Ines Lorenzen. It's indescribably obvious that Ines will join your party eventually, so you're just stuck waiting it out until she sees fit to show you what she's made of. And what she's made of is a long-running gag throughout the game! Ines fights with a very large… knifey… thing. I don't know and I don't care, she kicks ass and that's all I ask of her. Ines also ends up catalyst to some of the plot's finer points and is kinda of the "deep" character in this crowd. I quite like her.
I can't remember if it's before or after Ines but eventually you meet Beryl Benito. She's the game's token child character, and also gets a bullshit introduction. When you enter one of the many towns in the game, you'll find her behind her easel mumbling about something or another… of course she joins your party in the end. Beryl is a spunky character who dreams of being a court painter - she's an artist, you see, and she won't let you forget it. She also serves as something of a mage for your party, but I'd be lying if I said I noticed many of her spells. Consequently she wound up in the back of the party, rarely used. What I will give her credit for, however, is being the consistent comic relief for the game. She reminds me a lot of Salsa, my favorite character from Eternal Sonata, so she gets big points for that. Beryl fights with… you guessed it, a giant ass paint brush. You could train her up to be a total badass with it, but like I said, her natural persuasion is mage.
As you get deeper into the game you're vaguely introduced to an ancient race of mechaknights created by aliens. Oh yeah. Now we're into the good stuff! The game then rams this concept down your throat by having Kunzite join your party. He served as the protector and servant of another major character that you never get to play, Lithia. Lithia is, of course, one of said aliens, and is a limb of your party for a large portion of the game. For the sake of spoilers, I won't speak much more about her, but know that you'll get a proper introduction if you play the game. Kunzite has a cool soma which is fueled by his artificial spiria. It produces a set of arms with blades on 'em, making him look a bit like Doc Oct in battle.
The last character of your gang is yet another character you meet early on, and know he'll join you eventually. He is Chalcedony Akermnan, the pride of the Crystal Knights (which is basically the church's army) and son of their leader, hilariously named Labrodor. He often tows around two more characters you'll be spending lots of time with: Pyrox and Peridot. I suppose I could mention that a lot of people in this game are named after gems or other natural substances. For want of that, I could also tell you that planet in this game is called Organica. Hurray for fun facts. Chal fights with the most unique soma in the game, which produces not only a sword, but a pair of wings! But not just any wings… no, these bad boys become your game mandatory airship! It's all very weird and convoluted, but, just trust me here.
So that's your fighting crew for Hearts R. My dream team usually consisted of Kor, Ines and Gall for their tank-like force, and Hisui just to keep an eye on everyone. As far as favorite character is concerned… ehhhh, it's a sad state of things when the kid is my favorite character, huh? I admire her spice, but beryl-y used her... see what I did there? Okay I'll move on now…
You'll also cross paths with the game's many antagonists, and a random dude named Garnet. The way this game handles characters means that the many bosses are very dull and difficult to even remember, and there are many kinda-sorta bad guys in the game. Your number one with a bullet, however, is a trip named Creed Graphite. He has a number of minions to slow you down, one of which turns out to be the spooky witch from the beginning of the game, Incarose. Spoiler alert - she's actually an ancient mechaknight, not unlike Kunzite. You'll fight her about 2000 times. I'd really like to write you a nice, detailed paragraph pointing out some of the other characters - it is was I intended to do - but now that I'm actually here I'm struggling to remember anything interesting to tell you about them. There are so many NPC's in this game and as I've mentioned numerous times already, they're all so poorly developed that no one cares! Character management might be the worst element in this title. That or their names…

I'm depressed now. Let's talk about something that doesn't suck: tried and true, fun and complex, never wavering, legendary Tales gameplay.

As per Tales tradition, you'll be bombarded with the series' iconic skits, which you can watch by pressing 'select' when prompted. The last skit in any given area (you'll notice it just repeats) will serve as a reminder on where you're supposed to head next, which is kind of nice if you've put the game down for a few days and can't remember where you left off. Skits are used to add a ton of content to the game and fill in plot holes, too… and sometimes they just make you laugh, which is another attribute you can always count on Tales for. Occasionally, skits will beckon you to play along, and you'll be prompted to choose a response to contribute to the conversation. As far as I can tell, this has no serious consequences, but can effect how you bond with other characters (more on that later), which is one of the many reasons you should always watch skits!
I'll mention again that you spend a good chunk of the game with extra characters in tow, and yet you're forbidden from playing as these characters for even a single battle. They're still part of the skits, though! I just feel this is a very missed opportunity, especially since they were sprucing up the whole game anyway.
Let's have a quick a peak at the screen:
Not much going on on your main screen. You'll have a minimal map in the top-right corner, which you can open fully by pressing the right shoulder button, and disappear it the same way. On it you'll see people, save points, chests and shops detailed by little icons. To the left is your magic ring indicator. At some point in the game, you'll acquire a magic ring which receives several upgrades throughout, so you can change its function by tapping the icon or pressing the left shoulder button. To the bottom-left, you can see there is a skit prompt, which can be viewed by pressing 'select'. If you have a peak in the back of my photo there, you'll see a save point, and smack dab in the middle there is our resident douche canoe, ready to bother people and loot random, unprotected chests. You can change which character appears on screen from your menu, too. Also, how about that snowman?! That is a nice snowman.
Another repeat function from other Tales games is the random loot point. Unlike in other games, these points do not respawn after a time, so you only need to scour the world once over to find these bad boys. They don't take the form of a glimmer or a trash bag, but rather a series of rings reaching for the sky. They're pretty hard to miss.
Save points take the shape of glowing blue-green or yellow gems. You'll find these in towns and dungeons. If I recall correctly, the blue ones will do you the favor of healing you (usually before a boss) while the yellows ones only serve the save function. If you're on the field (over world) you can save anytime by accessing the function from your menu.
Gameplay for Tales games is historically dense, but thankfully, the series (remaster) finally got tutorials down pat with Hearts R. Tutorials are many and very clean and concise in Hearts, so I'm not gonna waste your time teaching you how absolutely everything works. Suffice it say - and I always say this - if this is your first time playing a Tales game, brace yourself for a few confusing hours (if not the entire game) as there is a lot to learn. For the old pros however, you'll pick it up in a pinch. Everything is very familiar and standard in the RPG handbook. I just made that up. Moving on.

Unfortunately, the game is painfully linear. At times the game would hint at moments when I thought
I'd finally get to go off and explore at my heart's leisure, only to be immediately interrupted and offered a non-negotiable linear solution. In fact, the game vehemently stops you from exploring with scenes or obstructions in the event that you try to sneak away while you're on a mission. Furthermore, the end of the game begins to drag itself out in a way that's much more noticeable than in any other Tales game I've played. You can see the plot end clearly in sight, but the game forces you to complete task after menial task to prolong the end, and ultimately accomplish nothing in the process. Also there are far too many repeat boss battles. Just die already! This serves as the game's second major flaw.

Something that felt a bit odd to me during my play of Heart R is that there is little in the way of transportation. You'll spend the better part of the game making your way by foot. When you reach port, there will be a ship to carry you to the next continent, but then it's back to hoofin' it! You don't get any other mode of transport until the very end of the game, when Chal gets a grip on his aforementioned wings. Perhaps I'm just spoiled by other RPGs, but this struck the wrong note for me.

So there's lots of traveling and some side quests, which we'll talk about in a bit, but other than that: just a loooooootttttttttttta talkin'. And I mean a lot. Even I found myself plowing through the dialogue at times, eager just to get back to moving. And that's saying something. Again, Hearts R's lack of quality showing. The game also has a chunk of post game content, including an arena addition and the classic "random portal" quest often found in Tales games. I've yet to partake in any of this though, so I will withhold judgement for now.

There are some other things in the "gameplay" file to discuss, but most of them pertain in some form or another to the other legendary aspect of Tales: combat.
So along the bottom you can see our participating characters and their wonky, moving facial expressions. Especially Kunzite. Must be tough being a robot… anyway, their HP (hit points) is indicated by the yellow bar and  the number on top, while TP (technical points; "MP," if you will) is the blue bar and number. There will be colored symbols attached in the event a party member is experiencing a status ailment, and if they should perish, their face will fall still and their icon will turn gray.
You'll notice an additional number attached to Kor's face there. That's your TC, or technical counter. That is the annoying, limiting number used to let you know how many artes you can use in a row. No spamming in Hearts R, folks! You can grow that number with your soma build and skills, but it's still super irritating.
The game does try to make use of the Vita's special attributes, by way of touch screen mechanics. However, these are cumbersome to use. On a combat screen as complicated as this, you really don't have time to watch for tap prompts. Wasted effort, says I.
In the middle screen you'll see my boy band ganging up on a couple of baddies. Numbers will briefly pop up to inform you of how much damage is being done. Or undone. There is a little arrow pointing down at one of the monsters there, that is my cursor, which of course indicates that that sad sob is my current target. You can switch the target by tapping or holding the right shoulder button. The cursor will be yellow by default, but if you've acquired the enemy's particulars - by way of magic lens - the cursor turns blue and depletes in unison with the bad guy's health.
Not pictured is the artes log. Every time anyone in battle (friend or foe) uses an arte, a little banner will pop up at the top of the screen letting you know who's using it, and what the arte is called. If you're new to Tales, "artes" are basically what we call magic attacks, and they cost TP to use. Also left out for some unknown reason is the combo and damage counter, which usually appears in the top-right corner.
To the left is a fishy-looking meter, this is the Spiria Drive. Whatever your favorite RPG calls it when you use a super attack/mode, this is it. When you activate the SD, you go into overdrive until the meter runs out. You can fill the meter up several times over (by attacking enemies) for a longer overdrive (thus the number 2 there) once you're further along in the game. While active, you'll experience higher attack and defense, you'll mostly be immune to stunning or staggering, and most importantly, your TC goes the fuck away. You're free to spam artes for as long as you remain in overdrive, or until you run out of TP! You'll need to be in level 3 or higher to initiate a mystic arte.

Other than that? X to hit, circle to arte, square to block, triangle to access the battle menu. Your D-pad left and right to move directly toward and away from your target. Up will jump, and down will change the direction of your melee attack. You will also use the D-pad for artes shortcuts. Eventually, you can use the right stick for additional short cuts. I like to pop my favorite party member's artes (rather than Kor's) on that one. You can use your left stick to free run. I've already told you how to swap targets, and to ignite your Spiria Drive, you need only press the left shoulder button along with the corresponding D-pad direction*. See the lit up arrows surrounding the number 2? So if I were to press right, only level one of my Spiria Drive would activate. If I press down, level 2, and so on.

*This is while using Type A controls. The game also offers Type B which switches around your left-side controls a bit.

Random encounters always present themselves after a colored crack of the screen. You'll get a little hint about whats going on by the color of the transition. If it's red, you've been ambushed, and your battle formation goes right out the window.
Occasionally, before a battle begins you'll be presented a challenge. Challenges vary from time attacks to combo counts and usually reward you with a HP, TP or gald (money) percentage increase. For example, if you defeated all the enemies in under 10 seconds, you may get 150% glad boost. I just made those numbers up, but you get the idea...

Your success is celebrated on the victory screen! Or the game over screen, if you blew it.
Here we get to see the fruits of our labor: experience points, gald and grade! EXP contributes, of course, to your characters level, gald is spent on good stuffs and grade is a weird Tales thing. You don't need to be too concerned with it unless you're a die hard fan, it mostly comes into play during new game pluses. You also get to see your max combo (37?! Pathetic.) and time stamp for the battle, and you're treated to an iconic victory skit! Afterward you're presented the option to view your grade log (press triangle) and use a cooking shortcut if you'd like. When you push the D-pad, it will tell you who's cookin' what for dinner, just press square to execute! (Ironically, the victory skit I got here was Kor saying "I can't decide what to make for dinner...") Then you'll walk through any level ups - which you can skip by pressing circle - and it's on with the show!

The special attack for this installment is called Chase Link. This is instigated by pressing the correct button after the chase symbol appears over a hurting baddy, thus executing a "break attack". This remake also throws a bone to some of the tactics found in the truly newer titles with Cross Chase Charge - which is sort of reminiscent of linking in Xillia. By tapping your ally's glowing face on the screen, you'll perform a CCC while in Chase Link mode.
In Chase, the enemy you've caught becomes motionless and absolutely helpless. It literally just sits there while you bash it around the screen using a slightly modified control map. X and circle are still your attack and artes, but square now teleports you to whatever sorry corner of the field your pray has landed in, and holding X will result in a super attack… powerful, but it will end the Chase prematurely if you don't time it right. A timer appears of the icon of the person in Chase to help you manage your special time together.
Cross Chase Charge is also where you'll notice the bones of another Hearts R mechanic: bonding. Every now and then - often after a skit - you'll receive a notification that the bond between two or more characters has improved. I'm sure you can guess, but performing a CCC with someone with whom you have a stronger bond will no doubt result in a more powerful attack. Bonds are built by fighting with a particular person more often, using items on each other, linking with them more often and viewing skits which show a moment between the two. You would think that growing the bond between Kor and Kohaku would be very easy, but because I used Kohaku so little, Kor actually had a much better bond with her brother!

The game has a few other battle mechanics to be aware of, such as enraged enemies and counters, but as I said earlier, you'll be well tutored in such things. Enraged attacks are of particular note, however, because I found them difficult to see. After your target takes a certain amount of damage, they'll turn red and perform an enraged attack. You can counter this attack and continue your combo if you time it correctly, but I found more often than not that I couldn't see the attack coming. It's a busy screen and there's a lot to look at, and some enemies are already red! Countering these attacks is a pretty crucial part of battle success but they've made it so difficult to be consistent about. Of course, taking that hit means more damage than usual, and you'll often be knocked down or away as a result.

A couple more things and then I promise to get off combat: skills, strategy and somas.
You can access your skills board from the menu. I recommend you do! Skills are… well, skills. They're abilities your characters learn from their somas that can aid you in battle. Things like elemental defenses, attack boosts and TC upgrades are all benefits you can get from skills!
In the beginning, you won't have many SP, or skill points, which you spend to equip skills, so you'll only be able to pick on or two. As you build your soma, you'll get more and can equip more skills. Some skills are even learned by playing with other characters! Your ability to use these shared skills is dependent on your bond with the character in question. These skills will come with a little icon with the corresponding member in it, while your own skills will be indicated by stars and a banner point that indicates what bond level your partners will have to be at to use the skill for themselves.
When I say "strategy," I don't just mean you sitting there saying to yourself "okay, Kor will go in and hack away while Beryl casts magic." The strategy board is a Tales staple mechanic with which you can fine tune your battle strategy, since you're battling with more than just Kor. The strat board got a bit of a makeover in Hearts R, so suffice it to say I'm thoroughly confused! Historically speaking, you would use the strat board to edit when a character could, say, use an item. "When my HP is below 30%, use an Apple Gel on me." These sorts of commands are still possible, but the game has added a newer override feature and some other stuff… I don't know, guys. It was all a bit much for me in a game I wasn't investing any more effort into, so I really didn't take the time to experiment with it. I basically just used it to guide Hisui (my healer) so I wouldn't have to worry about statuses or deaths during battle. In short: you can use the strategy feature to customize your character's functions in battle, and guide them into doing what you actually want them to do, since you can't control everybody by yourself. It's a great feature, in spite of my ignorance.

Stop. Soma time! I've already given you a brief definition of somas, so now let's look at how to use them.
The method of character upgrade in Hearts R is all based around your soma. If you recall my Xillia article, I described the sphere grid Lillium Orb to you. This is virtually the same thing, just Hearts style!
You earn SBP (Soma Build Points) by winning battles and leveling up, and then take these points to your Soma build menu.
Now you can level up individual areas of your soma based on how you want your character to turn out.
The areas in question are: Fight; Belief; Mettle; Endurance; and a fifth area unique to each character. So in addition to Kor's ugly mug, across the top there you can see I'm currently looking at my Sincerity level, to which I have contributed 26 of the necessary 53 SBP to level it up. If you look next to that, you can see that I'm clean out of SBP, so it's back to grindstone for me! On the left I get a little preview of what upgrades I can expect by building this fifth of my soma, and I can cycle through the other four petals at any time. Beside my "Lv. 9" Sincerity indicator, you can see that I'm working towards the skill "Exceed 2". So when I finished leveling up Sincerity, I will then have access to that skill. You also gain artes and soma weapons from this.
Across the bottom - it's a little blocked by the copyright - there's a quick guide to controls, and also the "auto" command. This is the newcomer's hint system: by pressing start you'll get some suggestions on how to build your soma: fighter, caster, support, balanced or individual. But old timers like me will enjoy building their soma manually. Gramps suggests building it evenly! I don't. If you want to build a tank like me, you'll want to focus on fight, mettle and maybe endurance. If you want to build a mage, stick to belief and endurance.

So if all that isn't enough to keep you busy, there's an abundance of other things you can do to kill time in Hearts R, as per RPG tradition. As a result of housing a complicated spiria, some citizens experience despir. Typically despair causes people to lose control of a particular emotion, and a somatic's job is to enter and repair the spiria of these individuals. A lot of the time this activity is mandatory gameplay, but you'll come across a few people who just need their kicks.
As always in Tales, you're given a book to record your items and foes. These can be found in the menu, and it's become tradition for Tales fans to try and complete both 100%. Essentially, they're hunting quests. Hunt away!
Hearts R has another unique hunting quest, in which your meant to find 76 "namcoins". These are random coins found anywhere and everywhere in Organica, and if you deliver them to a woman in a French maid outfit in town she'll reward you!
Like every other RPG ever, there is a battle arena for your amusement.
Another Tales treasure is the Wonder Chef! He can be spotted throughout the land disguised as various fun things. If you uncover him, he will give you recipes and ingredients for yet another Tales mechanic: cooking. As always, cooking can be accessed from your menu, and can if you set up shortcuts, you can cook after every battle. Eating provides temporary boosts to your stats, helps replenish your HP and TP, and causes a variety of hilarious skits to happen.
Then you can find the secret base and join the cool kids club!
In addition to all of this, city folk with a question mark above their heads will have a quest for you. This is usually a mundane "find this" or "transport that" task -sometimes they just need an ear to chew! - but they do reward you for a job well done. In the harbor town of Hanselar, there are two individuals with ongoing quests: the chemist and the accessory maker. The chemist will make useful items out of already useful items, and you'll need to find rare Willstones for the accessory lady to make you a handy new item.
I have heard rumors that some quests actually have time limits. I haven't confirmed this myself, but if you're going to do quests I suggest getting them done as soon as possible.

Press triangle at any time your sword is not lodged in a monster's head to check out the beautiful menu.
Artes> Where you can manage which artes your party can use, and assign your own to your favorite shortcuts.
Items> Check out your collection of newly acquired, consumables, somas, bodywear, headwear, accessories, valuables and food! You can also access DLC here if need be, and while were on the subject, you can download a free starter kit from the Playstation Store to get you going!
Equipment> Assign body armor, head piece and a battle accessory to each character. You can also choose which version of their soma you want them to use, and swap up their titles, which in this installment, give you different stats!
Somas> Where you grow your soma by spending SBP earned from leveling up!
Skills> Edit the different attributes which can help you in battle. You'll need SP to spend though!
Battle> This is where you can work on your strategy and formation. Formation simply dictates where you want each member to begin in battle (i.e. heavy hitters should be up front, whereas healers will want to stay away from the action); Strategy is a Tales-unique function in which you can assign members certain tasks and duties for battle. I've already discussed this a bit above!
Cooking> Throughout the game you'll acquire recipes, and here is where you can either cook 'em up, or assign them to a short cut for post battle use.
Status> Check out how everyone's doing. You can change costumes or attach fun accessories if you've acquired any, and also view each character's bond with the rest of the team.
Library> Monster Lexicon - your bestiary; Collector's Codex - your item index; Synopsis - keeps track of the story so far; Adventurer's Book - logs tutorials and other important things you've learned; Records - which keeps track of your time, max. hits and other fun things.
System> Save, Load, Options. Pretty self-explanatory, no?
Across the bottom is your rapiggy bank, grade, play clock and the condition of your Spiria Drive. You can also change your party leader, and switch from manual control to auto or semi-auto. Tales pros will want to switch to manual right away!

I've gotta say when I first booted this up, among my first thoughts were my longing for a proper dualshock controller. The tiny Vita makes the game feel small, too, which works against my instincts when playing a massive Tales game. Regardless, the controls are straight forward. I've already detailed most of them to you in this article, so all that's left to say is that the camera is fixed, and you can navigate yourself with the left stick!

Regarding difficulty, you're offered easy, normal or hard to begin, and unlock manic and unknown upon completion. I consider myself something of a Tales pro these days, so I went ahead and dove immediately into hard mode. And honestly, I didn't notice any difficulty at all until the later boss battles. I only needed to repeat one battle once, and that was more due to not being prepared than actual difficulty. That said, I did fight absolutely every battle along the way, never fleeing, and finished the game between levels 73 and 75. I reckon if you keep up with the game's battle pace, you'll be fine. Random encounters in Hearts R are rather high, but not noticeably different from most RPGs that employ that system. Also, the game is consistent. You're just as challenged (or not) at the beginning of the game as you are at the end. Other Tales games have failed to demonstrate this curve, so I'll commend Hearts R for that.

In all, it took me 44 hours to beat Hearts R. I rushed. I absolutely did not put in my usual effort for a Tales game; I barely did the side quests and I certainly didn't seek any more out. This game could have done with a 15-hour reduction at least. I could have sworn I was at the end at least four times but the game managed to lead me on for another 4 or 5 hours! By the 30-hour mark, I'd just had enough and wanted to rush and be done with it. My first, second and third bouts in this playthrough were probably 6-8 hours at a time, towards the end, I was playing in 40-50 minutes bursts because I was so fed up with the pacing.

Complaints? Yep. There are a few things I'd like to change. I think I've clearly indicated most of them already, but it would also be nice if you could continue your trek in the over world behind skits. It's a little tedious to have to stop and watch several at a time. There's also a pretty major flaw in the control map… initiating a chase link overlaps with the controls for launching your Spiria Drive (Type A). This results in countless accidental overdrives when I'm trying to Chase Link.

In closing, I'd say as a video game, Tales of Heart R is like a 7/10. As a Tales game, however, it's more like a 3. I wouldn't recommend Hearts R to anyone who isn't a die hard Tales fan, or a die hard RPG fan who's never played a Tales game before and desperately needs something on the Vita. As a Tales fan, I'm very glad I got to play Hearts, and I'd like to encourage BanNam to keep bringing these titles to America for people like me, but at the end of the day, Hearts R is hardly their best effort.

  • Magic Lenses are your friends. Stock up early and often.
  • Do not forget your skills!
  • Always check on titles and somas. I wasn't even expecting this aspect of the game and it makes a big difference, so make sure to poke around. I usually did this at the same time as growing my somas and editing my skills. I had a whole new party every time!
  • Don't neglect Chalc. Trust me. 
  • Revisiting every place is crucial if you want the most out of this game.


  1. Good insight on the whole game.

    A lengthy but detailed review of the game, I give you a 8.4 on your review.

  2. After Xillia I don't know that I can play another Tales game. It was fun but I quickly lost interest in the combat and the amount of filler in those skits left me pounding the X button.

    1. Xillia has its moments but was really a step in the wrong direction for Tales. I'd recommend going backwards (the sweet spot is Vesperia!).