Same Tales, New Platform
Tales of Hearts R despite its debut on the PlayStation Vita, is not actually a new game. The original version of the game appeared on the Nintendo DS way back in 2008, but the Vita is starved enough—and the game is old enough, in a genre niche enough—that its arrival is welcome one. It may have started on a less powerful but monstrously more popular platform, but its port has never the less been treated with care, and, for JRPG fans, it’s something worth looking into.
The Power Of Heart
Tales of Hearts R is the story of Kor Meteor, a naïve orphan teen living out in the rural areas of his world who is being taught in the ways of a “Somatic.” Somatics are people who uses a psychic device called a Soma which acts as both a weapon and way to travel into someone’s soul to cure what ails them. As is usual for JRPG plots, Kor’s world is turned upside down and he gets called to action. A girl shows up pursued by an ancient foe, her spirit is shattered, and her various emotions are scattered across the land. Now Kor and the friends he makes along the way must roam the world putting this girls’ heart back together in a bid to stop a rising ancient evil. All of this is pretty par for course for a fantasy story in the JRPG tradition, but, as usual, it’s the characters that bring the story to life. Tales games have numerous “skits” that play out over the course of the game, similar to the random conversations among characters in Dragon Age or Mass Effect that flesh out the characters and allow the player to bond with them. Throughout the various predictable developments in the plot, it is the banter, arguing and growing relationships between Kor and his friends that solidify the story and make people care, so even if the plot is hardly original, it’s hard not to get invested in what happens to these characters the story goes on.
Being a port of a DS game, you’d think you’d have to keep your expectations in check for what kind of technical proficiency the game will show off. Surprisingly, that isn’t the case. 7th Chord, went out all out on overhauling the graphics, so everything is completely new for this game. The character models look like something out of Tales of Xillia or Graces F on the PS3, and the environments—though sparse in terms of population—are fully 3D and quite large. It’s an impressive job for a game that was originally 2D with clunky 2.5 D graphics on the original DS. Voice acting has also been thrown in, though this strictly Japanese, and not fully voiced throughout. This puts fans of English dubs out of luck, but it’s become an increasingly common practice for these more niche genres. There’s nothing here that’s going to “Wow” a Vita owner in terms of what the machine can do, but it also doesn’t feel like the Vita’s power was being ignored.
Xillia In Your Pocket
Anyone who’s played recent PS3 Tales games like Xillia or Graces will be in familiar territory with Tales of Hearts R. The combat, following the usual tradition of a Linear Motion Battle System or “LiMBS,” let’s players control a party of four, switching characters in real time. In many ways, the entire Hearts R game plays just as well as its console cousins, with the exception of a large, traditional “Overworld” map like old school JRPGs instead of the numerous dungeon environments most modern 3D JRPGs prefer to use today. This one difference aside, it’s quite surprising how much like a PS2 or PS3 console JRPG this game feels like, despite being on a portable system. The dungeons themselves still rely on a fixed camera, for a 2.5D experience, rather than the fully 3D exploration romps most games enjoy, but that was likely a technical limitation to keep performance up.
Unfortunately, while Tales of Hearts R is a good JRPG, particularly on the Vita, it is not a great one. The story a by-the-numbers affair with few surprises, and the actual combat feels more like a tweak of PS3 Tales games, rather than the usual overhaul a true Tales sequel normally gets. Still, what’s up for play here is hardly broken, the controls and combat feel good, and game understands the characteristics of its portable platform, dividing itself up into bite size chunks rather than the big, sprawling romps of a console title. It feels like a solid, competent JRPG that doesn’t really do much in terms of player draw or originality, almost as if the developers were more concerned with seeing whether they could cram a full-sized JRPG onto the Vita, rather than worry about whether the actual game itself was going to be an outstanding experience.
JRPG fans should definitely look into picking up Tales of Hearts R if they want a solid JRPG experience on their Vita. Just don’t expect the game to be a memorable one that will go down as a classic. If you just want to scratch the JRPG itch while on the go, this is your game. If you want the next great classic, you might want to keep waiting and hoping for Kingdom Hearts III.