Tales of Hearts R is the latest installment in the Tales of series in North America and Europe. While the game has been out in Japan for some time now, it holds up and is still a very solid Tales entry; in fact, I was very pleasantly surprised by the game’s systems. Hearts R may be my favorite Tales since Vesperia.
(Minor story spoilers here)
The story begins with Cor Meteor, and his grandfather training him in the use of “Soma”, Hearts‘ version of mana. “Soma” is the life energy of the world, and seems to be largely powered by emotion—or the power behind emotion, it’s unclear at first. Either way, Cor is learning how to use the power behind Soma, including how to materialize weapons from it.
From there, the story picks up rather quickly. Within the first hour or so of gameplay, you’re off on the beginning of Cor’s journey. Long story short, after the training session, Cor learns of an affliction, known as Despir, that leaves someone’s emotions (and Soma) out of whack. While his grandfather, who also happens to be a legendary Somatic (Soma-user), runs off to help someone who is stricken with Despir, Cor happens to come across a girl about his own age who washed up on the shore by his village.
This girl, Kohaku Hearts, is actually being hunted down by a witch of sorts, and Cor finds himself mixed up in things when Kohaku mentions that she’s there to see his grandfather. With him not around, however, Kohaku asks Cor to show her the way to a Soma that his grandfather keeps nearby, as she really needs it to protect herself.
On the way to the Soma, the two meet up with Hisui, Kohaku’s older brother who became separated from her during their escape. When the three finally reach the Soma, they are attacked and Cor’s grandfather manages to save them, only to end up being mortally wounded himself. Shortly following this, a series of events end up causing trauma to Kohaku’s Spiria (the body’s core that controls the use of Soma) and thus he sets out with Kohaku and Hisui to help fix Kohaku’s Spiria.
Ultimately, this is what sets the story in motion. Now, let’s talk about gameplay.
There are two major things in Hearts R that set it apart from other Tales games. First is the battle system, which I’ll get to shortly. Second is the leveling system, and the weaponry.
As the characters level up, they earn points that can be put into their Spiria. There are several different paths into which you can invest the points, which helps decide how the character grows. Several things are tied to these levels. First is, of course, stats. Second is skills, which have become a mainstay in the Tales series as of late. Increasing the amount of SP (skill points) is also done through leveling. Unlocking new Artes is also entirely done through the Spiria levels. The biggest difference, however, is that new weapons also come from leveling up the Spiria.
The weapons in this particular Tales installment have more stat effects than usual, so it’s actually worth taking new weapons into account this time around. There are several more boosts involved, as opposed to the usual “Which weapon has more attack?”
As for the battle system: I have sincerely enjoyed it, more than I expected to in a handheld Tales. There are tons of special additions to the system in this game that really make the battle system enjoyable—and a bit more involved than usual.
As you play the game, new abilities are added at certain parts of the game as you progress, so don’t expect all of this to be available from the get-go.
The battle system’s basics are a combination of Symphonia and Vesperia. Free-running is still available, as is a free-run attack. Basic combos start with three attacks, as usual, and artes are the same as usual. Jumping has been changed to just hitting up, as opposed to guard + up, so that may take some time to get used to. Aerial combos are different as well—you’ll actually hang in the air, as opposed to the up and down motion that usually accompanies it, and this will affect the Chase System.
The first big difference that is introduced is the Counter Attack system. When you’re really beating on an enemy, Hearts R allows you to actually juggle enemies endlessly—with a bit of effort. After a certain amount of beating, the enemy you’re beating on will turn red and make an attack against you. However, if you hit square right as they attack (even during an action of your own), you will counter attack their attack and be able to continue your beating on them.
The system is incredibly useful and tons of fun. It adds a nice dimension to battles that will keep you from getting hurt, but actually requires good timing and skill.
The bigger change is the Chase System. Once the Chase System is unlocked, a fourth attack will be added to the end of everyone’s combos, which functions as a knockback attack under certain conditions. After beating on an enemy for a while, you will be able to “Chase” them. A blue circle will show up and, when the last hit of a combo connects, the enemy will be thrown away in some direction, whether it be across or up. Hitting square after the launch will actually teleport you to the enemy so you can keep hitting them. And this can continue until the Chase system timer runs out.
Any time during this comboing, you can also hold the attack button down for a flashy finisher. The Chase system is a really fun addition to the battle system, and combos get crazy long and fun with it. Altogether, the battle system feels fantastic as a Tales handheld game.
The music in the game is still classic Sakuraba, and fits well. A couple of the tracks remind me of past Tales games—one of the tracks specifically reminds me of the music from Palmacosta in Symphonia. That said, although the music is very catchy, I don’t think it quite matches up to Symphonia, Abyss, or Vesperia in terms of memorability. I hum or whistle along with the music while playing, but it doesn’t really stick around after I put the game down (which is really hard to do).
Despite all of my love of the game, I do have a few complaints.
First is the naming. I wouldn’t have much problem with the names if they dubbed the game. However, because they kept the Japanese voices, the name changes in the text are really jarring. Cor Meteor is the worst, I think, as the cast still calls him Shing Meteoryte as per the Japanese voices. While not a real problem, it is a bit jarring.
In addition, there are a lot of times when characters have been changed in some way. Cor is portrayed as far more childish in the English subtitles than he is in the Japanese, and some of the writing is a little out there.
Second is a feeling I have while playing that the game has a sort of “lite” feel to it overall. The cutscenes feel shorter than usual, and the story feels more streamlined. The dungeons are shorter, with no puzzles worth mentioning, and are just simple walkthroughs from point A to point B.
However, this isn’t as big of an issue as one might imagine. The game is designed to be played as a handheld, and it accomplishes that masterfully. There are save points everywhere, and it’s useful to be able to stop whenever you need to. Of course, the game is difficult to put down when you’re sitting in your house playing it.
I must say I loved Hearts R. The game is made with the Vita in mind, and is a great Tales experience. If you’re a fan of the Tales games, I would heavily recommend Hearts R—it’s a fantastic game. If you aren’t so much of a Tales fan, the game is still possibly one of the best (if not the best) JRPGs on Vita we have out here so far … but I may be a bit biased as the Tales series is my favorite JRPG.
Still, Tales of Hearts R is worth giving a chance, for sure.
Tales of Hearts R was reviewed using a code provided by Bandai Namco. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.