Tears to Tiara II is the second game in a series of Visual Novel Strategy RPGs. Unfortunately, the first game never graced North America or Europe, so this is the first title of the series we’ve gotten to play. The game stands as a solid Visual Novel, as well as a good SRPG. In fact, it feels very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics in its gameplay systems, with the addition of a few perks.
Tears to Tiara II centers on Hamilcar Barca, a disgraced prince now better known as Hamil. His father’s goal, as king of Hispania, was to maintain peace between Hispania and the Empire, but during his rule he was betrayed and assassinated by one of his advisors, Izebel, and the game starts 7 years later, with Hamil now living under the harsh rule of the Empire. Hispania has become overburdened with taxes, and Empire soldiers police the people through fear and punishment. It’s a nasty situation.
Hamil has been playing dumb to everyone. Throughout the 7 years since his father died, Empire soldiers thought he was a pushover, and regularly tormented him. The two men leading a rebellion, who were close to Hamil and his father, despite leading that rebellion in his name, have also lost all faith in him. However, Hamil is not the idiot everyone thinks. While living conditions were harsh under the Empire’s rule, his people were, indeed, alive, and that was what ultimately mattered. He was playing the fool in order to keep his people alive.
When Ashtarte, one of Hispania’s goddesses, appears to Hamil, this all turns on its head. She claims to Hamil that she’s a goddess. The school, run by the two rebellion leaders, is told to cease all functions. Empire soldiers begin to target the people far worse than usual. Things just seem to deteriorate. Amid all this, however, the Hispanians are allowed to hold the Ba’al festival, a feast and celebration dedicated to their gods (the Ba’al) and, with everyone in slightly better spirits, preparations begin. During this time, Hamil sends Tarte away in an effort to keep her from getting mixed up in anything to come. Unfortunately, he’s only partly right in his decision to do so.
Everything truly begins at the Ba’al festival.
I won’t spoil much more. A great portion of the time spent playing the game is reading dialogue from the characters, and the introduction I just gave is almost 2 hours of reading. It’s written very well, though, so it’s not a chore. The characters are likable and interesting, and despite seeming long, the game moves at a steady pace.
The rest of the story is very anime-esque. Character tropes abound, but many characters that begin as tropes do develop out of them. The story itself feels much like an anime, which isn’t surprising considering that the first game even had an anime made. If you’re a fan of anime, you’ll likely enjoy the game’s storyline. Those that aren’t may like it as well—it’s a well-crafted, moving character tale. Themes are embedded throughout; the writers especially like the theme of sacrifice.
If you recognize the names Hamilcar Barca and Ashtarte, it’s because the game is heavily influenced by Phoenician mythology and the real-life region of Phoenicia; the names are based on figures from that mythology and period. Other characters’ names are derived from that same time period. Elephants are utilized in your army, just as they were then. And Ashtarte, Tanit, and Malqart, the three major gods we see of the Ba’al, are in fact all major Phoenician gods. Eshmun, a hero in the game, is a Phoenician god. The number of references are staggering, and it’s really interesting to see all of them, especially if you’re familiar with the time period and culture.
The game’s long intro has a few introductory battles scattered throughout. You can only save your progress at certain points during the beginning, but they are plentiful enough that they don’t span more than 10 or 15 minutes between each other. Once you get to the meat of the game, an HQ menu can be accessed, with a weapon and armor shop, an item shop, etc. At this point, you can move around a world map with nodes on it. As you progress through the game, more places open up to you. You can also revisit areas to grind and level if you’re having trouble.
The battles themselves take place in a traditional strategy RPG style, on a grid. The game is turn based, with each side moving all at once, like in Fire Emblem. The gameplay itself, however, more closely resembles Final Fantasy Tactics. Unit Facing plays a role, with hit percentage and damage increasing when attacking from the side, and even more when behind.
Attacks are split into two categories. Each unit has a basic attack, and skills at its disposal, which they learn through leveling up. The game also makes use of an additional system that allows melee units to attack more than once in succession with a timed button press. This system is called Chain Stocks, and is ruled by a gauge which fills and empties as you give and take damage during a battle. It fills quickly, so you’ll have the opportunity to use it fairly often. However, learning when to use it and when to hold back is a big part of the gameplay. For magic users, Chain Stocks allow them to boost their magic, whether through increasing damage, area of effect, or a number of other possible bonuses.
Another addition to the battle system is the element cycle. Each unit has an assigned element, and these elements have a rock-paper-scissors relationship. Fire > Wind > Earth > Water > Fire and Holy > Astral > Dark > Holy. These two cycles operate independently of each another. On top of that, each turn has a favored element, which boosts that element’s power and any characters of that element for that turn. Learning to use this to your advantage is another huge part of the game.
Then there’s the Quadriga. The Quadriga is a chariot-like contraption attached to the back of your elephant friend. It stores all of your unused units in it, and allows you to switch units on the fly during battle. However, it also gets in the way fairly often. Your elephant unit can turn to attack only if the Quadriga doesn’t need to be moved. It’s a strange system that you’ll get used to as you play, but it was frustrating at first. You’ll find yourself changing the elephant’s facing before moving to try to change its walking route during a turn, in order to get it to face the correct way. The Quadriga and Elephant can be taken out by enemies, so protecting it is a must.
The last big system introduced here is the ability to rewind turns. This system allows you to rewind 20 turns back, or to the first turn if the battle goes on longer than that. However, there are caveats with this system. First, you cannot rewind a rewind. Second, rewinds will not change the outcome of a given situation. If an enemy hit and killed one of your units with a low hit chance, even rewinding a turn and giving it another chance will affect the outcome. But going two turns back and positioning your units differently may make a difference. You get used to the rewind system as you play, and it is crazy useful. At first, I forgot I even had it. However, when I found it again 15 or so hours in, it helped immensely. Not to mention, if you ever misuse an item or give incorrect orders accidentally, it can save your sorry behind.
This all comes together to make a great combat system. Strangely, however, sometimes the game feels a little stale in comparison to other SRPGs. Throughout my play time, I found myself sometimes feeling like it was vastly superior to games like FF Tactics, and at other times, I thought it felt hollow. I can’t figure out why, but I thought it best to mention that feeling here, as it is something that SRPG purists may want to be aware of.
The game’s production quality is pretty high. The art is all beautiful, and the character designs are awesome. No song in particular was catchy, but the music is good. I hum along during gameplay, only to forget the background music after I’m done. That said, the opening for the game has great animation, accompanied by a great song, too. The graphics during battles and scenes use smaller sprites, which aren’t bad. They certainly aren’t impressive graphically, and neither are most of the battlefields, but in a game like this it doesn’t really matter much. The graphics work for the game, so I have no real complaints there.
The visual novel elements seem to overrule the SRPG in many parts, but the battles are still fun. These battles get longer and very clearly more difficult as you go. This doesn’t mean there’s a steep difficulty curve; instead, it’s a satisfying, solid slope. Overall, I’d say the game is a solid mixed breed.
Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord was reviewed using a code provided by Atlus. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.