While Tales of Xillia 2 was released a few months ago, and at the time had been the best looking Tales to date, with Tales of Heart R that is no longer the case. The most impressive graphical update to Tales of Heart R lies with the animated scenes as they are absolutely stunning. This is to be expected given the animation studio for Tales of Hearts R was Production I.G. a studio that is behind some of the best anime available to date. A few of Production I.G.'s works include Psycho Pass, a stunning cyber-thriller, Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East, Sengoku Basara, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, The Mobile Police Patlabor Series/Movies and not to mention, Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion.
Production I.G. has handled the animation for the Tales series dating back to 1997 with Tales of Destiny and has been a part of the franchise since the get go; other notable works include the ultra-difficult but super-awesome Valkyrie Profile as well as Wild Arms 2nd Igniition and equally wonderful, Sakura Wars. I feel that the studio outdid themselves with Tales of Hearts R, as the animation is liquid smooth and shown at 30FPS with vibrant colors and fast motion, even more so than the gorgeous Tales of Graces F and Tales of Xillia 2. In addition to stunning animations, the textures and models all look great too, whether you are running around in the huge open world or if you are running through detailed dungeons or sprawling cities, Tales of Hearts R is attractive and the Vita handles it without a hiccup. Combat is wonderfully animated with wicked-cool moves, awesome spells and special effects, and most importantly, super smooth and fast-paced. Tales of Hearts R is truly a wonderful looking game for traditional JRPG fans.
As some of you may be aware, I am a huge Tales fan. I recently had the opportunity to review Tales of Xillia 2 which can be found at: http://www.chalgyr.com/2014/09/tales-of-xillia-2-ps3-review.html and as you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been playing Tales games for years now though I admit I have not played every single one of them but I have certainly played the majority. Bandai Namco's latest release, Tales of Hearts R is an overhauled re-release of the 2008 Nintendo DS title and is available for the PlayStation Vita. Tales of Hearts R tells the story of Kor Meteor and his friends as they strive to recover the Spiria (essentially the soul) of a dear companion which then opens up in a desperate struggle to stop a civil war and to stave off the end of the world. The Tales series has had its share of fans over the years but somehow still managed to become overshadowed by other popular JRPG franchises like Final Fantasy and the Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior games; while Tales' competition is nothing to shake a stick at, the unfortunate truth is that the larger franchises tend to overshadow the smaller ones, even if the smaller ones, like Tales, are in many ways, superior games. With the latest re-release of Tales of Hearts R for the PlayStation Vita, does Bandai Namco shine more light on this long and beloved franchise? Read for more information.
I am a huge fan of the audio in the Tales franchise as the seiyū that Bandai Namco employs are top-notch and in Tales of Hearts R that experience and professionalism is shown in the Japanese audio. Some of the best acting in the business can be found in the Tales series, with characters sounding sincere when needed, silly when appropriate, and all of the emotions in between. There was not a single point where I found that the audio felt fake or like it was read from a script; each character was truly believable and in some cases, downright amazing (Kohaku and Beryl being two of my favorites, though Kor is pretty excellent as well). The one thing that did somewhat confuse me was some of the translation. Not that the translation is bad, not at all, but there are periods in conversation where the text differs from what is actually being said.
Not that I am fluent in Japanese, not at all, but after years upon years of hearing Japanese audio (via anime, video games, or Japanese movies and TV programs), I have picked up enough to get the gist of things. There are times where a character, say Kohaku, will respond with one or two spoken words, and the text is much, much longer. I am forgiving enough to know that a spoken word in Japanese may not translate perfectly into English, but there are not many single-word responses that translate into multiple English sentences, especially not ありがとう (ramouji: Arigatō - meaning Thank You). There were more than a few occasions where a simple "thank you" in Japanese turned into a two or three sentence-long thank you message that included terms like "sir" or "ma'am" even though they were not actually said. For the average gamer this would likely not be noticeable, but given my pseudo-familiarity with the Japanese language it was an odd sensation. Beyond that strange translation, the acting is spot on and the music, while good, does get a little repetitive in some of the longer dungeons, but for the most part it is a pleasing experience.
I do not play the Tales games for their excellent audio or their stellar animated cutscenes though, it is for the wonderful story that is driven by characters that develop along with the story. Over the course of the last 15+ years that the Tales franchise has been around, I have grown close to many different characters and those in the Tales of Hearts R re-release are no different. While I would not go so far as to say that Kor and Kohaku's relationship is my favorite (that would be the not-so-real-but-I-really-wanted-it-to-be-real-that-was-really-real-kind-of relationship in Tales of Graces f between Asbel Lhant and Cheria Barnes), it is rather, my second or third favorite.
Watching your characters grow together or apart over the course of a 50+ hour adventure is a wonderful thing and a part of why it is that franchises like the Tales series, the Dragon Age series, and the Mass Effect series are so touching; they humanize the relationships between people and you get to help cultivate them for better or worse. While the story is fairly standard, boy from small town discovers beautiful girl, all heck breaks loose and an unseemly band of troublemakers move to save the world (standard fantasy tropes, you know, that sort of thing), the interactions between each character are really what I enjoyed the most. Watching Kor and Kohaku both grow and mature, independent from one another yet still reliant on each other, is a touching affair. While they may be the main characters, they are certainly not the only ones that grow and evolve as the game works towards its eventual end, with other party members recognizing, and acting upon, their true feelings, Tales of Hearts R is quite simply put, a terrific story of the human heart and spirit (called Spiria). Seeing Tales of Hearts R re-released on the Vita here in the West is a wonderful thing and is an excellent way for new gamers to see how good the series really is.
Tales of Hearts R is an excellent game; from the strong characters and the wonderful if stereotypical story to the lovely animated scenes and strong acting. With touching and believable characters that have unique and identifiable persona and a vast, explorable world filled with rich and beautiful lore, the entirety of Tales of Hearts R is a joyride. For those JRPG fans out there like me, classic overworld maps, managing your inventory as you go dungeon-ing, and a story of love and power are all features that will warm the soul and Tales of Hearts R handles each of these splendidly. In an industry where action-RPG's and Western RPG's have taken over the market, being able to play through a game that manages to check off nearly off of the items on the wishlist of things to see in modern games. From the expansive world map and exploration features to unmapped and brutal dungeons, Tales of Hearts R is a nostalgic throwback with a modern flare and is worth every second that you put into it.
Review by Robert