Tales, Tales, Tales, I love the Tales series. It might not be my favourite JRPG series, but each game manages to take me on a wonderful journey filled with fantasy, humour and action that rarely disappoints.
The story this time revolves around Spiria which is the heart and soul of a human; it contains fragments of your personality and emotions, and is vulnerable to Despir, Hearts’ version of despair. Playing as Kor Meteor, you attempt to help stranded girl Kohaku as she’s been inflicted with Despir, but you end up breaking her Spiria instead – like a true hero. You set off with her brother Hisui to find the missing fragments as well as cure Despir in others.
I’ve noticed that Tales games always have a similar cast of characters, usually featuring a young male hero, an older and wise man, a young girl, someone who joins the party for their own reason and well, the rest of the cast. Fortunately each character is bursting with their own personalities and spectacular design, bringing a flavour to each game that is unique from the other.
I tend to gravitate to JRPG’s due to the lengthy, epic tales that they tend to tell and the varied and colourful cast that they present, and Hearts doesn’t disappoint. I quickly grew to love the quirks and mannerisms of each character and they provided great entertainment; the banter between friends after battles and in Skits shows the love and trust between them quite clearly.
I find Tales’ combat to be hit or miss personally; there’s nothing wrong with it but I feel that it’s very mash to win. Other than the normal commands such as attack and block, you’re also able to use special moves called Artes which can be strung into combos; these aren’t exactly stronger attacks but have the ability to be much faster and with added range.
The thing that I’m loving in the combat with Hearts is the chase system which appears once you’ve hit an enemy and dealt a certain amount of damage, and once you have a blue circle appears on them allowing you to knock them into the air and deal massive damage. The blue circle turns purple which means it’s about to expire, and before it does you can hold down square to unleash a powerful attack which also ends the timer once it lands. Pressing square also allows you to teleport next to the enemy, and if an allies face icon lights up then touching it allows you to attack together and can be done multiple times in battle.
With four people in a party, you can also control some of your party members actions, such as the items they use (you can cook if you have the ingredients and want to save your items) and the playstyle they should adapt too, as well as choose who to main in battle although I tend to stick with main character Kor. Each character has their own Soma, a special weapon that allows the cast to heal Spiria and each has unique traits and so you may play as whoever has your preferred Soma, physical and elemental skills.
Navigating the open map can be a bit confusing but there’s a constant Skit you can access that tells you where you need to go and what direction to head in, which helped me more times than I can count! It’s an enjoyable affair though as there’s plenty to explore, especially in dungeons, although you’ll be walking into many random encounters.
Hearts looks great on Vita and although I’m not entirely sure what I expected, I’ve found myself to be extremely pleased with the graphics and how it doesn’t seem to have lost anything by being on a handheld system; I love my handhelds but there’s no denying that they’re not as strong as a console, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Bandai Namco ported it to PS3 at some point!
The art style and character design is top-notch, and I like to believe that the lightning-like design on Kor’s trouser leg is representative of his tendency to jump into action without thinking about it. Soma’s take form based on the person wielding them, and I absolutely love how Beryl wields a paintbrush because her dream is to be a legendary and world-renowned painter. The amount of tiny details that have gone into the characters, and how this detail then relates to the characters, is outstanding.
The world map can be pretty bare but it’s easy to get around, and I love seeing nearby towns and such come into view as I approach them. The dungeons and towns themselves are filled with life, NPC’s going about their day to day lives and those who need to be cured of Despir; these can be quite funny although I won’t go into detail so you can enjoy them yourselves! Ensure you talk with many of the NPC’s you come across though, as they have helpful and funny little anecdotes.
There’s no English voice-over to hear here although the Japanese voice-acting is spectacular across the board, and the subtitles are clear and easy to read. The soundtrack can hold its own against other sweeping and explosive JRPG OST’s, and the theme song seems to take inspiration from Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D, although you may better kn0w it via the Canon Rock covers.
You’ll find plenty to love and do in Hearts, and the story is no pushover in difficulty – even on normal, but you can change the difficult in-game if you need too. It’s lengthy with many places to explore which is great as the Tales games are strictly single player, although with a lack of choices to make like in Tales of Xillia 2, Hearts doesn’t beg to be replayed quite as much. The journey is great, the cast is loveable and the story is engrossing, so you may find yourself revisiting it someday solely to re-experience it all.
Tales of Hearts R is one of the finest JRPG’s on Vita and you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t purchase it, and long-term fans of the series will feel right at home.