Sleeping Beauty Remixed
Who isn’t a sucker for a fractured fairy tale? What if Sleeping Beauty was more than a folk tale, but actually an echo of a perilous truth that threatens the entire world when the beauty awakens? Tales of Hearts R takes us on that journey, as a band of typical JRPG youths find out that it pays to listen to your mom’s bedtime stories.
If you’re even passingly familiar with Namco Bandai’s Tales of series, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how Tales of Hearts goes. You’ve got your crew of anime characters who must discover the power of friendship to save the world, and your standard combo-based action RPG combat system that spices up the adventure. There will be plot twists, inevitable betrayals, a world map with whacked-out perspective, and a cooking mini-game. Fans will feel right at home here, but the game’s systems are simple enough that it makes for a good entry point into the series as well.
Our hero Kor Meteor and his motley crew meet all the necessary criteria for the ultimate cliché Japanese RPG cast. He’s a brave but naive youth who tends to look before he leaps. His companions include personalities like the spunky martial artist, grizzled veteran who isn’t sure why he’s in this game, big-busted lady who is unexpectedly strong, hot-headed youth with creepy sister issues, immature tag-along, and robot who wants to be a real boy.
Fortunately, an excellent localization transforms these stereotypes into likeable characters who engage in amusing banter and experience growth during their journey. There’s a great rapport between the party members, like the teenage boys who express their affection for each other with their fists, the veteran who doles out advice while calling everybody “cool cats”, and the young artist who provides sarcastic commentary while hilariously mangling the English language.
This group embarks on an adventure that is nicely framed by the Sleeping Beauty myth, but the plot often lags behind the character interactions when it comes to catching the player’s interest. Series veterans will be able to predict most of the points, which are very much in keeping with the usual Tales of tropes. For example, there’s an irrational war going on, some of your friends are not who they seem to be, and there’s something ominous in the sky. Still, the storytelling is coherent and the laws governing the fantasy world are (mostly) internally consistent. The writers even wink at the player sometimes when things get particularly trope-y, actually using the phrase “power of friendship” and having characters make snide side comments at times.
This being an RPG, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in battle, and it feels a bit disappointing at first. Your party will face off against monsters on a circular battlefield which is rather large by series standards. To dispatch your foes, you’ll want to execute combinations by stringing together basic attacks and flashy artes. It’s rather basic until a few hours into the game, when the Chase Link system opens up. Suddenly, you have the ability to break down your enemies’ defenses, stun and toss them around, then teleport instantly to them to smack them around some more. A somewhat dull experience turns into a zippy good time that makes random encounters into something to look forward to instead of dread.
It’s a good thing that Chase Link combat is fun, because Tales of Hearts R takes the backwards step of making battles fully random, unavoidable, and frequent. You may find yourself stocking up on Holy Bottles, which reduce encounter rate, just so you can get around or solve puzzles without being ambushed a million times. It’s strange that Bandai Namco chose to use random battles in this Vita game, considering it managed to render enemies on-screen in the 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss .
A few other aspects of Hearts ‘ design are a big turn-off. There is no English dub for the game, so all the voice acting is in Japanese. This is particularly unfortunate considering the quality of the English script, much of which begs to be heard in its native language. In addition, the environmental design is mostly dull, dull, dull. There are a few nice-looking places such as a magical beanstalk and an artists’ enclave in the mountains, but most areas are about as generic as you can get. This has been a consistent issue in the Tales series recently, and one that deserves to be overcome considering the impressive world-building efforts made by the writers.
To make up for these shortcomings, the game avoids some persistent issues with the Tales series. There aren’t any ridiculously over-complicated systems that weigh down regular gameplay. Dungeons have puzzles for the first time in ages, which helps make up for the dull visual design. Most importantly, the adventure doesn’t overstay its welcome. Many Tales of games last ten to twenty hours longer than they ideally should, but Tales of Hearts R is a smarter, more compact game. It doesn’t layer too many twists upon twists, completing its story in a satisfying manner that actually makes sense. For once, the final boss is exactly who it should be, and the romance sub-plots are actually resolved.
On one hand, Tales of Hearts R is a paint-by-numbers game that does little to stray outside of the usual series boundaries. On the other hand, the strong character dialogue, dungeon puzzles, and Chase Link combat system inject a lot of energy and entertainment into the title. It’s not a video gaming masterpiece, but its fun to play. As long as you’re tolerant of the lack of English dub and don’t mind the anime style and plot, it’s an RPG that’s very much worth picking up.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.9 Graphics
Character designs are good, but most of the environments are painfully generic. 4.0 Control
Combat is easy to control and fun once the Chase Link system is unlocked. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music sounds ripped from other Tales games and there is no English dub. 3.9 Play Value
It’s no masterpiece, but Hearts R is entertaining and doesn’t overstay its welcome. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best