Thursday, 13 November 2014

Tales of Hearts R

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Tales of Hearts R is a JRPG originally made for the Nintendo DS in Japan but has been remade (hence the ‘R’ in the title) for the Playstation Vita globally. The story follows Kor Meteor, a boy being trained by his grandpa to use a weapon powered by the strength of his heart and emotions, called a Soma. He meets the mysterious siblings named Kohaku and Hisui Hearts. Kohaku is attacked by a sorceress named Incarose and Kohaku’s spiria, the essence of her emotions, is damaged. This causes her spiria to fracture and scatter across the world, leaving her an emotionless shell. Kor teams up with Hisui and Kohaku to find the fragments of Kohaku’s spiria and restore her emotions one by one.

The game features a mixture of both anime and computer generated cutscenes with the 3D modelled game characters. This is because there were two versions of the original Japanese DS version, the “Anime Edition” and the “CG Movie Edition”. In the Vita remake, both types of cutscenes are used depending on the cutscene.

The CG scenes are used for general scenes, such as basic conversation, whereas the anime scenes are used for the more detailed scenes. The only issue with this is that you can see the game creators cut some corners by taking certain anime scenes straight from the DS and not adjusting it to suit the Vita’s wider screen which is one of the best features of the Vita. Having some scenes randomly cropped slightly ruins the experience for me. However, the bright and colourful art style more than makes up for this. All the ‘Tales’ games have a very distinctive art style which bring a lot of light into an overall dark storyline. The small details added into the character models really give each character more personality and the anime scenes add further detail onto that.

The characters are well written with some realistic motivation for what they’re trying to do. There are some lines where it feels like they’re forcing the ‘coolness’ of characters and sometimes they come over as a little over dramatic but overall I like the characters. It’s interesting to especially see Kohaku as she slowly regains each emotion. Early on in the game her only emotions are kindness and fear which would normally make her a very simplistic character but if anything it helps show how deep each emotion can go, it’s very interesting to see how she develops her emotions.

The combat in the game is initially very over-complicated. The player is shown a lot of tutorials at once and it’s very difficult to remember each method and strategy. By the time you have additional party members there’s only a few more things to learn so the tutorials become less overwhelming as the game continues, but initially it’s very complicated. However the levelling up system is great, you get a grade on each battle depending on the time it took to defeat the enemies, the number of enemies and occasionally there are additional challenges such as limiting the amount of damage taken. This all affects the amount of experience points you receive to affect your stats and upgrading your soma. Upgrading different aspects of your soma gives you different abilities which can complement each other. You can have a very balanced soma or one which focuses on offense or spells, etc.

One of the combat modes is initiated through a Spiria Link, where Kor and his party members enter a maze made of a person’s Spiria, called a Spiria Nexus. This features random battles like the ones through the other environments but this is also where you have most boss battles. The mazes are very linear and aren’t overly challenging, but do contain some very useful items.

Tales of Hearts R contains a lot of fun little features such as cooking to make new items. This gets gradually levelled up through the game to allow for higher levelled items to be made and is also affected by whether or not the character cooking will like the taste. The more the character likes the taste of the item, the more effective the item will be! There are also a great number of side quests which add a lot of exploration time to the game. TOHR also features skip-able cutscenes, which may not seem like a massive feature but it’s one of those little things that makes the game so much better because there’s really nothing worse than repeatedly losing to a boss after a really long cutscene.

The music used throughout the game is simply beautiful. Like all games in the Tales series, the background music suits each environment perfectly and really affects the mood of the player. This is also the first JRPG I’ve played where character voices are still in Japanese in the Western version of the game, with English subtitles, and I have to say I really like it. I’ve watched anime where original Japanese dubs are very hit and miss so I’m always a little wary about it but TOHR has some really good voice actors involved and they still make me love the characters.

Overall Tales of Hearts R is a well-made JRPG with a great combat system, fantastic audio and stunning visuals. Genuinely the only let-down of the game is the random scenes taken from the DS versions of the game. If the creators had taken the extra time to remake those scenes this game would be near-perfection.

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