As far as PS Vita titles go, many complained that the line-up offered by Sony for its latest handheld was lacking, both in quantity and in quality. While this may be still true for some genres, taking for example the racing or sports games in general, the RPG genre is really blossoming on the Vita, so much so that I found myself amazed at the number of great Role Playing Games, both out or coming out soon.
Tales of Hearts R, by Bandai Namco, is one of these great titles. Originally called Tales of Hearts and on the Nintendo DS, this is a new and improved version of that game, and one can imagine that the R stands for Remastered. In the opening cinematic we see a brother and a sister running from an evil witch. The two then, being with their backs to the wall figuratively and to a cliff literally, jump off into the water. The game then turns to a young man called Kor Meteor, who we see sparring with his grandfather who awards him a Soma, a powerful weapon which changes shape based on the Spiria of the owner. The Spiria is the embodiment of heart and soul of all Soma users, called Somatics, basically your inner power. Walking on the beach he finds the girl, called Kohaku Hearts, who is searching for Kor’s grandfather. The two embark on a journey to the town where Sydan is healing a victim of despir, a sort of disease which affects a person’s Spiria. On their way they meet with Kohaku’s brother, Hisui, and the party of three keep on their adventure to seek Sydan.
On their way, Incarose, the witch which was hunting down Kohaku and Hisui, finds them, and at the same time Sydan appears as well. Incarose strikes down Sydan and casts a spell on Kohaku, before she leaves. When the group return to town, we learn that Kohaku was affected by Xerom, a virus which attacks a person’s Spiria. Kor uses Sydan’s Spiria to go inside Kohaku’s Spiria in the aim of repairing it, but ends up destroying it in the process, with the Spiria Core shattering into pieces and scattered throughout the world. Each piece of the Core represents an element of the Spiria, such as feelings, emotions, memories and so on. Thus Kohaku is almost empty inside, and it is up to Hisui and Kor to find all the pieces and repair the Spiria Core. The adventure then commences, putting you in control of Kor, venturing about and going from place to place in the quest of finding all the pieces.
From that point on, you embark on a fairly linear path, consisting of platforming, either through small villages or through the wilderness where you need to find the next village or checkpoint, and battles, which are the focus of the game essentially. The platforming parts are straightforward, maybe too much since finding the next objective or location is incredibly easy. The battle system, on the other hand, is exceptional and makes the game stand out when compared to similar RPGs. Battles involve your party against an enemy or a number of enemies, generally the latter. While fighting, you control the leader of the party, which is assignable in the pause menu while platforming. The other members of the party are AI controlled, but there are settings which enable you to control virtually everything they do without having too much complexity to ruin the game, therefore making an excellent balance. First of all, one can set preferences and priorities for all the members of the party. This consists of selecting options for each character, being either focused on healing, on attacking, or balanced, and also the level of Technical Point consumption being conservative or all out offensive. Technical Points, in the game TP, are essentially used for spells, called Artes in the game. Artes can be either melee like a sword slash or magical like long range blast or healing an ally. To use Artes, a character consumes TP from his own tp pool, which regenerates over a short period of time, making these artes spammable especially if you have artes requiring low or even 1 TP.
Personally, the most interesting mechanic of the game is its assignable spells option. In battle, you have the portraits of your party members in the bottom, just like other RPG games. What Tales of Hearts R adds to that, and a great touch in my opinion, is the ability to command teammates to cast spells from their portrait. In the menu one can assign up to five different shortcuts for each character in battle, executable either by touching the portrait or also by swiping in any of the four principal compass points. This is incredibly handy when you have a healer in your team, and since you do have one right away in Hisui, making his skill a shortcut is immeasurably helpful when in a pinch.
Another cool addition to the game is cooking. Cooking can be done while platforming or also right after battle, so badly hurt characters can regain their health right away. The cooking system is also very well executed; first of all you need recipes to cook, which can be found in the world or bought from a chef. Secondly, you need the ingredients in the right quantities. Afterwards, you need to confirm that the character actually likes the food. A neat little concept which is very true in the real world, not all characters like each type of food. The game will also show whether the characters like the food so one will always be one step ahead before being fed a dish they do not like.
The most important item in the game is the Soma, and thus the game revolves around it as well. The Soma features an upgrade system having 5 core abilities which one can put Soma Build Points (SBP) into, earned after levelling up, and after an exponentially larger points per level, your character earns bonuses which may differ between new abilities, more TP, or even new weapons altogether. These five attributes can be easily deduced by name, such as Fight or Endurance, but the others, being Mettle, Belief and Sincerity not being so straightforward, and thus only putting points into them will let players discover their worth.
Tales of Hearts R puts excellent gameplay and very interesting mechanics together with a truly great story. Being on the Vita, you can take it anywhere which lets players relate even further to Kor and Kohaku. Among the RPGs of the year, Tales of Hearts R surely takes its place among the top.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.