Tales of Hearts R is not a new game, and there are a number of ways in which that fact works both for and against it. The original Tales of Hearts was a DS, Japan-only release, and is considered by some fans to be one of the best entries in the series. Its characters, plot, and endearing premise are all unique, and as part of a franchise with fantastic highs and occasionally alarming lows, it’s safe to say that Hearts falls safely into the first group. No question about it.
What this means for Hearts R, then, will certainly vary player-to-player, and figuring out just what sort of Tales fan you are will play a big role in your ultimate purchasing decision. Did you play Tales of Hearts? If not, definitely consider Hearts R. Then again, if you did play Hearts, you probably enjoyed yourself and wouldn’t mind playing a version designed with English speakers in mind. At the same time, despite being a global release, Hearts R doesn’t provide English voiceover with its freshly-minted localization. Combat is changed from the original too, and if you don’t enjoy JRPGs in general then Hearts isn’t the game to change your mind. I guess what I’m saying is, there are a lot of elements at play here.
The plot reads a bit like a Conan O’Brien nerd-culture parody, but that doesn’t make it bad — just predictable. Essentially, the world is being attacked by monsters called Xerom that consume the essence of people’s emotions, called spiria. The main character, Kor Meteor, possesses a weapon called a soma (the owners of which are called Somatics) to combat the Xerom, and so the story begins. It’s throwaway unless you really don’t want it to be, but rest assured that cliched plot doesn’t always make for bad story, in this case thanks to great characters. The cast of Tales of Hearts R are a charming, likable, and unique bunch who stand tall among the series best.
Ironically enough, the main exception to this is Kor Meteor himself. A typical RPG action-hero tough guy, he spews overconfident platitudes that come off cocky and ignorant more often than they do brave and admirable. It was tough, but I eventually learned to tune him out — a choice I was soon glad to have made. The Hearts sisters themselves (Kohaku and Hisui) are particularly well-presented, and though the Japanese voiceover may be off-putting for some, I actually prefer it here as long as the localized text is up to snuff (which it absolutely is). The quality of English dubs for JRPGs is unfortunately still far behind that of anime in many cases, and until industry-wide improvement occurs, Japanese audio doesn’t bother me much. For some, it may even be preferable.
Speaking of anime, cutscenes are one area where Hearts R holds a pretty indisputable advantage over the original version. Though Hearts on DS had nice variety peppered throughout, Hearts R ups the ante with over ten new sequences. These really go a long way in fleshing out the plot, and the added scenes are particularly well-drawn and nicely executed. As a remake, overhaul, remaster, whatever you want to call it, Tales of Hearts R delivers on all visual and presentational fronts, and that’s just great. You can thank the Vita, or in my case, PlayStation TV.
Of course, there are a few caveats, and one pink elephant — combat. This may come as a bit of a shock considering the Tales series’ sterling pedigree in this department, but with Hearts R the situation is very unique and, admittedly, rather difficult to deal with. The original Hearts featured a stellar 2D combat system, and was one of the last games to do so. Though its mechanics are dated, the experience itself was sublime, and widely considered to be one of the best implementations of the old-school Tales experience.
The new Tales games have moved to 3D combat, which usually works great, but here it’s noticeably muddled. Hits can feel a bit off, precision proved wonky on more occasions than one, and the overall uptempo speed of fights I’m used to with other Tales games just didn’t gel exactly the way it should. I realize these are vague criticisms, but there’s a reason — if you’ve never played Tales, you probably won’t notice a difference. If you’re familiar with the original Hearts or the series’ more recent games, though, you can expect battle to feel just a little bit less sublime than you’re accustomed to. Is it outright bad? Absolutely not. It’s good, and still fun.
There are other small quirks that drag down the experience in minor ways, such as the addition of random battles (why?!), but by and large Tales of Hearts R is the definitive edition of a beloved game. It contains the most interesting characters of any Tales I’ve played, and if you can accept the somewhat nitpicky combat shortcomings, odds are you’ll have an enjoyable ride. Just don’t expect dialogue to steer entirely clear of the occasional cringe-inducer — it’s a staple of the experience.
This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game.