|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Bandai Namco|
|Pub: Bandai Namco|
|Release: November 11, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
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.