During the first decade of the current millennium, Namco’s Tales series was in something of a dark age, with North American enthusiasts missing out on many of the franchise’s mothership titles, including all developed for the Nintendo DS, among these being Tales of Hearts, which got two different versions in Japan, one with anime cutscenes and the other with CG cutscenes. In the next decade, the game got a PlayStation Vita remake, Tales of Hearts R, which did see an English localization, the franchise having entered something of a golden age outside the Land of the Rising Sun, and proves perhaps the definite old-school experience of the series.
Unlike most contemporary Tales titles, R sports random encounters, though mercifully, while some may deem the system dated, the rate is increasable or decreasable with Dark and Holy Bottles, and even so, the encounter systems of mainline franchise entries doesn’t rival the superior systems of RPGs such as say, the Mother/EarthBound pantheon. Fights occur on a three-dimensional field, with players able to move the controlled character freely across the battlefield with the Vita’s left analog stick, although using the directional pad results in linear movement towards a targeted enemy, akin to other franchise entries such as Symphonia.
If the controlled character is near an enemy, the player can hack away at them with a standard attack combo, although players can chain several Artes dependent upon a character’s maximum combo value, which weapons, gained through leveling and investing points into five different sets that also increase character stats, can increase or decrease. R further features a “chase” system where, if the player attacks an enemy enough after a patterned circle appears over a foe, the player’s controlled character can instantly teleport to said foe to punish it with an endless assault. The gameplay serves the remake well, and those that don’t mind random encounters will likely have a good time.
Control is largely solid aside from the retention of save points, with things such as easy shopping, seeing how equipment increases or decreases stats before buying it, crystal-clear direction on how to advance the main storyline with an in-game synopsis, automaps that largely prevent players from losing themselves in dungeons, and puzzles that are actually entertaining and solvable without use of a guide.
With a series encompassing a great number of titles, it’s always difficult for fabled series such as Tales to remain fresh in the story department, and R is no exception, with a derivative narrative that seems to borrow from titles such as Alundra and Dual Hearts, what in particular with the diving into individuals’ subconscious spaces. The game script has only a few minor errors, and while the story doesn’t detract from the experience, it’s really nothing about which to write home.
Motoi Sakuraba and his flunkies compose the soundtrack, on par with his other work, that is, enjoyable, the localization team making the decision to leave the voicework untranslated, the voices fitting the characters in spite of occasionally butchering English words.
Visually, R utilizes a style that is neither realistic nor fully cartoonish, and is three-dimensional, looking generally pleasant with only some minor textural blemishes.
Finally, the remake isn’t terribly lengthy, with players able to breeze through in as little as fifteen hours, although playing time can potentially reach twenty-five, with plentiful lasting appeal in the New Game+ unlocked upon completing the game.
Overall, Tales of Hearts R is for the most part an excellent remake that hits most of the right notes in virtually all its aspects, such as its superb and addictive Tales gameplay, great control and puzzles, a spotless translation, an excellent soundtrack and voice acting, and a pleasant visual style. Pretty much the only thing going against it is its somewhat-derivative storyline, although it too has its strong areas. Despite the budget limiting the game solely to its Japanese voicework, the game is still more than enjoyable by both those accustomed to other entries in the franchise and those that have yet to experience the franchise.
+Superb Tales battle system.
+Excellent control and puzzles.
+Largely spotless localization.
+Great soundtrack and voicework.
+Plenty lasting appeal.
-Story is somewhat derivative.
The Bottom Line:
A solid old-school Tales experience.
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 15-25 Hours