Tales of Hearts R
Bandai Namco’s Tales series has been around for decades, and like any long-running franchise, some entries are bound to miss the mark. Tales of Hearts R is one of these; this remake of the 2008 DS game won’t go down as the most memorable Tales entry ever, but I still had fun fighting with its fast battle system and exploring every nook and cranny for collectibles.
Tales of Hearts R is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the series’ most frequent crime: characters that fall into stagnant anime tropes. This cast is one of the weakest ensembles to date. You have the overprotective brother, the young hero, the wise elder, and a damsel in distress. Part of the franchise’s allure has always been the burgeoning character bonds, but I couldn’t care less about this cast. The lazy humor is one thing (breast jokes aplenty), but the writing in general is juvenile.
The basic plot is just as cringeworthy: the do-gooder protagonist Kor accidentally breaks a girl’s spiria, the manifestation of her spirit, into pieces when trying to save her. This renders her emotionless, so you must recover her heart shards to help rediscover her feelings, such as anger and sadness. Yes, the plot is cheesy and campy. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, often poking fun at its own flaws, but that doesn’t make them anymore excusable.
While the cast and story never captivated me, I enjoyed battling my way through the world, customizing my characters, and taking down side quests. Tales never lets me down with its action-focused battle system, and this entry is no different. However, since this is a remake of an older title, combat feels somewhat dated if you’ve played more recent entries in the series. That doesn’t mean it isn’t satisfying; you learn new special attacks as you level up, can counter if you guard at the right time, and also have access to an ability that raises your physical attacks and defense for a brief amount of time along with other bonuses. This helps when battles get fierce and you need an edge, along with another new wrinkle: the chase link. If you hit an enemy enough times consecutively, you can render an enemy defenseless and unleash a flurry of attacks. Battles play out quickly, and these features help keep them exciting.
As fun as combat can be, character customization is my favorite part of the experience. Five different attributes can be enhanced when you level-up: fight, sincerity, endurance, mettle, and belief. Depending on what you put your points into, you earn different skills and stat increases. You also earn bonuses for leveling up adjacent attributes evenly. What I love about this system is the level of control it gives you, though an auto option is provided if you want to be less hands-on. I balanced some specific characters so I’d get constant rewards. Others, like my healers, I relegated to support roles to make them better assets on the battlefield.
Dungeons are relatively brief, but they are full of tedious puzzles. Most have you move boxes, and many others require backtracking to open up a new area. To add insult to injury, the spiria dungeons, where you go into the manifestation of someone’s spirit, all look the same. They just get longer, but never feel any different – and you have to complete one after nearly every major dungeon. For all of the bad dungeon design, I was pleasantly surprised by the towns. They have distinct personalities, including one that has a theme park inside where you can go on rides. I laughed as I took the elder on the tea cup ride and smirked as I tried to make Kor woo a female party member on the Ferris wheel.
The villages also have side quests that trigger by talking to their inhabitants. These also provide extra skits, items, and sometimes an extra spiria dungeon to trek through. Scouring the towns and fields can often lead you to a treasure chest with some worthwhile upgrades. I enjoyed tracking these little perks down, and some of the sidequests even update you on people you’ve helped along the way.
Tales of Hearts R is an adequate RPG, but it doesn’t do much to make itself memorable. The characters and story are throwaway, and the dungeons feel like busywork, and yet it’s still fun due to the solid gameplay and exploration. Many times I found myself talking to everyone in town just to unlock a new side quest, completing extra battle challenges, and going out of my way to find every treasure.