Tales of Hearts R (PS Vita)

Tales of Hearts R follows the grand tradition of the Tales series, with nary a must-have box left unchecked:

-Earnest male lead with sword, check
-Female lead/romantic interest, check
-Whacky supporting characters, check
-Slight tweak to the button mash-y combat system, check
-Slight tweak to the leveling up system, check
-An ancient civilization did it, check
-Love and friendship, check
-Fat jokes, check

However, predictability can be good -- for instance, the music, graphics, and voice acting (original Japanese) are top-notch, as always.

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Tales of Hearts R begins with the Hearts siblings, Kohaku and Hisui, out on their quest to revive the mysterious "Sleeping Beauty" of legend to, you know, save the world. Along the way, they encounter the main protagonist Shingu, who has recently received a "Soma" -- a weapon linked to the user's "Spiria" (spirit) that can help people who have "despir" (depression?). Events then necessitate a series of fetch quests, with lots of new characters and chatting to make the journey entertaining.

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The three elements that make Tales of Hearts R shine are:

Combat: 9/10
Rewards button-mashing and strategy! It's so much fun to get a Guard Counter right, which is when an enemy gets mad and launches a strong attack, but you block at exactly the right time and end up landing a blow instead of taking one. Also, there are Chase Links, where the player has a limited amount of time to lay into an enemy without getting hit back. A supporting character can join for a powerful finishing move, but you have to be paying attention to the character portraits to trigger it.

A sign that I might be maturing as a gamer: instead of my typical aggressive frontal assault fighting style, I favored long-distance spellcasting once my characters learned the awesome ones (e.g. Hurricane).

Playable Characters: 9/10 
No one is boring. There's hotheaded Hisui, grizzled Gall, shady Ines, straight-laced Chalcedony...heck, even Beryl stopped being annoying pretty quickly, while Shingu's naïveté is effectively played for laughs. Everyone gets a backstory that makes them sympathetic. Plus, they all kick ass on the battlefield, which is key.

AND if you happen to remember a small detail, you can change one character's entire appearance! So instead of an impractical crop-top and mini-skirt, said character shall be in imposing armor and mask! Heck yeah!

By the way, the image is of Ines, who is the most frequent butt of the other characters' fat jokes. And boob jokes, it need not be said, but there's a lot of talk about her belly.

Yep, just look at 'em love handles, how does she squeeze into that outfit.

Gameplay: 9/10
Having the characters be able to enter a person's "Spiria Nexus" (or "spiria maze" in Japanese) adds another level to the quest, because these are essentially mini-dungeons. As the game progresses, the difficulty level of the... Nexuses? Nexi? ...increases, but it's never fiendishly difficult, nor even diabolical, as any Alundra veteran will dismissively inform you. All of the other puzzles in the game are easily solved by a 12-year-old, which I assume is this game's core audience.

PLUS the overworld is a free-for-all, provided you don't try exploring areas that are for much later in the game and requires much higher levels (e.g. I tried going into the volcano pretty early on, and got stopped. Whew!).

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And now for the three things that Tales of Hearts R developers could maybe have worked on more:

Villains: 3/10
Snore. In the game, there are three "mechaknights" who stand in your way. Incarose is your standard-issue blinded-by-love-for-master-who-treats-me-like-dirt bad guy, and Chloseraph is just plain batty. He would have been more interesting if they'd spent more time on his true motivations. His twin, Chlinoseraph, is actually pretty badass, with flawless villain reasoning and follow-through. He's all, "I exist to protect my master, and the only way to do that is to kill my brother to level up enough to kill y'all, which my master won't like, but this is my programming sooooo"

Anyway, the main antagonist, Creed -- "the man with the red hair" (stop discriminating against gingers, Namco Tales Studio!) -- is the worst offender. He's a petulant man-child whose inability to control himself and his science project leads to a thousands-year cat-and-mouse game that culminates in the current crop of heroes (because there was a previous group of heroes, this is a Tales game after all). And when he finally gets his ending, dying in the arms of the woman he loves, I was like, "Dude does not deserve this, he deserves to be transformed into goop and then flushed down a toilet, a la Ant-Man." In other words: Creed sucks.

Plot: 5/10
On a scale that ranges from "Absurd" to "Everyone died so ghosts wrote this", the storyline of Hearts falls somewhere in the middle, between "No budget for story" and "How high were they?" It uses the Sleeping Beauty legend as a framework for the main conflict, and certainly does subvert expectations in a good way. For example, "ibara no mori", or the Forest of Thorns where Sleeping Beauty lies, is a giant flying whale. Didn't see that one coming. Sleeping Beauty herself is actually awake, and her conciousness is behind a number of important historical events. 

But it gets pretty incoherent after that, with the addition of ancient aliens, their mechaknights, Will artes (magic), Somas, secret villain-villains, and of course, a soul-sucking black moon. 

In the end -- surprise! -- The Aliens Learn That Love and Friendship Conquer All. Only the Tales series is this good at churning out stories that are at once derivative and weirdly unique.

Localization: WTF/10 
I mean, props to Bandai for keeping the original Japanese voiceovers and slapping on English subtitles, but their translation team took some serious liberties. Here are the examples that I remember:

Exhibit A: The first cut scene

Incarose: Mitsuketa. (Found you.) = You're mine!
(Kohaku and Hisui have a conversation as they run from her.)
Incarose: Mitsuketa. (Found you.) = Like moths to a flame.
(Kohaku and Hisui are cornered.)
Incarose: Mitsuketazo. (Totally found you!) = It's time to pluck wings off the moths.

...I mean, okay, the first "mitsuketa" definitely has the "You're mine!" nuance. And I get that just translating her repeated lines might be boring. But the translators just keep on rollin'...

Exhibit B: Shingu Meteorite

The main character clearly says his name is Shingu Meteorite. Throughout the game, everyone calls him Shingu. Somehow, the English subtitles turn this into "Kor Meteor." I understand the shortening of the last name, but how did Shingu become Kor????

Exhibit C: That's not even what he said

Shingu: Konna tsuyoi onna no hito wo mita no wa hajimete da! (I've never seen a woman this strong!) = Are all city girls like that?

Apparently it was not clear to gamers that "Kor" is a country bumpkin, so the translators decided to hammer it home a bit more. With a pile driver.

Exhibit D: That is also not what he said

Shingu: Naka naka hiroi heya da ne! (What a huge room!) = Looks like the maid's on vacation.

"Looks like the maid's on vacation?" Are you kidding me? At that point, I just stopped both listening to the voices and reading the text. And I finished the game in 36 hours; it would have taken longer if I'd listened or read, so hurray!

I just can't with this localization.

Hire me to translate, Bandai Namco!!!!

onegaiitashimasu.

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TL;DR: Fun, loopy JRPG with replay value!

This post brought to you by lentil soup!