Considering the strong presence of Bandai Namco at New York Comic Con (NYCC) this year and the imminent release of Tales of Hearts R, I assumed that the game would have a nice dedicated booth near the other titles the company was showing off. Instead, I nearly bulldozed into the very small table (with no signs) containing three 3DS systems and only one PS Vita. At least there was no line.
Tales of Hearts R was first released in Japan as a Nintendo DS title and has recently been brought to the PS Vita in Japan, with a release date of November 11th in North America.
The story revolves around Kor Meteor, an energetic and rather…unique young man who is being mentored by Sydan to be a “Somatic,” one who is trained in the art of Soma (a type of gauntlet that summons a weapon). These in turn are powered by an energy called Spiria, the source of all human life; it’s very powerful but very fragile, as it can be disrupted by intense emotions such as anger, sadness and love. Thus, Somatics must train to control their emotions in order to properly control Spiria.
Visuals are lush and colorful with lovely character models. The difference between the original DS version and this one is staggering to say the least. Just as in the PSP title Tales of the World, foes are encountered through random encounters instead of actually seeing them on the field, unlike in many of the recent entries to the series. Character skit prompts appear while traversing the field and just as in other Tales titles, they provide the player with optional and often humorous extra dialogues.
Generally, movement in combat mimics Tales of Abyss as you can only move back and forth with the D-pad. You can also jump straight up, as well as in the direction you choose. Tapping “R” quickly switches between targets and holding it down reveals enemy info. The left analog stick can be used for Free Running, letting you run freely in battle as you would in more recent Tales games. In this case, you automatically target the closest foe when attacking.
Speaking of battle, “X” is used for combos, Artes are performed with “Circle” and can be combined with regular attacks to build combos, “Square” button is for blocking and when combined with left/right on the D-pad, lets you quick step. As this all occurs, the Spiria gauge fills when attacks and taking damage. Once it’s full, you can press the left shoulder button and right on the D-pad to enter Spiria Mode, a superpowered state that increases attack and such.
Combat feels pretty natural and if you’re familiar with the 3DS port of Tales of Abyss, is quite a bit smoother than that. Free running really gives you a sense of freedom and provides players with more options when it comes to launching and dodging attacks.
Stat growth occurs manually and outside of battle through a mechanic called Soma Building. You use Soma Build Points (SBP) earned from leveling to improve Spiria growth. There are five total attributes that can be improved upon — Endurance, Fight, Sincerity, Mettle and Belief — and as these stats strengthen, so does your Soma.
If you develop neighboring Spiria attributes evenly, your character(s) net additional bonuses. The system sounds complex but in practice it works pretty well. It gives players a good way to customize character growth while avoiding the overused skill tree system.
Tales of Hearts R is a solid port that greatly improves visuals from the original. Traveling, combat and everything else works perfectly well on the PS Vita, thanks to the much larger screen that compensates for the lack of dual screens, and the growth system is rather refreshing in its concept and execution.
Gameplay is also pretty fun as well — familiar but with enough changes to uniquely affect strategy during battle. If you own a Vita and enjoy JRPGs, this game looks to be a nice addition to your library.