Tales of Hearts R: Portable Tales, console ambitions

November 17, 2014

2014 has proven to be a fruitful year for fans of the Tales franchise. Tales of Hearts R marks the third release, following remaster compilation Tales of Symphonia Chronicles and fan-friendly sequel Tales of Xillia 2. It’s been billed by some as the great JRPG hope for the faltering Vita, the result of a fan-led campaign to see more localized titles make it to American shores for its content-starved audience.

It isn’t a bad game by any means, but it suffers from the weight of the expectations it bears.

Originally released in Japan for the DS in 2008, Tales of Hearts was somewhat of a throwback with its restricted 2D battle system. It also served as an experiment of sorts, released in separate versions using either anime-style cutscenes or computer-rendered ones. The anime style outsold the CG by a large margin, so it’s that approach upon which this Vita remake is based.


Monster jam!

Using Hearts R’s Aerial Chase Linear Motion Battle System, characters have more attacks and artes to launch weakened enemies into the air and render them helpless. From there, you can continue a combo in style and quickly take down foes. Characters can also team up to deliver a large amount of damage to enemies.– Eric Albuen

Note that I said remake and not port; Hearts R is a complete overhaul. The world and characters were redone to match the console style rather than the flat pixel-art look of the DS release, and the 2D battles have been replaced by a full-movement scheme more like you’d expect from the series post-Symphonia. More anime scenes were added as well, though some of the original work remains, and it’s noticeable when you see it because it remains in the DS’ 4-by-3 aspect ratio.

The Western release of Hearts R adds to the disjointedness in a few ways. The translation of the text appears to have been done on a shoestring budget, as there aren’t exactly errors, but conversations don’t quite flow like you’d want in a story worth following.

This isn’t helped by the presence of the remaining Japanese audio. It’s nice that the game is fully-voiced and purists will appreciate the original tracks, but it causes issues. For example, when a character calls out the name of the game’s protagonist, Kor, you’ll hear the Japanese name (“Shingu”) instead, and it’s dissonant. This is likely much less of an issue for those who don’t know any Japanese, and even those of us who are familiar can get by with a happy medium (like turning the voices down enough to only faintly hear the inflection, while avoiding the awkward silence that comes from turning them off entirely).


A PSTV showpiece?

Hearts R has been lauded for its PlayStation TV compatibility, and that’s justified by how well it fits. There are no special features (the series’ signature local co-op would’ve been nice), but the bright palette and lack of Vita hardware features make it a solid way to play it, even blown up to a big screen at 720p. – Graham Russell

These issues will affect players in different ways, but the ultimate result is that this is a game for those who like the Tales battle system and party mechanics much more than it is for those craving an epic narrative. Hearts R has a deep, choice-heavy leveling mechanic for characters called Somas, letting you shape them as you see fit (within some parameters, of course). There’s equipment, there’s skill point allotment, there’s party member affinity and recipe gathering.

The battles themselves also try to be compelling on their own. Occasionally you’ll trigger challenge battles, letting you earn bonuses for things like expediency or impressive combo counts. It does a decent job of providing an incentive, and helps break up the monotony of the combat that may be all-too-familiar to players who spent time with the Tales releases of the middle of the last decade.

For a Vita exclusive, there really aren’t any hardware-specific features to speak of other than letting you map four more arte shortcuts to screen flicks, and we didn’t find many use cases for needing more than the usual eight. It does use the system’s power well, creating something that, on a technical level, is a hybrid of the PS2 and PS3 Tales engines.


Tales of Hearts R really is a Tales game for Tales fans. It’s as fleshed-out an entry as we’ve seen on a handheld, and for that it should be commended. That said, once it starts acting like its console siblings, it inevitably draws the comparison, and there have been too many positive developments in games like Xillia for its failure to catch up to avoid causing frustration. Still, if you’re looking for an original, full experience you can only get on the Vita that doesn’t cater to a niche within a niche, you’re just as starved as the fan campaign implied and Hearts is an adequate meal.

Staff writer Eric Albuen contributed to this review.

Pros: Console-level engine, compelling character progression
Cons: Sub-par localization, mechanics lag behind Xillia

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.