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Tama-Neko's Tales of Hearts Game Review

Tales of Hearts

Tales of Hearts game Review

Tales of Hearts is an action/adventure RPG for the Nintendo DS, created by Bandai Namco games via one of its Tales studios. It is the 11th mothership Tales game and the second for the DS (the first being Tales of Innocence, as Tales of the Tempest was downgraded to an escort title) and was released in Japan in December 2008. No Western/English release date has been set at this time.

Story & Playability

Tales of Hearts is a DS game set in the expansive Tales universe. As such, it follows the generic Tales story arc, which basically is young, naive youth accidentally gets involved in events that lead to him saving the world from darkness with the power of light. In Hearts, our protagonist is Shing Meteoryte, a lad of 16 years who has lived a peaceful, if boring life in the idyllic fishing village of Shibul. One day he meets Kohak and Hisui Hearts, siblings on the run from the sorceress Incarose. After a second encounter with Incarose leaves Kohak afflicted with Despir sickness (a sort of depression), Shing valiantly tries to help by Spir Linking (entering her soul), and ends up accidentally shattering Kohak's Spirune (a person's crystallized soul) into many fragments which are dispensed across the globe. And the quest to find and repair Kohak's Spirune begins!
Actually, the Spirune-gathering part of the story is only the first act, and it's the most boring part. It's the act where you learn about the game mechanics, gather your party, make allies and enemies, and learn about the history of the world at large. Things really take off after Kohak's Spirune is restored, and the backstory an old fairy tale, describing an emerald-haired princess sleeping in the Forest of Thorns, hiding from the monstrous Zerom and fearing the destruction of the Black and White moons, is revealed.
Hearts' storyline is long and complex, spanning multiple worlds and histories. My game timer sits at 75 hours, although at least 15 of those were spent on a wide variety of sidequests (which have no impact on the main story, but explain histories of various NPCs or develop new ones between them). The main story is linear; the plot is set and all you can do is follow it straight to the end. The story is rich and has several interesting twists along the way, so it feels like playing through a 26 episode anime series where you can control when things happen (if not their order or outcome.)
If you like long-form linear stories, then Tales of Hearts is something to look into. Just be prepared to invest a lot of time to get through to the end.

Rating: 8

Graphics

Tales of Hearts comes in two versions: an anime version and a CG version. There is not much difference between them, except the anime version uses 2d cel-shaded cut scenes (provided by Production IG) and the CG version offers 3D shaded cut scenes more on the lines of Final Fantasy. I own the anime version because the Tales series has very good anime animation quality, and it just fits the whole feeling of a Tales game better. I was disappointed there were only 8 animated cut scenes though, it seemed a rather small number for such a long game. All the cut scenes are quite beautiful and fluid, as can be expected from Production IG.
The in-game art uses 2D sprites on a 3D field. As I've only played Tales of Phantasia (and Star Ocean) for the SNES, that was fine because it fit the style of Tales games I was used to. The sprites are fine, nothing too fancy but the limitation is in the DS hardware and screen. The background art is quite nice when you are inside a town; each town has a distinct feel that comes through in the artwork. However, the field and dungeons are extremely, extremely repetitious. They are basically long corridors you walk along, and sometimes there are branches. You will get bored of them very quickly.
Battle scenes are 2D sprites on a 2D (linear) field. The background of the battles varies depending on your location, which is quite nice, although as I mentioned, the fields and dungeons have very little variety in them. Spells are neatly animated with a lot of effects, but if you have too many spells going off at once (from your party and your enemies) then the battle slows down. This is generally only an issue later in the game, when the bigger and fancier spells affect larger and larger portions of the battle screen.
All in all, the art works for its medium. It's not going to win any prizes, but it does what it needs to do, with a bit of style. I just wish there were more animated cut scenes, because those are all well rendered.

Rating: 7

Sound

The music in Tales of Hearts is like art. It works for what it is, but it's not going to wow anyone, and you're not likely to want to listen to the soundtrack outside of the game (as opposed to Chrono Trigger, which has as number of hauntingly beautiful pieces.) There is actually quite a few different pieces of music -- most of the towns have their own melody, and there are actually quite a few different battle pieces, depending on just who or what you are fighting. The pieces serve to set the mood of a scene fairly well, but you're a bit limited by the DS hardware.
On the other hand, there is quite a bit of voice acting for a DS game. Nearly a third of all the 'face chat' scenes (the extra scenes you can trigger between members of your party) are voiced, and probably a good quarter of the normal (non-anime) cut scenes are fully voiced as well. And of course, in battle everyone talks, mostly to shout out the special moves or spells they using or to other members of your party. That helps give the game a more 'playing through an anime series' feeling. The voices suit each character's personality well (sadly meaning you get the ditzy 'cute' girl voice in Beryl, although she is nowhere near as annoying as Corundum) and help establish everyone better.

Rating: 7

Fun

Tales of Hearts is a game you have to be willing to sit down and play for good blocks of time, or it will take you forever to finish. However, the game makes sure the experience a great deal of fun, and uses a complex plot to draw you deeper into the story and your party's characters.
The battle engine of Hearts is another key point. Level grinding can be a tedious affair, and walking through the field encountering enemies every 5 steps will make just about anyone quit. However, Hearts shows the enemies on the field (sort of like Chrono Trigger), and you can try to run around them (or stun them, once you obtain the Sorcerer's Ring) to avoid battles. But battles themselves are pretty fun. A battle takes place on a 2D plane, with 3 of your party facing off against monsters, etc. Like other Tales games, you control one character (you can switch this in battle) and AIs control the others. You can get pretty specific in AI targeting and battle style, so they are generally an asset instead of a liability. Also, unlike other Tales games, Hearts uses EG and CG instead of the TP/MP gauge. The idea is similar (you spend either EG or CG to pull off special moves and spells) but EG/CG regenerates during the battle itself. This means you can spend all of your EG and combo 5 special attacks, jump back and guard for a moment while the EG recovers, and press in again. CG is used when you give a command to another character (and is regenerated when you are attacking. By using Link Panels you can give commands to members of your party who are not currently in the battle. Finding special items lets you summon non-Hearts characters to battle, including KOSMOS, a girl from Idolmaster, and characters from just about every other Tales game. All this leads to very fast, frenetic battles that keep you on your toes. Definitely not your strategic turn based (or active turn based) style of fighting, but it's loads of fun once you start figuring out good combos.
One gripe I have with Hearts is that it doesn't utilize a quicksave option so you have find a Save Point if you want to stop playing. Which can be very annoying, especially if you get stuck in a dungeon. Another reason you have to be able to dedicate blocks of time for playing.
Still, apart from that, and the terribly boring field/dungeon layouts, Tales of Hearts is an addictive Action RPG that anyone who likes Tales games should check out.
Note: This game is not yet available in English :( Perhaps my long playthrough was because it takes me longer to read everything?

Rating: 9

Final Verdict

8.00 (good)

Reviewed by Tama-Neko, Aug 12, 2010

Comments

  1. Damanex Aug 15, 2010

    I jumped into this review hoping to take some notes on review writing on something I knew little to nothing about. I was blown away, the detail and the pasion in the writing is evident. As well as the element of realism, you didn't hop in saying it was the greatest thing ever but pointed out the good and the bad which kept me reading till the end. I am thankful and happy that I took the time to read this so I might start writing reviews.

    By the way, did they rip off Jayden's character design from Yu-Gi-Oh GX, because I want to get my game on all the sudden.....DUEL! ^_^

  2. jazmin Aug 16, 2010

    where do i find this game?

    merged: 08-16-2010 ~ 07:24am
    u.u i cant edit my comment nvm its for ds TT i was hoping it was for ps3 or psp sorry i dint read the entire review cuz i have to work tomorrow and i read one sentence and it call my attencion sorry

  3. SchRita Aug 27, 2010

    Thanks for this very detailed review. I wish I could play this!

  4. CyanideBlizzard Retired Moderator Sep 12, 2010

    I hate how Namco is fussy with what games it brings over to the US.

    I do, however, love how in-depth this review is (I especially liked the compare/contrast with Chrono Trigger). It's nice to get a variety of different reviews here!

  5. rukasu44 Sep 29, 2010

    This game is really nice, i couldn't finish but I hope i could play again.

  6. patriz0 Oct 05, 2010

    the guy looks just like the boy in kingdom hearts

  7. adelopium Oct 22, 2010

    that outfit looks ripped off from someone....jayden from yugioh gx and sora from kh...yeah, i agree with you two. the outfit reminds me of bakugan...

  8. SchRita Nov 09, 2010

    It seems to be interesting.

  9. Warpten29 Jan 11, 2011

    Good summarization!

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