Eternal Tomorrow by Shuichi Ikemori
[NOTE: English release removes voice track of the song. Click here to hear what it sounds like.]
What was I searching for here?
The place that I flee to is always inside of my heart
Even though I want to change, I can’t change
I hated myself
Everyone is wishing for an eternal tomorrow
For an unwavering heart that expands endlessly
If tears of sorrow overflowed from your hands
Then I’d embrace you tightly
I’ll try to rely on myself
A bond will begin from there…
Heart to heart
Ready? It’s time for Under Your Radar! Today, we’ll be covering Tales of Hearts R, a Vita entry in the Tales series, and a port of the similarly-named DS game known as Tales of Hearts. The 3DS game had a version with 3D model-animated cutscenes and a version with anime-style cutscenes. The former was poorly-received due to various off-model reasons, so the Vita version if based on the latter.
Some things were removed from the port, and some characters and plot points were simplified or completely changed. The combat system was also adjusted to allow for 4-character parties rather than three (and the combat system in general was overhauled). It is the first game in the series to release in the West with solely the Japanese voice track.
In a world where the main religion is worshipping a space whale (I’m not even joking), people have an organ that governs their emotions known as a spiria. There are also diseases that take root here and mess with emotions. It is the job of somatics, people who wield special weapons known as soma, to enter this organ via magic and kill the source of the virus – literally. We meet Kor Meteor, a new somatic who’s just finishing training with his grandfather. A robot seems to come out of nowhere and attacks, resulting in the death of Kor’s grandfather and the spiria of a girl named Kohaku Hearts is scattered across the world.
With the help of various people, Kor must collect the pieces of Kohaku’s spiria and piece it back together, giving this emotionless girl her emotions back, one at a time. While there are many plot twists along the way, and of course the story is only just beginning when Kohaku gets back to normal, I would rather not spoil the nature of these twists. I would rather bring attention to one major element of the plot.
Tales of Hearts is a story about love. While most Tales games have love as a plot element, with only a few exceptions coming to mind, none of them use it so frequently or for so many major plot points. The amount of relevant canon couples is off the charts, and how their romance and its turmoil causes so many of the issues in the story is a far cry from usual Tales far while still feeling familiar.
The rest of the plot elements, for the record, are also love-related, but not romantic love. Rather, familial love, loyalty, and the love for one’s nation and friends also play major plot roles. Usually you’d see one or two couples be the focus of all love-related stuff in a Tales story and that’s it, but they weren’t satisfied doing that. That said, this is not the best plot I’ve seen from a Tales game, either, but it was refreshing to see Kohaku and Kor clearly in love from the get-go… until Kohaku loses her emotions. And then resuming after she gets them back.
One thing I have to criticize, however, is that the localized text for the game clearly wasn’t made with the lack of a dub in mind. Some lines are much longer than the literal translations of the voice track, the subtitles for the post-battle skits lag behind if a character’s line is too short in Japanese to be read properly if timed correctly, etc. Additionally, the naming for Kohaku is inconsistent with their arena cameo in Tales of Graces f, where she goes by the name Amber Hearts (Amber being a literal translation of Kohaku).
One could claim this was for consistency with the voice track, but one would be wrong, as you spend the entirety of this game reading “Kor Meteor” while the voice track states the protagonist’s Japanese name, “Shing Meteoryte”. As a side-note, Kohaku (as Amber) also uses the term “spir maze” during her cameo while this game uses “spiria nexus”.
I also dislike the inconsistent aspect ratio for the 2D animated cutscenes. Some are 4:3 while others are 16:9.
The game easily clocks in over 40 hours, with a lot of it being plot stuff, but something that definitely makes the game last longer than it should here is that the game uses random encounters. Unlike most Tales games in recent memory, Tales of Hearts R uses random encounters, though there are items available to lower the encounter rate and to disable them altogether for a short time. Still, I would prefer the usual symbol encounter system over this, as the encounters got on my nerves after a while. I couldn’t afford the encounter-disabling items in at all decent quantities until the end of the game due to how the in-game wallet was already empty while failing to keep up in terms of equipment.
As per usual, this entry in the series has some manner of irregular character progression system. In this case, it involves the weapons the characters wield. You can point points into six categories and receive stats, weapon upgrades, skills, artes, and things of that nature based on the combinations. It’s a very simple system, but it requires opening the pause menu and pressing a few buttons each time each character gains a level.
Also as per usual, this entry follows the basic series combat formula with its own twist. This time, it’s something known as the chase marker. After wailing on an enemy long enough, a marker will appear on that enemy for a brief moment. Using certain attacks while it’s visible will render that enemy unable to fight back for a while, meaning you can perform powerful combos and team attacks on them and they can do nothing. Additionally, if an enemy is unable to attack due to being stunned from getting hit long enough, they will become enraged and perform one stun-free attack. Timing the block button with this, counters the attack.
These are very safe-feeling differences, making the main draw be the fact that it is an up to date title in the series on a handheld. The properties of the handheld didn’t escape the developers, either. The touch screen is used for the team attacks, but you can also use this to micromanage ally arte use. You can set four artes per ally. One for tapping on their portrait, and one for swiping in each direction other than down (since there’s no space to swipe down on the screen). I used this to force my healers to heal when I wanted them to heal, and it felt like I was in decent control of them as a result.
There are also some rather interesting pieces of equipment that would have been cool if they didn’t take a slot I’d rather use for a piece of equipment that helped in fights rather than changing the way controls are done. For example, there’s an accessory called the Arte-by-Number Kit that lets you set artes in a four-hit combo for pressing the arte button in a row instead of the button and a direction, but this restricts you to that exact order. Think A-Artes from Tales of Graces, but you only have one possible combination.
I also heard about a post-game accessory named the Combo Command that allows you to access every single arte in a character’s movepool, but they use fighting game-style commands that can be very hard to pull off. Later in the game, you also unlock the ability to replace your standard attacks with artes, but this isn’t tied to a piece of equipment. It would have been cool if the Arte-by-Number Kit and Combo Command were also simply an option rather than equipment.
A minor complaint I have with the combat is that the smaller, more bunched-together buttons of a Vita lead me to accidentally hit triangle when trying to hit square due to how fast-paced things are. This lead me to pausing the game and adjusting the camera distance by accident. It’s not a huge deal, however.
While this feels like a very safe entry in the series, that does not make it bad. It’s simply that it has little to use to stand out. The story is imperfect, but it’s a nice break from the usual Tales formula while still strictly following it at the same time. Basically, it isn’t bad, but not outstanding, simply good.
Kor would tell you that he doesn’t try, he does, but this game’s main draw is not by something that it does. It is worth playing because it has all of the required Tales content on a handheld device without compromising. If that’s that they were trying to do, then they did.
There lies a princess fair and dear,
who has slept for over a thousand years,
amidst a bramble of thorny spears.
The love of friends is a radiant beam,
and to them she grants a sword of dreams.
An ebony moon by the hero slew.
An ivory moon to be born anew.
The whale of legend still does fly,
but is now a star in the dark night sky,
to soothe the sleep of you and I.
The princess dreams in her forest of thorns,
the prayers of people her heart warms.
She is protected by her metal knight,
as twin stars shine out eternal light.
And she is always dreaming.
Dreaming her world will awaken.