Tales of Hearts is the last released 2D Tales game, made by Team Destiny. Tt feels a lot like a 2D prototype of Tales of Graces, so I enjoyed it a whole lot. It shares the general light-hearted atmosphere, theme about human bonds, and doesn’t use TP in battle.
As if the title isn’t obvious, Tales of Hearts is all about…well, the heart. Every person’s heart (Spirune) has a random dungeon inside called the Spir Maze, and people who have weapons called Soma can link with another person and go into their Spir Maze. The protagonist is a country boy named Shing Meteroite, who lives in a remote shore town with his grandfather, who happens to wield a Soma and uses it to cure people infected by a heart sickness that causes one’s emotions to go out of control. One day, Shing finds a pair of siblings washed ashore. They are Kohaku and Hisui Hearts, who are being chased by a mysterious woman named Incarose. Incarose kills Shing’s grandpa and puts Kohaku into a coma-like state before Shing and Hisui manage to escape with her. As a last resort, Shing tries to use a Soma to link to Kohaku’s Spir Maze in hopes of curing her, only to find a girl with emerald-colored hair inside and accidentally shatter her Spirune into pieces across the world. Shing, along with a very pissed off Hisui and an emotionless Kohaku, departs on a journey to avenge his grandfather and restore Kohaku’s Spirune.
As far as Tales plots go, Hearts doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It has the usual Tales plot devices and twists, and feels a lot like Graces with its theme of bonds and friendship. Heck, the power of friendship is what strengthens their weapons. It doesn’t shy away from cliches at all, instead fully embracing its theme and executing it more smoothly than what Graces tries to do. Even if Hearts has a fair share of cheesy lines, it feels very satisfying, and ends off in a complete manner. Romantic subplots all get proper resolutions.
Hearts is very much like a 2D version of Graces as far as the gameplay goes. Actions in battle consume from a regenerating meter rather than having Artes cost TP. Everyone gets a huge variety of Artes, and Shing doesn’t get the usual swordsman moveset. To compensate for the lack of 3D movement, there are a variety of aerial skills and some skills that allow you to dash through enemies while damaging them. Unlike many other Tales games that take a while to truly become fun, Hearts gets to that level rather quickly. There is an EG meter and a CG meter. Regular attacks only take up the former, but Artes take both to perform. Thankfully, both regenerate.
The main difference that sets apart Hearts is the limit of 3 party members in battle, when all other Tales games allowed 4. In return, you have touch screen shortcuts that allow you to summon a reserve member into battle to use a skill (which cannot be interrupted, but deducts from your CG and prevents EG recovery until the spell finishes casting).
The method of obtaining Artes and support skills is different from any other Tales I’ve played. Rather than gaining Artes, support skills and stat bonuses through leveling up or titles, you get them by collecting materials (usually monster drops) that can be traded for an Arte, skill, or stat bonus. After a character upgrades enough, his or her Soma will evolve, and you get to choose from 3 ways of evolution: more stats and support skills (less Artes), more stats and Artes (less support skills), more Artes and support skills (less stat bonuses).
There is also the presence of a Heal Stone, which is a much more boring prototype of Grace’s Eleth Mixer. Heal Stone does not consume cooking or anything, but works on the same principle in battle with the exception that all upgrades have to be manually purchased. You can buy conditions, healing %’s, and additional effects, and combine the three into one action in the Heal Stone.
The dungeons are nice in that they automap on the bottom screen. Enemies appear on the map, so no random encounters. As an additional plus, the best healer in the game also has the second-highest HP, so he isn’t likely to be the one dying first.
You’re stuck with a typical, but fun bunch for Hearts. Shing is a dull protagonist who spews out friendship and “I will protect her” speeches about as often as Asbel. Kohaku begins as an emotionless doll, but slowly gains her emotions back. I did not care for her until she regained her emotion of courage, where she takes an extreme level up in badassery. After that, even though she takes the damsel in distress role quite often, her personality and displays of strength makes her more fun than some other Tales of heroines. Hisui is an intense siscon and extreme tsundere, to the point that he constantly punches Shing in the beginning of the game. He hits my moe points for a dude. Beryl is a loli who is aiming to be a royal artist, and she is actually 18 despite looking and acting 12. She starts off annoying, but gets character development and I warmed up to her by the end. Innes is the cool big sis character, who enjoys teasing just about everyone. She is also a lady with inhuman physical strength, and acts as the tank for the party. Kunzite is a humanoid robot who initially appears to be mechanical and emotionless, but shows more human sides as the plot progresses. He is also my personal favorite character in the game.
2D sprites are always welcome in my eyes. The backgrounds are 3D and look pretty average. Character designs are ok, but they don’t stand out as much as those of more recent Tales. There wasn’t any design that I immediately loved. Shing’s design looks really off, though. He looks like a Yu-Gi-Oh! character with a duel disk on his arm, rather than a country bumpkin who lived with his grandpa his whole life. No, serious, where did he get such clothes? There’s nothing in particular to marvel at, but nothing much to complain about either. The maps are nice and big, and the towns are populated.
I got the CG movie edition because it was a fraction of the price of the Anime movie edition, for a total of something like less than 10 minutes of uglier cutscenes as the sole difference. The CG look really doesn’t suit Tales’ anime-style designs and the 2D graphics. Some of the 3D models looked ok on their own, but there is such a stark contrast between the CG cutscenes and the rest of the game which uses bright 2D graphics. Even the status screen portraits and skit portraits are anime style, so the CG cutscenes just look ridiculously out of place.
Not bad to listen to in-game, but forgettable on a whole. I think this stands for what I’ve played of the entire Tales of series.
Tales of Hearts is definitely a solid Tales. It’s got a fun battle system that doesn’t involve TP, a cheerful atmosphere and entertaining skits for the majority of the game, and adequate character development. It’s the most like Graces out of anything else I’ve played, with a better executed plot.