Tales of Hearts R is the Vita remake of the 2008 Tales of Hearts game on Nintendo DS. Having not played the original as it was a Japan exclusive, I will unfortunately not be able to make a comparison review.
The intro shows that the game is coming from the NDS just from the different aspect ratio. Any cutscene pulled directly from the NDS release got the black buffer bars on each side to fill in due to the different resolution, making it easily noticable when you see a new cutscene in the Vita version as those do use full resolution. The audio in the game is the japanese audio, there is no english voice over for this title, which is perfectly fine in my opinion as doing a full voice over on a title only raises translation cost and makes the production time longer. The only real issue from doing so is when the name of characters change.
As per the example above, in the North American version, the main character is called Kor Meteor while in the Japanese counterpart, his name is Shing Meteoryte. This can get a bit bothersome as every time you read “Kor” in a cutscene, which happens often as Kor is the protagonist, you’ll hear “Shing”. Kor and Gall are the only two to have a name in the North American version, Gall’s being a minor one as his original name was Galando, not affecting the audible ring to it that much.
The battle feels pretty much the exact same as Tales of Xillia’s battle style as in it’s the same circle arena, option to free roam if needed otherwise locked in a straight path with what you have targeted. Physical attacks restore TP for use in your Artes. Monsters can be staggered which initiate a chase function, allowing you to dash up to them, dealing more damage while having them in a partial stunned mode. This mode allows for team up special attacks and finisher moves. As most other Tales game, this one also has a “limit” gauge, used to unleash “Spiria Drive”, more or less an ultimate attack that varies depending on how much of the gauge is filled and used. The cooking option is back in the after battle tally, allowing for quick recovery of HP, TP and/or status effects which makes the overall pace a bit faster as you don’t have to navigate through the menus to restore all the time if you keep up with cooking after the battles.
Armor equipment and accessories are still acquired in the good old fashion, however weapons are acquired in the game from levelling up your character attributes the same way as you acquire skills. It makes for an odd system as I got 3 weapons quickly for one character early in the game and processed to not get another one for him for the next 20 levels. The levelling system makes it that you can stack the specific stats you want on each characters as each of the five attributes raise different stats. The only stop to it comes from being blocked by story progression barrier as they do limit how far down a path you can go before reaching certain flags through the main story.
As far as the feel of the game outside of combat, the game stayed true to the Tales series. Keeping towns and area as instances on the world map, a classic JRPG thing to do now a day. They also offer hints on where to go next similar to the newer Tales game, in Xillia 1/2 for example, you just need to hold R1 to see the hint. In this one, they keep it under a small character skit, very helpful when returning to the game after a small break.
They also added treasure spots on the overworld map, but you can spot them way too easily as they tower over the scenery normally, and most of them end up being Namcoins. The Namcoins are a collectible in the game, 76 of them spread all over the world. The only purpose for them is to get accessories for your characters and they are completely optional.
The towns are pretty much following the tradition as well, cute animals, NPCs that just talk generic non-sense, shops and the obvious story/quest related characters easily identified by the “!” or “?” mark over their head. The towns and dungeons do offer another “item hunt” of some sort in the form of Chef hidden as different objects. The giveaway is that they all wear the tall stereotypical chef hat, giving out the secret way too easily.
The skits are making a come back, all the main ones being fully voiced. It may sound silly but the voiced ones feel much more fulfilling as you get to hear the tone and emotion of the skit instead of just basing yourself on the overall message and expression of the character portraits. I love this feature from Tales games as it is completely optional but fill in much of the character development.
As previously mentioned, I personally have never played the original version. The only major differences to be noted is the addition of a new character, Gall, whom I can’t imagine not being in the story, and the addition of more anime style cutscene. The story in its core is the same, even with the addition of an extra party member early on.
On a side note, I did play most of it through the use of the PS TV, making the few touch screen functions kind of awkward. Activating team up attack made keeping up with combat harder than just forgetting about it and using the swipe shortcuts for Artes was practically impossible. The features are still present to be used in with PS TV and they do feel much better on the Vita. None of the touch feature are essential for gameplay purpose.