Tales of Hearts R is an enhanced version of the popular Tales of Hearts on the Nintendo DS. Originally only released in Japan, this title represents the 11th entry in Bandai Namco’s long-running role-playing series – but does it live up to the property’s esteemed standards, and is it the type of title that famished PlayStation Vita owners have been desperately waiting for?

The flamboyantly named Kor Meteor is your typically overzealous adventurer, eager to take on any and all challenges that stand his way. However, his excitable ego is amplified further when his grandfather allows him to borrow his Soma – a mysterious tool used to harness power in the form of a weapon.

With his guardian out of town, the protagonist happens upon a mysterious woman named Kohaku and her overprotective brother Hisui. Unfortunately, the trio’s luck takes a turn for the worse when he and his newfound friends are attacked by a witch [Hate it when that happens – Ed], who casts a spell on Kohaku’s spira core, or soul. Kor’s grandfather saves them, but becomes wounded in the process.

On his deathbed, the injured old man teaches him how to enter the spira core of others in order to battle off invading evil forces. Sadly, the hero’s impulsive attitude takes him too far, and he ends up destroying Kohaku’s personality in the process. Now, it’s up to him – and, subsequently, you – to recover shards in order to restore your accomplice’s emotions so that you can work together to stop the aforementioned sorceress.

If you managed to follow all of that, you’ll probably already have an inkling that this title is packed with cookie cutter characters that occupy many JRPG stereotypes. Luckily, despite being generic, these stars are likeable due to clever dialogue and fantastic voice acting. Indeed, almost the entirety of the game is brought to life with recorded speech in the title’s native Japanese.

There’s an absolute ton of narrative content to get through here as well – even by Tales series standards. Every corner that you turn has something to tie into the well written plot, and while a lot of the content merely adds flavour, you’ll probably want to digest as much of it as possible if you’ve already been drawn into the world and its fiction.

Should you merely be thirsting for blood, though, there’s a brilliant battle system here. This will instantly be familiar to fans of the franchise, with attacks being used to build up TP, which can then be traded for Artes, or skills, which can be used to damage your opponents further, or even heal your party. The title’s mix of real-time and tactical combat makes it both accessible and rewarding.

Adding to the depth of this system is the option to use the Vita’s touch screen in order to issue commands to supporting characters. When employed properly, this valuable tool can change the tides of battle, giving you greater offensive and defensive options. Even outside of this feature, though, you can really get into the nitty-gritty of what you want your computer controlled accomplices to do.

If there’s any drawback to the battles, then, it’s that these are initiated through dreaded random encounters. Unlike in some of the new Tales games, enemies won’t actually appear in the world – you’ll simply be tossed into combat with them instead. To be fair, you can attempt to run away from tougher foes, but this adds unnecessary loading times to the experience, and when you’re merely trying to move from A-to-B, it all gets a bit frustrating.

If you do decide to deal with everything in your path, though, you’ll be rewarded with plenty of experience points. Each time that you level up, you’ll be assigned skill points to add to your Soma, increasing base stats, learning new abilities, and triggering special bonuses. Ranking up is simplistic enough that you won’t need to ponder what to do with every single point that you acquire, but still rewarding enough that you’ll feel the effects of each level.

And however you improve your character, you’ll be able to revel in the title’s visuals. This isn’t the most graphically impressive game on the Vita, but it’s a huge step up from the original, and it certainly has the appearance of a fully fledged Tales game in the palm of your hands. Audio is also sharp, with a lively soundtrack and the aforementioned excellent voice acting.

Conclusion

Tales of Hearts R starts strong, and only gets better as it progresses. The cast may not be the best in the series, and the random encounters do feel a bit dated, but this is an overall top-notch production, which we’re thrilled has found its way overseas at last. If your Vita’s barely murmured over the past few weeks, then this is the blood that’ll bring your system back to life – and it’s a release that no self-respecting JRPG fan should bypass.