It’s been confirmed that Tales of Hearts R for the Sony Playstation Vita will be coming to western shores in Winter 2014! We would like to give our thanks and congratulations to Tales producer Mr. Hideo Baba, who has followed through on his suggestion that Western Tales fans should really play Hearts and is going to make it happen. As a result, we will put the fan translation on hold. As previously stated, we don’t want to scuttle the ship that is Tales in the West by potentially lowering sales. As such, if you want to play Hearts in English, I would recommend buying the Vita version when it comes out!
That said, I would like to draw attention to the mixed reception that Tales of Hearts R has gotten. As the second Reimagination title by developer 7th Chord and the third LMBS game they have made, you’d expect that they have some idea of what they’re doing by now. And there are quite a few positive points about the game: unlike Innocence R, whose graphics have been almost universally panned as being practically PS1-era, the graphics this time around are quite decent, even if they don’t exactly push the limits of the system’s capabilities. The battle system looks fast and engaging, and they’ve added a new old man character who looks pretty styling.
Unfortunately, there are also several important negatives. One would be the fact that some of the anime cutscenes were recycled at 4:3 aspect ratio from the DS version, resulting in black bars. However, this isn’t easily fixed and isn’t that huge a deal in the end. The inclusion of random battles instead of avoidable monster models is also generally seen as a negative, but it too isn’t that important.
I would instead like to focus on small things that can be fixed given a relatively moderate amount of time and effort, as long as it’s a coordinated effort between the localization team and the Japanese developers, that I believe would have a large impact on the Western reception of the game. I’ve touched on these before. Disclaimer: I haven’t actually played the game, but I’ve watched a fair amount of Let’s Plays of it as part of my research for the Hearts fan translation. So while I’m pretty sure I’m right, take my words with a grain of salt. Anyway, here they are:
The Script Needs to Flow Better
I understand that some changes were made to provide a different flavor to the game, and some changes were made to accommodate the new character, Galad. Mostly, lines were simply moved from other characters to Galad to include him in the group dynamic, which is a bit odd but not a huge deal. Sometimes, his presence in the group is actually taken into account and the script is rewritten slightly, which is great. However, sometimes entire scenes were added in in the middle of pre-existing scenes, with no real segue or proper conversational flow to aid the transition, making for really awkward dialogue.
I’m going to give an example of such a scene with both of the above characteristics. Early in the game, the group is traveling along on their journey, when suddenly, Amber is scared for seemingly no reason. It turns out that she’s scared because they’re surrounded by monsters. Calcedony, Crystal Knight of the Velleia Church, swoops in to rescue them. In the original game, Calcedony mocks Shing and Jadeite for being such unskilled Soma Masters; they didn’t even realize the monsters were there and seemingly haven’t even Spir Linked to treat Amber’s Despirosis. In the Reimagination, Galad is there, and he has experience battling with his Soma. He realized they were in danger, and when Calcedony mocks the two youth, he doesn’t hesitate to fire back. Calcedony acknowledges his experience and knowledge. This is an example of a good script change; the situation has changed due to the Reimagined setting, so the flow of conversation should change to match.
However, afterwards, they are attacked by a boss new to the Reimagination that only Galad can damage, due to his connections to the overarching Triverse storyline. (How is that going to be handled when we don’t have Innocence R here, by the way?) And then, after they beat him? The conversation returns to the exact spot from the DS script where they left off. Let’s review. Originally, Calcedony mocks Shing and Jadeite for their incompetence, then promises that the Velleia Church Crystal Knights will be sure to fix what ails poor Amber. Oh, and by the way, he needs to investigate that weird explosion of light the other day that surely has no connection whatsoever to Amber’s condition. (Spoilers: It was her.) In the Reimagination, Galad retorts by saying that what ails her is complicated and the Church should butt its arrogant nose out. They then fight a weird boss that came out of nowhere, looks nothing like a normal monster, and could only be damaged by Galad. After the fight, the extreme oddity of this event and of the nature of Galad’s special powers is never addressed, and Calcedony instead goes straight to promising that the Velleia Church Crystal Knights will be sure to fix what ails poor Amber, even though Galad just told him five minutes ago that he’s wrong and it’s complicated. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? This is what happens when you insert new scenes into the middle of existing scenes without adding proper transitional flow in between.
There’s also the complaint that seems common among Japanese fans that many events were cut out or altered for the worse. For example, the scene where you meet Amber and Jadeite was changed from you finding them washed up on the beach together to you finding only Amber, and then randomly running into Jadeite while walking in the forest. This is especially odd because the original reason for Jadeite’s initial hostility to you was that you were about to lock lips with his sister (to administer mouth-to-mouth), which is an event he wasn’t there to witness in this version of the game. He just sees you walking peacefully in the forest with his sister and pops out of the bushes to yell at you asking just what the hell you think you’re doing to his sister, which is a bit weird, to say the least. (Ignore the swimsuit costume; Shing is canonically fully clothed.)
Another example is the pivotal scene about midway through the game when Shing and Amber make up with each other and Shing and Jadeite argue on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. I don’t want to spoil it, but that was a great scene in the original that fell puzzlingly flat in the Reimagination. They argued, they had doubts, they built up conviction. It was very character-building, and even after the scene was over, there was much for the characters (well, Jadeite, really) to mull over. In the Reimagination, they pretty much just get over their issues and then go, “Oh boy, time to run off to save the world!” (Here’s the video link if you’ve played the original already and want to see it: SPOILERS!)
There’s also the events in the volcano, which were reordered for no real reason to produce extremely jarring shifts in tone. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say this: if you have a comedy scene and a serious drama scene happening at chronologically the same time, present the comedy scene first and the drama scene second. Otherwise, it takes the wind out of your sails when you follow it up with another, extremely emotional dramatic scene. In case that wasn’t clear enough, my advice to Namco is this: Move the solo duel fight and associated scenes to be *after* the fight against the fire dragon in the volcano, like it was in the DS version. The way it currently is in the Japanese version of Tales of Hearts R is absolutely horrible. (Again, the video links if you want them: MAJOR SPOILERS!) And don’t put the semi-lighthearted hot springs scene right after said heavy drama moments when it is wildly inappropriate. (Video link: SPOILERS! Allow me to reiterate that this takes place directly after the volcano events in the previous video links.) It would work if everyone were more serious as they take a moment to relax and reflect before continuing with their battle, but they mess around quite a lot in this scene.
How it can be fixed: Well, simply by adding more lines and/or changing the existing lines to address such issues. And in the case of the scenes that were altered for the worse… just revert back to the DS script. 😛 There’s a lot that can probably be done during the localization process to preserve the epicness of the game’s best scenes. You might even be able to salvage the hot springs thing by making it clear that everyone is messing around just to try to artificially inject some cheer back into the group.
The Animations Need to Be Less Awkward
My complaint with the visuals of this game doesn’t have to do with the polygons or textures or anything technical like that. It has to do with the 3D character animations. Several appear to be awkward or downright lazy. One would be the running animation for most characters as they run around saving the world. That’s one that you’re going to spend 30-50 hours staring at, so it’s one you’d think wouldn’t be so eye-grating.
One would have to do with the mechanics of the characters’ Somas. The Somas are a kind of combat arms-plus-psychological therapy system that lets the user link together with friends and fight, whether it be monsters in the real world or inner demons inside a person’s mind. The Somas generally come in the form of a wearable accessory or piece of armor that can generate a weapon out of the gems laid into the item. The low resolution of the DS version meant that it was kind of unclear as to how this would look in practice, but there is one given example that is pretty clear: Shing’s shortsword. He has a shield on his arm that houses the hilt to the sword. When he pulls it out, the blade generates from the hilt, and when he sheathes the blade back into the shield, the hilt rotates and locks into place with an audible click. It’s a pretty neat concept design, and it’s a nice detail that adds life to the world of the DS version.
In the Reimagination, this was apparently too difficult to animate, so Shing just kind of vaguely moves his sword in the direction of his shield and it disappears. This looks so incredibly lazy in comparison to the DS version that I am kind of appalled. The timing of the appearance of the weapons is also occasionally off. For example, Galad moves his hands to his shoulderpad Soma to draw his weapons, but sometimes, (SPOILERS in the video link) the weapons don’t actually appear when his hands are actually near his shoulders. This sort of thing distracts away from the story that you’re trying to tell by drawing undue attention to awkwardness in the characters’ movements.
There are also one-off awkward animations, such as Galad awkwardly sliding out of the way when Shing is kicked into Beryl, while Jadeite continues to point his bowgun at the spot Peridot was five seconds ago even as she moves to take his sister hostage, but I suppose those aren’t quite as important since they’re only seen once, not over and over throughout the entire game.
How it can be fixed: If you can get the dev team to improve on even just the running and drawing/sheathing animations, it would be a big step up in making everything feel more natural and immersive, allowing the focus to be on the story.
Which brings us to,
The Plot Needs to Not Shoot Itself in the Foot… with an Automatic Weapon
I already discussed the script, and in that section I focused on soft issues like narrative flow and the emotional feel of the story. In this section, I want to focus on the hard logic of the plot: what drives characters’ actions and what generates dramatic tension. The characters’ actions need to make sense to the player, and the adversity the characters face needs to feel real to generate the appropriate tension. Unfortunately, they really, really screwed up badly in the Reimagination — and they did it by adding a new playable character.
No, not Galad. He’s fine. They did it by making Calcedony playable — the guy in the video I linked above with the blue wings and and the sword. To do this, they had to change the mechanics of how Somas work. In the original game, Somas can “evolve” to become better and stronger. This next part is slightly spoilery, so you can skip it if you don’t want to be spoiled about the game’s plot. In the original game, this evolution is permanent. Calcedony ends up evolving his Soma into your party’s airship, after which point he basically sits at home and prays for your success in defeating the villain. Since they wanted to make him a main party member in the Reimagination, they changed it so that Soma evolutions are not permanent, and Soma can switch between whatever forms they have “evolved” at will. This lets you switch weapons (or rather, Soma forms) on the fly in battle, and it also lets Calcedony switch his Soma into airship mode on the fly whenever the party needs to get around. Okay, looks fine so far.
Now, in the original game, much of the tension in the last third of the game revolved around the party’s inability to fly. So when you add a guy to the party that can fly, and who can turn his Soma into an airship on command, you have to maybe consider rewriting the plot a bit to ensure that it still makes sense. The reason for the airship having problems in the original DS version doesn’t really apply to the Reimagination, since Calcedony is right there with you and is controlling the Soma himself, instead of Lithia having to take control of it. (Video link: SPOILERS!) Beryl even says the same lines from the DS version, complaining about how they have no way to fly, because (spoilers), when they clearly do have a way to fly and (spoilers) is now essentially unrelated. (Video link: SPOILERS!)
Then, further, the climactic scene of the game involves not one, but two instances of an inability to fly providing dramatic tension: the party needs to be able to fly in general in order to stop the villain’s plans, and also needs the ability to fly on a personal level because (spoilers). Calcedony, the guy who can fly, is right there with your group, but he stands there and does nothing! It’s like he suddenly has plot-induced stupidity wherein he forgets he has wings, or perhaps plot-induced sociopathy where he doesn’t care enough about his own party members to lift a finger to help them when he, uniquely, out of his entire party, has the ability to do so. Or more like, the writers overlooked this glaring hole they introduced into the plot. (If you want the video link: MAJOR SPOILERS!)
How it can be fixed: If you don’t want to wildly change the events of the game, simply find an excuse for why he can’t work his flying magic. Ideally, it should be a good one, but even a flimsy one will work in a pinch. This can probably even be done purely on the localization end, without any work required from the Japanese devs, by adding expository dialogue. For example, you can try, “Oh no, the boss zapped my Soma, rendering it temporarily inoperable at this most critical of junctures!” A lot of things in real life go wrong because just the wrong thing happens to happen at just the wrong time. This is way more believable than Calcedony simply forgetting how to fly or suddenly not caring a whit about his friends, and it avoids destroying the coherency of the plot. As for the airship, make sure to actually explain how the (spoilers) issue that basically drove this entire section of plot along in the DS version continues to drive the Reimagination’s plot. For example, have Calcedony explicitly mention that he can’t fly the airship alone, the first chance he gets. As it stands, it sure sounds like he can, outside the one time he was passed out.
Well, that’s about all I have to say about that. I am but one of many Tales fans, but I sincerely hope that someone from the localization team will read this and push to get these sorts of changes made, as incredibly unlikely as it is. As should be obvious, I really like Tales of Hearts, and I want to see it get the reception in the West that it deserves. Thank you for reading through my rambling discourse, and we’ll keep you updated!
(I would also like to thank Aggression, Kouli, Omegaevolution, Sirlionhart, and SpudCommando for the video links. I hope you guys don’t mind!)