Hands-on with Tales of Hearts R, the revamped DS RPG we missed the first time around

A taste of the past

Hands-on with Tales of Hearts R, the revamped DS RPG we missed the first time around

I must admit that despite being a JRPG fanatic, I have never played a Tales game before. Shame on me.

To rectify this grave error, I played the first hour or so of Tales of Hearts R - which is coming to West later this month - at both Tokyo Game Show and MCM Comic Con London.

Here's the gist of what to expect.

Tales of Hearts, released on the DS in Japan six years ago, was split into two releases: one with CGI cutscenes, the other with anime cutscenes from Production I.G.: true veterans of animation.

Fortunately for us, the latter has been chosen for the remaster. These story scenes are interspersed throughout the game and look downright snazzy, even if some have been unpleasantly cropped. Purists will be glad to hear the Japanese voice-overs remain intact, at least.

As you'd expect from a JRPG, there's a fairly melodramatic story behind Tales of Hearts R. You are Kor Meteor: a bit of a punk kid on a quest to follow in the footsteps of your grandfather and mother, who are both "Somatics".

No, not asthmatics. It's er, like... goodie magic wielders. In any case, after besting your "gramps" in a quick spar, he bestows you with his Soma, which manifests itself as a sword for Kor.

You soon meet up with sister and brother duo Kohaku and Hisui, get attacked by an evildoer, and end up fighting monsters inside Kohaku's Spiria Nexus. Your grandfather gets hit by some nasty magic, and passes on. So far so EastEnders.

The battle system is action-based, with you controlling one member of your party directly to attack and launch "Artes", or special moves, against foes. Other characters in your party can be set to focus on attacking, healing, or a balance of the two.

The tone and presentation of R harks back to Dreamcast and PlayStation 2-era games like Grandia II. The emotions of each character are expressed through animated avatars rather than the dead stares of field character models.

After this point in the demo I found myself slightly lost in the overworld, stuck in an endless loop of fighting bees and dodos rather than finding the cave I was meant to head to.

If you're a fan of the good old JRPGs of the late '90s and early '00s, or indeed the Tales series, this looks like it will be right up your alley. Newcomers to the genre may however find this a bit too outdated to get sucked in.

Tales of Hearts R will arrive on the PS Vita in North America and Europe next week.