The Power of Friendship!
I recently finished Tales of Hearts R and it was...pretty good! There was quite a lot I liked about it, so here's my brief review.
Tales of Hearts R is about a boy named Kor Meteor (seriously) and his group of friends who have to save the world. So yeah, it's a Tales game. The world itself and the concepts that surround it are interesting, though. Every person has a "Spiria" that essentially represents their emotional core. Throughout the game, you enter the infected Spirias of certain characters in order to help them solve their problems. The system had a very Persona 4-esque feel to it, which is part of why I found the concept so engaging. It also didn't fall prey to a million different techno-babbly terms that dilute the relatively simple plot (lookin' at you, Tales of the Abyss...). The game has a very "power of friendship" type of narrative, but I can say that I'm honestly okay with stories like that. Sometimes you need stories with positivity like that, and I don't tend to agree with the sentiment that stories like this are "immature."
The characters were also all endearing in their own right, and I ended up being fond of all of all of them by the game's end. The conversations they had in skits and cutscenes sometimes had me laughing aloud. Their banter and growth they experience as a team felt believable and natural.
One thing I will say is that I was disappointed in the way Kohaku's character is handled for the first third of the game. Though she ends up being one of my favorite characters by the game's end, a lot of time spent with her early on involves her being an emotionless husk. It feels boring, and a little creepy at times. Thankfully it doesn't last long.
The pace of the game's plot was fast, which was effective in getting me to work through and finish the game. You never stay in one place for long, and when there is backtracking, it's minimal and easy to get from point A to point B. Also - and this is kind of weird to explain, but bear with me here - but the exploration feels tight. The running speed in areas is brisk, dialogue can be clicked through quickly - things like that. I appreciate these little things in JRPGs, because I'm way more likely to finish the game as a result.
That said, Tales games are known for their combat, and I can say with confidence that Tales of Hearts R has some of the best combat I've experienced in a game from this series. It starts off simple, with only one or two Artes at your disposal and only one other party member to work with. But by the end of the game, you feel like an utter powerhouse, pulling off ridiculous combo chains and air combos, and teleporting around enemies to extend damage. You have a myriad of options to crush enemies. Even though combat was random encounter-based, I found myself looking forward to getting thrown into battle, because the fights never stopped being entertaining.
I enjoyed my time with Tales of Hearts R. It was a good 25 hour length, that convinced me to take the time to beat it, and the combination of endearing characters and engaging combat made the time spent worth it. I honestly wish more Tales games were this good.