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    Tales of Hearts R

    Game » consists of 4 releases. Released Mar 07, 2013

    A Vita remake of the DS Action-RPG Tales of Hearts.

    Exploring the Trope-Heavy Relationships in Tales Games

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    generic_username

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    Edited By generic_username

    As I mentioned previously, I bought a Vita a few weeks ago. Along with that purchase I ordered a few games, Tales of Hearts R being among them; one of two very long JRPGs I thought it would be smart to try to play at the same time. I've been playing that pretty consistently for the last week or so, and after about 25 hours with it, I'm comfortable saying this: it's certainly not the best Tales game, but I had fairly low expectations and it has blown those out of the water. It's extremely corny and clichéd, but in a way that is honestly kind of endearing.

    That bar at the top, the one that says
    That bar at the top, the one that says "PSVITA"? That's why you've never heard of this game.

    The characters all fall into very defined anime trope-y archetypes, more so than members of other Tales casts seem to, and the Tales games are well known for (almost aggressively) sticking to common character tropes. These characters are generally even more trope-y than average, though, which leads to them being kind of forgettable. On top of that, most of the tropes they adhere to have been done better by characters from other Tales titles, burying them even further into obscurity.

    The thing that sets this extremely trope-y and typical cast apart from the casts of other Tales games—the one thing this game has going for it that the other, generally better entries don't—is that it actually commits to a romance between two characters. While other Tales games drop hints of romantic interest throughout, Tales of Hearts features two specific characters who are very much romantically interested in each other. The "everyone kinda wants you but none of it ever goes anywhere" sort of thing that the other entries do is basically gone. The story is about (protagonist) Kor and (main supporting character) Kohaku's budding romance, and not about everyone having a bit of a thing for Kor that he doesn't seem able to notice.

    Our sweet, boring Colette.
    Our sweet, boring Colette.

    I much prefer a story that commits to a single romantic interest and actually seals the deal over one where it's kind of nebulous the entire time. I would be way into it if the story actively bucked heteronormative relationship standards, don't get me wrong! That would honestly be preferred to either of the staid and boring possibilities I've presented here. I don't think that the "harem-lite" thing is really that, though, and since the "harem-lite" thing is what most Tales games (along with a lot of anime) tend to do, I appreciate the willingness to commit to an actual romantic relationship, and it feels refreshing by comparison.

    Tales of Symphonia is the entry that probably comes the closest to this, but it doesn't commit either. It's clear that several of the characters have crushes on main hero Lloyd to some degree, even if the friendship/probably-romance between him and Colette is what they tend to focus on. Sheena is very obviously into Lloyd, and even Raine express a bit of interest towards him during a few moments. I personally found those threads more interesting than Colette's feelings by far, since she was such an utterly uninteresting character to me. On top of that, the game doesn't commit hard enough towards their romance for me to really feel like that's canonically what's going on.

    Here's some more box art that you've probably never seen before. You're welcome, I guess?
    Here's some more box art that you've probably never seen before. You're welcome, I guess?

    There is actually a romantic plot thread in Tales of Legendia, a generally disliked and relatively forgettable title in the series. I say generally disliked because it actually got decent reviews upon release, and I happen to like it a fair amount, but fans of the franchise tend to be at least apathetic towards it if they don't hate it outright. It has very obvious issues (as does Tales of Hearts) but there are enough fun character moments in the game for me to look past them somewhat.

    The romance in question is actually focused on the main character's lingering feelings for someone who passed away. Oh, um… spoilers for Tales of Legendia ahead, I guess, though I've never once seen anyone say anything about having a desire to pick this one up and play it after the initial release window. I'm not entirely sure the warning is necessary, but there it is, just in case. Anyways, Senel, our hero, fell for a girl, they had a relationship, some bad stuff happened, she died, and he is now taking care of her sister, Shirley. The actual romantic plot develops when it becomes clear that Shirley has feelings for Senel, and always has. This is complicated for Shirley, since she respects her sister's feelings and doesn't want to disrespect her memory by pining for the man she was in love with. This is kind of an interesting aspect of their relationship. Admittedly, the game doesn't handle it super well, but it's interesting that it's there at all.

    The real problems come later on in the story, when it becomes clear that another party member, Chloe, has fallen for Senel as well. Unlike other Tales games, though, this isn't simply mentioned in passing and then generally ignored except when it can be played for laughs: Shirley and Chloe have a fight about it. They do make amends, eventually deciding to both try to win him over without resenting the other person for trying, too. It's cool that the game actually paid attention to its romantic plot, but…

    It does all kind of suck ass in a way, for reasons that are probably pretty apparent. There are not one, but two female characters who have significant parts of their arcs devoted to talking about, thinking about, and fighting over a male character. Talk about failing the Bechdel test, am I right? Say what you will about that test as a concept, that's not what this post is about, but it's disconcerting when a character ends up being defined by their relationship to the protagonist. This is true regardless of any sort of gender roles; that interpretation of romance is an unhealthy one no matter the circumstances. The obvious (probably not done with malicious intent, though still a serious problem) misogyny in this particular case only serves to make it more uncomfortable. It's nice to see romantic feelings legitimately addressed, as having the characters all secretly pine for Senel might actually be worse, but creating this awful sort of fantasy-fulfilment thing where two female characters chase the lead male is still super not-great for a number of reasons.

    At the very least, the romance between Kor and Kohaku in Tales of Hearts R is generally presented in a healthy way. It's young love, and it's corny, and they struggle to actually express their feelings, but it's not one-sided. The romance doesn't seem to stem from Kor proving himself worthy of Kohaku, which seems to be the approach a number of bad stories take. It also doesn't stem from Kohaku being enamored with Kor because he saved her life, which is yet another bad way it could have gone. I mean, he does save her life, and he does want to show off to her, but neither of those things seem to be the driving force behind their feelings.

    No Caption Provided

    They really seem to fall for each other over time. Sure, it started with Kor being taken in by her attractiveness, but a lot of relationships start that way. What was nice was that Kor simply being attracted to her wasn't presented as actually being romantic, really. The attraction existed more to point out Kor's naivety than to progress the plot, and those feelings were easy for him to ignore or brush aside when necessary. His highest priority was helping her out of the bad situation she was in, and his motivation was because he wanted to be a good person, not because he wanted to make her like him. Spending time together wound up naturally leading to more developed feelings, and when those feelings became stronger, they affected the plot and his mood more directly, as they naturally would. It was kind of nice to see done that way.

    No Caption Provided

    This romance is nothing special when compared to romances in other media, other genres, or honestly other JRPG franchises. It's a typical romance in a game filled with trope-y characters who are traipsing around a very standard JRPG world. There really isn't anything that stands out about Tales of Hearts R. But you know, sometimes being a decent entry in a decent series can be enough to make a decent game, and I think that's the case here. The stupid little butterflies I feel watching the romance play out is just a nice extra touch that pushes it over the edge for me.

    Put simply, Tales of Hearts does nothing special or unique, but I find it endearing anyways.

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    TheManWithNoPlan

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    Interesting read. I have to admit, I always do get a little frustrated when games never commit to a romance subplot. It just feels like a waste of time otherwise.

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    ArbitraryWater

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    #2  Edited By ArbitraryWater
    @generic_username said:

    Put simply, Tales of Hearts does nothing special or unique, but I find it endearing anyways.

    As someone whose never really gotten into them, I've always viewed the Tales series as a very "comfort food" franchise of games. So, does that mean that Tales of Hearts R is comfort food's comfort food? Man, I should probably play Tales of Symphonia or Xillia at some point, given that I have both on my PS3. From the little I've played, I think I'd be into them.

    I can appreciate media that has the nerve to commit to romance stuff instead of dancing around the will they/won't they line forever or going down the harem route. There's only so much tension you can wring out of those sorts of subplots before they get tiring.

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    generic_username

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    @arbitrarywater: Tales of Hearts might fall into that category, though there are some specific issues I have with it both mechanically and narratively that irritate me enough that I can't quite say it's been a 100% comfort food experience for me.

    I'm generally praising it in this post, because I wanted to focus on this particular element of the game, and this element happens to be one of the things I like about it. I actually have no idea how other fans of the series feel about this one, and there's a lot of stuff about it that could be better. That said, I have been compelled to play a fair amount of it in the last week, so there's obviously something it has going for it. My thought is that its tropes and cliches are all obvious and dumb, but it commits to all of them so hard that I can't help laughing or being charmed by it in places.

    I'm personally not a fan of Xillia, but I could go on and on about what I like about Symphonia. I think Tales games being comfort food RPGs is usually true, but I think Tales of Symphonia is just a really good game. It's also kind of aggressively corny, but there are a few things about some of the themes and characters that I really, really like, and it was one of the last Tales games where they actually put any effort into dungeon and puzzle design. The dungeons aren't all winners or anything, and the puzzles themselves are usually not great either, but every Tales game I've played since (except Vesperia, which I can only remember the plot of) has had nothing but mazes where you go somewhere, pull a lever, backtrack somewhere else where you've opened a gate, rinse and then repeat. Sometimes less than that, just being an open space with nothing in it at all.

    But uh, yeah. Symphonia is a good game. I guess is what I'm getting at. Sort of. Don't touch Dawn of the New World. It's my personal least favorite in the series and is rotten with bad retcons, among other issues.

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    wchigo

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    Thoughts on Abyss? I think that's the one I got furthest in and remember enjoying, but never finished. I did watch the anime which I'm sure cut a bunch of stuff out but I assume I got the jist of the story from it

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    generic_username

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    @wchigo: I like Abyss a whole lot. It's one of the better entries in the series in my opinion. In my head, on a list ordered by quality, Abyss is lower than Symphonia, and is sometimes tied, sometimes above, and sometimes lower than Vesperia... depending on how I'm feeling that day.

    Abyss puts people off because Luke is fucking intolerable, both as a protagonist and as a character in general. But Abyss is cool because there are actual severe consequences for his selfish behavior, and he spends most of the story trying to better himself when he is faced with that fact.

    The other thing I think is cool about Abyss is its disdain for the hero complex. I obviously don't want to go into specifics here for fear of spoiling it, but some really, really, really bad shit happens because a character was more concerned with being a hero than they were with actually helping people. Most JRPG games tend to feed that impulse, engaging you with a power fantasy of sorts about being the ultimate good person that you may or may not be (or have the opportunity to be) in real life. To be fair, there's still a lot of "chosen one" style stuff in there, but I like how they have that moment where letting that "chosen one" stuff go to their head goes bad.

    Mechanically, there's a lot to like in there, too. I like the elemental fields you create that can change the attack you're using when used from inside of them. It's a system that isn't incredibly difficult to learn how to use effectively, and I got the sense that if I were better at these games, I could have been doing even more with it than I was. Also, I can't remember specifics, but Abyss might have adhered to the old Tales style of dungeon design as much as Symphonia did. Since I have only played the 3DS remake, I get mixed up as to where the original release falls in relation to Symphonia, but they're definitely cut from the same cloth.

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    vocalcannibal

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    Dang, it's been a while since I really thought about ToS. That was my first big JRPG, and I never considered it against the entire series' approach to romance. Unsurprisingly, I didn't find Collette particularly interesting so her potential romance with Lloyd barely registered for me. On the other hand, I found Sheena compelling as hell. Even as a kid, I though the groups of characters from the two worlds were really well written companions to each other, and Sheena and Lloyd were the best example of that duality.

    Collette was just kind of a clumsy cardboard cutout they needed to move the plot forward. You could say it's a consequence of being a 'chosen one' type character, but they did so much more with Zelos that I don't think it works as an excuse.

    Basically, your description of how using character tropes can help or hinder a plot makes a lot of sense to me. It's weird how they took care to add dimension to other characters, but seem to just let others coast by on their tropes alone. I know they trrriiiied to make Collette subversive by teaching her not to be blindly self-sacrificing throughout the game, but putting another cliche on top of her original one didn't do much for me. The Tales series is weird, man.

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    generic_username

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    #7  Edited By generic_username

    @vocalcannibal: I mean, Colette is a "Christ-figure" style of character in every sense of the term. Like, she's basically close as you can get to that archetype without telling the actual biblical story word-for-word.

    The only other criticism I have for the cast of ToS is that Presea and Regal (Regal especially) are really underdeveloped. I realized this over the course of a pretty recent playthrough. They each get one or two moments in the sun, but as far as their relationships with the rest of the cast (Lloyd especially) are concerned, there's not a whole lot there. The story would actually function perfectly fine if they and their plot threads were removed from it entirely. I don't think that applies to any of the other characters.

    Zelos is rad in his subversion of the "chosen one" thing. NEAR ENDGAME SPOILER, AND A MAJOR ONE AT THAT: The fact that depending on your choices, he can fully betray you and you have to fucking kill him is such a cool, unexpected thing that ToS does.

    I have plans to write up a super in-depth post about ToS in the future, but it was basically my first JRPG too, not counting Paper Mario, so it holds a special place in my heart. I have a lot to say about it, and I want to make sure I say it right. It'll be a while before I write the whole thing.

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    vocalcannibal

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    @generic_username: I agree! A lot! Maybe it's my own personal bias, but ToS always stood out to me as a game that could have been perfect. I never played many other Tales games (still haven't gotten close to beating Abyss despite owning it for nearly 8 years, mostly because I don't like the characters), but the only other JRPS I've dumped over 100+ hours into have been Paper Mario TTYD, Persona 4, and Persona 3 Portable. It's clunky and has problems, but ToS was really something special when it came out.

    What I wouldn't give for a re-release that tweaked the gameplay and gave characters like Presea and Regal more time. I mean, Zelos gets SO MUCH compared to nearly everyone else. He turns against the church that supports (and exploits) him, can betray you for real, overcomes prejudices against half-elves, has backstory involving his mom and sister hating him, and clearly empathizes with Sheena for feeling like an outcast. And I know I'm still missing a LOT of the other stuff he's involved in. I wish threads that develop your party members were mandatory in games like these. :T

    Alternately, I think the game had way too many mid-level villains. The Grand Cardinals had cool designs but barely did anything but show up, posture about how great they were, and then die. That time could have been better spent elsewhere.

    Anyway, good luck with your post! It's nice to see people still ruminating over games that were pretty formative for me, haha. There's clearly a lot that could be said about it as a whole.

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    generic_username

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    @vocalcannibal: I also like how the main protagonist of ToS isn't the "chosen one" of the story himself, he merely accompanies them.

    Thanks for the kind words!

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    Anyone remember "Project Rainfall"? You know, the three Wii RPGs people begged for? Generally speaking, most only remember Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story.

    But there was a third one, Pandora's Tower. And that one's basically all about the relationship of your main character and his girlfriend, who's slowly changing into a hideous creature unless you feed her flesh you gathered from the monsters you killed. It's really interesting how they made this the central focus and not something I've ever seen before. Hell, the game has several different endings that are pretty much solely influenced by the affection level and have WILDLY different outcomes.

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    generic_username

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    @paulunga: That definitely sounds like a unique premise, especially for a JRPG. I'll have to add it to my ever-expanding-into-infinity backlog.

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    Songhunter

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    #12  Edited By Songhunter

    I wonder if you guys remember the rather convoluted plot of Xenogears in the ps1. I know it comes a bit out of left field since we're talking about Tales, but if I may open the funnel a bit to jrpg's in general and how they handle the romance factor Xenogears comes straight to mind. A game about mechas, gods, a shitload of abrahamic mistical references (like Final Fantasy plus Neon genesis evangelion times a 1000), monsters, the end of the world and all that jazz. But leaving the rather messy and interesting (in my opinion) plot aside, the story focuses quite a bit on the relationship between the two main characters.

    Sure, when push comes to shove it suffers from a case of destined boy meets destined girl, but it's a slow burn, and in my opinion, handled in a much more mature fashion that any other JRPG I've personally played. It also helps that for once both main characters are adults, not teenagers, and I was glad that the writers kept that in mind.

    Another one that stands up in my memory is Valkyrie Profile. But then again, that game takes every page from various gothic novels and sticks to that style with zealous rigor (And considering you meet every main character as they're about to die, you can have a pretty good guess if those romances land more on happy or on a sommer note).

    And going back to the Tales at hand. Thought both Legendia and Abyss where decent enough. On story I liked ToS better, although I had a big problem with Lloyd. He's just one of those MC's I could never get behind. His clothes were stupid. His face was stupid. His whole self is one big ball of stupid. That said, I liked that game quite a bit, specially the last third of so.

    Does that ever happen to you guys? A main character that, mabye through no fault of his or her own, you just can't stand?

    In my case I have to say Lloyd and Tidus. Got no problem with them, but they can go straight to hell.

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    generic_username

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    #13  Edited By generic_username

    @songhunter: I'm actually in the process of writing a very long piece about ToS that has an extended section where I explain why I like Lloyd, coincidentally! I like how his character arc seems based around growing up by learning to doubt the way you think, act, and feel. The events in Iselia force him to realize that, as Kratos says later on, "Incompetent good intentions will only bring tragedy." And seeing Kratos's abilities far outshining his own causes him to realize that he has a lot of room to improve. And his whole arc is kind of like that. By accepting that he is not perfect and that he makes mistakes, he is able to become a better person.

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    GrayFox666

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    Tales of Vesperia kind of changed my life....I'm actually serious. It came at a time in my life were I was really struggling with medical issues and turned JRPGs from a genre I hated but never really tried enough to legitimately hate to my favorite genre. Since then I have played about every famous JRPG ever including all FF games without nostalgia attached. The Tales series is interesting my favorites are 1. Vesperia 2. Abyss and 3. Symphonia but I was playing Berseria and it could easily break into the top 3. Had to put it down because TOO MANY GAMES but I'll pick it up again. Hearts R is one of the better vita RPGs but it is very cliche even for a Tales game

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    GrayFox666

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    @songhunter: Xenogears has a great Romance and Plot unfortunately the second half of the game is a disaster because they ran out of money.

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    generic_username

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    @grayfox666: Tales of Vesperia is a fantastic entry in the series. I want to do a deep dive on that game at some point, particularly on Yuri's murders, and how well-presented those moments are and how unique that particular aspect of his character is compared to other JRPG protagonists.

    Other people, do not reveal that spoiler if you haven't played the game! It's a really powerful and surprising part of Tales of Vesperia.

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    GrayFox666

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    @generic_username: it is and I don't think it gets enough credit for breaking conventions especially for JRPGs

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    paulunga

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    #18  Edited By paulunga

    @generic_username said:

    @paulunga: That definitely sounds like a unique premise, especially for a JRPG. I'll have to add it to my ever-expanding-into-infinity backlog.

    Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised by that aspect. It's a fairly short game by JRPG standards since it's more of an action-RPG. Maybe 15-20 hours? Add another 5 for all the endings.

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    wchigo

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    Vaan? From FF XII.

    On second thought... it was definitely his fault.

    I wonder if you guys remember the rather convoluted plot of Xenogears in the ps1. I know it comes a bit out of left field since we're talking about Tales, but if I may open the funnel a bit to jrpg's in general and how they handle the romance factor Xenogears comes straight to mind. A game about mechas, gods, a shitload of abrahamic mistical references (like Final Fantasy plus Neon genesis evangelion times a 1000), monsters, the end of the world and all that jazz. But leaving the rather messy and interesting (in my opinion) plot aside, the story focuses quite a bit on the relationship between the two main characters.

    Sure, when push comes to shove it suffers from a case of destined boy meets destined girl, but it's a slow burn, and in my opinion, handled in a much more mature fashion that any other JRPG I've personally played. It also helps that for once both main characters are adults, not teenagers, and I was glad that the writers kept that in mind.

    Another one that stands up in my memory is Valkyrie Profile. But then again, that game takes every page from various gothic novels and sticks to that style with zealous rigor (And considering you meet every main character as they're about to die, you can have a pretty good guess if those romances land more on happy or on a sommer note).

    And going back to the Tales at hand. Thought both Legendia and Abyss where decent enough. On story I liked ToS better, although I had a big problem with Lloyd. He's just one of those MC's I could never get behind. His clothes were stupid. His face was stupid. His whole self is one big ball of stupid. That said, I liked that game quite a bit, specially the last third of so.

    Does that ever happen to you guys? A main character that, mabye through no fault of his or her own, you just can't stand?

    In my case I have to say Lloyd and Tidus. Got no problem with them, but they can go straight to hell.

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