My 2016 ListPartridge Senpai's 2017 Beaten Games:
1. Tales of Hearts R (Vita)
Another year, another Tales game just narrowly beaten past last year's end. Of course, this year was far closer than last years (I think I beat Vesperia on January 8th or something, but whatever). I wanted to beat this yesterday, but I guess I thought I was like 10 hours from the end, when I was actually 20, so I ended up beating it earlier tonight. Not my favorite Tales game, but a very good one none the less. For reference, I played through with the combat difficulty on the default setting, and I hunted around for goodies quite a lot (although completely without a guide), so my end clock was at right around 47 hours.
The combat is very Tales with the Linear Motion Battle System LMBS-ing it up like normal, with a few minor twists as the series is want to do. This is a post-Abyss Tales game, so not only are the battles in 3D environments (like Symphonia), but you can also free-run around in them (like in Abyss). One feature (which was added especially for the Vita remake) is the Chase Link system, which is basically the ability to kick off a super combo where the enemy will be unable to block for a few seconds once they've been sufficiently beat upon. Any member of your party can do it, and it makes combat flow much faster.
The main limit on your Artes is the TC limit of each character, which is very similar to the CC gauge that would appear in Graces, where you can only do so many Artes (but not normal attacks, which are free, unlike Graces) before you need to not attack for a moment to let the gauge recharge. It adds another element to combat that keeps it from being crazy spammy like Vesperia or Abyss were, but TP also ends up not being so much of a problem for users of mainly physical Artes (like the main character can be (and as I played him)). Lastly, there are manually activatable overlimits with the easiest to execute Mystic Artes out of any Tales game I've played so far, which was greatly appreciated (they were so confusing to do in Vesperia and Graces that I basically never even tried to do them on my own). The tutorials on how to do every fighting mechanic are also very good, and are also the best out of any Tales game I've played so far, which was very nice.
The leveling up system is also very unique from any other Tales game I've played. Instead of just getting basic level ups, you get a certain number of AP which you can allocate into any of 5 different sections of your character. Just putting points into a certain section will raise certain stats, but once you put in the required number to level up that section, you'll unlock a new Arte, skill, weapon, or stat boost for that character.
It makes it so you can really make any character play how you want them to play, for the most part. Everyone does have their own unique artes, but everyone does have physical, hybrid, and spell Artes, so you can be a spell slinging main character if you want to. Though because everyone has their own spells, only certain characters can fill certain roles (ex: Only 3 out of 8 characters ever learn healing artes, so only they can be healers, and even then they learn different healing artes). Characters also have bonds between them which level up if they participate in enough battles with each other (and can also be boosted through viewing skits or story events), and once their bonds are high enough, then certain character-exclusive skills can be shared among those who have sufficient bond levels. It makes for very customizable characters, and I'd say that this is the most customizable Tales game I have so far played.
The story, however, is where this game really kills it for me. Tales of Hearts R has a very divided opinion on its story, and for good reason: The game's English translation has a very distinct tonal dissonance with what the original Japanese version had. Couple this with the fact that the game has only Japanese voice overs and only English text, and someone with a knowledge of Japanese like myself got annoyed very quickly that the two were so very different. The Japanese puts across a much more serious, darker tone, while the English lines constantly try to be silly and add in tons of jokes in scenes where they feel really inappropriate (like, every other damn line).
This bad translation is most sour for me, because of the really cool things the story tries to do. The story has the biggest effort out of any Tales game I've played on trying to give its (rather wide cast of) villains, if not realistic, motives that the player can empathize with. Incarose especially, has to be one of my new favorite villains from the series.
Add this in with the fact that Hearts R is a remake of Hearts into which they inserted a brand new character to the main cast (Gall), who generally sticks out as feeling inadequately developed and focused upon compared to the other 7, and you have a story that really isn't up to par with what I'd come to expect from the series. Granted, the story is still quite good and interesting, but it isn't up there with games like Graces or Vesperia in terms of ones that are my all time favorites. This is just a more basic level JRPG story (although I will admit I did cry at once scene, though that is not my end-all judge of how good a story is in an RPG).
Verdict: Recommended. It's a Tales game, so it's obviously gonna be good, but it's not the totally incredible level that I'd come to expect from the late 2000's games. Though, for English speakers, this is probably the best portable Tales experience you're going to get mechanically speaking, I'd probably stick with Abyss on 3DS if you want a more fulfilling story experience.