Title: Tears to Tiara 2: Heir of the Overlord
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 10/14/2014
Platform: PlayStation 3
Platform Reviewed On: PlayStation 3 (Pre-release Reviewer Copy)
Tears to Tiara 2: Heir of the Overlord, not to be confused with 80’s rock band, Tears for Fears, is one of those games that is best described as being uniquely Japanese in design and aesthetic. Drawing upon anime-styled character designs and visual novel inspired story sequences to deliver an experience that you will not often find in the western gaming world. This is both a good and bad thing, as these combined elements tend to be rather polarizing to audiences and will likely divide those who play the game into two camps: those who thoroughly enjoy it for its unique nature and the risks it takes along the way, and those who find the experience ruined by the incredibly dated graphics, lack of an English dub, and long periods of exposition with little gameplay in between.
The Tears to Tiara series began in 2005 with the PC release of the first game in the series, a tactical RPG much like the one I’m reviewing now, backed by traditional Visual Novel elements, a Japanese medium in which a story is accompanied by art and often voice acting. This includes speech portrayed primarily by drawings of characters in various poses accompanied by a text box and, unfortunately, sex scenes as per the style of the time to take serious plots and shoehorn sexual content into them to appeal to the erotic games crowd. A few years later, in 2009, the game would be ported to the PS3 and PSP with all of the sexual content removed. Tears to Tiara 2 was announced in 2011 and finally released in 2013 for the PS3, with the English version arriving in stores as we speak.
In Tears to Tiara 2, you play as Hamil, the last heir to the house of Barca, an illustrious family that once ruled over the land of Hispana before it was overrun by the cruel Holy Empire. With its people enslaved, taxed to death, and forced to renounce their faith in the face of the Empire, an underground movement rallies itself around the flag of House Barca, hoping that Hamil, the weak boy that he is, eventually turns face and takes up his father’s role as a proper ruler to the people of his land.
Along the way Hamil meets Tarte, a mysterious girl who claims to be the goddess worshiped by the people of Hispana before the country’s fall, who spurs him to take action and reclaim the lands his father once ruled seven years prior. These events eventually set the stage for a story of rebellion, as Hamil takes over as head of the resistance and slowly consolidates his power, gaining new allies and liberating the people of Hispana and beyond from the Empire’s cruel rule as he does.
Overall, Tears to Tiara 2’s plot is a rather basic one, with an oppressed people lorded over by an evil empire. But what really sells the plot is the characters themselves and, in particular, their voice acting. Hamil goes from being a meek lad who seems like he is incapable of much of anything, to the fiery leader of the resistance in a manner that is exciting, based just on how well his voice actor can switch tones from a soft and unwilling voice to one filled with anger and murderous rage at the drop of a hat. Other characters, such as Tarte, have above average voice actors as well. It is Hamil however, who really sells the plot with his transformation from a meek boy to the competent head of House Barca.
Before moving onto how the game plays, I will also note that the art in Tears to Tiara 2 is fairly standard anime fare, featuring doe-eyed girls with strange hair colors and other recognizable tropes in its cast. This is not really a bad thing, however, as the artwork is colorful, clean, and expressive in a way that conveys the emotion of the characters well, especially given that most of the game’s plot is advanced by sprites of the characters speaking to one another. We are also treated, much as we would be in a visual novel, to the occasional CG scene when a particularly important event takes place. These in particular look rather nice and fit the mood of the game perfectly, serving as a break from the talking heads that normally serve to advance the game’s plot.
All right, I’ve praised the games art direction, characters, and plot, but how does it play? The answer is… pretty well actually. At the core of all the dialogue and anime-style art lies a very competent tactical RPG. Rather then succumbing to the grind-filled mess that often plagues other games in the genre, such as every SRPG every made by Nippon Icchi, Tears to Tiara instead focuses on its core gameplay and spicing up said gameplay with a number of sub-systems and other quirks that serve to set it apart from the typical game in the genre.
Battles in Tears to Tiara 2 are carried out on a square filled battlefield, with movement, attack, and other statistics defined on a character by character basis. Enemies and allies each take a single turn, in which you can move each character in any order you please, rather than relying on a speed statistic that many tactical RPG’s rely on. As per usual, you then command your troops to move across the battlefield, slaying enemies in their path with magic and other special techniques, and then finally ending the affair once all your foes have fallen. In other words, pretty typical SRPG gameplay.
What truly sets Tears to Tiara 2 apart from the crowd is its willingness to try new, and sometimes silly, things to spice up its gameplay. This is evident even early on when Tarte introduces the party to an elephant named Noa. In any other game this event would have been played for laughs then promptly forgotten; but not here. Noa not only joins the party on the field of battle, serving as a mobile troop transport, but also as a combatant itself, goring foes with its mighty tusks and somehow casting magic in a capacity that really makes little sense if you think about it for too long. On top of this, Noa can also be ridden by several of the game’s characters, as can some of the game’s other wild monsters via the special Charm ability. Also new to the game is the Chain Beat system, a gauge that builds over time and allows players to make multiple physical attacks per turn by utilizing a rhythmic button pressing mini-game, similar to those found in the Super Mario RPG series of games.
Overall, combat is easy, fun, and never feels like too much of a grind. This is good, seeing as this combat is the meat of Tears to Tiara’s gameplay, and is what will keep you coming back long after the story has ended and you move on to the game’s bonus content. (Which I will not spoil, because it is kind of neat.)
So the gameplay is fun and the art is colorful and perfectly suited to the mood of the game; is there anything wrong with Tears to Tiara 2? Well, in so many words, yes. There is quite a bit wrong with the game. To begin, Tears to Tiara 2 runs on an engine so hopelessly dated that it could have been passed off as a late generation PS2 game and features unexpressive character models rendered in a super deformed manner in which all characters are shrunken into a tiny representation of their self and given a huge head so that you can clearly see their faces. While this does make sense given the game’s visual novel heritage, as titles within the medium rarely feature anything in the way of real graphics, but here actually manages to distract from the actual game as massive battles and tender moments alike are carried out by the same bobble-headed models time and time again. This is a major problem, perhaps the game’s biggest, and will likely turn off many gamers who are used to having their RPGs have state-of-the-art graphics.
Also detracting from the overall experience is the sheer length of the game’s first chapter, which lasts between 3 and 5 hours depending on how quickly you speed through the game’s dialogue. This portion of the game features a mere three battles, less than one per hour of exposition and dialogue, and was a massive turn-off before I realized that the game takes on a much more normal pace from the second chapter onward. But it is bad game design to force a player to sit through hours of cutscenes to get to the desired gameplay, and this is another major strike against Tears to Tiara 2 that I simply cannot excuse.
Overall, however, if you can get past the regressive graphics and lengthy first chapter you will be rewarded with one of the best tactical RPGs on the PS3. But if you can’t get past those two things, well that is another story entirely…
I give Tears to Tiara 2: Heir of the Overlord a 7/10.
- An engaging story illustrated with vibrant and colorful art
- Wonderful Japanese voice acting
- A willingness to try new things
- A fun battle system
- Interesting characters
- A lengthy first chapter that can ruin the experience for many before they get to the meat of the gameplay.
- Graphics so dated that they would have looked out of place five years ago.
- A lack of an English dub.
- References to the first Tears to Tiara are lost on an audience, myself included, who most likely never played the game.
- Despite being half visual novel, the player cannot influence the plot with dialogue decisions. A hallmark of the medium.