Monday, 10 November 2014

Review: Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord (PS3)

Tears of Joy or a novel horror?

Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is an upcoming Playstation 3 Tactical role-playing game title developed by Aquaplus and published by NIS for EU it is the latest in the Tears to Tiara franchise made up of two games ,manga and anime series. It is the first game to be released outside of Japan and will be available to buy November the 11th 2014.

The game itself is a heady mix of visual novel and TRPG and its story revolves around various mythology’s and belief systems from around the world. Theories and ideology’s have been adopted and incorporated by the developer in order to provide a in-depth story that most people will be able to associate with in one way or another, spanning from various religions to numerology even oppression and rebellion themes.

The title has a heavy emphasis around the visual novel side of things providing in-depth story telling and narrative of Hamilcar Barka the last remaining member of the Hispania royal family, and his struggles to free his land and people from the tyranny of the empire with the aid of his friends and the goddess of the Ba’al tarte.

The story revolves mainly around the previously mentioned overlord Hamilcar the leader of Hispania, a land oppressed by the empire while taxed to extremes and forced to endure labour and cruelty at their hands. He quietly endures this for 7 years playing the the fool feigning innocence and madness while in secretly continuing his late fathers work on small scale disposing of the worst of the tyrants until he is forced into the spotlight as leader of the rebellion.

His main goal is the safety of his people, under the empires rule they are heavily taxed and endure forced labour, which leads him to wonder if accepting subjugation would enable his people to live freely as subjects of the empire but when he realises they would have to forgo all rights and accept slavery he is forced to act and front the rebellion to free his people altogether from under the heel of their oppressors. however due to events beyond his control an alternative personality is forced to the surface and in place of the innocent youth with no clue of the world is a smart tactical man with a blood lust and intellect far exceeding that of any normal man, almost portraying a psychotic mad man at times. With the aid of his goddess he takes charge of the rebellion and continues his fathers work driven by a deep desire for revenge and to protect his people at any and all costs.

The bulk of the game is set around the Visual novel storytelling aspects which could bore those who prefer a more interactive experience and even though the story is both in-depth and enjoyable, spending upwards of 4 hours without having any input beyond progressing the narrative I found rather tedious and I would have preferred if it had been broken up with a few more battles or perhaps being able to determine the course of the story by presenting the ability to make choices and branching dialogue paths. Having said that however the story is a lot better than most traditional RPGs and in my estimation is one of the best of recent years, providing a solid story along with presenting the views and opinions of your companions and foes in great depth. However the drawback of this level of information is it can become somewhat confusing and at times a little difficult to process, though I myself have an interest in mythology, spiritual beliefs and cultures there are a number of topics discussed at great length that I have not come across. When presented with two or perhaps even three differing idealisms or religions at once on top of the games story it becomes very easy to mix one thing up for another if you don’t take the time to process it carefully. Another slight downside is the fact that for a 12 rated game, some of the language used can be difficult to understand which again can cause a level of confusion about what is going on.

All of this initially dwarfs the TRPG side of the game but it never goes so far as to destroy the gameplay elements but rather compliments them, as once the slow initial hours of back story are concluded the RPG aspects begin to meld well with the story even if annoyingly the visual novel segments still far exceed the actual game play in length but offering a entertaining narrative while giving you the power to progress it or end it when battles roll around, this becomes more frequent and gives much shorter bursts of text in a single sitting however still offering the brilliant story line and a TRPG that has an intricate system, after all not every story has a happy ending.

The aforementioned TRPG aspect of the game really comes into play when there is a battle in the story line and when you enter zones like training grounds from the world map. Battles take place on a stage divided up by a grid that contains not only your self and foes but also chests, enemy & ally fortifications and environmental aspects from rivers and large stones down to barrels, boxes and more. You must move each of your players in turn to attack, use magic, open chests or destroy things to complete your objective and or bonus conditions and progress. This side of the game is well done and sticks to well known basic structures while adding certain more unusual elements such as beast riding, character transformations, rewinding time , on the fly party member changes and chain attacks as well as optional dungeon training. Each battle faces you with varying conditions and objectives like killing enemy leaders or destroying particular objects, this is supplemented with bonus conditions such as killing a set amount of enemies with a suggested character or to kill certain enemies in an order. At the culmination of each battle you are awarded with a Rank, raising this rank by meeting set conditions including not being over-levelled, not restarting or becoming incapacitated will net you better items and more cash used to purchase items and equipment to prepare for the next stage.

The combat features several skills that allow for alternative tactics, the most obvious is Hamilcar's transformation ability into the god of war which apart from changing his appearance and adding new skills also improve his stats to such an extent that at level 8 he was able to easily fell a level 15 enemy. This kind of ability of course comes with restrictions, requirements and penalties for use, first of all a charge bar is filled as damage is given and received by Hamilcar which once activated gives you two turns to cause as much damage as possible, after those two turns are concluded he enters a fatigued state for a single turn where his stats are lowered to the point that he becomes a walking pane of glass, which if you are not careful with its use can end up being game over rather quick. So far in my playthrough only Hamilcar has this ability, but without giving out spoilers I believe other characters might possibly possess this ability too.

The next combat feature I personally enjoyed a lot is Tartes ability to mount Noah the Elephant, another playable character in battle. When this occurs their stats are combined allowing for large amounts of damage and a much higher defence, the exchange here being a major restriction of mobility. This ability can turn the tide of battle, but if they happen to be taken out only Noah is KO'd and removed from the battle, allowing Tarte to continue the fight, however this does have a negative impact on the bond between Tarte and Noah.

The third combat ability of note is the use of Quadriga, a unique unit chariot pulled by Noah that functions as the base for your party members and allows you to switch the players on the field during a battle at will, however this only works for as long as Quadriga remains on the field and you are within it's limited range, it proves to be a very useful feature to be able to pull worn out members from the battle and to switch in a fresh fighter.

Finally is the ability to rewind time, though I cover this last it is most likely one of the most useful features if used correctly. With this handy little trick even if the battle fails to go the way you intended you can simply hop back to the beginning of any given turn, however once done there is no going back, for example: If you're on turn 6 and hop back to turn 3 or 4 you cannot pick back up at turn 5 if you make another mistake. Also if an action is repeated in the same way under the same conditions the results will be identical to before the rewind, so if you strike a foe head on and miss then rewind do exactly the same you will still miss, if you hit for 60 and rewind you still hit for 60, however if you choose to approach from the flank or the rear you may hit for 100 making it advantageous to attempt different approaches if the battle is not going your way.

The graphics and animation in this game are that of the "Chibi" art style to help tone down the original adult themes in the initial Japanese release of the original title, themes that were omitted in the later North American re-release.

This art style itself works well with the environments and even meshes well with isometric viewpoints and animation making the visual novel and battle system interesting and pleasant to look at, showing more than static images allowed me a more enjoyable visual experience as a result of witnessing everything else occurring around you, the soundtrack adds to this adapting well to most situations giving additional atmosphere and sense of urgency and emotion to the screens and battles.

After a very difficult first few hours of pure text reading I really started to get into Tears to Tiara, from a storytelling perspective this title is way ahead in its class despite the lack of actual input for the majority of its playtime. It engrossed me and kept me pushing forward to see what would happen next, it also offers a few laughs and shock twists over its suggested 80-100 hour lifespan.

The combat system although rarely straying from the very typical guideline for its genre excluding the examples previously given was smooth, fun and challenging at points, having to think ahead and rewind time to succeed as well as utilising the most of my resources from items, magic, elements and transformations while simultaneously trying to meet the additional combat objectives gave it an enjoyable and multi-layered experience. My only criticism of the combat is that it could have done a little more to make it stand out from the crowd.


Who should play this:
  • Anyone looking for a deep story with twists and humour 
  • Fans of visual novels and Japanese animation 
  • Anyone interested in a game centred around idealisms , theology and varied belief systems. 

Who should avoid:
  • Those who prefer a more action oriented experience or dislike visual novels. 
  • Players who do not have the time or patience to invest in a long and detailed story. 
  • Players who dislike convoluted and potentially confusing storylines 

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