I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I got this from our editor to review. When I got into it, I wondered if it wasn’t just a visual novel with a few bits of combat tossed in after the first few hours. When it does get into the combat though there was something to sink my teeth into and ended up being a great strategy RPG with a really in-depth story built into it. This is definitely one of those strategy RPGs that puts an emphasis on giving you a reason to fight those battles and is well worth the time to play through all the cutscenes. Let’s take a look.
The game takes place in Hispania when the old gods have been forgotten and the kingdom has been taken over by an evil country calling itself the Divine Empire. Forcing the people of Hispania to fall under their religions, they’ve taken to forming work camps to dismantle the temples of Hispania to create the temples to the Divine Empire’s god. To do this they’ve actually managed to wrangle the heir to the throne of Hispania into doing their work for them and he’s whipped and beaten on a regular basis while he dismantles the temples of his old gods with the people of his nation. Things get complicated when a girl shows up at an old altar stuck under a tree and Hamil, the heir to he Barca throne, is forced to save her from being stuck. The girl claims to be one of their forgotten goddesses and gets Hamil to call her Tarte. Hamil is a bit suspicious considering the girl couldn’t even free herself, but she tries her best and even comforts him with a song to ease some of his pain from the beatings he’d taken.
While this is going on the rebellion, made up of members of the area Hamil is from, are plotting to keep an eye on Hamil and to plan their first outing against the Divine Empire. Made up of retired soldiers, local villagers and teachers, they’re strong in spirit but definitely wouldn’t be up to the task of taking on an Empire as they are. Things escalate when the Divine Empire decides to hijack a local festival and use Hamil as a symbol for turning everyone in Hispania into slaves and on top of that sacrificing Tarte as a symbol for the end of their belief in their old gods. Things don’t go as planned as the rebellion begins to tear into the Empire’s troops and Hamil snaps from the years of abuse, realizing his time to act is now, and seeing Tarte up to be sacrificed and unleashes his potential power and rallies the people of Hispania into action. From there we’re introduced to a chunk of villains within the Divine Empire and traitors to Hispania as well as the faces of the rebellion. It is a slow starting story after a rather explosive opening that actually takes place about five to six hours into the game before we’re catapulted back to the events leading up to the very opening sequence. Once you’re into it though, the payoff for getting into the lives of the characters a bit is that you actually care about what they’ve been going through before the fighting erupts and gives some meat to the battles you’re going through.
The game uses a combination of 3D animated battlers and environments with a more traditional grid fighting area and using the hand-drawn artwork to emphasize the story elements to the game. The cutscene elements, which are extremely lengthy, use both the 3D models and backgrounds which look very simplistic but then use the hand-drawn sprites to better emote and give a better interaction along with the dialogue you’re reading through. The artwork looks fantastic and elevates what would be somewhat lackluster and very simplistic animations and models for the characters and environments. Strategy RPGs tend to be a bit behind on pushing the visual aspects of the system and this one doesn’t push them much either. There are a few segments using full blown animation but the majority of what you’ll see is the standard character portraits. Atlus made the choice in bringing the game over to preserve the original Japanese audio so if you’re looking for an English audio version you won’t find that here. The musical score isn’t too distracting during the lengthy cutscenes but it’s also a bit generic. The sound effects follow along with the music in being a bit generic but do the job.
You do have a few options when it comes to getting through the long cutscenes between battles. If you want to be more engaged you can advance the dialogue on your own, and yes you’ll end up skipping over the dialogue being voice acted to hit the next line if you trigger early, or you can go in to have the scenes simply play out automatically. I ended up doing that to time out how long the opening into sequence was to the game along with the small handful of battles through there and it works out ok, but it’ll lead to long periods of not touching the controller between battles. The way the menu’s work in combat are a little strange. If your turn is done and you don’t really have anything to do you have to find your own empty square to bring up the menu instead of simply giving you the menu to end your turn. And when you have a really limited placement and no real way to change things out at the start of your turn the same thing applies to the deployment menu. Attacking an enemy also requires a double confirm on the attack command which is all very weird considering one of the bigger options in the game which is the rewind feature that let’s you back up a number of steps in combat if you’ve screwed up.
Combat is turn based and laid out on a grid system. Each turn you can move and then another action. Movement is determined by the character and placement of enemies on the grid. Attacks and ranges are determined by the weapons a character has and if they have any magic. You have a limited number of units you can deploy in any stage, but they’ve added in an elephant and a chariot you can deploy from. If either of them get taken out though you can’t deploy any more troops. One of the more interesting features is an option to move back into your actions within a phase called Rewind. Basically if you screwed up a bit into your turn but you’ve figured out your mistake and can re-dploy another way or take a different action in turn Five to save turn Twelve, you can rewind back to Five and play it all out differently. This won’t help you with missed attacks at all, but will help you if you left someone who’s completely outmatched versus an enemy to move them someplace safer or get a more balanced fight out of a group. This isn’t an easy button and it has limits but it does keep you from ending up with a total disaster on your hands in the harder fights.
Affecting combat, as I mentioned, is an elemental set-up for each character. This is also tied into what they call the elemental cycle. Each element is tied into a rotation to get a favored state within the cycle. The favored state gives that element a bonus on attacks and not getting hit and increases spell damage for that turn. So on top of being strong to one element and weak to another you can really take advantage of that by hitting them on the right element cycle. To go along with the elements, characters develop a chain stock which builds up over time with hits and taking damage. The chain stocks lead to consecutive strikes on melee attack or boosts to magical attacks. During matches you also have to watch out for traps, hazards and treasure chests which can be a hindrance and provide a nice boost to you as well. No RPG would be complete without items helping out and there are a variety of them here as well as a crafting system that gets introduced later into the game.
The game is very linear and the opening sequence that goes on for almost six hours if you let it run by itself along with very few save instances is a big stumbling block to replaying this game. My first time playing I ended up having to replay a full thirty minute segment as I had to leave for work and there wasn’t a place to save when I needed to quit. Later on in the game this is far less of an issue as most of the segments aren’t nearly as long and you can save far more often. You can split out your saves into separate files if you ever want to skip beyond that initial run and there is a lot to keep playing even after the initial story with an extra segment complete with a fifty floor dungeon to play through. Going back to the beginning though maybe a little rough for most people unless you really like the story. There are trophies for the hunters out there as well.
Tears to Tiara II does start out almost ridiculously easy as you move through the mechanics and play through with optional tutorials at the start. Around the halfway mark the difficulty kicks up as you’ve already learned the mechanics but it gets a bit tougher. Ok more than a little bit tougher. The rewind mechanic does come in oh so handy at that point. For what you’re getting price-wise, you’re looking at a fairly typical Japanese RPG in play time length at around eighty hours but an added bonus after the main story is a fifty level dungeon that you can work through along with the extra scenario. There’s plenty of content to play through and while there can be a long stretch of scenes where all you’re doing is advancing the dialogue, it’s about the same combat to story ratio you’d get from any other RPG out there.
They do try a few different things compared to other strategy rpgs I’ve played in the past. Although there are a few things that seem familiar, they do enough different with the story and pacing that changes it up enough to not feel like something else you’ve played. The different characters also help with that. This has an air of comfort-ability about it from the setting to the characters and the world set-up but at the same time it’s not exactly like anything else I’ve played before. The one big thing I think that is a major change is the big lead in the game takes to tell the back story behind the rebellion and it’s initial participants. While you might get a hint of it with other games this one definitely takes the time to paint its picture as to why everything is going on. This may not be everyone’s need or want and while I do think it drags on a bit at the start, it’s a more interesting way to get into character’s heads by showing you the lead up to the rebellion as opposed to just jumping in the first few moments of it.
The start of the game is a bit slow after an explosive start. The start isn’t really enough to spur things on as it can initially drag, but once you’re passed those first few slow spots and simpler battles, the game does pick up and becomes a lot more engaging. It’s very easy to put down at the beginning when the save points are separated by long bouts of story development without it seeming like much is going on but it’s definitely worth going through that to get into the rest of the story and battles. There are a lot of games coming out this week, but if you’re looking for a new strategy RPG to play and hadn’t imported this one already it’s definitely worth picking up. The art looks great and although the 3D end of it is a bit dated like most strategy RPGS tend to be, it does play pretty well once you get around the quirks of the menu and combat system.
While I would have liked an English audio set for the game to go along with the Japanese audio, it’s not a make or break deal for me. The Japanese voice actors do a great job with this and for as long as I’ve been watching sub-only anime it feels fairly natural any more. I do wish the menu’s flowed a little better and didn’t feel so clunky while looking and working as they should. The need to confirm everything a second time feels counter-productive especially with the rewind feature for battles. Other than that I didn’t really have many issues with the game. Yes I’ve harped on the slow burn but for once when the action started I was grateful we had some time with the characters before all hell broke loose. The characters are charming and it definitely kept me going through the game because of it. Definitely something you’ll like if you like strategy RPGs with an emphasis on the reasons why you’re fighting instead of battle after battle.
Short Attention Span Summary
Tears to Tiara II has a slow start to it, but once it gets full gear with its story it’s a much more engaging game with a tighter story-telling mechanism to go along with a really well done turn-based Strategy RPG. Utilizing an element system to determine strength and weaknesses between units adds a classic strategy element to the game but change it up a little so it’s not determined on class, but the element representing your unit. The characters are a lot of fun and each of them is given some injection of personality and history so they’re not just carbon cut-outs. I do think this won’t be everyone. It’s fairly linear and does take almost six hours before it really gets going, but when it gets going it definitely keeps the pace up. If you can get into a slow-burn starting story with some interesting characters you’ll be in for a treat.