The Tears to Tiara series has been around for while in Japan, with its original PC and later PS3 release in the mid-2000's with a follow-up released a little while after. That second game, Heir of the Overlord, is the game that Atlus has decided to localize and bring over to western audiences as the series' debut. It's a welcome addition as there's been a dire lack of Japanese-inspired Strategy RPGs released as of late, even if it's one that doesn't bring any new major changes to the genre.
Tears to Tiara II's world opens up in the kingdom of Hispania, where its citizens are thrown into heavy labor and taxation after the evil empire trying to take territory around the world overtakes their land. In an interesting twist, the sole surviving member of Hispania's ruling family, Hamil, decides to live a life on subjugation over leading a rebellion against the empire in an attempt to quell further bloodshed, even if it means he'll be mocked by the citizens for doing nothing in their eyes.
Of course this would make for a boring strategy RPG, so Hamil ends up being approached by a young woman named Tarte who claims to be an human incarnation of Ashtarte, the deity god Hispania used to worship prior to the kingdom's takeover. After being thrust into a war against the empire due to events out of his control, Hamil discovers he has the ability to channel the power of a war god. Using this power he might have the chance to overtake the empire and reclaim the land his kingdom lost.
If this sounds like a lengthy tale, you'd be absolutely correct. Tears to Tiara II is a far cry from other well-known SRPGs such as the Disgaea series, tackling often overlooked subjects such as persecution, revenge and walking the fine line between getting that revenge or letting it consume you entirely. Outside of the battles, Tears to Tiara II plays much like a visual novel-type game with talking, sometimes animated portraits talking back and forth with one another.
There's the typical anime-inspired clichÃ©s at work here with the young goddess, buxom female villains and people transforming complete with hair changes. But the story uses these clichÃ©s in an intriguing way by using them only to relate to the player and not falling into the trap of letting them mold the characters into the clichÃ©s they're echoing. This is helped immensely by Atlus's localization of the game which outside of a few grammatical issues is superbly sound.
The flip side to this, however, is that at times the characters delve into the minutest details about a particular situation. This creates an issue similar to games such as the Xenosaga or Metal Gear Solid series where story sequences drag on much longer than they should and there's no way to perform a quick save until you get past these sequences and the game decides you can have the ability to do so. If you enjoy a good story with your SRPG gameplay, you'll likely not mind this. But for those who care more about the gameplay than the story, this might be a detriment as the story will likely take 50+ hours for most players to finish, not even taking into consideration the post-game content that is available.
The battles in Tears to Tiara II take place in an isometric-style approach, similar to that of the Final Fantasy Tactics series. Like that series, launching an attack from the opponent's rear will deal more damage than a frontal or side assault. Also, like Tactics you have the choice of long-ranged or direct attacks with the former being safer but less effective damage-wise and the latter having a bigger risk-to-reward ratio.
There are some key features exclusive to the game, though. In Tears to Tiara II enemies can't go outside a set area surrounding an allied unit, which makes using ranged units more interesting because you can utilize them to make the opponent move where you want if done correctly. The game also includes a turn rewind system which lets you wind back the clock if you make a battle-ending mistake instead of needing to restart the entire battle, which in the latter half of the game can lead to some longer battles. That said, the outcomes of attacks and other aspects will stay the same if you rewind, so if an enemy gets a lucky crit on a character and kills them, rewinding won't save them. Tears to Tiara II also has a system similar to the one found in Disgaea where you can swap out units and tame enemy monsters to use as your units in battle, although with the former you have to wait a turn to redeploy them.
These systems are all executed well, but there are some balancing issues that should be mentioned. While the battles aren't sadistic in the sense that Natural Doctrine's was in forcing the player to play like they imagined, the reliance of the game on grinding out for experience and levelling will force some players to grind for extra hours to pass particular higher-levelled battles.
Graphically things are a bit of a mixed bag. The locales have some nice detail to them but feel like a higher-end PS2 game than a PS3 release, drawing parallels to Disgaea 3 which really didn't feel HD-ified until Disgaea 4's release. The characters have that chibi-ified look to them with large heads and arms which contrast heavily when pitted against the dramatic themes the story is trying to put forth. It's odd considering the artwork in the animated and full-screen cutscenes actually fits quite well, so one wonders why the in-game sequences weren't done in a similar fashion.
On the audio front things are simply sublime. Most Japanese RPGs, both in the traditional and strategy sense, feel like their tracks are crafted separately from one another with no connections between one another. Tears to Tiara II's musical works each feel like they fit with one another by their basic motifs but without feeling like they're overly reused from track to track. The pacing is also well applied as emotional and important scenes have a slower tone to them while battles and critical scenes have a naturally faster tone to them.
A rarity for an Atlus release, Tears to Tiara II includes Japanese voices only. Fans of that language will be in love here as many well-known artists consist of the game's cast. But if you feel like a high-pitched female Japanese voice is like nails-on-a-chalkboard you can disable the voices entirely if you so wish.
Tears to Tiara II is a competent strategy RPG, but the long-winded story in the views of some and the early-generation graphical presentation might turn off some of the non-hardcore players of the genre. For those who put their time into the game, Tears to Tiara II is a deeply rich and rewarding game with plenty to see even if it takes a while to do so.
|A lengthy, but excellently written narrative.|
|Provides some unique twists on the strategy RPG genre.|
|If you like Japanese voices, you're in lucky as the game only includes them.|
|On the flip side, for dub fans this game is Japanese voiced only.|
|Graphically it feels like an earlier PS3 game at times.|
|Can't perform quick saves, which becomes a problem for a few of the longer scenes in the game.|