Love is a battlefield.
It’s always been hard to for me to resist the calling of a good strategy RPG. Ever since Sega’s Shining Force series marched across the 16-bit battlefields of the Genesis, the genre has ensnared me with a strong urge to position my pixelated platoons across sprawling grid-based battlegrounds in pursuit of a strategic victory over the forces of darkness. From Vandal Hearts to Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics and Stella Deus, I’ve waged war across countless entries in this often overlooked genre. Needless to say, when it was announced earlier this year that Atlus would be bringing Aquaplus’ 2013 SRPG epic Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord stateside, it immediately caught my attention.
Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord’s story revolves around Hamil, the lone survivor of Hispania’s royal Barca bloodline. Seven years ago, his father was brutally killed during a failed coup to overthrow the empire, which is under the influence of a mysterious and malevolent cult known as the Divine Order. Since then, Hispania’s people have been under martial law, reduced to slaves for the sadistic empire that occupies its borders. For nearly a decade Hamil has been playing the role of a weak and feeble-minded boy, disinterested in avenging his father’s murder and liberating his homeland. Of course, it doesn’t take long before we discover things aren’t as they seem, and after a chance encounter with a goddess and an explosive turn of events, the flames of rebellion are reignited as he and the Barca faction, a shadow militia loyal to House Barca and its last surviving heir, wage a campaign to beat back the empire and settle the score once and for all.
Needless to say, you’ll need a good stomach for political intrigue and mountains of dialog to get the most out of Tears to Tiara II. While the super deformed aesthetics and cutesy fantasy maidens might make you think otherwise, Aquaplus’ sprawling, 80-hour epic is filled to the brim with mature themes such as copious political chicanery, slavery, murder, and religious extremism. Thankfully, the writing is actually quite exceptional, and it does a fine job of pulling you into the game’s world and fleshing out the game’s sizable cast characters, who all prove to be be both entertaining and almost instantly endearing. While the game doesn’t feature an English voice track, the Japanese voice cast perform quite admirably, offering a very solid delivery all around. While the dialog is engaging, the game does start out quite slow, as you’ll face roughly four hours of exposition with little else but still character portraits to look at before the world opens up and you really get to sink your teeth into the meat of the game; its superb strategy combat.
Clashing swords in Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is similar to that of other strategy RPGs. If you’ve played any grid-based titles before you’ll have no trouble learning the ropes in this adventure. Once you’ve deployed on a map you’ll engage your enemy with the typical assortment of archers, swordsmen, mages, and barbarians. Archers can hit several spaces away but are squishy and ill suited for the frontlines, likewise mages can use their tomes to deal damage from afar, and also unleash powerful elemental attacks but will quickly be picked off by the game’s aggressive A.I. if left vulnerable. The mighty warrior Monomachus wields a spear that can skewer multiple enemies from up to two spaces, and can also take a hit, making him a hearty fighter to have in the forefront of a battle. While all of this treads familiar ground, Tears does do a few things to change the dynamic such as Awakenings, which allow a handful of characters to transform into mighty alternative forms which are both figuratively and literally gods on the battlefield. The only downside to using this ability is that after two turns these characters revert to their mortal forms and need time to recuperate, leaving them unable to move or defend themselves for one turn. This risk versus reward component adds a welcome layer of strategy to the game’s skirmishes, making you choose wisely when to use your most powerful abilities, as the enemy is always eager to exploit your mistakes. Adding another layer of depth to Tears to Tiara II’s multifaceted combat system is the inclusion of “Chain Stocks,” which automatically fill up as you attack your foes or receive damage. These damage-boosting reserves allow for special attacks such as the ability to execute consecutive strikes for characters with physical attacks and boost magic for spell-based units.
Another interesting feature is the ability to ride beasts of burden into the battlefield. Several of your comrades are able to ride war elephants, boars, and other creatures into combat, effectively doubling their hit points and allowing them to cover more ground on the battlefield. Speaking of elephants, your party’s requisite pachyderm also hauls around your caravan, which acts as a spawn point for reinforcements which you can summon to bolster your numbers when a character has fallen on the battlefield. If your caravan is destroyed you’re stuck with the characters on the field, so protecting your elephant and your mobile fortification becomes key in the game’s more grueling encounters. Finally, each and every enemy and character just so happens to have an elemental weakness and affinity. Blasting a foe with an affinity to flame with a torrent of water guarantees some hefty damage will be dealt, additionally, wind is the great equalizer when attacking a creature who shares a bond with the element of earth. Knowing your enemy’s weaknesses becomes key in mastering the game’s most challenging encounters.
Even if you are bested by your opponents, death isn’t always guaranteed. Tears to Tiara II allows you to rewind to earlier turns in a battle, even after meeting your maker. While this may seem like a bit of a cheat, it’s nice having the option to correct a move you may have accidentally committed to, or restart a boss encounter slogging through a 30 minute melee.
Of course, sometimes abilities aren’t enough, and you’ll have to resort to grinding to get your party up to snuff for the task at hand. Thankfully, you can usually dive back into a handful of battles you’ve already completed in any given area to get your party up to speed. However, if you take the time to share the kills and keep your party balanced you shouldn’t need to spend too much time repeating the same old battles.
In terms of presentation, Tears to Tiara II likely won’t knock your socks off with its visuals at first. The character models are fairly basic, and the particle effects for spells and the like are simply passable. Likewise, while the character portraits displayed during story sequences look great, the game would benefit from more in-engine storytelling moments. However, while technically underwhelming, the game features vibrant, eye-popping colors, impressive shadows, and appealing environments. Small touches, like watching gusts of wind blow desert sand over a massive bridge, and silky-smooth character animations make up for the lack of polygonal prowess by rendering a charming and lively world that’s easy on the eyes and runs at a seamless clip.
While the visuals are a bit of a mixed bag, the audio in Tears to Tiara II simply shines. As stated previously, the game’s Japanese voice talent is top-notch, but what really steals the show is the game’s incredible soundtrack. which features a wide variety of suitably epic themes that accompany the action at hand. From mysteriously haunting melodies to grand battle marches, Tears to Tiara II delivers in terms of aural satisfaction. And I’d be criminally remiss not mentioning the game’s driving opening theme (check it out in the trailer above), that is sure to be stuck in your head for days to come after firing up your PS3.
In conclusion, if you’re a fan of strategy RPGs you owe it to yourself to check out Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord. While the game is slow to start, once it picks up speed you’ll be hard pressed to put your controller down. The game is a sprawling epic, and even after you’ve finished Tears’ 80 hour campaign there’s still more to do, with an additional bonus scenario, which features a 50-floor challenge to cap off the game’s already mammoth adventure. With an addicting combat system both easy to pick up and difficult to master, combined with a simply fantastic story, Atlus and Aquaplus have delivered the goods, crafting an engaging adventure well worthy of marching triumphantly onto your Playstation 3. Just be sure to keep the Kleenex handy, it’s enough to make even the most jaded SRPG fan shed a tear of joy.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Playstation 3 (Reviewed); Publisher: Atlus; Developer: Aquaplus; Players: 1; Released: Oct. 14, 2014; Genre: Strategy RPG/Visual Novel; MSRP: $39.99
Note: This review is based on a review copy of the game provided by Tears to Tiara: Heir of the Overlord’s publisher, Atlus.