Lets Reviewing: Tears to Tiara

I am usually a big fan of video games with mixed genre elements. Prime examples of games with well amalgamated features would be Castlevania:Symphony of the Night, which blends RPG elements with gorgeous 2d platforming; Henry Hatsworth, and its odd mix of puzzle and platforming gameplay; or Sakura Taisen’s healthy mix of dating sim elements with TRPG type gameplay. The only issue, if there was one to expect, with mixing genres in a game is trying to keep it from coming off as gimmicky. Melding unorthodox gameplay styles together in an attempt to create a great game is never an easy task. It works like baking, where if you mix too much of one ingredient, your end result is crap.

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This is how Tears in Tiara came off to me. A fluffy cake made with good intentions, yet lacking the proper forethought for a well created final product. TtT, as a game, contains originality for the unique gameplay offered with its battle system. The game is a mix of RTS, Diablo-type RPGs, with Japanese Tactical RPG games. Seemingly, this sounds like a healthy mix, and should be more than enough to have any RPG buff salivating at the chance to play. The problem is how clunky the end result is, which is hampered by a non-existent difficulty, endless scenes of immature character interaction, and story lacking any apparent focus.

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It takes almost a full hour until the first battle in TtT, which, judging from what elements the battle engine was inspired from, should be well worth the wait. As in other RPGs, you have a plethora of character types at your disposal, and their placement on the battle map is key to any success. Anyone with experience with a Tactical RPG should be right at home during the opening battle sequence. What happens next though is somewhat unexpected, yet potentially interesting. Instead of taking turns between the player and the enemy, the game shifts into an RTS mode. The enemies will ether move in to attack automatically, or they will wait in formation until a certain perimeter has been breached by the player. Each of your characters must be issued commands individually, such as where to move, who to attack, or which spell to use. Pretty simple stuff, especially if you’ve played some Starcraft and gained a quick mouse hand.

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All of the action happens in real time, begging a quick eye, and constant monitoring of character stats. On paper, this type of gameplay sounds awesome, but it isn’t without its flaws. Even pumped to its max, the battle speed moves too slow. I’ve seen water travel up faster than how the characters move on the field. I guess the time spent waiting for the eventual clash between player and computer could be used to boost stats. Sadly, there isn’t much in the way of preparation needed in TtT. The only problem I had was with low-def Magic type characters taking the front line, and the brunt of enemy slogging. Gameplay is quickly paused with a simple mouse click though, making predetermined strategies a favorable way to play though the game. Think of it like a 2d simplified version of Knights of the Old Republic’s “queued” system. The best thing to do is have your knights/fighters slice away in the front, while having Ranged/Magic users attack and heal from the back. Certain room shapes allow for easier formations than others, creating situations where I found myself being flanked from monsters appearing through inaccessible doors; while other rooms were simply passed by moving forward, without any care for strategy and tact. Your characters are usually outnumbered 4-1, which is laughably an unfair disadvantage until personal strength is taken into consideration.

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I don’t know why, but your characters are unusually powerful. This is where the battle gameplay takes a sour turn, as I found even a careless effort was enough to easily win. I guess the developers took note of this, because they added a very good auto battle system in a veiled attempt to alleviate the onset of boredom. The unfortunate downturn to this feature, which is ironically included to add to the games accessibility, is that it takes the player even further away from the game. It isn’t all that fun watching a game beat itself, especially when the speed is too damn slow. Believe it or not, my characters did die on occasion, while in auto-battle mind you, but I wasn’t punished in any way. I mean, dieing in a game is bad, and usually means the player needs to up the ante to have a better chance at winning. I throw in a gambling reference here, because that is what is wrong with the game: It defies the odds of winning and loosing. I say this, because getting a game over is a highly beneficial occurrence. You don’t restart, you don’t loose gold/items, you don’t have to watch a boring scene again. Instead, you restart the battle with all of your previously achieved experience from your last “failed” attempt. Ergo we come to why this game underachieves: It is absolutely impossible to lose at this game.

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Between each battle is where the story unfolds. Like in Fire Emblem games, character dialog is exchanged onscreen without the aid of sprite-drama. TtT is fully voiced, with every word well translated in dialog boxes. Unlike the battles, you have the option to skip through each scene with a simple click. Anime characters rant and yell at each other in irritable fashion, with only two or three characters able to exchange conversation without shouting. Common character cliches pop up from time to time, including the “I’m a woman with a lacking self esteem, and am ready to be subverted” or the “I’m skinnier than Richard Simmons, but my uncanny power is rivaled by no one” lead rolls common to Japanese RPG games. The story, which I’m still trying to grasp, is hard to understand. The opening events involve a girl getting kidnapped, verbally berated, and eventually turned into a “mind slave” (Yeah, like that isn’t suggestive) with the intention of reviving some dark demon guy. The brother of this young girl comes to her aid right before she is offered as a sacrifice to the recently revived demon… guy. This all sounds pretty simple to understand, right? This is where the story blows off the bridge though, as five minutes later, the demon guy saves the girl, becomes her husband, and in doing so indirectly becomes the village chief of her hometown. I thought he was supposed to be the bad guy here. Remember when Lavos marries Marl in Chrono Trigger? How about when Sin bends Yuna over for a good rodeo romp in FFX? Ether the whole point blew over my head, the unofficial translation is somewhat off, or just maybe, perhaps, without a doubt, the story itself is just plain dumb. Ether way, at this point my interest in the story, as it were, officially took a major dive. I mean, there are recognizable foundations in the plot, such as a big bad empire antagonist, and main characters that come from some “Podunk” hole-in-the-ground town – The makings for any and all RPG games from Japan. Still, 20 minute conversations about… well… stuff, do nothing to move the story along at a nice pace. I’ve put a few days into this game, and I’ve pretty much told you all that I was able to ascertain from the dialog.

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TtT isn’t a very exciting game to play, which is a shame considering how it was made. The game would be quite a bit more fun using a higher difficulty, coupled with some self restraint from using the auto function. The atmosphere of the game is really polished, and I found the music and general setting for the game really welcoming. It is infact a very nice looking game, and the way the story is presented should be enough to please the Otaku-nerd class. Those looking for a deep, engrossing, RPG experience may be a little disappointed however, as TtT fails to meet certain expectations. It is said that too much of a good thing, ends up being bad. I cannot stress how much this applies to TtT in almost every aspect of its gameplay. The battle engine is just too overdone, creating a cluttered, slow, uninspiring experience. The exchange of dialog takes too long, yet fails to directly lay any foundation for a concrete story. Almost every element in the game comes together creating a very weary pace, pushing the player into a state of boredom no game should aspire to. Perhaps this was done on purpose though, as the game becomes seemingly bearable while in this state. If you’ve got some free time on your hands, enjoy Japanese “doujin quality” story telling, and have a curious interest in mixed battle engines, then check TtT out. I plugged the limited PC version in, because it was given a good localization job from the folks over at Dakkodango Translations. There is a Japanese-only PS3 version however, which is apparently a remake of the original, chalk full of crappier character designs, and has an obvious omission to any adult content (exactly what the game needed.. I think?).

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Gameplay Video

I was also caught off guard upon discovering there is a Tears to Tiara anime series floating around too. The show contains most of the plot from the PS3 version, and has been simulcast in both Japanese and English. This should act as a great alternative to those not wanting to run through the game, or those having a hard time finding a patchable copy of the PC version.

Anime preview: Episode 1

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One Response to “Lets Reviewing: Tears to Tiara”

  1. Um hold down cntrl to speed up battle speed.

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