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Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
Score: 78%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Aquaplus
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Tears to Tiara II is lushly illustrated in an anime style. At least, it is when youíre watching portraits or illustrated still scenes. In the strategy parts of the game, itís a bit less impressive. It follows a standard big-head (chibi) style of art there. There are a lot of repetitive tiles and textures here, as well. Thatís not to say itís terrible looking, but it still doesnít match the charm and looks of a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, which is one of the best examples of this style of art taking itself seriously.

Thereís tons of dialogue in this game, and so to match, there are tons of portraits for the characters as they speak. Theyíll change emotions and looks based on what theyíre saying, in a pretty standard RPG tradition. Itís not animated, but it does help get the tone of the conversation across. Thereís also Japanese audio voicing over most of the dialogue in the game. Some of it can be a little over the top (Hamil, for example, can cut loose with his rage and crazy laughter quite often), and some of it is mind-numbingly drawn out, but most of it is very well done.

The background music is pleasant, almost stereotypical orchestral RPG fare. Light wind instruments will play out during thoughtful moments, while driving drumbeats and military style music will play as you determine your next preparations for war. Not bad at all, but the opening song is probably the only one that will remain in your head all day.


Gameplay:
With Tears to Tiara II coming to the US, one might wonder, "Was I supposed to know about Tears to Tiara I?" I donít know if this is a trend, but the history of this game seems to be as follows: Make an RPG with adult sexual content. Decide you might really have something with the characters and the world youíve built, and that can get a wider audience if you clean it up and re-release it as a normal mature/teen game. Thereís a pretty big gap between the original Adult game and the re-made Teen rated game (the original game was released in 2005, and the new version was released in 2008, with a subsequent enhanced version released in 2009); So it wasnít a rash decision, but with the popularity of other Eroge (Adult themed Japanese games or manga) games like Fate/Stay Night, it might be a strategy we see more developers and publishers follow.

One might theorize that several times during the game, it almost turns into the Eroge genre, but just stops before it dives completely into those types of scenes. That being said, thereís plenty of what you might call fanservice in this game. One woman military commander seems to forget that her uniform was supposed to include pants and a shirt, not just a jacket. And then thereís the scantily clad girl (goddess) named Tarte. I donít know if that name is intentional, but it is hilarious.

In Tears to Tiara II youíre going to be reading - a lot. Or youíll at least be listening if you understand Japanese. Because this is almost solely the gameplay youíll get to experience, there are thankfully some options to customize your experience. You can set the text speed, set the game to auto advance, and even turn some voices off if you consider them particularly annoying.

A simple summary of the story of Tears is that it revolves around Hamil, a poor villager who had a very noble past. That past was stripped from him, and now he toils away, slaving and working under the Divine Empire. He appears to be a relative dullard and a bumbling klutz, but appearances are more than they seem. Though he has plans of his own, they are complicated by the appearance of Tarte, a young girl who claims to be the goddess of Hamilís people. Combine this with the fact that there is a hidden faction still loyal to Hamilís house; When things start happening to force Hamilís hand, the results are spectacular and unexpected. And Hamilís hand is more than anyone expected - he transforms into a god of war, obliterating anything in his path. That, however, is only the beginning of a story filled with conspiracies, goddesses, and enemies with hidden agendas.

The thing is, much of the story doesnít need to be nearly as long as it is. Much time is spent reiterating points that were already understood, and delving into ideas that would be fine if they were simply left implied. Itís not efficient writing by far. In fact, much of the first part of the game is a rather unnecessary retelling of the same event where the main character Hamil loses control of his power. I really spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was important to remember and what was simply extra fluff. After I got used to the long-winded style of storytelling, I did eventually feel that it could be enjoyable. Thereís some nice character development, especially with the intense emotions that run deep in the main character, Hamil. Then there are several amusing points in the story, including one character espousing the magical qualities of the art known as statistics. Oooooh, I say, as I wiggle my fingers in a mysterious manner! All in all, to enjoy this story, youíll just have to be able to enjoy lots of detail, lots of character introspection, and a pace that moves slowly rather than deliberately. Heck, the game even makes you fight to see the opening animation.

As for the turn-based parts of the game, it takes a long time to get to them, but they are decent. Thereís nothing particularly new about the gameplay style or rules here, so you can get comfortable with it quickly if youíre used to turn-based strategy. Youíll be doing the standard buying armor and weapons, leveling characters, and employing time-tested strategies such as using your armored sword swingers as shields while keeping your dainty archers out of harmís way. Thereís also a crafting element to the game that comes in way, way later. To say that you canít judge this game by the first few hours is very much an understatement.

What is unique about Tears to Tiara II is the elemental system. Not only is there a classic elemental system (every being is apparently born with an elemental affinity in this game), but there is also a "favored" element that cycles throughout the battle. If you have a favored element, expect to inflict some extra hurt on that turn. Then there are also the traveling deployment units, the Elephant troops. They carry around your undispatched troops, allowing you to deploy from different areas on the map at different times during the match. Using these wisely can make the difference between your demise and survival in later battles.


Difficulty:
Tears to Tiara II is not a particularly tough game, unless youíre made physically ill by long batches of text. You can also turn down the difficulty at any time if you simply want to breeze through to the next bit of story. This is an odd RPG in that it throws you into a real battle in the beginning of the game without so much as instructions on getting your character to move. In that particular battle, it doesnít matter as youíre all but invincible. Still, the tutorials donít come until later, and many fine mundane details arenít explained. Thatís all fine if youíre into trial and error and you donít really like long tutorials, but it may not work for some people.

If you do turn the difficulty up, expect to do a bit more grinding between levels. Also expect fights to be more long and drawn out, as youíll have to work hard to avoid being picked off by high powered opponents.


Game Mechanics:
Outside of the turn-based strategy portions of Tears to Tiara II, thereís not much in the way of control. Yes, you can control the dialogue by skipping or auto-advancing, but thereís really no actual decision making to do during these parts of the game. Youíre more or less just coming along for the ride.

As for the turn-based strategy levels, the controls do function nicely once you figure them out. As mentioned before, the game dumps you into the first battle with no tutorials (although that first battle is one that you pretty much canít lose) and forces you to figure out all the buttons and movement on your own. But again, once you know what button does what, itís easy to control all your characters and find all the stats, information, and anything else you might need. If you still struggle with it, however, you can always use the Rewind option to take away the mistakes of your last action.

At times, Tears to Tiara II seems less like an RPG and more like a text-based story with sound. Still, thereís something good here if you can be patient enough to let it unfold. If youíre worried that youíll get very little strategy gameplay in all this, just be patient, and those parts of the game will eventally unfold. If youíre worried that the story will never really advance, just be patient there as well and youíll be rewarded with plot twists and interesting new characters; A dragon goddess, a cowardly Bard, and even a cross-dressing bodyguard are just a few of those interesting people. Get used to the pacing, and Tears to Tiara II will eventually reward you.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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