Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is a name that I will grow tired of typing in record time. It doesn’t even make any sense! So Tales to Tiara II it is.
Making its series debut outside of Japan, Tears to Tiara II is a Strategy RPG-cum Visual Novel, and boasts a terrifying 80 hours of content. This review is based off a “meagre” 25 hours’ worth, which took me to the end of a major plot arc and felt like a good time to stop and reflect.
If you’ve ever played a Shining Force game, Tears to Tiara will feel like an old comfy jumper, such are its similarities with Sega’s classic series. Battles are structured almost like a boardgame – victory is achieved by moving individual pieces around the map into strategic locations and killing the opposing faction before they take you out. To begin with, your party consists of a small number of specialist units, but as time goes on additional characters will join your travelling troupe, each with their own unique skillset. One of them is an elephant. It is good at goring anything that doesn’t get out of its way.
Each skirmish allows the deployment of a fixed number of units, so selecting the most appropriate team for the trials that lay ahead is crucial. Skirmishes and opponents are varied in scale and size, and while not strictly difficult, the enemy AI will punish mistakes without prejudice. Magic-users are the most fragile of glass cannons, who if left in danger will almost certainly perish; Archers fare little better, and neither can defend themselves up close. Even the archetypal tank in plate armour can’t take too much of a beating, so ensuring they are well-supported is essential.
Fatalities are not permanent, mercifully. In most battles, appropriate elephant usage is integral to success – not only does your elephantine companion deploy in any battle large enough, he also tows a trailer that contains all unused party members. These can be used to fill the space of a fallen comrade or rejig your team mid-battle, but elephant warfare should be used sparingly – if felled in battle, the caravan is gone for the remainder of that instance.
The levelling system splits skills and stats down the middle and gives each its own experience bar. It’s an interesting separation that helps keep support characters up to speed for doing what you want them to do, rather than having to grind their stats in combat so they don’t become useless later on. It also unlocks chain stocks – bars that build up over the course of a skirmish that can be cashed in for additional melee strikes or a temporary boost to magic.
This system still won’t stop those characters from getting mauled if left in danger, but clever positioning of your team will take care of that. Enemies can’t just brush by your front-line to attack the easy prey at the back, as units exude a sphere of influence – spaces immediately surrounding a character are impassable without first stopping to engage, allowing for great tactical depth when positioning.
Another great mechanic involves rewinding time mid-fight. At any point during a battle, including after you have been defeated, you are able to rewind to the start of any previous turn. It’s a simple idea that bounces neatly off the game’s mercilessness. Tears to Tiara is a long game, so the measures to help avoid wasting time are vital. I just wish it knew when to shut up – in the 25 hours I’d invested before making a start on the review, a significant portion of that was spent trudging through a mixture of serious political and military discussions, mixed with bizarre love stories.
There are certainly moments of gold hidden in the dialogue, but having to trudge through vast swathes of clunky plot – like the twenty-minute childhood flashback that occurred after defeating a specific boss character – significantly lessen the impact of the odd witty line. Emotional moments come across as clumsy and overly verbose, and what could have been a whirlwind adventure following a political rebellion against a religious empire, instead comes across at times more like being read a mixture of teen romance and the shipping forecast.
The overabundance of story content might be the only black mark against Tears to Tiara (other than its absurd name that I have to keep typing out), but it could easily be off-putting enough to turn people away from what is otherwise a varied and innovative SRPG. If you’re on the fence, here are a few of the bullet points that I wrote down while planning this review:
- Elephant warfare
- You can buy a pig, and make it fight
- You can cause animals to defect
If opportunities like that don’t make up for this game’s issues, I don’t know what will.