From the outset it should be stated that Tears to Tiara 2 has more in common with a Visual Novel than it does with a Tactics RPG. If it weren’t for the application of a rich combat system I’m not entirely sure that we’d be seeing a review for this game on My Boxed Universe at all. The game is predominantly dialogue and conversational scenes between characters with only three battles in the first several hours of play.
There’s a strength to the presentation and handling of Tears to Tiara 2 that makes it more than a sum of its parts. From the outside looking in the game appears as nothing but an extended cutscene and to a certain extend this is true, but it has enough sense to doll out rationed portions of combat every time you might consider quitting. Combat is generally fun and plays to a simplicity hardly seen in Tactical RPGS these days, whilst also offering some deeper systems bubbling below the surface for keen players to spot.
Graphically the game is rendered entirely in-engine (with the exception of an animated opening sequence) and characters have a ‘chibi’ appearance that is partially deformed but just humanoid enough to promote a sense of what is going on. The engine uses a fully three dimensional environment and character models that are colourful and for the most part easily distinguished from one another. I say for the most part because the extras and NPCs are repeated character models that seem bland and generic when placed next to the other characters, though none of them are out of keeping with the games aesthetic. The level of graphical fidelity on display isn’t impressive, in fact it could be late Playstation 2 era 3D work if all of the locations weren’t rendered as well, but they do serve their purpose. 2D artwork is used for character dialogue overlaid onto these scenes to give us full body shots of every character from just above the thigh. Full screen artwork is employed in key moments to add dramatic tension in a manner similar to the way Visual Novels tend to employ it, and whilst the art is high resolution and clean to look at the art style isn’t as definite as other properties, feeling bland. The whole game has a traditional anime feel and an Asian take on the western fantasy aesthetic. Everything is brightly coloured and things are never dull to look at.
Sound and Music are acceptable, but nothing fans of audio design would want to write home about. Music plays behind scenes and serves to add to the emotional tone of the dialogue, but characters and locations lack their own themes and this robs a little of the magic that RPGs usually employ to make audible connections to places for the players. The whole game is fully voiced however and although it’s not in English the tone and speed of the speech helps to build a sense of tone that would otherwise be missing. Sound effects are used sparingly, but work well in the battle sequences.
Everything would feel a little weak if the story weren’t so strong. Starting with a bang by showing an action sequence from roughly an hour or so in to the game proper and posing a series of questions as things unfold, the game then rolls back the clock and begins to show us what led up to such a crescendo moment. It’s a brave choice that sets the tone of the game overall, allowing for the focus to be on getting to know the characters and understanding the situation they face with the knowledge that big changes are about to occur. The small province of Hispania has been invaded and is held under the governorship of the Divine Empire. The people are put to work tearing down the temples to their nation’s gods and using those same stones to build a church to the Divine’s one true god. Schools are being shut and reeducation of children into the Empire’s way of thinking is beginning whilst the adults are whipped and worked to near death. A resistance group exists made up of survivors from the initial attempt to repulse the invasion, but they lack the direction of a true leader and have yet to act. The son of their nation’s valued Duke and leader of their native religious order by birthright is on the outside a weak and pathetic individual who works with the rest of the people and refuses to become politically involved. He’s a fool and a weakling. However upon spending time with him you learn that he is none of these things and instead carefully hides both his intelligence and inner strength to protect his people and avoid a war that would see them crushed. It is only after the arrival of a young woman named Tarte, who claims to be their native Goddess weakened into Human form by the desecration of her temples, and the Empire’s sudden decision to increase their mistreatment of the people of Hispania that he decides to take action. The story is well written and handles themes of occupation very well. A standout scene is the closing of the school system where the headteacher makes a speech and gives an example of how to break rocks using the application of water to wooden stakes. It’s a well handled metaphor that isn’t labored or driven home too heavily but clearly shows that this is is way of saying that a few well placed individuals can break even the strongest force. There are few games that can work with this kind of subtlety and it should be applauded.
Gameplay is almost non-existent for the large bulk of the game, with pressing X to forward the dialogue almost unnecessary with the auto-play option available that forwards the narrative in time with the spoken dialogue. This is the greatest hurdle of Tears to Tiara 2 because although it allows the story to shine (and it does) it also hardly qualifies as a game. Combat is sparse, with only a few battles in the first few hours, three of which are against rabbits and act as tutorials for the player, but it is a highlight of the games strengths. Tactical by nature you can assign anyone in your current party into the role of leader which gives them leadership skills unique to that unit. The game functions an elemental system that works in real time, switching between an active element as the combat continues and meaning that how and when you attack may be more or less successful if in conjunction with the right moment. Attacking with a character builds up ‘Chain’ points that can be turned into multiple attacks in a turn in a manner similar to Legend of Dragoon on the PSOne with timed button presses leading to additional damage. Skills are learned through leveling characters in the field and are situational in their use, meaning that some must be used before or after to you other actions. An example of this would be the mage who can use a charge skill to restore his MP but not after he has been moved across the screen. Characters can be caught in close combat by units, making breaking from a fight or passing an enemy a risky business, but these are well labelled on-screen at all times around the unit with this ability and you can only blame yourself when you make a mistake. There’s also an elephant that can be ridden and the usual slew of weapon types to mix the classes. It’s reminiscent of Shining Force 2 in its nature, with the additional features adding interesting depth to otherwise shallow early encounters. Nothing is too hard to learn and everything feels uncomplicated and streamlined. The game also has a crafting system in place for using up the items you gather from chests of through killing or clearing battles, but the Rewind feature is probably the biggest and mist divisive element. You can take back anything up to 6 moves and replay them as you’d like once more to fix mistakes or to try for a better result. Redoing the same actions exactly will always get the same result, but approaching from a different angle or using a different character can make all the difference. This is either a great bonus or a game breaking exploit depending on the capacity of the player and can be ignored entirely.
Overall Tears to Tiara 2 is a good game, but it doesn’t do anything to make itself special. The combat system would be great on its own and the story is fantastically handled, but it just feels like the GAME is missing. If there were locations to explore and additional encounters then the score would rocket, but as it stands it’s hard to recommend this title at full price. It’s worth purchasing if seen on sale however and I recommend it for those who put the story of a game before the sheer epic scale of it all.