It was a surprise when Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord launched as I had never heard of the original title being released. Upon some quick research, I discovered that the original Tears to Tiara; an ‘adult tactical role-playing game’ released in 2005 for PC never reached Western shores, even after they remade it for the PS3 and removed the adult content in 2008. With that said, if you’re interested in this game and are worried that you may miss something due to not playing the original, don’t be, as the only connection to its predecessor is that they are both set in the same world
Tears to Tiara II (Tiara II), classified as a strategy RPG, does not contain any adult content, making it more readily accessible. Be aware that this game comes with an incredibly fleshed out story, with the approximate gameplay length set at over 80 hours, which is in the upper bracket of lengths even for a JRPG. It was brave for ATLUS to localise Tiara II, as the game falls into quite a niche market with its visual novel form of storytelling, and the added difficulty of being a property that many wouldn’t have heard of previously.
Presented in the form of lengthy conversations, the plot uses numerous tropes that we’ve seen time after time. The easiest way to describe the story is that it encapsulates a Holy War, full of other lands and their gods fighting against the oppression of the Empire.
Our main character, a young man by the name of Hamil (Hamilcar) Barca, is the sole survivor of his bloodline after the death of his father. He is the ruler of the land of Hispania, but he and his people have been captured as slaves under the Empire, forced to undergo heavy labour, and punished for worshiping heathen gods. Hamil is seen as weak and incompetent by his people, obeying the orders of the imperial guards without objection, yet despite this he does whatever he can to protect the citizens from the harsh attacks being bestowed on them, even distracting the guards and taking the cruel punishment on himself when someone has done wrong by the Empire.
On one fateful night, his life changes when he meets Tarte, a young woman claiming to be an incarnation of the goddess Ashtarte, who says she wants to help the Hispanians fight against the Empire to reclaim their land. Hamil, who has been playing the role of obedient slave, has wanted to avoid this solution all along, afraid that it will bring about a war full of bloodshed that will cost many of his people their lives. However, upon discovering that the Empire is continuing to oppress the people and intends to eventually force the citizens into unfailing servitude or death by destroying everything that’s important to them, our hero no longer feels he has a choice and leads Hispania into rebellion.
The idea of gods and religion are the central plot point of Tiara II’s story, dealing with persecution, war, and faith. There are a number of predictable stereotypes and clichés that may have you rolling your eyes, but overall the cast of characters are diverse and show a lot of development as the story progresses.
The world of Tiara II is thoroughly fleshed out, but I would say they have done so to the extreme with times when it feels detrimental. Being described as a strategy RPG, I expected a lot of gameplay, however, in the grand scope of things, the amount of time I’ve spent actually playing the game would only cover a quarter of it, if that. It would be better described as a visual novel that has battles interspersed throughout the story to keep the player involved.
I have never had a problem with visual novels as they are usually still captivating in their presentation and are sprinkled with enough character control or gameplay to keep you from falling asleep while offering you the story in a flowing, conversational manner. Tiara II, however, has an issue of wanting to get too much plot out at once, to the point where you will be wading through hours of text box after text box at a time before you get to the next section of gameplay. That isn’t an over exaggeration, some of the conversations will last for more than two hours without any breaks, which is ridiculous to sit through. I can understand needing to get the story across, but it just ends up leaving a bad taste of terrible pacing. This is made worse by the fact that you can’t choose to save at any point during events, having to wait until the end of a scene (which again may be hours long) before the game prompts you to save.
The gameplay, limited as it may be, is very enjoyable. Tiara II utilises a typical grid-based field system with turn-based combat, easily compared to Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea. Positioning is crucial to success as leaving your back exposed to the enemy will result in a higher likelihood of being hit and more damage taken. Other factors include chain stocks (increasing the power of an action when you fill any of the available bars), the elemental cycle (your typical scissors, paper, rock format of what’s stronger than what and a gauge during battle that will give an advantage to a particular element but will rotate every turn), and an intimidation factor (opposing units can’t slip past you meaning you can make a wall of front line soldiers and keep your ranged attackers behind them, out of harm’s way).
The best feature of battles is the ability to Rewind, allowing you to go back to previous turns in case something didn’t end up working out the way you wanted it to, though the game does make it a point to mention that if you try to do the same thing again hoping for something to change you will receive the same results. The game doesn’t have an option for permanent death of party members, which, while I’m not a huge fan of the idea, I think would have been nice to have as an option, particularly with the context that the game is set in it would make sense for there to be perma-death. Unfortunately, there are situations where you will have to grind in order to be strong enough to progress, which again drags down the already bad pacing this game faces.
The game is completely voice acted; however, it is only available in Japanese with no option to change it. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this as I prefer to choose Japanese voice acting if it’s available, but in this case, the lack of option makes it less accessible due to its long conversational scenes; which will likely disappoint those who dislike Japanese voice acting. With that said though, I must say that the voice acting is well done, though predictably over the top at times, and with the auto play/scroll function for the text, you could really sit back and feel like you’re experiencing an anime during the lengthy scenes.
The design and art of the characters in their portraits are gorgeous, looking as if they’ve been ripped straight out of an anime. The graphics of the models and backdrops, however, are underwhelming to say the least. When I first saw the graphics for the game, it was hard to believe that this game was made for the PS3; looking as if it belongs on the PS2 or a handheld. The character models are “chibi-fied,” with large heads and smaller bodies, which seems to be an odd choice when paired with the serious tone of the story. During event scenes, we see still anime portraits of the characters currently in conversation with the scene modelled behind them complete with character chibis.
Overall, I foresee the market for this game being very niche, with players needing to be fervent fans of both the SRPG and visual novel genres to enjoy the game at its full potential. With a slow start and long discussions that show no apparent end, a lot of people would be turned away within the first hour. It was a struggle for me to push through the beginning of the game, and I really enjoy both genres. In all honesty, I don’t feel like I can give it a very high recommendation due to its awful pacing and other issues, but if you’re the type of person who loves great characters with a deep story, and you don’t mind the negative factors that were mentioned, Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is for you!
Disclaimer: This review was based on the PS3 version of the game, and was provided to the writer by the publisher for the purpose of review.