Empire’s rise, and Empire’s fall. We all know how it goes. Be it in the history books or set far, far away in the reaches of space, these monolithic forces have a certain weakness. A crack in the armour that always sees them topple. The ultimate opponent for armies that have already conquered the land: a ragtag bunch of misfits. After all, everybody knows that personality vastly outpowers training, discipline and a life devoted to combat. It’s just how things work people. That’s why the rebels win.
Hispania is a province in distress. Under the reign of the Divine Empire, citizens have been forced into lives of hunger, physical labour and religious uniformity. All of these facts are made readily apparent in the early moments of the game, wherein the young Lord of Hispania is whipped for not dismantling the country’s Sacred Temple fast enough. Seriously, its the ultimate representation of the situation. Anyway, after a rather lengthy exposition sequence that details the great disappointment that is Hamilcar, the should be leader of Hispania who is utterly hopeless and possesses no will or power to instigate change, things get very serious, very fast. At what should be a joyous festival, the Dvine Empire sends an emissary (who looks like an evil jester) to kill Hamilcar and break the collective will of Hispania’s citizens…because they’re evil. Of course this doesn’t happen, lest the game end before anything really happens, and Hamil reveals his true feelings. Explosively. Very, very explosively. You see, he is not as hopeless as he led the world to believe, in fact he is the exact opposite, a brilliant tactician who has been quietly subverting the power of the Empire, all in preparation for the day of the festival. The day when he calls his country to rebel, the day when everything is set to change. Also he forges a contract with a bloodthirtsy God of War and, in the culmination of seven years worth of fury and repressed magic, single handedly decimates the Empire forces stationed in his town. It’s super badass. Oh, also there’s a Goddess who descends to Hamil, their hearts connected by his supreme desire to save his people. Of course, this being a JRPG, she is a cute girl who appears the same age as Hamil. Good for him.
With the rebellion sparked and his followers profusely apologising for not seeing the pain he was suppressing for seven years, Hamil kicks into full military mode and begins his campaign to take down the Divine Empire. First step: gather allies. Lots and lots of allies. Whilst being a necessary step in amassing a force strong enough to challenge an Empire, this action cements Hamil as an intelligent protagonist. Rather than simply leading his battle ready crew into the fray, he is forced to take into account the needs of an entire country every time a decision is made. This forces his choices to become increasingly difficult as the game progresses, and the conflict rages, as he alone commands the future of the rebellion. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your how you like to play games) you don’t have to make any of these decisions, so just sit back and watch everything unfold.
Owing to the game taking a multitude of elements into account regarding a rebelling country, dialogue is often focused away from the battlefield. Ever wondered how crucial wheat is? Probably not, but you’ll know soon enough. It’s very by the way. Audiences may also be forgiven for not often considering how alliances are often formed on the down low, allowing countries to claim no knowledge of the rebellion in order to save themselves. Sounds pretty heartless, until you remember that those countries also have hundreds of thousands of citizens to protect. The world is much bigger than the main characters after all. Whilst a rather interesting collection of information that serves to add depth to the game, dialogue can tend to drag on. With actual combat being spread out enough that the game deigns to give you a Trophy for every win, conversations take up a large portion of playtime. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story, full of emotions and all that, but some sections could use some more dynamic pacing. The worst offender being the early portions of the game where, after one introductory fight, you are bombarded with exposition that will leave you longing to actually play. Speaking of which…
Gameplay. Tears to Tiara II is a tactical turn based combat game, wherein you control multiple characters on maps set out in a grid. It’s a battle system you’ve most likely seen before, either in Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics. Characters possess various pre-set abilities and are equipped with a specific type of weapon, such as a sword or hammer. Thus, troops must be utilised in different ways in order to defeat opponents. For example, archers possess superior attack range, allowing them to take down foes from a substantial distance. However, they also possess lackluster defences and are unable to attack and enemy in an adjacent square. Thus it is up to the other units to intercept close quarter attacks and protect said glass cannons, although the more defensive troops tend to possess a much lower movement distance. So choose your movements wisely, because one slip up can drastically change the outcome of a fight…so I guess it’s pretty helpful that there’s a rewind function isn’t it? Yes that’s right, in a gesture of extreme compassion, the game allows you to return to the beginning of any turn at any point during the battle. It is remarkably helpful, allowing you to try out any number of tactics without being forced to begin a 15 turn conflict from the beginning. Though said rewind feature will not change the outcome of identical situations. Thus, playing out the turn as you did previously will lead to the exact same series of events. Critical hits will remain critical hits, missed attacks will never hit and damage will not vary. So mix it up people. Though, if you feel like it, the game over screen also offers you the option to restart a battle from the beginning. A pretty standard feature right? Yes, it is. But how many games let you retain all the experience earned during your failed attempt, whilst also returning any items you used? Well, Tears to Tiara II does. Seriously, it’s one of the most forgiving games I’ve played, essentially providing a level grinding mechanic that doubles as a method to test run strategy.
As you continue to level up your characters (who handily receive experience from every action performed), new techniques and skills are added to their repertoire. Techniques grant characters access to a variety of attacks that feature a bevy of additional effects, such as poison damage, and attack areas, such as damaging all adjacent enemies or those within a seven tile range in the cardinal directions. All things to be taken into account when attacking, along with how much Magic each requires to activate. At a certain level, characters also gain access to unique personal skills that drain a large amount of Magic, in return for dealing colossal damage. They also come with their own over the top animation that just screams overkill. It’s pretty sweet. Though they often pale in comparison to Joint Attacks, tremendously powerful attacks that are unlocked via story progression. However, in exchange for their high impact, you are forced to meet a number of requirements to activate them, namely the correct positioning of troops. IT can be quite tricky to organise in the midst of combat, but you’ll certainly be rewarded if you do. On the less offensive side, Skills provide characters with a passive bonus that bolsters their stats in specific ways. Attack can be boosted, certain status conditions can be made harmless, you can even boost a characters damage towards a specific enemy type. Said skills can be rearranged, removed and added any time outside of battle, allowing you to tailor skills to the occasion. After all, that 10% damage boost could be the push you need to win.
All that being said however, there is a certain degree of luck to the game. What comes immediately to mind are stages that possess an added environmental effect. A few of note deal a rather high amount of damage to all of your characters at the beginning of each turn, causing you to keep a much closer eye on health bars. Another particularly aggravating level bestows random status afflictions on characters, resulting in an unpredicatable series of events. Which for me took the form of one character running headfirst into a group of enemies…closely followed by another…who turned tail and decimated their ally. It was brutal.
Despite all of the war, murder, deception, politics, strategy, crop growth and godly intervention, Tears to Tiara II is quite a cute game. This is most likely due to the fact that all 3D character models are chibi in nature, with all the big headedness that said word implies. Said design allows battles to avoid becoming visually cluttered, whilst still retaining a distinct sense of personality. Though these models are also utilised for dialogue sequences, the are generally overlayed by fully proportioned 2D illustrations, a la a visual novel. Adding yet another visual layer, more important moments are given the luxury of a full 2D artwork. This allows particular moments to stand out amidst the many hours of plot, serving as linchpins for the story, mostly of the emotionally charged variety. So be warned, you may…feel things.
However, despite the multitude of visual elements, the vocals are what truly sell each character and their countless interactions with others. It’s probably for this reason that the Post-Game Bonus Scenario specifically notes that it does not contain any vocals (along with preventing you from believing your game to be broken I guess). Though every actor provides an excellent performance as their character, I have to give a special mention to Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (the voice of Hamil). Seriously, hearing that guy shift from the bumbling, sweet voiced Hamil of the introduction, to the bloodthirsty God of War Spirit Melqart is quite powerful. He really captures the insanity of rage and immediately sells the story regarding Hamil’s repressed emotions. This is also supported by what amounts to a very appropriate soundtrack, featuring all manner of uplifting, sombre, dramatic and aggressive tunes. Trust me, that slow, reserved track reserved for the emotional moments will stick with you.
Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is a great game. Now I know I’ve complained about exposition throughout this review, but it’s honestly the only negative that struck me. And even then, it’s one that lessens with time. As you become more invested in the characters and plot, you enjoy the moments of dialogue. The early sections of the game just didn’t feature enough actual gameplay to warrant such a long break from the action, especially when it culminated in playing out one event twice, albeit from slightly different perspectives. But I digress. Gameplay is fun, refreshingly forgiving and gives you a variety of characters to utilise in the timely decimation of foes. So grab your weapon, steel your resolve and stand tall as an Empire falls…
Oh, and I know I previously digressed, but there is one particular moment of dialogue I remembered that every anime fan will rejoice over, so I have to mention it. In one particular exchange, a character begins discussions with another regarding “that”, enlisting the long utilised anime trope of protecting a secret that the plot does not wish to reveal. However, being that there were only two characters present during said discussion, utilising such a poor cover up is immediately denounced as stupid and details are immediately revealed. It is quite the rewarding experience. (Note: I do realise the irony of purposefully obstructing information whilst discussing how annoying said practice is…sorry)