Tears to Tiara II Review (PS3)
Tears to Tiara II is a game that fills a wooden barrel with Plot, grabs you by the back of your head and plunges your face into its thick, murky depths. Ever so often you are yanked back up for a breath of sweet Gameplay, catching feverish glimpses of a competent tactics game, only to be dunked back into a dark purgatory of banal exposition. Eventually you pass out from sheer fatigue, stirring hours later to realise that the main character is *still* talking about his feelings.
The first chapter of the game takes six hours, during which time there are three gameplay stages which take a total of half an hour to complete. In the time it takes for two films to tell a complete story, or for you to download a videogame maker and create a short game about the importance of brevity, Tears to Tiara II completes the first half of its set-up. The only time you will be touching the controller is during the save screens that pop up every hour like some kind of intermission.
This could all be forgiven if Tears to Tiara II had a particularly complex plot or world that needed a lot of time to explain. It does not. The main character has three traits: he is a strategic genius, he wants to violently murder everyone who has wronged him, and he is oblivious to signals from the opposite sex. There are two sides to the conflict, and every character falls neatly on the oppressed resistance or the evil Empire. The length comes from the fact that this game is ridiculously wordy. Points that could be made in two lines (“the slavedrivers are abusive” or “this school is secretly teaching military strategy”) are instead stretched into thirty-minute scenes where entire thought processes are presented without edit, and facts are reiterated and reiterated and reiterated and reiterated. Every single time-consuming trick is used: the game opens with a dream sequence, a flash-forward, and *then* begins the actual plot. The back of the box boasts “eighty hours of visual novel-style storytelling”, and by god, I believe it.
The worst thing is that this long-windedness drowns out a decent tactics game. In a genius move, the game allows you to rewind to any previous turn with no penalty, allowing for a frustration-free way to undo tactical errors without starting over. Characters exert influence on their immediate surroundings, preventing enemies from slipping past gaps in your formation to your squishy backline. Certain units can act as mounts, adding their power to the rider. Each stage feels hand-crafted to offer a new challenge: you might be protecting a VIP in one level while trying to survive the clock in the next. It does not revolutionise the genre, but there are enough good ideas in here that I hope designers take note of what works.
Eventually the game settles down, and the ratio of story to gameplay becomes a lot more reasonable. The game’s love of wordy monologues and repetition continues, but at least you only need to wait 30-60 minutes between stages. But there is no reason for such loose writing, save to artificially inflate the length of the game.
As the games market has become more crowded, and having failed to evolve and diversify its mechanics, tactics games have increasingly turned to plot to distinguish and sell themselves. The Disgaea series, for example, has become more defined on its zany characters than its mechanics, which have largely followed the same template for years. Yet the Japanese tactics genre is all about its gameplay: of strategy, of number crunching and of learning how to leverage the system to your advantage. The more that a tactics game relies on story than gameplay, the more it betrays a lack of self-confidence in the ability of its mechanics to sell the game. It’s the equivalent of an 80s B-Movie that is selling you on its cover art alone.
After thirteen hours, the game allows you to recruit additional units. Well, a single boar.
While you can add +1 to the score if you use the Skip Text function to bypass the story scenes, I have to give this game:
2 Tears out of 5Tears to Tiara II Review (PS3),