Set some years after the previous installment, Tears to Tiara: Garland of Earth, Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord shares very little direct connection to its predecessor. Outside of existing in the same world, small nods to the first game, and similar gameplay, Heir of the Overlord is effectively a standalone title anyone can pick up. The game itself is a mixture of visual novel and turn-based strategy RPG, which offers the player a detailed, interesting, but sometimes tedious experience depending on whether or not they enjoy an incredibly text heavy story.
Tears to Tiara II follows the story of Hamilar Barca, son of the deceased Head of Barca and Hispanian governor, and Astarte, the goddess of fertility and war, in their struggles and successes in leading the small, rebelling kingdom of Hispania to freedom from the Holy Empire. In RPG fashion, Hamil and Tarte gather important allies to fight against the Empire’s near endless military, ranging from characters like Enneads, the teacher at the local Cademia, to Kleito, a dragon deity that appears in the form of a little girl. If any of these names feel familiar, then you might be remembering a handful of middle school history terms like the Punic Wars, Carthage, and the Barca family. The heart of Tears to Tiara II is heavily based in Mediterranean history and religion, particularly the Punic Wars and Phoenician history. These influences not only extend to the plot and characters, but also to the world Hamil and his elite Hispanian army traverse and interact with.
Because world building and history are so innate to the game’s narrative, it’s not surprising the team at Aquaplus utilized the visual novel format to tell the story. In order to make this text reliant style continuously engaging to the player, a visual novel needs standout voice acting, translations, art, and music. Tears to Tiara II has all of these in spades, with the dialogue and music being the most noticeably on point. The game’s translation coupled with the Japanese voice acting maintains a sense of immersion with how the characters deliver their lines while the soundtrack coveys the right intensity of emotion in every scene.
Although the storytelling itself is engaging, the length of the game’s actual content turns Heir of the Overlord’s visual novel style into a make -or-break factor. For example, the time between the start of the game and the opening credits is roughly four hours of rarely interrupted non-interaction story with breaks only to include three brief tutorial fights. There are also maybe three save points. Even if it’s very tempting to put the game back on the shelf after sitting through at least half of the opening segment, it’s most definitely worth holding out for the rest of the game. After the opening movie finishes and the long-awaited next chapter card flashes across the screen, the game begins to split up the lengthy visual novel portions with larger segments of turn-based combat. All of this is controlled through a party camp screen which the player returns to after most events or free-battle grinding.
The visual novel portions rarely, if ever, extends anywhere close to the tedium contained in those beginning four hours. This is because the plot graciously picks up each chapter as Hamil and his army get deeper into revolution and the toppling of the Holy Empire. As the story continues, everything from previous chapters, like past conversations and military strategies, slowly begin to converge to both answer old questions and create more. Plot twists and foreshadowing pepper each new chapter which the player and often the characters acknowledge as something intended to cause trouble later. Even when unconnected to the larger overarching plot, individual scenes are remarkably engaging, and the game seems to have the uncanny ability to weave in just the right emotional depth at any time.
The battle system in Tears to Tiara II is typical of most turn-based RPGs, with one or two distinctive components that sway a player’s success in battle. Though combat does not start out incredibly challenging, by Chapter 3, you might notice yourself struggling a little against stronger enemies, relatively complex maps, and the various conditions for victory. By Chapter 5, you miss the previous maps as now party members sitting on the edge of an enemy’s attack range hover on the cusp of life and death between player turns. If you enjoy strategy games, the increasing challenge between maps is great, and even more so when you quickly discover tactics to undermine the enemies. It’s a little less exciting for everyone else when there’s a miscalculation and a portion of your party members die in a single turn.
Luckily, if a character does fall in battle or you absolutely blunder one of your character’s moves, there are a couple of options you have to get out of a very bad situation. The most important is the game’s Rewind feature. Rewind essentially allows the player to jump back to any particular turn in order to prevent disaster. However, once the rewind point is chosen, any of the turns after it are lost. By the later maps, Rewind is indispensable, simply because of how hard the enemies hit even when the party is slightly overleveled. Going back to a previous turn can ensure the prevention of mass death, and it’s preferable to restarting the entire map after a game over.
Though the visual novel and the strategy RPG portions sound fun individually, when taken together they begin to create a somewhat serious imbalance between enjoying and barely tolerating Tears to Tiara II. With the constant rotation of lengthy, non-interactive visual novel with lengthy combat, there is little to no breathing room for the player to actually take in the game at their own pace. As with other games where it’s possible to run off and explore an area or participate in side-quests without immediately progressing the main story, Heir of the Overlord’s only other options are to craft items in the store for a few minutes or grind on the free maps. For fans of either genre, it might not be an overwhelmingly big deal, but to others it turns tedious very quickly and the feeling remains throughout the rest of the game.
The game also suffers from a somewhat lackluster cast. Party members end up as extra set pieces intended to do three things: react to the two main leads, discuss war strategy, or solidify their one or two particular character tropes at the start of every chapter. Favorite characters are usually determined by how well they perform in battle over whether they have interesting personalities, though there are a couple exceptions to this rule. The most important characters are obviously the leads, Hamil and Tarte, and because their relationship plays a main role in the larger plot, the game spends most of its time focused on their interactions over developing the others.
Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is intended for visual novel fans who enjoy sprawling, political plots and lengthy dialogue. At the same time, the game also has a number of elements a lot of people can and will enjoy, even if they aren’t as familiar with this particular genre. Though Heir of the Overlord’s drawbacks may dissuade someone from picking this title up, the captivating plot, phenomenal world building, and challenging battles are more than enough reason to give this game a shot.