Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment

The second that Vandal Hearts is loaded up you know you’re in store for an RPG. Before even reaching the start menu you are given the orchestral enticing and beautiful music that has become somewhat synonymous with the genre. For those not in the know, Vandal Hearts had two games in the PlayStation era, and Flames of Judgment is the prequel, allowing those who haven’t played the originals to still have the opportunity to play without getting completely lost with the characters.

With graphically intriguing cut scenes that resemble a graphic novel and the exceptional music, Vandal Hearts makes an impression within the few minutes of play… unfortunately that is all shattered when you get to the gameplay itself. The movement in the game is controlled by a grid, with you able to walk so many steps a turn. For tactical battles this can be used to your advantage, but when you’re just wandering around a town it can get severely irritating. There is a whole world map to explore after all! There is very little speech in the game as most of it is dealt with as text à la the originals, however, when the characters do speak you’ll probably wish they didn’t with overacted clichéd lines randomly spewed out as you complete tasks and battle.

The combat is divided into rounds and turns. Once each character has had a turn it is the end of the round, although you can earn extra turns for some of your characters. Throughout the game your party will change both in number and characters, including some that you can’t control (the AI on these characters is generally good enough that it’s not a bother) although the maximum number is six. Characters with large weapons such as hammers need to be tactically placed as their attacks could easily injure nearby team members as well as enemies, which is a pleasant dose of realism. Although you could stumble through, some knowledge of RPGs is required to play this game. In the first battle I encountered resist, poisoning, team attacks and counterattacks, which at that point had been given no explanation – ok, I’m sure I could have looked it up somewhere but like the majority of gamers I have an aversion to reading manuals or instructions and expect things to be explained on screen.

With the control interface consisting of things like magic, weapon, interact etc. it does give the player freedom to swap weapons at any point whether in or out of battle, and you don’t even lose a turn. But with various subsections I seemed to spend a sizable percentage of the game play going through menus with each character just so I knew what was there.

It may seem like a small thing but it’s refreshing to see the loading screens displaying some wonderful concept art instead of a boring map or blank screen. It’s just disappointing that the artwork displayed doesn’t seem to have been transferred to the game that successfully with the whole feel of the game being very PS1 and the graphics, whilst being a few steps up from this, are certainly not up to the two generations that have occurred since.

The achievements leave few surprises with fairly typical RPG goals in place: complete Act 1, discover every map, level up, and a handful of secret achievements that you know are going to be reserved for bosses or story spoilers.

The game boasts a lot of game play with a long story with many optional quests and a whole host of alternate endings, which is a pleasant surprise and does raise replayability somewhat…but Konami are suggesting “endless replayability” and I suppose if you wanted to get the most for your money then knock yourself out, but realistically I can’t see this happening.

There are really two directions to take an XBLA RPG in these days. Either make something new and interesting by crossing genres like Puzzle Quest has, or go for the nostalgia (although it may have not been everyone’s cup of tea/Red Bull, I thoroughly enjoyed Arkadian Warriors) and although Vandal Hearts stays true to the other games in the series it really doesn’t fit into either of these categories. It’s just not old skool enough to give a nostalgia rush and it’s certainly nothing new. This feels like a game made for the fans and I’m sure anyone who enjoyed the previous installments will lap this up but general RPG addicts may find themselves disappointed with the 1200 point price tag.







One response to “Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment”

  1. J_Acton avatar

    “For tactical battles this can be used to your advantage, but when you’re just wandering around a town it can get severely irritating.”

    This game doesn’t make you wander around towns like that. Towns don’t use the grid controls, except when there’s a fight on.

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