Vandal Hearts returns to the consoles after a lengthy break, and brings with it a healthy dose of turn-based, strategic role play gaming. Available on both XBLA and PSN, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment is published by Konami. The strategic RPG genre is somewhat lacking on the PS3 and Xbox360, so this game should certainly be a welcome addition to fans, but does it offer anything to the newcomers?
Flames of Judgment follows a fairly standard fantasy storyline consisting of a young hero in the making bearing witness to a conspiracy. This hero, and his friends, then take it upon themselves to save the day. As I said, all standard stuff, but that doesn’t stop the story from being engaging and entertaining. Although not the quickest moving story in the world, there is enough in there to keep the player interested.
The game features some really nice voice work, helping to breathe some personality into the characters. However, a question must be raised over the graphical choices from within the game. Firstly is the over all quality in game. Although animated to a reasonable degree, the characters themselves are not of the quality that one would expect. Also, the backgrounds and set pieces seem to be lacking any of the style or quality that can be found in other games of this genre. The original Vandal Hearts game appeared on the Playstation console, and this game would not look out of place on that console either.
Secondly, why do the cut scenes appear to been drawn by someone with a “chibi” fetish. The small bodies and big heads suggest fun, humour and even cuteness. However, the story is serious and mature. The two just don’t fit well together.
Gameplay is easily recognised by players who have toyed with this genre before. Battles take place on a grid and the players characters each have a turn to perform actions such as move, magic and attack. Unlike most games of this genre, characters are able to have two weapons equipped at any give time, and change between them without using an action. This allows each character to engage in both ranged combat and close combat easily.
One of the other unique selling points of this game is the ability to customize your characters. Unlike most other strategy RPGs, Vandal Hearts has chosen not to allow characters to level up. Instead, all skills and abilities are increased by using them, allowing characters to lessen their shortcomings simply by using the appropriate skill or ability. Also, any character in the game can use any weapons or spells, so the player can fully customise their team to be exactly how they want. The downside to this is that the characters, over time, will have less and less weaknesses, which tends to remove any need for strategy.
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment sadly does not measure up to the more popular games in the strategy RPG genre. It is too easy, doesn’t look that great and really brings very little new to the table. Fans of the genre will be disappointed, but maybe newcomers will find the low difficulty levels an easy introduction to strategy RPG, before moving onto something better looking.