Vandal Hearts - Review  

The Good Guys
by Derek 'Roku' Cavin

20-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   Another tactical RPG with religious and political turmoil has appeared on the horizon. The hero Ash and his ever-increasing group of warriors must set things right by claiming the mighty sword Vandal Hearts and defeating evil at its source. Vandal Hearts may sound fairly generic at first, but it is the battle setup sets it apart from and a notch above some of its competitors.

   Almost every single battlefield is carefully designed and given specific conditions to force the player to think. While it is still possible to overlevel, there are many battles where that won't do the player any good. There is also a tremendous amount of diversity as the heroes will have to fight while crossing a bridge, running across a train that is being decoupled by the enemies, through a village that is filled with civilians, and many other areas. Some levels even have crates and other items that they will need to push around in order to gain a tactical advantage. The actual combat system itself is fairly average though, and thus isn't as well designed as the stages on which battles are fought. There are still some tactics to take into account though, as classes have strengths and weaknesses against other classes.

   Thanks to the way battles are setup, the difficulty of battles ranges from easy to medium. This means that it isn't too difficult for newcomers of the genre while still presenting enough of a challenge to entertain tactical masters. There are even some additional missions that can be only be reached and completed through solving puzzles that further increase the difficulty of battle.

That would hurt... That would hurt...

   As far as the interface is concerned, Vandal Hearts does a decent job, but it could have been better. The overhead view screen is nice, but there isn't anything special about the menus. The localization isn't especially impressive either, but it gets the job done without any real problems.

   The game doesn't do anything especially original either. The story and many of its systems are similar to those of other tactical RPGs, such as the attack triangle in Fire Emblem. It does, however, make creative ways to mix up the battle scene. While there are a few battles that are somewhat generic, there are plenty of interesting battles that are interesting additions to the genre.

   While the story may not be particularly original, it's still good enough to give battles additional meaning. There aren't very many battles that are simply thrown at the player for the sake of having battles. It's also a bit impressive that the story is designed well enough to set up the diverse battle stages for the party to fight on. There are quite a few characters as well, though most of them are only slightly developed. Overall, the story is fairly average.

Overhead view Overhead view

   The primary missions of Vandal Hearts can be completed within twenty and thirty-five hours, depending on how cautious the player is. Should one wish to challenge the optional missions, another five to ten hours can be added to the gameplay, though bonuses received will make the game's final chapter much shorter in return. Either way, the clock probably won't exceed forty hours.

   The music is also of decent quality and there are enough tracks to keep the player from getting sick of the music. Additionally, both players and enemies have their own battle music, so the music is constantly being refreshed at intervals within the battle. The sound effects don't really stand out, but they do their job.

   Oddly enough, this is one of the rare cases where the visuals are the worst aspect of the game. The artwork isn't bad, but the entire game is very grainy. With a few exceptions, most of the spell and skill animations aren't very impressive either.

   Vandal Hearts's battle system and story are decent, but they could have been better. The real reason to play it is the very creative level designs that almost always require a reasonably large degree of tactics. This is enough to bump up an otherwise slightly above average tactical RPG quite a bit and make it worth a look for fans of the genre.

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