I promised I would review Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment
back when it was released. It is a tactical strategy RPG like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. You play as Tobias Funke-I MEAN MARTIN. Tobias Martin. Caught in a war between two nations you and your band of 6 are thrown into battles with bandits, soldiers, assassins, ghouls and the occasional giant monster. I wanted to beat the game to give it a full review. Once I had done that (over 20 hours total for me, others claim to get through it MUCH faster though I don't know how) I figured out I could get all the achievements if I just played it all the way through once more. Also, being more familiar with the game I had a few strategies I wanted to try out. :)
I beat it the 2nd time and I enjoyed myself throughout. I hope you give it a try which is why I'm finally writing the review now. It's on sale for 800 Magic Points starting today
. I bought it for 1200 at launch because I was such a huge fan of Vandal Hearts and Vandal Hearts II for the PS1. My review of the game is overall positive, but I would have a few words of caution if you're considering it.
The game starts off a little slow, but it's got to teach you how to play. The story and dialog are okay, but there's a bit of reading to do. What little vocal ejaculations there are aren't too grating (except for one character). They actually work during battles because it often lets you know who is giving you a bonus attack or leveling up an ability.
Bonus attacks, completely customizable characters (more on that in a bit), and obvious elements like layout, enemies and the locations of treasures provide with a satisfying strategy element. It does sometimes feel like you're playing against the game
instead of your enemies when the reason you're leaving that last bad guy alive is because your teammate (who you had leave the middle of the battle) hasn't reached that far off treasure chest yet.
While some of the chests feel like you wasted your time (some not, chest are random) there are searchable locations like a big knot in a tree or crates and haystacks that you notice happen to be sparkling. The best of these each give you a map that opens up a new battle area. In that area is an especially good weapon or piece of armor. There is an achievement for getting all of them (the maps). Be careful. You have one chance only to get to the last optional battle area, and you have to PASS the next mission area on the overworld map to get to it. I made that mistake my first playthrough.
The character customization was actually really fun. Different characters have different stats, so they will use certain weapons better than others. Stats also affect MP and spell strength. Level up spells by casting them in battles. Level up attack with melee or ranged weapons by using them. One character is a natural with a bow but also has great stats for Magic. I ended up giving them the armor for mages which ups magic using stats but has lower defense. I used them as my best archer which kept them out of the fray and it was great having a second mage for buffs and healing. Paying more attention to the stats my second time through I was able to identify more characters I could use as archers, which changed my play style and strategies and it was just really really fun.
The big surprise to me came in a moment of the story that was quite moving. I hadn't expected an emotional experience, it just showed up uncharacteristically and was a really nice bonus. It helps that I got a killer sword during the scene. :P
And now we come to it: the part where I'm critical. I wasn't a big fan of the art style. I don't know if they were trying to fit the game file size in the old requirements or what. It didn't take away anything from the game, but it didn't add to it. The game's staple of a big exaggerated spray of blood that marks a character "death" in battle happily remains (death for bad guys or Tobias, 'temporarily knocked out' for your teammates).
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment isn't a particularly difficult game. Having played through the first two entries on the original Playstation I didn't make the kinds of mistakes that tend to cost you a member of your team in battle. So that became my judge of success/failure, to not lose a man.
Actually, no I did once. I made a huge mistake and my Archer/Mage ended up right in the middle of some new enemies that were fresh from the start of the battle. I chided myself and began to do everything I could think of to save my character. Taking out weak enemies before their attack, casting healing spells if the next enemy attack was unavoidable, I actually was a little disappointed when... it worked. I saved them. I realized just how forgiving the game was, and it took a little bit away from my victory.
There are conversation choices you can make during the story and it feels unnecessary. It affects a part of the game ending, but that's all. There are two endings. It didn't feel all that important.
I have a tough time recommending things because I tend to like everything. It's great being me because I enjoy myself, but it makes my opinion worth less. I liked Vandal Hearts: FoJ. I played through it twice and enjoyed both times. But, if I'm going to give it a score on the Destructoid scale, I'm between a 6 and a 7...
7! You know what? 7. I had a good time. I love the series. There is an unexpected heartfelt story moment that was really nice. It's a style of game I don't see enough. (If you missed "Gladius" on the original Xbox, you missed out!
) I got many enjoyable hours of gameplay for my $15, and I'm happy. All this can be yours for $10 (or whatever you paid for your 800 Points of Downloading Permission).