Review by JBusby

"Dated, but still a strong strategy game at heart"

Ignore everything you have been told!!! - Vandal Hearts is not an RPG!!!
Vandal Hearts is a turn-based strategy game set in a fantasy domain,
with the usual trappings of swords, spellcraft, monsters and treasures.
Oh, and it's damned good fun too.

The plot in VH is a complex affair, starting with Ash and his friends
intercepting some bandits some, but quickly twisting through the
political machiations of various ne'erdowells, and ultimately leading to
Ash and co. saving the world (TM). It's a reasonably strong plot, if a
little predictable in places, but it's pulled off with more style than
many games. The characterisation is pretty good too - just for once we
don't have eight year old brats that should have been shot at birth for
being too cute - and the plot twists in Vandal Hearts are well-paced.

VH has been well thought out and each section is divided into acts and
scenes. The main problem with the storyline is that you often have little
bearing on it. You jump from one battle to the next, until you complete
an Act (read: Level) In between battles you can save, shop for new items
and interact (in the loosest of possible sense) with NPCs in the local
tavern, but there's no real sense of exploration, no way to avoid the
inevitable. Vandal Hearts is a game which cries out for some multi-
tasking, and this could have been easily added. Your valiant hereoes
could debate about their next course of action: ''Well we can take the
road but we'll have to fight our way past the enemy forces or we can
sneak through the forest but they do say it's haunted'' but instead they
just take on the enemy forces, regardless of other options available.
This linearity leads to another of the games problems. If you find a
particularly difficult mission there's no way to avoid it - keep trying
'til you beat the game, or give up and never progress any further. One
mission which springs to mind here is one which needs to be completed
within eight turns.

Control-wise the game is a cinch. Each turn you can move and you can
perform an action - actions can be fighting, casting spells, using
potions and looking for hidden treasure. A nice feature of the game is
that it allows you to see where you can move next, thus allowing you
determine artificial scenarii before playing them out. You can also get
overhead views, spin the camera 90 degrees and lower/raise the elevation
to assist you in your tactics. In fact my only complaint about the
control in this game is that there is no mouse compatability - a tool
which would have been simple to add to the game yet would have allowed
the player the choice of controls - but this is a complaint that can be
levelled at plenty of games and VH is far from alone in this criticism.

The combat system has been clever designed. It takes into account factors
such as height above/below the foe and/or attacking from the flanks or
behind an opponent. Additionally a paper-scissors-stones element is
present in that arrows beat flying troops, flying troops beat armour but
armour beats arrow troops. Balancing your band of heroes so that all
elements are present is a tricky business. The range of spells swings

from defensive and healing to offensive and support. A good range, all
well-balanced and all useful in different circumstances. You can also use
the background against your opponents. Stand with your back to a wall so
you can't be attacked from behind, or push a boulder down a hill to crush
the oncoming troops. It's surprisingly simple, yet has enough depth to be
very challenging in places. Your skill in combat also affects the amount
of gold you gain at the end of a mission. The more casualties, the less
gold you earn - gold affects what equipment you can buy meaning you can
upgrade the defense and offense of your troopers - so the pressure is on
to do as well as you can in every mission. This game isn't overburdened
with the nuances of say, X-Com, and is all the better for it. All in all
there plenty in the missions to satisfy the armchair general.

Speaking of missions - there's plenty of 'em and a good variety too.
Timed rescues, fighting along narrow bridges and battlements, an ambush
or two, assaulting fortifications, repelling boarders, escaping from
overwhelming numbers - the sheer variety helps to stop the game from
becoming too samey.

This game is somewhat old and it shows. Throw in the fact that the
graphics weren't very stunning to begin and I think you can appreciate
just how bad the graphics look now. The in-game engine is also quite
slow and it can be frustrating watching the PlayStation move each of its
team in turn whilst waiting for your turn. Having said that the graphics
do their job - they are clear enough to tell different enemies apart and
do not impinge on gameplay. You should never make the wrong strategic
decision because you can't make out who's who.

I'm not a big fan of music in my games - with the exception of FFVII,
Castlevania:SotN, the original Gran Turismo and MGS - I tend to turn off the music
if at all possible, as I prefer to listen to a CD instead. The music in
Vandal Hearts has done little to convince me not to maintain this habit.
(Sound effects)

Replay-wise this game has little to tempt the player back. There is a
sub-mission whereby five Keys need to be collected in order to become a
superhero - but this mission isn't very well advertised and you may only
find out about it by reading some of the excellent FAQs on this site.
There's also a number of hidden items (swords, bombs, potions and the
like) which can be found on each battle-field, which add to the replay
value for completists, but don't offer the casual gamer enough variety to
tempt them to return.

Although flawed, Vandal Hearts is good fun. This is a game to rent first
to see if you like it, before you buy it, although, given its age, the
price of buying is likely ot be comparable to renting in the first place.
If you can get past the linearity of the missions, the dated graphics and
music you may well enjoy the strategic wargame that Vandal Hearts offers.

Physical Grafiti
----------------

A genuinely challenging strategy game.
Initially good fun.
Backstory is handled with panache

You Ruddy Vandals!
------------------

Very linear plotline

No room for multi-tasking or exploring
Some missions can be too hard
Iffy graphics and music
Replay value not strong enough
No mouse compatibility


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/01, Updated 01/19/01


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