Review by Syonyx

"Looks rough now, but still plays smooth."

Vandal Hearts on Sony Playstation
Review by Syonyx

Introduction
This turn-based strategy/RPG from Konami is less complex than some others, like FF Tactics, but generally delivers a satisfying experience. This game was my introduction to the genre way back when, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Story
This is one area where this game really shines. The storyline is down to earth, unlike many RPGs, though retains a fair degree of depth, by entrenching the game in the world’s history and politics, which are not overly dumbed down. The characters are mostly likeable and memorable, and you can come to appreciate their individual personalities and events that affect them. The story never goes off track. All events are directed toward the main storyline.
Rating: 9/10.

Graphics
Not impressive, even by Playstation standards, but passable for the age it was released in. The pixelation is a little harsh, but the artists manage to make the grainy images do a lot nonetheless. You can always tell what you’re looking at, at least. The characters and enemies all have individual animations for attacking, spellcasting, defending, getting hit, etc. The faces shown in dialogue boxes match the current appearance of the characters according to their class, and though it looks goofy, their mouths flap open and closed when they talk. My favourite, though, is the spurt of blood when you kill or get killed yourself. The spell animations are poor, however.
Rating: 6/10.

Gameplay
Though not as complex as some other strategy/RPGs, Vandal Hearts contains enough depth to keep it interesting. The learning curve is smooth, as the number of player characters and enemies increases steadily, as does the variety of character types available. In total, there are 7 character classes: Knight, armor, archer, airman, mage, priest, and monk, and monks can arise from either mages or priests, giving them different spells in the early parts of the game. Enemies belong to any of these classes as well. Battles are affected by the classes clashing, where a sort of rock-paper-scissors rule determines damage. Knights are strong against archers, but weak against airmen, who are weak against archers. Throw in armors, who are weak against magic, and mages who are weak against physical hits, and monks who have elements of both magic and physical attacks, and different movement capacities, and strategy becomes more important as the game goes on. The 34 battles are quite varied in terms of terrain and goals, and enemies change frequently. There are lots of spells and items, but not an overwhelming number.
Rating: 9/10.

Control
Controlling the game is fairly easy, though sometimes you have to scroll around the screen too much. Nowadays, using the O button as the main button is a little counterintuitive. You can jump to another available character by pressing square, but you might have to scroll through a lot until you get the guy you want. Once all your men have moved, you have to open a menu and select Turn Over before the bad guys will move, and I don’t think that’s in the instruction manual, so when you first play you might have a heck of a time trying to finish your turn, once you’ve moved as much as you can. The shoulder button rotate the screen and adjust the camera angle, but sometimes it’s annoying trying to look at a particular area clearly, since the view is always from a diagonal.
Rating: 7/10.

Sound
The opening and closing songs are nice and sweet, though I wish I could tell what language they’re in, or get a translation of the lyrics. The in-game music is appropriate, majestic and triumphant or tense as events dictate. It’s still a bit high-pitched, more like video game sounds than orchestral. The music doesn’t change throughout the game, however, but it doesn’t get especially annoying. Sound effects are average, though again, the spurt of blood upon killing someone looks and sounds cool. Characters make different grunts or other sounds, like swords swinging, when they attack, as do enemies, so the variety is strong.
Rating: 7/10.

Replayability
The game takes 10-20 hours to complete, depending on how much care you take and how much you want to get all the treasure and kill every enemy. It is a satisfying experience worth repeating, maybe every couple of years if you have a lot of games. There are some bonuses to find. Most levels have hidden buried treasure to locate. More importantly though, there is a side quest in undergoing the Trials of Toroah, for which you need to find a number of keys scattered through the game, obtained in various ways. If you finish them all, the main character can advance to a new god-like class, making the rest of the game laughably easy.
Rating: 7/10.

Summary
Overall, Vandal Hearts is a tight, worthwhile gaming experience. Though the graphics are extremely dated, they don’t take away from the focus of the game, which is the gameplay, story and characters. Definitely worth a rental. If you already know that you like strategy/RPGs, since the game is now quite cheap (probably under $10-15), it’s worth adding to your collection.

Total score: 8/10.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/06/03, Updated 07/06/03


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