Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment - Xbox 360 review

I remember playing the original Vandal Hearts a very long time ago and enjoying it thoroughly. As I commented recently as well, I really enjoy strategy/rpg games quite a bit, which is why even though I thought some of the aspects of Agarest War could have been better, I'm currently giving it a 2nd playthrough. Well, a couple of months ago there was a deal where you could buy Xbox 360 arcade games at a discounted price, and this game was among them.

Graphics - 4:

I realize it's an arcade game, so the bar tends to be a bit lower, but they are pretty bad here. The combat maps are at least more visually interesting than Record of Agarest War, with different levels and surprisingly expansive terrains. Now, for the cut scenes - what the heck? The disproportionate looking characters are odd to look at and it doesn't look very good either. When people speak, the picture that pops up is very average (at best) as well. At least I was able to appreciate the overall artistic direction of Agarest War. I'm not sure what direction they were going with in Vandal Hearts, but the result was very poor.

Music and Sound - 6:

The music's not bad - I especially like the somewhat chorus-like startup music. They make little comments with voice overs I can actually understand (unlike the Japanese laden voices of Agarest - sorry, I'm going to keep comparing these two as they're similar games I'm playing right now at the same time). There's some varied combat sounds to help keep things from getting too repetitive as well. Still, some of those combat sounds really got on my nerves - especially when you were hitting someone. My wife asked me why my characters were continually kicking dogs at one point, the wolves were making such a horrible whimpering sound every-single-time-I-hit-them. And if you have a spell that hits 3 or 4 guys at once, they all make a loud combined sound that had a tendency to be a bit grating. Plus, while it was nice understanding what my characters were saying, they didn't have a lot of variety in what they said on the map.

Gameplay - 7:

Not bad at all. It's mostly menu-driven stuff, but it is easy enough to navigate them and moving around the map isn't too hard. The camera angles were sometimes a tad bit annoying, but you can spin the camera and tilt the landscape to vary your view, though it seemed like on some maps I was doing this for every single turn, which was a bit annoying. Still, the combat moves along at a brisk pace and things like flanking, terrain types, height of terrain, etc - all of that is a factor, which is very cool.

Intangibles - 7:

I've only beaten it once, but I've heard there's at least 2 different endings so I'm giving it a 2nd play through now. Still, a built-in reason for an extra play is nice. There are questions along the way you are asked to answer - I'm curious to see if these actually change the story or just alter what's said right after - we'll see. The game's not terribly long, but there's hidden maps to find and the system used for character progression is kind of cool - basically the more you use a skill - melee, archery, magic - the better you get in that area, so you can customize a character if you want to, though some of them are predisposed to certain things so it's easier to just continue along that path.

Overall - 6:

The game could be a bit longer - and the graphics really hurt the score. That said, if you're a fan of this type of game, you're not in it for the graphic realism most of the time. It appeals to me the same way Record of Agarest does. Vandal Hearts is not as good - it's not as deep of a game. You won't be playing it nearly as long and there's not as much to do in it. That said, if you're looking for a turn-based strategy game, that's relatively inexpensive (I got it for around $8, and I believe the regular full price rings in about $15 on both Xbox and Playstation 3) - so it's still a pretty good price for what you are getting.


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