Vandal Hearts Flames of Judgment XBLA Review
Before Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, there was Vandal Hearts. This Konami produced strategy tactics game quickly generated a cult following thanks to its addictive gameplay and geyser blood splattering effects back in the early PSOne era. Years after the original was released, a sequel was created but did not receive the same amount of recognition as the original. Now, more than a decade later, Konami has revived this long lost tactics series on XBLA and the PSN.
Fans of the original games or any tactics game will immediately understand the gist of gameplay; it is just unfortunate that the initial first stage, which lasts way too long, acts as the game’s tutorial level. But if you have never played a tactics game before, it will get you up to speed.
Flames of Judgment is quite different from the original games. First, the entire story revolves around the same six characters as opposed to the vast number of unlikely heroes from the originals. The game also does not support any type of class/job system. Instead, the game takes a more Final Fantasy II approach with a “the more you use something, the stronger it will become” leveling up technique. So in order to make your heal spell more effective and to make your sword deal more damage, you must use them repeatedly. This system does indeed work, but it also can be seen as an unfortunate limitation. If you try and make all your characters efficient with every type of weapon, you will have a more difficult time getting through the campaign. You are best off sticking with two weapons for the each character throughout the entire game.
The game’s 1200 MS Point price tag ($15) might seem a little high, but there is a fair amount of content to make the larger price point worthwhile. However, after a few hours into the quest, many small flaws and annoyances will start to pop up: the menu system is tedious, the game has too many load screens, you can’t save while in mid-battle, you can only rotate the camera in 90 degree increments, selling items is random because sometimes the game will automatically sell your entire quantity of one particular item or it will sell one at a time, the game doesn’t let you end your turn by facing in the direction of your choice after you cast a spell, you cannot choose the path your character takes from point A to point B which results in facing the wrong way, the overall story arc is pretty slow, and the last boss battle is way too drawn out and tedious. This game is also solely a solo player experience, though there are leaderboards that track how many turns you have taken and how much damage you have dished out. But if the leaderboard function is analyzed, gamers can quickly determine that getting a higher rank is more about how much time you put into the game as opposed to skill.
Graphically, this game defines the term “mixed bag.” Cutscenes and the game engine are output in HD and look pretty nice considering that this is a downloadable game. In fact, the game’s hefty file size is also justified thanks to some voice work and a number of animated sequences. Although these scenes are nicely done, the overall design of the characters is just plain…weird. All characters have adult faces but on what seem like little kid bodies; it is almost like the game is constantly on big head mode. It just looks downright creepy. It is a wonder why this niche art style was chosen for this game.
Having voice work in a downloadable title, although it is limited in this case, is impressive. Unfortunately, the overall musical score of the game is quite annoying and feels very cheap. Instead of actually composing and recording a musical score, most of the game’s audio is actually ambient noises. Wind blowing, the sound of a waterfall, footsteps, the crackling of a fire, crickets chirping – this is the setlist of each level and cut scene. Besides the musical track when browsing the initial splash page, there really isn’t any music in the game.
Novice tactics fans can probably finish the game, including side missions, within 10-15 hours. But after you put a few hours into this game, it isn’t hard to figure out how the enemy AI works, which makes each battle pretty easy. In fact, the only characters that died throughout my entire campaign where the stupid non-controllable friendly AI units that decided to venture off on their own during an escort mission. Unlike Fire Emblem, if your character dies in battle, they will come back to life during the next mission. The easier difficulty is sure to be favorable for tactics noobs but might feel a little shallow for veterans.
Is Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment the next Final Fantasy Tactics? Absolutely not, but it never tries to be. Vandal Hearts has always been a much simpler and easy going tactics series. Flames of Judgment is a worthy sequel to carry the Vandal Hearts name but this latest installment fails to retain the flair and excitement of the original. It can easily be seen why this game was planned as DLC instead of a full retail disc, but the $15 price tag will generate an enjoyable experience, especially if you are a fan of the series.
Not As Good As: playing as Ash in the original
Also Try: Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics
Wait For It: the elusive DS version
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