Vandal Hearts: Flames of Jugment Preview
Announced just a couple days ago, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment is a breath of fresh air and a reminder of the good ol’ days. For all you strategy/RPG fans out there, you will recall Vandal Hearts and Vandal Hearts II on the PlayStation with a wistful smile on your face, remembering a time when such titles could be considered “popular.” And although the franchise – and just about every other strat/RPG of the time – labored in the shadow of the incredible Final Fantasy Tactics, Konami’s efforts were both entertaining and appropriately deep. I still maintain that VH2 presented gamers with one of the best-written scripts in video game history, and the tweaking of standard turn-based mechanics had an indelible impact on my mind. Therefore, I’m one of many who is happy to see this franchise return, and not in handheld form (which is what I was dreading when I first saw the title). This is a downloadable title for the PSN and XBLA, and that’s great news.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, here’s a quick explanation: you will be placed on a chess-like gameplay board that all strat/RPG fans are familiar with, and you will have control over numerous allies. In fact, VH was known for giving us more characters in battle than most other games in the same genre, and we’re hoping this remains the case in Flames of Judgment. More than anything else, though, these titles always force you to keep a close eye on your opponent. Your positioning and abilities shouldn’t always be first and foremost in your mind; certain enemy characters in certain positions can be downright deadly, and you should be able to spot them at the start of combat. At the same time, you’ll have to devise a strategy – hence, the name of the genre – that keeps your team alive and functioning. For example, spell-casting and special abilities always have a particular range attached to them; an all-ally healing spell may only encompass five or six total squares, while a larger spell might slam into many more squares, which may put your allies at risk.
Most of you may be thinking that such a game will drag, especially due to the thought one has to put into their decisions. But in all actuality, we’re expecting a good pace; Konami says they’ve “streamlined the menu system,” which means we can make fast and easy selections, and the AI doesn’t waste any time, either. Also, even though one can make the argument that the focus remains firmly entrenched in the gameplay, you will most certainly get a fairly intricate storyline. This is where the role-playing aspect of the game comes into play; as I just mentioned, the script in the second VH was surprisingly fantastic and intelligent, so we’d like to think Flames of Judgment will feature a similar-quality storyline. The plot takes place in the kingdom of Sostegaria and the main character is orphan Tobias Martin, who signs into the military to defend his homeland against a rival country. But as things progress, everyone realizes that a darker, eviler source lies at the center of the problem, and although this isn’t exactly unique, it’s still intriguing. We’re really hoping for a special story, in all honesty.
There is one aspect of this new project that sounds disappointing, though, and it’s a point that isn’t going to go over well with micromanagement fans. However, this may be due to the fact that it’s a downloadable title, and can’t be quite as in-depth as strategy/RPG aficionados would hope. While you will be able to upgrade and advance your characters, of course, Konami says we don’t really have to worry about managing those characters. According to IGN, the experience points “are distributed behind the scenes, based on how you utilize each character.” In other words, if you bash around with your sword a great deal, you’ll become more proficient with that weapon; if you cast spells all day, you’ll become a better magician. That’s pretty straightforward. But when they say we don’t have to concern ourselves with character management, that’s worrisome…character management is one of the reasons strat/RPG fans love strat/RPGs! We love to toy with our party to our heart’s content and we don’t want anything to be “automatic” when it comes to handling our team. In this way, we’re a little concerned that this may feel watered down and unappealing to the hardcore.
The issue is simple- Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment really will only cater to the avid gamers out there; specifically those who loved the original games and love the genre in question. But if you eliminate one of the biggest reasons why the fans play these games, you’re going to eliminate your lone target audience. So here’s hoping that we’ll have just as much control over our characters as we like, and that the only “auto-advancing” revolves around the learning and proficiency increases. Either way, though, we definitely can’t wait to give this one a try, as it will certainly represent a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Just give us a great story and that gameplay we remember with warm fondness, and we’ll be happy.
4/14/2009 Ben Dutka