Vandal Hearts is an extremely nostalgic RPG from my childhood. It's a game I am incredibly familiar with, showing solid characters, a strong political conflict, and one of the most interesting class combinations Iíve ever encountered. Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment draws from both of its predecessors, adding new twists in the combat system and a brand new storyline. For those of us who have been waiting for a revival of the Vandal Hearts franchise, be excited because this installment will hopefully not disappoint you.
When I began playing Flames of Judgment, I was presented with the task of saving a wounded woman who was bleeding out in roughly ten turns. Sounds simple, right? Well, there were many challenges to consider during the course of the map. Not only did I have to save the woman, but I had to deal with seven wolves ready to eat me alive, with my tiny party of three. By the end of the fight, I was left with two characters still standing and only three turns before Game Over.
The combat system has a lot of similarities to the original Vandal Hearts. Characters have a variety of weapons they can equip, such as swords, bows and hammers, and can perform counterattacks when hit, and vice versa when they attack the enemy. One of the new features Flames of Judgment offers is the ability to switch weapons on the fly. Enemy too far? Switch from a sword to a bow in a snap! Surrounded by the enemy? Bust out your hammer, and spin, spin, spin! Being able to switch between weapons on the fly is a godsend in moments of crisis, and the more weapons the player is proficient with, the stronger they become. This is a game built around multi-classing, so thereís a lot of skills and weapons to discover as your characters level.
What is also open for discovery is finding key items in the maps to open up "hidden maps" that exist throughout the game. The game boasts twenty main maps, and four hidden maps. Maps can also be replayed in case the player missed any items or if they just want the chance to do a bit of grinding. Each character also has their own special ability that will help their comrades out, or help buff their own skills. Calvin, for example, can use his ability "Spell Haste", and then be granted the first turn in the new turn-order.
One thing I immediately noticed about Flames of Judgment is how crisp and clean the environments look. It's also amazing to see the changes in the character artwork from its original conception. The original storyline does have some tie-ins to the first Vandal Hearts game, though Konami did not discuss with us to the full extent what some of those story details were. With the game being a prequel, I am interested to see when the game is complete how this story stands on its own. But with the game's cast of charming characters, I cannot help but think this new adventure is just what gamers need to resurrect their strong hearts and once again ask the hard questions that may lead to some difficult and maybe even traumatic answers.