Review by Joe Santulli



Graphics: 7

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

vandalhearts1ps1.jpg (54899 bytes)Vandal-Hearts is one of those games that has to show you how many hours you’ve been playing. While many gamers like this feature (it makes them feel like the game was “worth it” if X number of hours have been attained), it greatly depresses ME. When I encounter a game like this, I try to look away from the timer, justifying my hours beneath the earth’s crust with whatever excuses I can.

“Ah, it was raining most of those hours”, I’ll think to myself. “The deck can go another year without protection, after all”, I’ll explain. “My friends will understand my absence”, I rationalize. Yes, all of these excuses and many, many more are either spoken out loud or at least thought out very loud while playing games such as these. But most depressing of all is when I see that final tally. Game beaten, hours past. What did I gain? What could I have achieved in that time?

Normally I would wonder, but this time is different. It really WAS raining most of those hours.

Vandal-Hearts follows a different path along the great highway of Role Playing Games. Similar in many ways to Treco’s War Song for the Sega Genesis and in fewer ways to the Super Nintendo classic Ogre Battle, this is a strategist’s delight. VH is much more like a grand game of chess than it is an RPG. True, you fight monsters, open chests, advance in skill and money, and make decisions as a fantastic plot unfolds. But nearly all of those hours passed tick away on a gigantic 3-D playfield composed of your guys, their guys, and some space between. Get rid of their guys and you move on.

vandalhearts2ps1.jpg (46386 bytes)There are no real surprises beyond that, assuming you’ve played a RPG before. There are sword-wielding fighters, priests to heal the wounds, magic-users, winged spearmen, ninjas, archers, and monks. Each of them have different abilities and it‘s up to you to decide how to direct the battle. The bad guys have similar forces, and they’re SMART. You won’t find many battles where it seems the computer is exploiting your weaknesses.

The strategy elements are vast but the game itself is very simple to learn. For example, a fighter standing on a platform has a better chance of damaging an opponent on a lower tier. Striking an opponent from the side yields better results than striking from the front, but not as good as from the back (heh heh). Surrounding an enemy grants support on an attack that increases the damage inflicted. I also like the fact that wingmen are effective against swordsmen who are effective against bowmen who are effective against wingmen. It’s like a grandiose version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”.

You start the game with just three characters but will have a dozen before its all over. They’re well-detailed but don’t animate very much. The graphic fireworks show in the magic spells, which are at times very dramatic (I love the “Phase Shift”, in which the entire screen fills with ancient, spinning runes and “Avalanche”, where a huge boulder is built in the sky and comes crashing down in pieces on the target).

The music is OK but I soon found myself playing my CD’s and leaving the game volume turned off. Hey, if I’m gonna spend all those hours playing I might as well catch up with the latest sounds! Battle effects are well-done but you can live without them.

At one point in the game, Diego, one of your original characters, says “SHIT!”. I just wanted to point that out. It looks really funny just sitting there in a text bubble on the screen.

My biggest gripe with Vandal-Hearts is its shortness. Yes, many hours passed, but still not the kind of hours you’ll see fly by while playing games from the Final Fantasy or Phantasy Star series. There is also no sense of exploration, which leads to less game time, which will lead to disappointment to most RPG fans. I can personally live without RPG’s, but Vandal-Hearts was an enjoyable TIME


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Last updated: Sunday, October 16, 2005 03:51 PM