Vandal Hearts – PlayStation
Release Date: March 27, 1997
Genre: Tactical RPG
Nerd Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewed by Rhutsczar
Hey all, seems like I just squeaked by into making it for Retroary. For those of you who have been coming back each Retroary, you may realize that I review some kind of classic RPG each year. I actually considered breaking this trend…I genuinely did. Then as I was cleaning out my storage preparing for a move, I found it…Vandal Hearts. I have played through this title so many times throughout my youth and it stayed refreshing each time. So, let’s stick with my RPG trend. Here’s to Vandal Hearts!
Vandal Hearts is a story of political corruption at its core, as it begins thousands of years prior with the messiah Toroah spreading his teachings across the land and his followers taking power. This resulted in the formation of the Holy Ashah Dynasty, which ruled as a monarchy until 15 years prior to the game’s events. Another leader known as Arris the Sage radicalized the citizens and toppled the Ashah Dynasty, laying the foundation for diplomacy and a republic. Then he just disappeared. That’s kind of a lot to absorb in the first three minutes of the game, which is my biggest peeve with Vandal Hearts: It provides too much back story too quickly and that makes it too easily forgotten.
So, now where do you fit in all this? You take control of Ash Lambert, one of the main soldiers of the Ishtarian Security Forces. The son of a traitor, Ash is often cast aside and belittled by his superiors…except for his immediate officer/long time family friend Clive Beckett. You begin your mission by ridding bandits in the countryside and preventing unrest, but you quickly see that Ishtaria’s ruler (definitely not a dictator) Hel Spites is corrupt. This is readily evident in the first chapter as your unit witnesses first hand the massacre of priests by Spite’s Crimson Guard. Now it falls on you to rid the land of corruption…even though at this rate it will just be corrupted in a number of years.
As for the game play itself, it’s rather straightforward. Vandal Hearts doesn’t take any major risks, and rather performs as any other tactical RPG. You control your unit of soldiers whom you command across an isometric grid in order to kill all of your enemies. Sounds simple, just like a giant game of chess. One major change from the tactical-RPG norm , however, is the party system. When compared to other titles in the genre, you typically have a large battalion where you would select a squad of 10-12 soldiers per skirmish. In Vandal Hearts though, you don’t have that liberty since your party size is so small. Instead you control every character you have at your disposal, which can mean some sizable maps.
Just like in most tactical RPGs (or just RPGs in general), Vandal Hearts does have a class system in place. While it isn’t as expansive as say Tactics Ogre, it does well for what it is. Each character comes with a base class and has a unique class tree. While two or three characters do have similar trees, their designs are vastly different. Once you upgrade any individual character, you are unable to return them to their base class. This does add to Vandal Hearts’s replayability, as the game’s difficulty changes depending on the units at your disposal. I play rather differently then most folk, as I keep one of the strongest fighters in the game at his base class. This character, officer and loyal soldier Dolan, is encountered towards the end of the first act of the game. He is considered one of the tank characters in your roster, especially if you level him up to his 3rd class. The tank role can actually be taken by Clint or Grog instead and with ease. This is because Dolan’s speed is decreased incredibly when he piles on more armor. Sure, his attack isn’t as strong, but it is a god send on the battlefield when one of your knights can catch up to your archers and hawk-knights. Just seems more useless to me the more you upgrade him.
Vandal Hearts was released in 1997 and will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Simply put, that’s cray cray! Besides that point, there are always one or two features that make a game not age as well as it should. In this case, it is the blood. When you kill any character, their body gyrates and a FOUNTAIN of blood (insert Slayer reference here) spews out of their body. It is an incredibly generic effect too, as it really doesn’t belong at all. However, it sure is hilarious to look at. It just reminds me of how this was acceptable back in the late 1990s.
As far as difficulty is concerned, Vandal Hearts really isn’t a difficult game. Sure, towards the final act it is rather stressful, but what RPG isn’t? However, there are hidden challenges that will allow the player to witness the true ending if completed. These “Trials of Toroah” are what make Vandal Hearts a bitch to complete. There are six trials in total and can only be accessed by finding the six keys hidden throughout the game. While the first trial, Trial of Nova, is relatively easy that is about as easy as they are going to be. The catch is that the enemies will scale to match Ash’s level, making the trials rather excruciating. A common strategy is to keep Ash a few levels weaker than the rest of the party, but he is often the tank and an excellent soldier so it can be difficult to complete.
When you look at a game like Vandal Hearts, you’d expect an awesome soundtrack right? Well, it isn’t half bad, since it does make your blood pump as you slay through all of your enemies. The score was created by four separate composers, most notably Miki Higashino, who is known for her work on the Suikoden series. While the score is orchestral and serves its purpose, I feel that it could be something more. It definitely leaves something else to long for.
Now, as we wind things down a bit, I want to touch on an interesting concept. What Vandal Hearts excels at is its use of time travel. While time travel and medieval-esque RPGs don’t normally mix, Vandal Hearts bends the rules that we know shouldn’t be bent. Without going into too much spoiler territory, Ash and a select few party members end up in an unknown dimension after messing with a mana stone and they spend roughly 1/3 of the game there. When they return however, the game analyzes the idea that time lasts at different speeds depending on the rules of the world. Ash and his party arrive just in the nick of time and have only been gone for a single day. However, to the rest of the unit in our world, they have disappeared for three years. Ash isn’t the only character that falls into a temporal worm hole throughout their life, but I don’t want to ruin that one for you. This concept is interesting and has remained an example of decent time logic for me.
Now do I recommend playing Vandal Hearts more than once? Of course! Not only is Vandal Hearts enjoyable, but it can be drastically different depending on how you build your characters. For example, if you keep Diego (one of your original party members) as an archer, you won’t have as much mobility around the map as if he was a lancer. I also recommend that you play once for the original ending, which isn’t insanely satisfying, but then clear the trials and become a Vandalier. That true ending is definitely satisfying.
Alright, there you have it! If you are looking for a solid TRPG with an interesting story about magic and possible time travel, Vandal Hearts has what you are looking for. If you are new to the TRPG genre or an advanced player, then Vandal Hearts can be a challenge for you to conquer. Now if only they were to add some trophies…I would platinum the hell out it and become my own Vandalier.
Share This Post