Game Info:

Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement
Released: January 20, 2010
ESRB Rating: T
Available On: PS3; Xbox 360
Genre: Strategy; Tactical RPG; Action/Adventure
Number of Players: 1 
Price: $14.99

Final Fantasy Tactics is arguably the best tactical RPG ever. To this day it still holds that title in my book, even after playing Hijinx Studios’ newest RPG and prequel to the Vandal Hearts series, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment.

This doesn’t go to say that this game is bad. In fact, I thoroughly liked it. The guys over at Hijinx Studios (formerly dubbed PhoenixSoft) and Konami have both been developing games for a while (the latter being a little more popular than the former). From the revolutionary Game Boy Advance game, Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hands, to one of the biggest classic games ever, Castlevania, Konami has been there, with Hijinx as their occasional sidekick. I’m saying all this because I want to let you know the caliber at which these companies function and how it compares to their latest release that didn’t quite live up to the Konami standards, but was still enjoyable.
A civil war has broken out. Due to the civil war, many recruits are getting trained at young ages. While some army recruits, Kelvin and Tobias, are in the middle of training, a group of bandits attack their village. They fend off the attack and are then sent to find help. From there, you go slowly begin to unravel the mystery behind the ongoing civil war that envelops the world of Vandal Hearts.

Strong Points: Gameplay is smooth; character design is decent; game length is just right; it wasn\'t stereotypically slow like most tactical RPGs 

Weak Points: Cut scenes aren’t very pleasing on the eyes; the game doesn’t explain all of the game mechanics very well; feels slightly repetitious

Moral Warnings: You’re killing people; there is some minor blood squirting when enemies die; a little bit of foul language

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the entire story is focused on the grapple between good and evil and, ultimately, the idea of God. It takes place during a war that feels a lot like a smaller version of The Crusades, minus the whole "forcing people to become Christian" schpeel. The main character is always mentioning how God will help them through whatever comes their way and his friend is always talking about how God isn’t helping much at all. There’s even a scene where someone gets “possessed” by God, thus making him super powerful. That being said, let\'s move on to gameplay.

Vandal Hearts is a tactical RPG of the simplest sense. You move from square to square casting various spells and attacking various enemies along the way, all while taking turns with the other characters. You have customizable weapon and armor load outs (though there isn\'t much variation among the weapons nor the armor pieces) and, based on your character\'s dexterity, you can only move a certain amount of spaces in any given direction.

Though it does nothing new for the genre, the battle system felt fluid , the controls were practically perfect, the entire game felt stable and, surprisingly, I found not one bug in my entire run through.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 82%
16/20 Game Play
7/10 Graphics
8/10 Sound
5/5 Stability
5/5 Controls/Interface

Morality Score - 82%
Violence = 4.5/10Language = 7/10
Sexual Content/Nudity = 10/10
Occult/Supernatural = 5.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical = 8/10
Bonus Points = 6
- This game shows the consequences of evil and/or messing with the occult.- The story in this game delivers a good moral lesson.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed slowly moving digital beings from one square to another, due to the fact that I’m not a huge fan of waiting to do something in a video game. My attention span is little to nonexistent. I prefer fast paced action games, ala Left 4 Dead,Mass Effect and Darksiders. But Vandal Hearts makes me forget all of this. 

Due to how slow the game progresses, Vandal Hearts, like any Final Fantasy game ever made, is one of those games that is fantastic to play, but not so fantastic to watch. Whenever I’d be playing the game via our living room HD television and someone stopped to watch me play, they either walked away before the a minute passed, groaned and complained about how boring it looked or simply said the most ignorant thing someone could say about a game after watching you play for roughly 12 seconds, “This game is stupid.”

But don’t let those whiny people bring you down because Vandal Hearts is far from stupid. There are plenty of different things you can buy to equip your character for battle (like swords, maces, chest plates and boots, to name a few) and the game has an interesting skill and spell development system. Based on how often you use a specific weapon or spell, you advance a level in that spell or weapon’s skill tract. You can eventually reach level 40 for each skill and spell. I thought this was a pretty good method of leveling up skills and spells as they’re an essential aspect to combat the various enemies you face.

I had only one issue with the spell and skill system, and it was probably the main issue I had with the game. In order for a character to learn a new spell, they must carry the spell book until the spell reaches level 5. The issue I had was that you never really get a crash course on how to learn new spells. I mean, there’s a hint that pops up in the loading screen about it, but I never saw it until I was almost at the end of the game. Until that moment, I was convinced that I had to waste one of my two precious inventory slots just so one of my characters could summon balls of fire from the sky.

One last little tidbit I should mention: Graphics. Overall, the game’s graphics are above average. For a Playstation Network (PSN), the character designs are pretty smooth and the spells look very detailed. The only issues I had involving graphics were the cinematics. They’re drawn up in some sort of 2-D, cartoony style that makes all of the characters’ heads nearly as big as their bodies.

After my last save, my final opinion about Vandal Hearts was firm. It\'s a quality PSN title. It is a tactical RPG in almost the purest form. It will not disappoint casual tactical RPG-ers. If you have a few extra bucks and you want to buy an entertaining PSN game that will take you a good five or six hours to complete and give you some easily obtained trophies, Vandal Hearts is definitely the game to go to.

-Nick Lara (Check out my blog )

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