Turn-Based Strategy Role Playing Game: Turns-Simultaneous?
Completion Level: Campaign Completed 100 Hours
We are not pleased to have spent this amount of time playing VH2. The game is not worth that investment. We do not doubt much time was spent staring at the screen trying to determine who the AI was going to move next and what we should do about it. You will understand that more when you read the “Dual Turn System” entry under “Good”.
This game does not engender the passion of its predecessor Vandal Hearts. From some games, not much is expected. If they are good it is a pleasant surprise. However from VH2 something was expected. It was the sequel to a stylish well known forerunner, it had a decent budget, and it came during those heady days of Playstation SRPGs. Final Fantasy Tactics widened the appeal of this genre, exposing many through its famous IP.
VH2 did not stay true to its roots. There is little connection to VH1. Some key mechanics were changed, the art direction was different, the story and characters were unrelated. Most of the things one may have liked about VH1 were not reflected in its sequel. How does the sequel stand up on its own? For a big budget, mainline game, not terribly, but not exactly well either.
The slightly faded environments are rendered in 3D and the camera can rotate its view upon them. Vandal Hearts as a franchise allows you to bring a large party to battle. Between battles there is opportunity to shop and talk to townsfolk for mostly unnecessary information.
- Many Story In-Game Cut Scenes: No one can fault this game for lack of conversations overheard, and human dramas played out, sometimes interactively, right before our eyes.
- Fighting Uphill: Elevation played a role, but not in the classic sense of putting an archer on the high ground. It was more about having to traverse huge steps in order to complete a battle. however we do recall having more fun fighting uphill. Assaulting the enemy on a slope was an interesting change up.
- A Humorous Quote: This game is not going to overflow the “Good” category. So we will include a point about a line that made us laugh: “That’s a load of crock!” Uh, is that not a mixed colloquial metaphor?
- Bosses: You do not see many SRPGs tackle large boss encounters. So we definitely give props to VH2 for attempting it and mostly succeeding.
- A Character of Few-ah, One Word: “Agress” spoke in single word answers, or with no words at all. Exclamation points were sometimes all she needed. It was humorous. Is it surprising she had some quirks with a name like Agress?
Too Big for a Bullet Point: The Dual Turn System
Imagine getting together with a couple buds to try out your new game, Vandal Hearts II. One of those guys, like you, was a fan of the original. All of you are a little curious and filled with anticipation about what you shall see.
We skipped hurriedly through the opening cut scenes (which went from stereotypical to mildly interesting to dippy). Although curious, this game was going to be carefully played later. This session was all about getting to the meat of the game, the combat.
So here was, our first encounter versus gigaslugs. Okay, not the most fearsome or powerful enemy, but we were armed with a wooden stick. We selected our warrior and selected our target and pressed go. But instead of going the game focused on one of the enemies and what it wanted to do. And then out of nowhere the screen split. One side showed our warrior moving to the position we selected and striking while the other side similarly showed the enemy gigaslug.
This unexpected, astounding and unique game experience caught us by jaw-dropping surprise. Eyes bulging, we exclaimed, “What the heck,” to each other. After calming down we realized that our targeted gigaslug moved at the same time as our warrior. So yes, we swung at empty air. Thus was the nature of combat for the entire game.
We found ourselves staring at battle setups for long minutes throughout the game, trying to figure which unit the AI would move next, and who they would target. There were many attacks on empty spaces, accidental interceptions (which stop an attack), and just general hijinks associated with this mechanic. Sometimes it had the strange effect of making battles feel like one continuous turn.
The Dual Turn System was unique and daring, and not un-fun. It kept us playing this game longer both for its unique challenge and by the sheer fact that it required extra brain time. If legitimate challenge is fun, this mechanic qualifies. We understand that putting this in the “Good” section may be considered controversial by some. However there is no doubt in our mind that it was the most memorable and clever aspect of this game.
The Good & Bad
Conveniently Together in One Point:
- Level Layout Roulette: For whatever reason, a few level layout misses were sprinkled into the mix. In some cases it was difficult to see where a unit could step. This game did not need that kind of additional challenge.
- Art ‘Direction?’ It’s aiming sideways: The special effects varied. Some were eye catching. Others were what we considered ugly. This game needed consistent art direction.
- Open Sesame… or Not: To open a treasure chest a party member with a dagger and the unlock skill was necessary. Those are valuable weapon and skill slots. It became an unnecessary challenge. They do want us to get the prize, don’t they?
- Unusual Environments: VH2 took us through many varied environments. We fought battles not only on open land, but on a train, a ship, and even a giant plane. However the actual affect on the battle these environments could have offered were not realized. These were not the train yard battle of Shining Force III.
- Story: You want us to care, right? It can be argued that there was not enough deep story to keep players engaged. It started off okay in our mind but quickly went downhill. Less arguable is that it was somber, slow, depressing and most critically, boring.
- Characters: Bags of Dry Bones. The characters were dry. We felt no real sympathy for them, nor their slides to doom.
- Tactical Change Up, or Lack Thereof: Interest is often maintained by creating new situations for your existing characters. Outside of bosses, the Dual Turn system and a few select situations, the game lacked.
- Perhaps the Ugliest Portraits-Ever: Vandal Hearts one did not wow us with its character art direction. This game made us long for it. We were not thrilled by the digitized and modified photo likenesses.
- Move Fest: The number in your party could reach the double digits, likewise the opposing force. That is a lot of units. Between sometimes distant starting positions and the Dual Turn System, it became a cavalcade of moves.
- Boring Items: This is a more complicated issue considering items were used to delineate and empower the character roles. That issue aside, we found them to be snoozers. Remember the days when items were special?
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want: You thought you could reach that treasure chest? You were wrong. Some sort of deformation spell is required. And honestly, even if retrieved, the contents are not going to be so great.
- Serious Plot Point Multiple Endings: Not just the little stuff like romances or wrapping up the story of Fred the Blacksmith from level 17. No, life and death for major characters. 6 endings. We appreciated the customization, but branching was based on answers in seemingly casual conversations. At least the overall “war” was won and there is no total loser ending.
Despite the unusual Dual Turn System, this game was the first to dull our desire to play SRPGs. Quite a sad indictment coming from Play What You Like. It is not that the game was horrible, just that it got stale and let falter our will to stay engaged. A mediocre game that we knew was so right from the start would not be given that benefit of the doubt.
The Dual Turn System created tactical conundrums that enamored us for far too long. Eventually and thankfully the novelty wore off. After that, what was left proved insufficient to leave this game sitting well in our memories. Quality? Yes. Bold? Yes. A satisfying SRPG experience we would heartily recommend? Sadly, no.
When your game is part of a franchise, it is wise to build upon the previous entry. We felt no connection to the memorable first entry in this series. It is fine to go your own way as they did with the Dual Turn System, but in other ways either draw upon the connection to the previous game or start a new franchise.
The Vandal Hearts Games:
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment