It's reunion time! Talk about digging one up! Konami returns to the Vandal Hearts franchise after a nearly 10 year hiatus. The Japanese turn-based RPG that started out for the Playstation almost 12 years ago, with a sequel 2 years later, returns with a prequel, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment in the form of an XBLA title! The question is does it still hold up after all these years? Does it justify the 1200 Microsoft Points? Lets find out.
As mentioned the game is as a prequel to the original, putting you in the role of Tobias, one of the many orphans of "The Great War". You're at school, learning your arts when out of nowhere ( shockingly! ) bandits attack your village, and very quickly the fate of the lands are in the hands of you and a few of your classmates.
The Good. The game does a great job of sticking to it's roots. Battles place you on a grid style of map and give you goals to meet for Victory such as who must survive the fight, and the enemies that need to be killed. There are a variety of different battlefields, as well as some creative mechanics, such as rolling rocks towards a gate to break it open, or killing the enemies before a character dies, that mix the fights up and keep it interesting.
As you progress through the game, your skills increase as you use them. That is to say for every melee attack, your melee skills go up, and for each spell cast, your magic skills go up etc... This allows you to decide who's going to fill which class role for your group, and you're able to equip each character with the items that will benefit them the most. I prefer the system more to the XP / talent point style of play as it's simple, and more intuitive which is a good fit for this game, you don't need to be putting more time into skills and specs than you are into playing the actual game. It doesn't require you to scroll through 100 melee option to increase your caster's Mana pool for example. The graphics, sounds and plot all fit the bill, they're enjoyable, well done and definitely a plus to the game.
The Bad. Don't start a battle if you have a plane to catch... because you're probably going to miss it. The overall pace of the game is "laid back" to put it mildly. The Battles themselves take a long time to get through, especially when they start including upwards of 20 bandits. I once spent a fair amount of time just watching bandits move around the screen and attack me while I wondered when I was going to get another turn, only to make 2 moves and then sit and watch for another lengthy amount.
The process of actually making moves can be a little tricky as well, with a number of button presses to do something as simple as switch to ranged weapon or use an item. I felt they could have made use of a number of the unused buttons available to them rather than rely on the old system of scrolling through menu options for each character... it's vintage and nostalgic, but so is walking uphill both ways to school, and I'm pretty sure we all stopped doing that.
Another annoyance for me was the save system. It's a manual system that gives you the option to save here and there, and what struck me as just silly was that should you decide not to take that choice, because say you plan on playing for awhile longer, and then two battles down the line you are defeated you end up having no option but to load your last save point. Unheard of? no... but how hard is to offer the player to retry the failed battle? Having to go back and redo a 20 minute battle you have already won because you didn't want to save seems like excessive punishment for getting your rear handed to you.
Lastly... if I ever see those loading screens again, it'll be too soon! Some of them were longer than the story telling screen that follows it, only to go back to a loading screen right after it! Again... nostalgia I don't need.
The Way I See It: An enjoyable visit to an old friend that you liked so much, and didn't need to be reminded of his annoying qualities. If you like the genre & series, you should give it a go!
Don't Forget!: Demos are free
Suggestions: Player convenience goes a long way. I find the constant menuing, loading, and waiting, just takes away from an otherwise solid game