Vandal Hearts II Review by: janusWorse than I Remember
When I played Vandal Hearts I again on Vizzed, I realized that, for its time, the game was a gem. I wanted to give Vandal Hearts II the same chance, since I never completed the game. But even after playing the game through, I still think that it’s a bad game
While VH I innovated by introducing brief CGIs, none of that is present in VH 2. Literally: the only “movies” I could find were the loading screens, which looked like the reels of a mute movie. It’s inexcusable for an RPG produced in 1999. Also, while the cutscenes don’t have the same psychedelic backgrounds, they still fill less than half the screen.
But compared to VH 1, VH 2 does show some nice improvements. For starters, characters are less pixelated and are drawn better. Their movements still look a little clumsy (especially on stairs), but at least they can jump when they have to. Also, everyone you talk to has a (static) portrait, and those are drawn nicely – some details like blood can show up at times, improving the image. Aging was also done nicely for the few characters you see between the Intro and Chapter One; you can still recognize them.
On the battlefield (where most of the action happens), graphics also look nicer. Many of the “bonus” battles (necessary to obtain the Vandal Heart sword) have very big moving objects that show the technical prowess of the designers. Too bad it wasn’t meant to add some difficulty; in one such battle, there are “treadmills” that don’t affect your moving at all, and flying on lava doesn’t affect your health like the poison fields did in the previous game. Blood splatters also look less geyser-like… but it’s still too much for my taste. It doesn’t add much to the game. There are also sharp differences in altitude in many battles, making the battles more difficult and varied compared to the preceding game.
But the best improvement was done with magic. Every single spell you cast (or curative / attack item you use) has some form of animation to it: healing spells have angels (the stronger the spell, the larger / more numerous they are), fire spells range from dragons to meteor showers, holy spells include a giant heart beating and even angels crashing on you for the gates of heaven, etc. I think only magic in Final Fantasy II showed so much diversity.
A final improvement: how attacks are made. The movements are much more realistic (except for the bow and arrow, that look clumsy) and diverse. Many weapons can give you special attacks, all of which have been nicely designed. The jab technique on a lance shows the dexterity of the wielder, while the axe storm and slash from swords show the precision of the attack.
Concomitant with the lack of movies, there is absolutely no voice acting in VH 2, which again is inexcusable for a 1999 game.
However, the music does show signs of improvement. The orchestration sounds more realistic, and also more epic as is the case with the overworld theme. The battlefields start on a much lighter and joyful note, but end up sounding quite dramatic at the end of the intro. The sad theme (heard during many cutscenes) does sound pretty sad; there are even 3 tracks taken from VH 1 for the bonus battles. However, I have to say that I prefer the original versions, and by far – as if the composers tried to overdue their ability to better use the sound chip.
Sound effects also show great signs of improvement, especially for magic. The stronger the spell, the better the sound effect (be it attack of healing). When the final boss’ parts disappear in a pillar of flames, it does sound like something exploded. And during cutscences, you can hear doors squeak at times, which added a nice touch.
I hated the game, but I can objectively see why people could get hooked to the game.
First and foremost, hidden objects are very well-hidden. While there are some obvious spots (in the middle of a lake, on the tallest structure of the battlefield), some will have you wonder around for a long time since there can be many “suspicious” spots until you acquire a weapon with an ability to find hidden treasures. Also, certain chest are hardly accessible unless you can create blocks / terraform the terrain, so you will need to move wisely and strategically. Or explore certain areas only during certain time of the day or later during the game. You need them to get the Vandal Heart sword, but also to get 100% of weapons and shields.
Also, planning your strategy in order not to get slaughtered is all the more important. Enemies are usually more numerous than you are, and usually have the high ground. You will need to use your brain to find the perfect spot to avoid archers massacring you or fliers taking you by surprise. And if you can complete a battlefield undefeated, you double the amount of gold you get; later battles can give you quite a bit of money (useful for a technique where you attack throwing coins).
There are also two distinctive endings: where Adele lives or dies. Your answers to some questions will change its course, so answer wisely.
This is one of the elements that made me hate the game.
In the Holy Year 986, Lagore, the King of Natra was assassinated by his wife, Queen Agatha and her lover, Cardinal Ladorak. Having installed the infant Prince Franz as the new king, Queen Mother Agatha appointed Cardinal Ladorak as the Premier. Together, they assumed control with an iron fist, eliminating all those in opposition. Ladorak's oppressive rule was enforced by an elite troupe of knights. Using torture, deception, assassination, and informants, the knights ruthlessly crushed all opponents.
(From the introduction)
Had the storyline stay around that story, which gets more complex as the game goes, it might have been interesting. After that intro, the action goes to you (Joshua) and two friends who play with Adele, a noble girl whose (adoptive) father has a much lesser of opinions of peasants than his own father. One day, a mysterious knights comes to your remote village. He later reveals that he is Nicolas, the rightful heir to the throne.
Sadly, by the end of the introduction, the story introduces Goddard, a mysterious wizard who schemes something with Adele’s father. As the story progresses, the focus changes to him for no apparent reason, leaving the war in the background.
Also, chapter 1 starts with you, a few years in the future, with 2 mercenaries that come out of nowhere. You just start raiding (seemingly) random convoys until you start taking sides out of nowhere. You do get to meet old acquaintances as the game progresses, but their inclusion felt forced.
Speaking of forcing, I felt that the game tried to be too close to actual European history (minus the magical elements). Nobles treat peasants like rag dolls, and peasants seem to accept their faiths are part of God’s plan. At one point, you also see familiar faces in an “adult” pub, and they say that they had “no choice”. Also, since the second part of the story takes place around the year 1000, you see crazy cultists foreseeing the end of the world, and therefore look to “purify” Earth in order to restore peace. Chrono Trigger had a much better approach to similar end-of-world scenarios.
Finally, you never get to know your real parents, and there is a VERY forced linked to VH 1 at the very end of the game.
Completing this game took me about 40 hours using save states; I wager that it would be at least 50 percent longer through “normal” gameplay.
However, despite needing to look thoroughly to get hidden objects and thinking hard to get an effective strategy, the main storyline is too shallow to allow more than a 5. As I mentioned earlier, the mercenaries that accompany you at the start of chapter 1 have absolutely no back story – one of them uses simplistic sentences to speak – and so do all other characters that will join your quest. At least, VH 1 had every character play a role in your quest (positive or negative) at one point or another.
Here, they simply join you with a simple story. There is even a female knight who doesn’t (well, barely) utter a word, and we don’t even know why.
THIS is what made me stop playing, as game guides were not very many when the game was first released.
First and foremost, allies and foes move at the exact same time. While enemy movement can be predictable (trying to catch you from behind, taking advantage of elemental weaknesses or stacked allies), attacking them while they move will prove to be VERY frustrating until well after the first half of the game, where a weapon has a spell that sees who moves when.
Also, spells will affect anyone in range, friend OR foe, be it attack or healing. In other words, an ill-placed spell or attack can end up hurting / killing an ally or healing a foe.
Finally, some battle are (nearly) impossible to finish one the first try, let alone altogether – I quit in the battle coming back from Fort Dauntess with the resurrecting priest. And since you will be at an altitude disadvantage for most battles, you will need several tries before avoiding all those arrows.
On a slightly more positive note, you can transfer skills and spells (unless there is an opposite element present) from one weapon to another of the same category. This way, you can still hunt treasures even if you don’t wield the very first knife you carry, or have the best shield available to carry you recover marks (the effect is cumulative, like brawl for your “special” weapons).
In short, avoid Vandal Hearts 2. Its graphics are unimpressive, its story is uselessly complicated and goes left and right for no reason, and its difficulty level is uselessly high. Vandal Hearts 1, even though the game doesn’t last more than 25 hours, was exponentially more interesting.