Let’s Talk About Vandal Hearts

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So you remember when I said that Konami dug their hands into the RPG waters for the first time with Suikoden, forever known as Suikoden 1 to me because REASONS, I did also mention this little overlooked gem that they created. Spotting this in the pre-owned section of my local computer centre, back before it turned into being just a place that sold computer parts and I’m not entirely sure it still exists because I don’t live there anymore and nobody tells me these things. But anyway, the version that I own is in English but the entirety of the manual and the blurb on the back is in every language BUT English. Sigh. So in order for me to know what the flamin’ ‘ell I’m doing, I have no choice to actually delve into the thing and get on with it.

Suffice to say that took me a bit of getting used to.

I SHALL DO THE SAME FOR YOU THEN. YOU SHALL FEEL MY PAIN.

No, no. I shan’t do that. I’m going to do that when we get to the story anyway. Ha, and indeed, ha.

So here’s the thing: this is a turn-based strategy RPG somewhat in the style of D&D in that characters inhabit the space on one block only, can move a certain number of squares only and can essentially attack one thing ONLY. You can counterattack everything till the cows come home but that isn’t a good idea when essentially what will happen is twelve enemies will attack you in their turn and you have to wait for all of them to finish attacking before YOU can heal yourself BECAUSE YOU WILL DIE A LOT. However, this is not advisable when your party consists of three people. One of them dies, you’re basically staring down the barrel of a load gun. A gun full of winged demons and knights. That sounds the perfect recipe for an RPG right there! My my my, how did that happen!

Before I got all plot-heavy on you, let me show you this:

vandal hearts 2

Grammar ATROCITY aside, this is basically what the game looked like. It is made up of 3D blocks and 2D sprites. These 2D sprites can jar against the backgrounds and can right royally destroy your eyeballs with their nowadays-awful look. They were acceptable back in the early days of the PS1 but now, you look at them and you actually feel violated. Like, seriously, these graphics are not good anymore. I’m not entirely sure they were back then. I usually refer to them as ‘charming’ but even I’m not sure about that, particularly when they zoom in and ALL YOU CAN SEE ARE SPRITES IN 300% CLOSE-UP – that is not a sight to see. When things zoom in, it looks terrible. From a reasonable distance, it’s passable. But in the UK, getting 40% at university is a passing grade. Make of that what you will. I buy games that are rated 4/10 all the time because 40% IS A PASSING GRADE. *sigh*

Basically, the graphics are 4/10. AT BEST. But I don’t mark these things on here so sod that for a game of ancient soldiers and demons. LET’S PLOT AWAY!

vandal hearts 4

You are Ash. Not the smoking kind or the tree kind, even though you do sometimes think he might the tree kind, but the name kind. As in your name in Ash. You get no choice on this choice which is probably a good thing because games that cover as serious a style of plot as this do not always work when you call your character SHITBOOBS or FARTNOSE.

ANYWAY! Shitboobs McFartnose… sorry, ASH… Ash and his two companions, laughably loudmouthed Diego and stoic and forthright Clint, start off being all covert and capture some massive guy called Zoot (and from this point on, I just call him Pingu and all his dialogue goes ZOOT ZOOT). He’s just broken out of prison and basically you’re out to get him. So far so normal. Yeah, Pingu never appears again so bang goes that joke. Anyway, Ash is asked to go help out with some rioting in the local area and encounters a dickhead called Kane, whose dad is the head of the whole government which means he has some serious entitlement issues and thinks everything should be given to him on a plate or I’LL TELL MY DADDY ON YOU WAAAH comes out to play and it always comes out to play because he’s a giant dickhead. Nothing is said about the riot being dealt with by SLAUGHTERING EVERYONE and instead, you get ‘punished’ and sent to go and find some major general called Magnus who hasn’t been seen for like a month or two because HE’S LOST AND NO ONE IS BOTHERED but you get sent to look for him as a punishment. Serious issues here, people. There’s treachery afoot AHAHAHA.

And as it turns out, there IS treachery afoot and plenty of it. If it wasn’t suspicious enough beforehand, it bloody will be when you find Magnus and discover he knows EVERYTHING about the current government being a political shitstorm of corrupt shits and even more corrupt shits and the man who sent you to find Magnus is totally in on it because of course he is, that’s what RPGs are all about. If you don’t have some serious backstabbing involved in your RPG by someone seriously near and dear than as an RPG, you’re not worth your salt, or whatever material they use/sell/craft with in RPGs these days. And this one’s a biggie. And there’s another one to come. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH it’s obviously the character who joined you randomly with no bakstory because YOU KNOW EVERYONE ELSE. YOUR WHOLE CHARACTER BASE IS BASED ON KNOWING EVERY OTHER CHARACTER. Seriously, every other character is connected to another by some way shape or form and the only one that isn’t ends up being the one who stabs you all in the back. SURPRISE. No. No it is NOT a surprise. Fuck off, clichés. Fuck off right now.

Ash has some daddy issues to deal with. Kane has bigger daddy issues to deal with. Eleni, Magnus’s daughter, has some daddy issues to deal with and there are probably a couple of other characters who have daddy issues to deal with but we never find out about them. Ever. Probably for the best. Three is enough.

There’s some time travelling/interdimensional warping involved, a few prison raids, a couple of random quests that you seriously have to fuck around to even find so you can become the best, game-killing character class and there’s a good ACTUAL plot buried underneath a lot of the poorly staged cut-scenes. These cut-scenes used the in-game graphics so obviously they are NOT good. The saving grace is actually the script. The whole thing OOZES Old English writing in that it comes across quite polite and proper (aside from grammatical errors lost in translation). It’s not Shakespeare, and if it was, you’d never understand a word of it within the doths, diths, daths and exeunt-pursued-by-a-bears – although the mere thought of that would be hilarious, even if it WERE badly animated.

vandal hearts 1

I mean look at this screenshot. Look how low-res the whole shebang looks. It looks dreadful. The fact that this game won gamers over with its story and gameplay over its ‘visuals’ is testament to actually how good this game can actually be. I would forgive you for turning your nose up at this game on looks alone. I would have done if I hadn’t seen the original reviews for this game complimenting it on its gameplay and story. Suffice to say, guv’nor, I wasn’t robbed at all.

The combat is fairly simple to get to grips with, despite my protestations at not knowing what the fucking hell I’m doing earlier on in the review THANKS NON-ENGLISH MANUAL, and usually involves a few mechanics. You can move a selected number of squares to move next to your target and you can attack them. Yup. Simplistic enough. You can ‘examine’ and ‘push’ things as well but these do not include enemies. How many times I’ve tried to push an enemy into a river or something and it hasn’t worked because I KEEP WANTING IT TO HAPPEN AND THE GAME STILL SAYS NO. You think they’d have learned after all this time that I WANT TO PUSH THE BASTARDS IN THE RIVER… DANGIT. On the plus side, because the combat is so simple, it’s easy to follow but at the same times, it’s easy to make a MASSIVE mistake. You move all of YOUR characters first and then all your enemies move together. It means you might move yourself into a place where you can’t attack on your turn but your enemies can move to attack you, thus rendering your chances of NOT DYING pretty low because DAMN, YOU DONE FUCKED UP. If Ash dies, the game ends. If a specific target dies, the game ends. If you’re meant to complete the whole level in 6 turns and you don’t, the game ends. Basically, the game doesn’t reward you if you’re shit. Not even remotely. You lose a companion in battle, you lose money. You missed a treasure chest in the level? You wanna go back for it? FUCK YOU, YOU LOSE, SUCKER. Basically. It’s that kind of game. If you suck, it tells you. If you do well, it showers you with all the money you need. You don’t get opportunities to grind, you basically get given what you’re given – which should be enough, don’t even try killing more worms cos you can’t AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – and if you haven’t got enough, you’re screwed. BOO.

vandal hearts 3

Development-wise, your characters start off as ordinary, swordsmen/women, magicians and archers. Swordsmen/women are in two classes: guardians and swordsmen, magicians have a variety different spells they can use depending on their type and archers are just… archers. They’re your common-or-garden, typical STRIKE FROM AFARS in a straight line as long as it’s not too far away because otherwise you have to move all of your characters around again until you can actually hit SOMETHING. Eventually, at certain levels, you can upgrade your classes to BETTER swordsman and BETTER guardian while archers get to choose from snipers (basically a BETTER archer) or airmen. And then SUDDENLY the whole combat system turns into some sort of weird rock, paper, scissors system with magicians. The magicians turn into either monks or healers, depending on what you want them to be. Suffice to say, you decide not to have a healer, particularly Huxley, and you might as well start the entire game off again because WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING YOU MORON??? YOU CAN’T HAVE HUXLEY AS A MONK. HE LOOKS RIDICULOUS AS A NINJA.

HUXLEY NINJA

LOOK AT HIM. HE DOES NOT LOOK COOL. HE LOOKS SILLY. YOU MADE THAT HAPPEN. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY WITH YOURSELF NOW. WHO’S GOING TO HEAL YOU NOW? EH? ELENI? PFFFFT. SARA? PFFFFT. ZOHAR? PFFFFT. You’ve basically got yourself a party of ninjas. Huxley was your ONE CHANCE. Silly. SILLY.

There’s a lot of depth and a very intriguing story at hand here. It gets a bit silly at times and to be fair, it can get a bit repetitive. There are a couple of fights that take FOREVER for no good reason other than you dilly-dallying and faffing about with where to go or what to attack or MAKING ERRORS THAT WILL KILL YOU. And trust me, if you want a game that will punish you for every mistake you make, then fine, you could get this or basically ask a sibling to scream curse words at you for six hours solid. It’s the same feeling at the end of it.

My brother has a lot of words he can use against me. It’s cos he’s so old. The old git. I’ve learned enough from him in my time. How to play Vandal Hearts is not one of them. I HAD TO LEARN THAT ONE ON MY OWN, FUCKING NON-ENGLISH MANUAL.

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