Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment E3 Impressions

We get a more in-depth look at the new installment in Konami's revived RPG series.

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It's been a decade since the launch of the first Vandal Hearts game, which appeared on the original PlayStation and made a name for itself as one of the first and more successful tactical role-playing games outside Japan. Konami has made the decision to revisit the series and test the waters with digital distribution, releasing Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. We had a chance to see the game in action at the Konami booth during E3 2009.

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Vandal Hearts is one of the only strategy role-playing games available via digital distribution, and it's also one of the longest. Its gameplay runs for 8 to 12 hours and includes two dozen playable and replayable maps. At the Konami booth, we had a chance to see one of the battle maps in action, as well as discover more details about the game's new levelling system, combat, and story.

Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment has returned to a similar, more-basic levelling system seen in the first game of the series, in which players needed 100 experience points before levelling up and could pick from different classes upon reaching level 10. This time, however, character classes have been eliminated completely, which means that players can have their characters become skilled at anything they like, as long as they practice. For example, if you have a particular affinity for the bow and arrow, your character's long-range attacks will become stronger; if you're more the sword-wielding type, your melee attacks will improve.

Another feature of the previous games that has been omitted is the dual-turn system present in Vandal Hearts II, for which Konami received negative feedback. Given that movement in the game is grid-based, each character is limited to moving between highlighted squares at each turn. However, characters will now have only one turn, with one move per turn; the queue determining the turns is based solely on the speed capabilities of each character. Essentially, the quicker your character is, the higher priority you will receive. Each character can carry two weapons, and there can be up to six characters in one party. Once on the battle grid, each individual character takes a turn at moving. However, Konami assures us that one thing hasn't changed from the previous games in the series: the awesomely gruesome and highly copious amounts of spraying blood.

No Vandal Hearts game would be complete without a neat but not too overpowering backstory. This time, the action takes place in a time before the first Vandal Hearts story. The game follows an orphan named Tobias Martin, who grew up in a church on the border of two lands. The lands are now at war, and Tobias enlists to help fight. As the game's story progresses, Tobias uncovers things about his past that are not all what they seem, and suddenly his dislike of the enemy may not be altogether justified. The game features about 10 minutes of cutscenes dedicated to the story, as well as story sequences in-between the battles, so players can get a sense of the characters and their backstories.

We've been told that there are multiple endings to the game, tied to how players interact with the other characters. For example, there are two love interests for Tobias in the game, and each one produces a different ending.

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Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment will be available on XBLA and PSN this winter. Check back for hands-on impressions soon.

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