Tactical Strategy - Lite

User Rating: 7 | Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment PS3
I finished Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement in just a few play sessions. It is a short game. I enjoyed my time playing the game. I was very happy that a tactical strategy game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics and Jeanne D'Arc was created for the PS3.

Battle map designs were uninspired. Most of the game is spent battling in either corridors or wide-open areas. The landscape factors very little in play strategy.

The story and character dialogue is corny and cliche-ridden. Each town has a tavern to visit. This seems to be a totally useless feature as the tavern patrons never had anything interesting to say.

The inventory system is workable but very clunky. The original Vandal Hearts has a nice vendor system that makes buying/equipping/selling items a breeze. Oddly this game did not implement the same system.

I may have missed it but there didn't seem to be a way to see what a spell book's spell's effect is before you buy it. Clicking the info button just tells you that you must equip the book to learn the spell.

I did repeat a few levels partly to see what I may have missed in treasure chests, partly to increase the character skills in preparation for the next battle. I found that repeating levels quickly gives you lots of money. Having lots of money means you can equip your characters with all the best stuff as soon as you hit a new store. Treasure chests save you a little coin but are otherwise an uninteresting element of the game.

Most of my characters had the ability to heal, cure, and cast buffs. I never bothered to mess with potions. Why use a potion when you can have a character gain skill levels by casting an equivalent spell?

Most reviews of the game gripe about the art-style. I personally found the art and the graphics to be very satisfactory. Character design is very similar to that of Jeanne D'Arc on the PSP. Spell effects were lame for the most part. I had some difficulty telling which way enemies were facing. It is important to know which way enemies are facing because flanking attacks get bonuses.

In battle, I do not like the queued character activation order. Ninety percent of the time all your characters attack and then all of the enemies attack. For a queued initiative order to be interesting the enemy/ally order of attack needs to be mixed up more. It is too easy to lose a character when the enemy gets to attack 12 times in a row because of the lopsided queue. Most games in the genre let you choose the order in which your characters take their actions.

In many cases, enemies are entirely immune to spells. This makes the time spent on leveling up spell skills an entire waste. They should make enemies be highly resistant or shorten the number of turns that they are debuffed rather than complete immunity. Enemy design was uninspired with little more than melee/archer/mage.

The final battle is a bit anti-climatic. You spend the entire game specializing all your characters to work as a team and then at the very end the protagonist of the story has to fight without his teammates. It took me a couple tries to get through the final battle. My character had his weapon skill in the low 30's going in. My experience was that I had to rely a little bit on luck to get through. When I did finish the game I had no mana left and very little hit points. The final battle was okay as far as challenge level goes but I was disappointed that they chose to leave out the rest of the team.

The game has no difficulty levels and no figure-of-merit kind of assessments at the end of each battle. This limits replayability. I think I leveled my characters a little too much. I usually finished each map with no more than one character getting knocked out. Of course, you can say the game lets you manage the level of difficulty yourself. If you want it to be harder then don't repeat maps. But it would still be nice to have some kind of iron-man mode that limited or removed the ability to replay maps. The final battle is out of balance with the rest of the game. I can't see making it through the final battle with a character that hasn't repeated maps.

Since I have so many negative things to say about the game, why did I state that I enjoyed playing it? Partly because I am a fan of the genre. However, I found the choices that one must make in this game to be very enjoyable. Each turn's action is critical and full of choices as to whether buffing, healing, or attacking is the best maneuver for each character. I recommend the game for someone looking for a casual game to burn some time on. If you want strategic-depth, role-playing, or fantastic graphics, you should look elsewhere.