Konami during the nineties is known for producing stellar releases in the RPG genre. Suikoden series being the main franchise that deserved more mainstream attention than it garnered. There is another that is close to one's heart, the original Vandal Hearts game. Two sequels did follow, neither could capture the magic of the first.
Vandal Hearts is a tactical strategy game at heart with a 3D isometric view of the battlefield. There are limited exploration in 2D that involves speaking with NPCs in various areas as you progress through the linear story progression. For those that invest enough time with this element, you can unlock additional side missions, six in total known as trials that tie into the lore. These are targets for completion players as they're not mandatory and get increasingly difficult.
Gameplay wise its a classic case of taking a turn against the computer, giving instructions to each character under your command to vanquish those dastardly foes. There are three classes in principle at work with slight variations: melee, range and flight. The latter does involve melee combat yet any in that category can move greater distances and over water. All three classes play against one another in a triangle logic of strength and weakness. Similar to rock, paper and scissors.
Melee is more effective than range, range more effective than flight, flight more effective than melee.
During the battle, characters will level up and later qualify for advancement. Advancement is done while visiting a town where your party evolves to a stronger warrior and most are given the opportunity to choose between one of two paths. For example, Diego can either be an archer or a hawk-knight, this option is available at level 10, and then at level 20. Another one of the party, Clint, can choose to be a swordsman or guardsman, note both are that of melee as a primary class, yet have a secondary depth that is a decision between favouring manoeuvrability or attack damage.
These choices may be limiting in some respects, but feels good to produce a well rounded group of heroes that compliment your style of tactical gameplay. From the outside it may look shallow, however, on one play-through I greatly emphasised in one area of a class and saw better results than an evenly balanced army, because I'd worked out how to utilise them while concealing the weaknesses in how the battle was approached.
The combat itself is a joy. After first stumbling across this game over twenty years ago, I still get the occasional urge to delve back in. Every hit has impact, the deaths are a fountain of blood that spurt out from the victim before they're pulled out from the game. You're then given the spoils of war as both a reward and score, with the possibility to play the entire game without a single casualty.
As sound goes there are satisfying sound effects that you'll learn to here when connecting with your many foes along the campaign. The music is catchy and sets a tone, that fuses with the story narrative nicely.
One fact I do love about this game is that it's possible to complete the game without a single casualty. A task I've taken upon myself and have successfully accomplished, boy is that satisfying!
Vandal Hearts in a nutshell is a classic role-playing game that deserves your attention. No matter how far advanced video game consoles or mechanics become, this will be one experience that never depreciates in value over time. The only downside is that to own a copy is rather experience due to the rarity, it wasn't the commercial success that it so deserved, however, they did produce a sequel.
Aged graphics may hinder a new audience, they do compliment a well-rounded package with a memorable storyline and characters.