Vandal Hearts II is an often misunderstood strategy RPG gem that many gamers have tried but gave up after not understanding how to play. The game requires a lot of patience and if you are willing to learn the complexities of battle and teach yourself strategies to win then the reward is well worth the effort.
The game starts with a prologue where childhood friends are going about their daily struggles until they get caught up in a devastating life-altering event. The prologue is very slow-paced and a bit too long. Afterwards, we see the main character in present times as an adult with a new band of pals and the game becomes increasingly more interesting and involving as more party members join and plot twists ensue. The plot revolves around the politics of war, religious extremists, and many power-hungry entities and individuals. One of the most prominent aspects of the plot is how people change over time. Some characters rise above their calling while others fall far below. When characters who knew each other since childhood reunite you can often expect deception and disappointment to follow.
The music is orchestral, catchy, and fits the mood of the story sequences well. Characters are rendered in 2D and look sharp. However, some character portraits in dialogue sequences look a bit grainy. Equipment such as weapons and armour are reflected on character models which is always a nice touch. The overworld map is simple and navigable as are the menu-based towns. Battle maps are quite large and look great with easily distinguishable topography. Overall, the presentation may not be jaw-dropping but it suits the game very well.
The battle system centers on moving at the same time as your opponent as opposed to most games in the genre where you and your opponent take turns. The battles keep you strategizing what your opponent will do next. If you can guess correctly, you can do many things to gain the upper hand in battle such as moving a member of your party to block, dodge, lure, or attack an opponent. As you play the game, you will teach yourself tactics to outsmart your opponents.
There are many factors at play in battle such as elemental weaknesses and strengths, attacking from behind and/or above deals more damage, more agile characters act first, heavier characters will shove lighter characters away if they move to the same space, more damage is dealt the more party members surround an enemy, enemies tend to target party members with lower HP, etc. You can use these factors to your advantage in order to deal more damage or be able to manipulate your enemy. The endless possibilities of any situation in battle keep you strategizing and learning from your mistakes. If you're not willing to learn how to play this game with its steep learning curve and complexities, then it can be very intimidating.
Besides the unique battle system, there are other features that stand out. One is the deep party customization system. This is not the kind of game where you just equip your party members with the best equipment then head out to battle. You have complete control over your party. There are no character classes and anyone can equip anything, so find what works and go for it. Sometimes, it may take over an hour customizing your party to be the best team they can be. You can also customize their skills which are attached to their weapons. There are passive skills like being able to gain HP at each turn, or active skills such as spells. Each weapon has its own initial skill that you can transfer to other weapons of the same type after learning it. This adds a collectability aspect to party customization and also requires some careful planning since the amount of skills you can equip on each weapon is limited.
Another feature that stands out is how many collectables there are to be found. There are about 200 weapons plus a ton of other items to find throughout the game. Most of these items are found on the battle maps either as hidden items or in treasure chests and some are found via side quests. Finding these items is rewarding since you will unlock new battle maps and discover equipment that will make your party a force to be reckoned with.
Vandal Hearts II will always have a special place in a few gamers' hearts due to its great story and presentation, complex and involving battle system, deep party customization system, and large quantities of collectables. What a fantastic game.
- + Moving at the same time as your opponent adds layers of depth and strategy
- + Character customization is involving
- + Many treasures and secrets to find
- - Steep learning curve requires a lot of patience
- - Very slow first act