The fanbase of the RPG genre is often split down the middle. Many prefer the “old school” turn-based style of gameplay while others tend to lean toward more modernized offerings (the Mass Effect series is a prime example). Hijinx and Konami have gone back to the old school well and brought back beloved favorite Vandal Hearts to Xbox Live Arcade. After over a decade of absence, the series returns to a modern-day console while staying true to its original form, but is that a good thing? Will the old-school on-rails style of gameplay still appeal to a modern audience who may have evolved?
The story itself is a prequel, with the events unfolding during the years immediately following the war between the Balastrade and the Urdu. As usual, players assume the role of a young man who has his entire life up heaved when an attack on his hometown forces him to flee with a couple of friends. From there, players embark on a step-by-step journey in order to transform from weak child into warrior badass along with five other pals that join your “pitiful little band.” It’s the stuff of many past RPGs, but isn’t that why you’re playing?
The gameplay is the “tactical” RPG style, meaning each battlefield is laid out like a grid. Players must decide where and how to place their characters in order to wipe out every enemy on the screen. Players traverse from area to area via a world map that slowly “unlocks” various locations that will gradually reveal one piece of the story at a time while our hero(s) level up and become more powerful with each skirmish they face. These battles start out with easy foes like wild wolves but soon get more harrowing when our little group starts facing enemy soldiers, thieves & looters and then a bit of the macabre monster varieties like worms and ghosts. Overcoming these obstacles should pose no problem for seasoned RPGers and even if you have never played a single title in the genre you will not find any of what the game has to offer insurmountable. Characters level up based on the use of what you give them, so the only point to even think about with any degree of depth is who in your party is going to become the leader of each class. Characters with swords evolve into battle-hardened warriors and characters who specialize in magic will become high-class mages just by the repeated use of the skills they are given.
Graphically, the game doesn’t do much to wow your eyeballs. The maps and battle locations are pretty enough to get the job done, but no more. If this were a console game of two generations ago it would have been considered graphically impressive. Character design is decidedly cartoony, with a slight bend toward anime poking its way through. The controls are so easy you could practically play through the whole thing with one hand on the controller and the other firmly planted inside a Pringles can. Since you probably could have guessed all that is mentioned above, the next thing to figure out is whether Konami has delivered an experience worth delving into at all… well, the short answer is “yes.”
Although the game relies heavily on conventions and standards of an era long gone by, it’s still a load of fun. Experienced RPG gamers may view it as a short and easy way to pass the time until the next big thing comes along and takes up another eighty or so hours of their lives. Those weaned on current gen fare may find it a bit too slow and methodical for their tastes, but may find themselves pleasantly surprised if they give it half a chance. Yes, the characters and story is stereotypical… yes, the gameplay mechanics are the stuff of a bygone era and yes, the whole presentation is “on rails” to such an extent that it makes the “Small World” ride at Disney seem like a wild, unpredictable experience. All of this being said, the game still contains enough compelling moments and situations that will make you smirk with the nostalgic RPG delight you may remember having had many years ago when you were a much younger gamer.