Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment Preview: Disturbing Yet Familiar

After spending countless hours playing the original Vandal Hearts and its sequel, I spent some time at E3 with this millenium's model, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment.

What Is It?
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment is an Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network prequel to the original Vandal Hearts strategy RPG series that appeared on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. It features young Tobias Martin, driven to fight for peace, revealing a much greater danger to the world of Sostegaria than the battle between its rival kingdoms. Insert dramatic music here!

What We Saw
The demo level I played saw the hero and his party being ambushed by a plucky villainess and her crew. After battling it out with her cronies a giant worm creature burrowed out of the ground, causing her to flee and I to put down the controller, as I only had a limited amount of time to play.

How Far Along Is It?
The graphics were clean, the sounds and effects in place, and I saw no obvious bugs to speak of. The game is due in September, so if it isn't close to finished by now it should be.

What Needs Improvement?
The Character Designs: I'm not quite sure what you'd call this art style, but it definitely isn't Vandal Hearts. It's a weird sort of Code Lyoko-ish style that I'm not sure I can get used to. It's almost somewhat...unsettling. The Konami presenter said that they were paying close attention to criticisms of the art style, though I doubt they'll be overhauling it completely between now and release.

On Screen Indicators: Still being polished up, a couple of attacks my characters had at their disposal weren't properly indicating where they would hit, causing me to off one of my own party members by mistake. Oops.

What Should Stay The Same?
Quick and Easy Combat: While at first the number of options might be daunting, the new Vandal Hearts has a relatively simplistic control scheme for a game of its type. Within five minutes of picking up the controller I had a handle on what was going on, quickly moving about the board dispatching my foes before bravely running from a giant worm.

Everything But The Characters: Aside from the character designs, the game itself is looking quite sharp. In fact, I wasn't originally planning on playing the game at Konami's booth but the colorful imagery drew me over.

Final Thoughts
It's odd, seeing a game that was one of the most epic experiences on the original PlayStation reduced to a downloadable title, but then perhaps reduced isn't the right word. The main adventure is supposed to clock in at around 12-16 hours, and with downloadable content this could wind up being the most expansive Vandal Hearts title yet. Hopefully the less-than-endearing character designs don't cripple it.