Not really a RPG, but still a hell of a lot of fun
Vandal Hearts is definitely one of the sleeper hits of the year. No one expected it to be a great game, as it wasn't hyped up before its release. But Konami put something into the game that usually helps: fun and addictive gameplay.
Vandal Hearts claims to be an RPG, but it really isn't. Actually, it's a strategy game with RPG elements and a story intertwined. Unlike Command and Conquer, where you can have hundreds of "units" at a time, in Vandal Hearts you usually have around 7. But rather than having units with identical abilities, each of your characters have different skills, spells, and strengths that set them apart. They advance in levels, again making Vandal Hearts look like an RPG, but all it really does is add more spells and raise endurance.
For every ten levels you advance, you can choose a path of study for your character. For example, when your archer reaches level 10, you can either have him become a Bowman (a more skilled archer) or a Hawknight (a flying, spear-wielding character). Since your characters can be different every time you play, Vandal Hearts has some unprecedented replay value.
During the actual strategic part of the game, you navigate bitmapped characters throughout a polygon map. The maps range anywhere from really small to quite big - it can take up to 20 minutes to get from one side to another. The landscapes are varied with mountains and valleys. The textures that are slathered on the polygons look great, and the bitmapped characters and enemies fit in like a charm. The spells don't look quite as good as Final Fantasy 7, but they are still really cool. Vandal Hearts did receive a rating of Mature, and there is really only one reason for it. When you kill an enemy, even if you just poke it with your finger, an artery-busting spray of blood is released. Although it may be a little gratuitous, it sure does look neat.
The game is turn-based and you navigate each character individually. Because of the vastly different maps and buildings that would block your view of the action, you can rotate the camera around 360 degrees, as well as switch from a blimp view to a side view (and everything in-between). The camera is really intuitive, not hindering the game at all. Before you decide to start moving your characters and spewing some blood, you might want to observe the landscape and plan out your attack. Because you can see the whole map from the beginning, having an actual plan can be extremely helpful. I can attest that blindly running around attempting to kill things doesn't work as well as you'd think.
The music is an orchestral score that will definitely get you pumped up into killing the baddies. The sound is equally as good; squishy blood sounds and the clashes of metal upon metal are all superbly done. The sounds that accompany the spells also follow suit, and you won't be disappointed by leaving the sound turned up LOUD.
This game is so ridiculously addictive, you'll soon find yourself taking time off from work to play it. Its combination of a good story, great control, and strategic play set it apart from all the other games on the market today.