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Vandal Hearts is a series of tactical RPGs released by Konami. Three games have been released in the series so far, the most recent one being a prequel to the first. The first game was released for the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, and plans were made at one point for a Nintendo DS re-release. The second was available only on the Playstation. A prequel, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment, was released on Xbox Live Arcade on January 20, 2010 and on the Playstation Network the following day.
The first story follows the story of Ash Lambert, a soldier in the Republic of Ishtaria, as the government is gradually being corrupted into an empire. The second switches to a Natran bandit named Joshua (in the manual anyway) caught in the middle of a civil war. Both stories involve the same Sword of Plot Advancement, the titular "Vandal Hearts", and its influence on the outcome of the wars.
The original Vandal Hearts was a fairly standard tactical RPG, with its main differences from the rest of the genre coming in the form of a small amount of interactive scenery; one could kick boulders out of the way, push blocks, and so forth. Characters were restricted to a limited tree of classes based on their initial predetermined classes. Each side in battle would move all of their characters as part of their turn, then the other side would get a turn. Many missions included goals other than defeating all of the enemies, such as surviving X number of turns, reaching a certain point on the map, or destroying all enemies while preserving at least one villager.
While Vandal Hearts was not a major hit, it still enjoyed a certain status as a cult classic. The cast of characters is often heralded as one of it's strong points. They range from domestic policemen to ancient sages and drunken sailors. And that's just amongst the heroes. The plot and script were also solid and above average for a translation from Japanese at the time. The gameplay was also lauded by reviewers for having a clearly defined system wherein each class type was alotted its own "position" within an army, and the level design meant that each time the game was replayed, it could still be challenging.
Vandal Hearts II expanded on the first game by doing away with the class system (a character's class is determined by their armor and weaponry), adding learnable skills through the weaponry, allowing mission maps to be repeated, and introducing the "Dual Turn System". In the Dual Turn System, the player and the computer simultaneously give commands to one character each, and these characters would take their actions at the same time. This would sometimes require the player to second-guess the computer, as the enemy the player wanted to attack may not be standing in the same place when the attack went off. One aspect of the original that was downplayed in the second game was the variation in mission objectives; while there are a few missions in Vandal Hearts II with a goal other than "Defeat All Enemies" or "Defeat the Boss", they are far fewer in number and proportion than in the original game.
The plot was larger and the background information available was greater, though some felt that the individual characters were less distinctive. Also, some fans and reviewers were put off by the new "second-guess" system, preferring the old system.
Flames of Judgment ditched the Dual Turn system, brought back the first game's varied mission objectives, and introduced a somewhat Elder Scrolls-like character advancement system, where characters' stats improved automatically based on their actions. The story follows a young priest named Tobias Martin, who eventually becomes The Messiah, as he battles a Well-Intentioned Extremist for the fate of his country.
This series provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: In Vandal Hearts I, the characters briefly discuss whether the archeological evidence they're about to find might give the land's deposed former rulers a legitimate claim to the throne. This is never mentioned again.
- After the End: In Vandal Hearts II, fulfilling a large number of obscure requirements will eventually reveal that the world is actually a post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting.
- All There in the Manual: Many of the character and setting details in Flames of Judgment are only mentioned in the in-game journal.
- Ax Crazy: Most of the villains by the end of Vandal Hearts II; Shance Aya in Flames of Judgment.
- Badass: all the characters become this statwise.
- Grog Drinkwater is a washed up alcoholic former sailor who can still use a sword as well as his professionally trained allies.
- Badass Longcoat: Zohar Abu freaking Sa'id. An ancient, legendary sorcerer. His long black robes are really cool. Plus, while all the characters have a strange squatting animation while idle. Zohar just stands their, hand in pocket, with his white hair flapping in the breeze.
- Big Brother Mentor: Sebastian in Flames of Judgment. Guess what happens to him?
- Big Damn Heroes: When Clint, Eleni, Amon and Darius bust out of prison only to find themselves trapped in some tiny stretch of sand where archers can wreak merry hell on them, Ash and co. turn up to storm the impenetrable prison and save the day.
- It's okay, the prisoners were political dissidents that supported the good guy's rebellion.
- Bonus Dungeon: The key/prism levels in the first game. To a lesser extent, the various hidden maps in Vandal Hearts II and Flames of Judgment.
- Call Forward: Flames of Judgment includes references to Grog's fetch quest, Huxley's ending, and several characters' last names from Vandal Hearts I.
- Chest Monster: A certain level in Vandal Hearts I is packed with mimics, mixed in with occasionally-legitimate chests.
- One containing a unique, very powerful helmet that won't be outdone for a few chapters.
- Clothes Make the Superman: Vandal Hearts II had the HP and MP determined by the characters' armor. Used to a smaller extent in Flames of Judgment.
- Corrupt Church: Played straight in Vandal Hearts II.
- Though one of the few genre staples missing from the original. The nearest we got to mention of religion is the 'Holy Asha Dynasty' from the ancient past and that Huxley and Sara can become Bishops and Archbishops.
- Dark Messiah: In Vandal Hearts II, St. Nirvath saved the world from a plague...by cleansing most of the planet with fire.
- Goddard is the Messiah of the Kudur Cult, who, by dint of being a cult, are bad.
- Deal with the Devil: Kane Spites trades his soul in order to exact revenge on Ash, transforming into a bloodthirsty monster.
- Death Seeker: Kira Wulfstan in Vandal Hearts I.
- Depraved Homosexual: Mohosa in Vandal Hearts II.
- Disney Death: Clive Beckett in Vandal Hearts I is mortally wounded, gives a Deathbed Confession, and appears to expire (complete with sad, mournful rain), but a line of dialogue afterwards reads, "We may yet save him!" and a later line says, "Clive's going to be okay!" Given that he's never seen again after his "death," one wonders if the writers just felt sorry for him and slipped those lines in when no one was looking.
- Connor Ganson in Flames of Judgment is mortally wounded, then revived by The Messiah.
- Disposable Woman: In Flames of Judgment, Eleanor doesn't make it through her first scene.
- Downer Ending: Probably the worst ending in Vandal Hearts II where all of Joshua's childhood friends die, and he eventually ends up becoming a bitter and jaded man who founds a totalitarian empire that rules for 300 years before finally collapsing.
- Driven to Suicide: Adele in Vandal Hearts II, unless the player does everything it takes to prevent it from happening.
- Easy Amnesia: Eleni in Vandal Hearts I.
- Justified. With stuff.
- Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Vlad from Vandal Hearts II speaks like a caveman, but as he explains, that's just because he's not from around there.
- Subverted in Flames of Judgment, where Altyria pretends that she only speaks her native tongue, but actually speaks both languages fluently.
- The End - or Is It?: In a post-credits cutscene, Flames of Judgment shows Daldren's soul intact in Purgatory.
- Epic Fail / Narm: The debut of Kira Wulfstan in Vandal Hearts I may fall to this... if the attack does not hit.
Kira: Suck on this, brigand!
- Escort Mission: Flames of Judgment has you protecting Connor during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, and later protecting King Everett (twice). Thankfully, the former is a capable fighter, and the latter's usually pretty smart about letting you protect him. Usually.
- One in the original has you escort your party's mage's past self around a narrow stone path that can be raised or dropped into the sea at will so she can open an ancient shrine which is protected by the same ancient guardians who later serve the Big Bad. It...almost makes sense in context.
- Face Heel Turn: Yuri in Vandal Hearts II. This is later reversed if you have the Vandal Heart.
- For Science!: In Flames of Judgment, Liana's journal reveals how she gradually lost her grip on right and wrong as she chased success in the science lab.
- Fragile Speedster: Any character in Vandal Hearts II wearing the armor L-mach; +30 Movement... and max HP of 1.
- Free Rotating Camera
- Freudian Excuse: Dolf Crowley in Vandal Hearts I wanted to destroy the world as revenge for his father being conspired against. Likewise, Vandal Hearts II's Godard wanted to become a god because he was betrayed by his religious ideals.
- Friendly Fireproof: Used in the first game, averted in the second and third.
- Gambit Pileup: Just try to keep track of the plots behind the Natran Civil War.
- Generational Saga: Flames of Judgment is implied to be the start of one, as both endings conclude by zooming in on Tobias' child, whichever child that ends up being.
- Genre Blindness: Diego asks Eleni why she can't summon the golems she previously used to attack them.
- Get on the Boat: The first game features this between a couple of chapters. The second involves it without the actual boat, when the hero flings himself through a window into the river. The third features this near the end, complete with a nod to the first game.
- Guide Dang It: Obtaining the multiple endings in Vandal Hearts II.
- As well as all the keys and prisms in the first game.
- And the fabled Gradius Sword from Vandal Hearts 2. It has only been obtained through sheer chance or use of a gameshark.
- Happy Fun Ball: The Evil Doll in VH II.
- Hello, Insert Name Here: The second game allows you to rename the main character.
- Heroic Mime: Commander Agress in Vandal Hearts II.
- High-Pressure Blood: The original game was given an M rating virtually on the matter of this alone. The second game toned down the blood sprays (but included other kinds of brutal violence), while the third turned the blood back up somewhat, but skated by with a T rating.
- Hostage for Macguffin: Done in the first game, for Kira Wulfstan.
- Improbable Weapon User: The second game uses a weapon class system. There're swords, shields, daggers, axes...and then there's the "Special" class. Ranging from knuckles to lead-weighted urns, to books, to Maracas, and lastly, the Evil Doll. Oh, also, the Sinister Scythe.
- In Universe Game Clock: In Vandal Hearts II, the in-game date and time of day advance with every move the player makes across the world map.
- Last of Her Kind: Leena/Eleni in the first game.
- Licking the Blade: Certain enemies do this before each attack.
- Most notably the Mad Soldiers from the 2nd chapter of the first game.
- Load-Bearing Boss: Defeating the final boss in Vandal Hearts II causes his lair to collapse.
- Mighty Glacier: Dragoons in Vandal Hearts, and heavily-armored characters in Vandal Hearts II.
- Multiple Endings: Vandal Hearts II has several widely different endings depending on choices made throughout the game. Flames of Judgment has two somewhat different endings, depending on which love interest you favor during key conversations.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Hel Spites, though he's actually not so bad once you know that he's got good intentions. Kane Spites, on the other hand...
- Nerd Glasses: Calvin in Flames of Judgment. Darius, although they're more like nerd goggles, in Vandal Hearts I.
- No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: In Vandal Hearts II, Joshua encounters Nikolai on the street years after their previous meeting. In that time, Nikolai's gone from a proactive, politically-charged warrior to a self-pitying drunkard. Also, Joshua's stepsister has become a prostitute. Yeah.
- One-Winged Angel: Present in all three games.
- In the first game, Kane gives his soul for the power to kill Ash. The final boss also pulls one of these, though his OWA form was actually weaker than his normal one.
- The final boss of VH II has two forms which are both this; you fight his human form earlier.
- The final boss of Flames of Judgment transforms into a raging fire beast after having been beaten in human form.
- Only Sane Man: In Vandal Hearts II, Pike constantly questions the other characters' reckless, impractical decisions. This role gets taken up by Connor in Flames of Judgment, though in a subversion, he himself has a habit of going Leeroy Jenkins when provoked.
- Plotline Death: Early in Vandal Hearts II, a villain hypnotizes kindly old Lord Kossimo into attacking the protagonist, prompting the player to kill him in self-defense. Even though (1) you can avoid his attacks indefinitely, (2) you have access to a spell that can freeze him in his tracks without hurting him, and (3) you should be able to just leave the room (you jump out a window in the very next cutscene), the game won't let you advance until you kill him.
- Liana in Flames of Judgment is mortally wounded during a pre-battle scene, and lies wounded on the map during the fight. None of your healing abilities will help — in fact, even in the dialogue afterwards, Tobias tries a healing spell, but it doesn't work.
- Rape, Pillage and Burn: Vandal Hearts II includes all three, twice each. Vandal Hearts I and Flames of Judgment both feature a scene where a town gets torched, though not quite to the brutal extent of II.
- Reforged Blade: One of your main purposes during your quest is to obtain the legendary sword Vandal Heart. However, if you take on a number of subquests along the way - collecting all the Spheres, passing all the Trials, obtaining all the Keys - then towards the end, you can upgrade the main hero, Ash, into the 'Vandalier' class, which makes him virtually invincible and turns the rest of the game into a cakewalk. As part of this transformation, the Vandal Heart is turned into the even-stronger Vandal Heart Reforged.
- Saintly Church: The Church of Restoration in Flames of Judgment is a legitimate religious charity, with no particular ambitions beyond that.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: A magic ring in the first game, which tends to corrupt the holder and those around them.
- Sequel Hook: At the conclusion of Vandal Hearts II's ideal ending, Vandal Hearts I's protagonist appears to lead the second game's protagonist on another adventure.
- Short-Range Long-Range Weapon: Averted. Bows are long-range weapons, and you use them point-blank at your own peril, if the game even lets you.
- Shut UP, Hannibal: In Flames of Judgment, when the manifestations of the party's sins appear and deliver an elaborate round-robin monologue, Connor's response is, "Did you guys rehearse that before we showed up? 'Cause you really nailed it!"
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Vandal Hearts II is decidedly cynical, as exemplified in a scene where Nikolai heroically stands up for the townspeople, drives off the crooked, lecherous tax collector — and makes their situation much worse by bringing the wrath of the tax collector's boss down on the town. Vandal Hearts I and Flames of Judgment are both somewhere in the middle; in both, the world is bleak, and there are no perfect, easy solutions, but the heroes do at least succeed in preventing things from getting worse.
- Stable Time Loop: In Vandal Hearts I, Eleni is repeatedly thrown back in time, meets her younger self years later, and gives her essential advice before her younger self is thrown back in time again.
- Sword of Plot Advancement: The Vandal Heart sword fills this role in the first game, as the characters need it to defeat the villains' Weapon of Mass Destruction. In the second game, finding the Vandal Heart sword is an optional subquest, not necessary for beating the game, but necessary for achieving the best ending. In Flames of Judgment, the sword is first forged during the game's climax.
- Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors: In the first game: Knights, Monks and Armors beats Archers, the Archers beats Airmen, and Airmen beats Knights and Monks. Priests and Mages beats Armors, but lose to Knights and Monks. Oh, and the secret Vandalier class whoops any- and everything that moves.
- The more poetic version, as delivered in game is:
Sword defeats bow, bow defeats air and air defeats sword.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Comes up often in Vandal Hearts I and II, where characters frequently have long conversations in the middle of battle. Mostly averted in Flames of Judgment.
- Teenage Wasteland: Most of the adult men in Flames of Judgment were killed in a war sixteen years before the game begins; thus, most of the characters are either very young, very old, female, or the scarred, middle-aged veterans of the war.
- The Atoner: Liana Talbot in Flames of Judgment, who was an assistant Mad Scientist before becoming a childrens' teacher at a religious charity. If you read all the journal entries, it's even implied that she helped kill Tobias' mother.
- Kira becomes this on defecting back to you.
- The Dragon - Kane Spites in Vandal Hearts I.
- The Good, the Bad, and The Evil: In the first game, Zohar questions the protagonists' righteous quest, asking if it rather isn't self righteous instead, and if they are certain what they are doing will make the world a better place and not just mess it up even more.
- Much later in the same game, it turns out that Hel Spites, who's been setting himself up as the Big Bad, has been trying to attain Imperial World Domination for the safety of the people. Having seen the civilian populace getting caught in the crossfire between the former goverment's soldiers and the rebels, he decided to put an end to war, no matter the cost... Moments after this revelation, he is mercilessly slaughtered by Dolf Crowley in order for him to further his own ends.
- The Juggernaut: The enemy "Juggernaut". Attack them in the back; they die on one hit, attack them from anywhere else; you're basically asking for a major ass whoopin'.
- Dallas, from the first game, also qualifies.
- Traintop Battle: Vandal Hearts I includes one of these near the end, complete with the obligatory de-coupling train cars. In Vandal Hearts II, the protagonists pull a Train Job, although most of the action takes place on the ground once the train has already stopped.
- Unstoppable Rage: After Eleanor's death in Flames of Judgment, Connor goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, and can take out three or four enemies a turn if things go his way.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: In Vandal Hearts I, Hel Spites wants to bring about peace through forced unification. In Flames of Judgment, Dumas believes that his experiments will force the coming of The Messiah.
- Vendor Trash: Several items in the first and second games exist only to be sold.
- Though in the first game selling some means you can't get one of the Trial Keys to obtain the Vandalier calss.
- We Cannot Go on Without You - Most of the battles in all three games end if the main hero is defeated. Occasionally, the games suspend that rule, and include battles where the hero can "die," but another character can't.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Daldren Gray in Flames of Judgment wants to wipe out a rival country in a quick, brutal campaign — because if he doesn't conquer their fields, his country will starve.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: The collapse of Nigran Cathedral, with symbolism helpfully pointed out by Baron Pratau.
- Where Are They Now? Epilogue: All three games include a glimpse of each character's future during the ending sequence.
- Highlights include leading governments, marrying sweethearts, becoming important political figures, following ambitions all the way to...having an Archbishop of near unrivalled magical power working in a bakery, and her only rival for such powers working on a stamp collection. Granted though, he's old.
- The "stamp collection" ending is spoofed in Flames of Judgment. "So what're you gonna do when this is over?" "I don't know. Start a stamp collection?" "No, seriously."
- And the first Archbishop? Took the job so she can be near her Love Interest.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: Vandal Hearts I - After spending one day in a parallel universe, Ash and his friends return to find three years have passed in their time. And Zohar said they're lucky, they could've ended up in A THOUSAND YEARS IN THE FUTURE.