Vandal Hearts 2

   If nothing else, Konami certainly deserves an award for Most Improved RPG Developer. In the past year, the company has turned a pair of originally-mediocre series -- Suikoden and Vandal Hearts -- into two of 1999's better games. While it isn't quite up to the standards set by Suikoden II, Vandal Hearts 2 represents a tangible improvement over its lackluster predecessor.

   The most obvious improvement to the sequel is a world map very similar to those of Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics. The first Vandal Hearts was a completely linear adventure, but you're now given the freedom to travel about the continent to visit towns and battlegrounds. Random battles are thankfully absent; moving onto a completed battle site offers you a choice of whether or not to engage in combat.

 Big Daddy-O
Clive is always on the cutting edge of "cool"

   Combat is handled through a unique Dual Turn System that vaguely resembles an ATB system for strategy RPGs. You move your characters one at a time in any order you choose; however, one enemy moves simultaneously with each character you move. Any attack is thus subject to failing if the target moves out of the way at the same time. Consequently, the order in which you takes your turns is almost as important as what you do during those turns. Sometimes, you'll need to move a wounded character first to get him out of harms' way; other times, you'll want to make a few useless moves to waste the enemies' turns and lock them into position for the rest of the round. With a bit of foresight, you can also predict where the enemies will move to and set up an attack at that spot.

   Equally interesting is the weapon skill system: Each weapon comes with an innate special skill or spell learned after repeated use; these skills can then be transferred to any other weapon of the same category (swords, spears, etc.). In this sense, the system resembles Parasite Eve, as you collect weapon abilities to pile together on one super-weapon. Most of the skills and spells are simple attack abilities of various elements, but you'll also find abilities that heal other characters, open chests, restore HP gradually, or even alter the terrain.

This's the way!
I got a bad feeling!

   Unfortunately, Vandal Hearts 2 lacks one of its predecessor's greatest features: varied mission objectives. The original Vandal Hearts challenged you with a unique mission objective in nearly every stage, such as exterminating a band of guard dogs within a set time limit. VH2 reduces the formula to simple "kill all enemies" and "kill the boss" missions that offer very little in the way of variety. As exciting at first as the battle system is, it becomes rather repetitious when dragged through countless hack-and-slash scenarios; the same strategies are effective in most of the battles.

   Indeed, the biggest challenge in Vandal Hearts 2 comes in the form of hunting down every weapon in order to earn the coveted 100% weapon discovery rate. Doing so means thoroughly combing each battlefield for treasure chests and buried items. A number of hidden maps can be found as well; each contains even more items to loot. Ferreting out all the weapons is no easy task and should keep gamers who love discovering secrets busy.

 Vandal Hearts 2
Improved spell effects

   The game does an adequate but uninspired job in other areas. The story centers around a medieval power struggle like those found in the two Tactics games. Though the characterization is weak, the plot contains more than a fair share of twists and turns, even if many of them are rather predictable. The graphics, though nothing special, are vastly improved over Vandal Hearts 1's pixelicious sprites, and the music is catchy enough that you'll occasionally find yourself humming along with the battle tunes. Best of all, the characters no longer talk in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS! In fact, the dialogue is unusually witty and well-written.

   In the end, Vandal Hearts 2 is a classic example of a game whose sum is less than the whole of its parts -- it displays a number of clever ideas, but simply fails to piece them together in an interesting way. As the only strategy RPG released in 1999, however, it's certainly more than worth a look, especially for fans of the genre.

Preview by Fritz Fraundorf, GIA.
Vandal Hearts II: Heavenly Gate
Developer Konami
Publisher Konami
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  07.08.99
Improved Vandal Hearts 2 anti-mod codes
27 English screenshots / 45 backdrop images / 29 character icons
Additional character art / 77 battle maps / World map
U.S. box art