Vandal Hearts, Konami's first Strategy/RPG, was met in the US with great love and success, because Playstation owners were quick to nab a rare treat like a Strategy/RPG on the Playstation, a console that was (at the time) somewhat thin when it came to RPG's. However, moving ahead a few years in a time - where the Playstation was flooded with tons of great RPGs - how would the sequel do in a much tougher environment with higher fan standards? Would it live in the minds of RPG fans as a classic or just another RPG? Read on and I'll try to give you a good idea of its fate.
While Vandal Hearts (known as VH from here on) was a pretty good game, it really wasn't a hard game to follow up, giving VH2 a huge advantage right off the bat. By doing more of the same, yet improving it, there would be no problem in making a great game. Well, unfortunately Konami didn't see things that way, and they changed VH2 into a totally different game with hardly even a trace of the original. Why? Who knows; in reality this game probably should have been called something other than Vandal Hearts.
If you read the second paragraph it shouldn't shock you to learn that VH2 story has nothing to do with VH's. I guess it makes sense, because VH's ending did tell you what happened to each character and ended the story. However, the characters in VH2 should have been at least descendants of the characters from the first; after all isn't that what a sequel is?
Anyway, *steps off soapbox* VH2's story, though not having anything to do with VH's, is still a great story in that it reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics' story, only better. VH2's story is a strong mix of war, bloodshed, romance, and religion and boasts an extremely large cast of characters. Sometimes I really liked the story, but other times I really hated it. To me it seems like they wasted a lot of good plots by not developing them, sometimes it appears like your watching a 2-hour movie that is missing an hour. There were a lot of really good stories to tell in VH2, but I think that Konami tried to put in a few too many subplots, because some of them were not carried out very well.
Besides some of the gaping holes in the storyline, VH2 still has a very nice and deep story that will make you want to finish the battle, just to see what will happen next. In my opinion, if a game's story can pull that off then it has done a heck of a job, and I feel VH2 did just that and did it very well. There were just some holes that needed to be filled, but they were not. Even still, VH2 has a pretty cool storyline.
The sound/music in VH2 is by far its weakest point. The game has terrible battle music and no voice acting whatsoever; I think it's safe to say Konami cut some corners here. The battle tracks are just the opposite of everything I wanted them to be, instead of a soothing melody playing in the background you get horrid fast paced music that is beyond annoying. And to make things worse, the out of battle music isn't that good either and it repeats and repeats the same junk over and over. To me it never really felt like the music was setting the mood, it was just there to make noise (one thing it managed to do very well). The music is so terrible in VH2 you're better off turning your TV volume all the way down and listening to the radio. When you compare the music to other Strategy/RPG's out there VH2 gets creamed in this department and its really a shame Konami didn't give it a better musical score, it would have help the game out a lot.
On a nicer note, VH2's gameplay is surprisingly good with a truly unique battle system. A lot of games nowadays claim they have unique battle system, but end up being the same old thing (a la Legend of Legaia). This is not the case for VH2. VH2's battle engine takes a step in a strange direction for Strategy/RPGs. Instead of taking turns like in most Strategy/RPGs (meaning that one of your men moves, then a computer player moves), in VH2 your player moves as the computer player does. After you select the command you want your character to execute, for example attacking, the computer player will move along with your character. If the computer character that you told your character to hit moves then your character will swing (or shoot) at the empty square that the computer character was just in, and you will miss the computer because he was executing his command simultaneously (whew, I hope that made sense). If you understood that, (bravo, if you did) then you can probably see that there are some things in this battle engine that go wrong sometimes.
There are a few annoying aspects of this type of layout, but I guess that could be said for all Strategy/RPGs. One is the computer cheating. Throughout the game, I ran into a few times were the computer purposely moved a character when it was about to be hit, even though it didn't make much sense to move that character unless the computer knew the character was going to be hit. And it really got old, especially when I was out outnumbered, but if you can overlook a few quirks like that I think you'll really enjoy this layout. Another problem is trying to figure out whom to move first in a turn, because you never know whom the computer is going to move (small hint: most of the time magic characters move first). So, you end up wasting about one or two of your people per turn, but I guess it's the price you pay. Other than that the system worked out better than I thought.
The sheer number of weapons and armor in VH2 is very impressive - over 100 types with each class having different weapons. Each weapon (including shields) has an attribute, like healing or lightning, and when you upgrade a weapon you just transfer the skill to the new weapon (each weapon holds around 3-5 skills) - very cool! Expect to spend a lot of your 40 hours playing with weapons and getting the right combos that you like, and spending even more time using your weapons in battle to get enough weapon experience to use the skills you want. You could beat VH2 in less than 40 hours, but if you sit back and enjoy it, it should at least take you that long. VH2 also has multiple endings, but don't get too excited folks -they're not that great. There are only about 2 or 3 times when you'll have to answer a question, but it does affect the ending a lot so be careful.
Another solid part of VH2 is its graphics, which are very appealing in many ways. VH2's graphics are a wonderful mix of beautiful colors and sweet, super deformed characters all on 3D rotatable backgrounds - great stuff! The graphics were very pleasing in every way and they murder VH's, fixing many of the problems that it had, like checkerboard backgrounds and floating landscapes.
Another solid part of VH2 is its graphics, which are very appealing in many ways. VH2's graphics are a
wonderful mix of beautiful bright colors and sweet super deformed characters on 3d rotatable background, great stuff! The graphics were very pleasing in almost every way and they murder VH's fixing many of the problems that it had like checkerboard backgrounds and floating landscapes; however, one small gripe comes to my mind. The character portraits are a total mess looking as though they were drawn by a child. Now, I know that art is in the eye of the beholder, but I just don't see anyone liking character portraits that have distorted faces and a hand full of dreary colors. Other than the disgusting portraits, VH2 really had a far better graphical appeal to me than VH. The graphics were sharper with less pixel distortion and the characters were smaller and sleeker making it easier on the eye.
One problem that VH2's gameplay has is lack of character uniqueness. Unlike VH, in VH2 any of your characters can become whatever class you want. You could have 10 flyers, or 10 solders, and any of your characters can become any class. As a result, you tend to treat most of the characters the same. One odd quirk that was strangely never fixed is the strange way the dialog boxes are handled. Sometimes when a character is talking his box will end (sometimes in the middle of a sentence), and there is a short delay between them. This really gets old. Why Konami didn't fix this is beyond me - it's very sloppy.
Overall VH2 is very a solid Strategy/RPG choice for any level of RPG player. I think VH2 was better than VH, because it fixed just about everything wrong with VH, while only creating a few new problems in the process. At any rate, VH2 is a pretty darn good game and I recommend it as a good solid buy.