Vandal Hearts is a little known SRPG found on the PSX. It tells the story of Ash Lambert, a good hearted soldier who uncovers a diabolical plot to destroy the world. He begins his quest with 2 fellow soldiers, but is eventually joined by others who all follow him for their own reasons. Some are for loyalty, others for love, and others yet to interfere and betray him. The game play is a series of six chapters. Each chapter contains 4-7 “battles” in which the player navigates their army of 3 to 12 people, and then the enemy navigates all of theirs. As such, the soundtrack of the game is primarily the music found in battle (one piece during the hero’s turn, and a separate piece for when the enemy moves) with some event pieces, town music and a character theme.
I have to admit I was slightly disappointed after hearing the opening track. It begins with a lovely woman’s voice singing a gentle eastern theme and I thought the soundtrack would be heavily laden with ethereal vocals. Sadly that is one of the only vocal pieces. While the hero’s battle music rotates between 5 or 6 themes with little variation, the enemies’ battle music is always the same. However, this repetitiveness seems to serve the game just fine. The hero’s battle themes range from triumphant and determined during strategic fights and ambushes, to somber and respectful in the battles that take place in temples and ruins.
The town music is so easily distinguished and recognizable to border on amusement. Waddling bassoons and oboes layer the chords as clarinets and low brass play an andante melody that so captures the visualization needed of centuries-old villages and hamlets. The one character theme is Ash’s, while somewhat tritely played on an ocarina, is sad and longing enough to make it a solid addition to the story.
The orchestration is strange in that it relies very heavily on woodwind instruments, which is rare since the electronic counterparts rarely live up to the live sounds. In most OSTs, the woodwinds play a less substantial role as filler, decoration, or as a single melody over block chords. We’ll hear high flutes fluttering 16th note runs, or groups of woodwinds playing staccato chords, rarely are they used with the frequency and lead that can be found in this OGS. The enemies’ battle theme is a perfect representation: Fast, dark and malevolent, lead by clarinets, oboes and flutes. Motive, exposition, harmony and melody are all given to the low to medium woodwinds. There is some good use of brass throughout the soundtrack, solid percussion but very little string representation.
The battle music is somewhat boring to listen to when not in battle, another downside is the fact that most of the battle tracks occur in several locations making it hard pressed to equate certain themes with “favorite parts” which is another con to the OGS. My biggest gripe with this OGS is the final credits. I was glad that it was vocal, and that Ash’s theme was given the well known composers technique of taking a theme and fully expanding on it, however, when this wasn’t happening the finale grows tiresome and strange with odd note placement and disturbing chord progressions, bringing disappointment.
More than likely, the only people interested in this soundtrack are fans of the game, or collectors. It is not such an aurally pleasing collection that I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t played the game. Still it has a certain charm that makes it a pleasure to listen to every so often.