Very often, I come across a game that, despite its flaws, will make me focus more on its positives and allow me to recommend it wholeheartedly. Sadly, Vandal Hearts II is not one of those games. In terms of positives, Vandal Hearts II has one that is grossly underwritten in Dales review; the story. I often praised RPGs for having great stories and characters, but with Vandal Hearts II, it is truly a step above the rest even when compared those from the mother of console RPG developers, SquareSoft. Vandal Hearts II is slapped with a mature rating and its not hard to see why after being exposed to a few minutes of the story. Vandal Hearts II's tale is focused on the lives of a group of characters and deals with all the harsh realities of war. All the commonly associated war horrors, in the form of executions, torture, rape, and pillaging, is all openly conveyed (though not vividly depicted) throughout the games story sequences (that take place in-between battles). Aside from the violence, Vandal Hearts II also does an excellent job of bringing believable social, political, and religious elements to the plot. Never has a game been so frank in its depiction of the plight of the poor in stark contrast to the rich and noble upper classes. This is a game that doesn't just blindly put forth corruption as some sort of universal evil, but rather explains its origins and motivations through lusting for power or misguided religious fundamentalism. One of the games characters, Yuri, even makes rather scathing remarks against religion and its control over the masses.

Disappointingly, the rest of the game isn't up to the task of matching the innovative storyline. The battle system does have some positives in the way of strategic elements and can be enjoyable at times. Still, not to be ignored is how frustratingly difficult (though sometimes rewarding) it can be to anticipate the computers tactics, which are often overly meticulous and mechanical. Don't expect the computer to behave naturally in the least. On top of that, the battles, which simply dominate the entire gameplay, gets very repetitive after dozens and dozens of confrontations. New weapons and spells breath a bit of life into the combat later, but even that effect begins to wear thin since it still pretty much feels the same as before. Lastly, the graphic presentation is clearly behind the times and inadequate in fleshing out the amazingly complex tale of political and personal intrigue. The graphics, being overly cartoonish at times, often look inappropriate and a little demented when portraying vicious war atrocities. Discrepancies like that often undermine the credibility of the story, which is unfortunate since a rich story deserves a rich presentation to match.

In the end, I was rather involved with Vandal Hearts II in the time that I played it. I would even go as so far as it say that it dominated my attention for a while. Its just the nagging negatives that eventually drew me away from it. The same negatives forced me to give the game a mixed review and a marginal recommendation. I wanted to like Vandal Hearts II so much more than it would allow me to. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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