Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment

Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment

The first in the series since the original PlayStation, Vandal Hearts returns for a third installment on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in this prequel to the original.


Flames of Judgment is a turn-based, isometric strategy RPG in the vein of Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics. The player and enemy AI take turns moving characters around a grid-based map and can attack in a variety of ways such as magic and weapons. Weapons are daggers, swords, hammers, bows, axes, and hand-to-hand. Magic includes offensive (fire), defensive (defense up), status (poison), and healing (cure).
One of the things this series is known for is the huge gush of blood the erupts from players during their death animation, and that feature is retained in this release. You'll see a torrent of red after defeating your enemies, or when your own characters are defeated.
The game also uses a "camp" system, where after a battle the party can regroup at a site. Health and mana are automatically restored, so the player does not need to consider conserving these during one battle for the next. Certain sites may also have a shop available where the party can purchase armor, weapons, items, and tomes to learn magic spells. The shop indicates who can equip what item and whether or or not the features are an increase or decrease over the currently-equipped item. 
Gold is the currency, and it is awarded through opening chests during battle, and as a reward for clearing each map. Gold's only use is for the item shops, and most players will find they have more than enough so hoarding is not typically necessary. 
There is no local or online multiplayer functionality, but there is a leaderboard that tracks certain game statistics (skill efficiency, brutality rating, turn efficiency).


The game utilizes a leveling up system that rewards experience based on what items are used. For example, if you constantly use an axe during battle, that character's axe skill will increase. In practice this means that there are really no pre-determined paths for each character to take. Although the large Gren looks like a close-combat character, the player could instead level up his ranged and magic skills. Some caveats are that certain armor is unwearable by some party members, some special skills are geared towards a specialization, and attributes (strength, movement, etc.) are fixed, so there are still some limitations as to which character can perform which task.
Team attacks can be triggered during battle when two players are in close proximity to an enemy. This is not automatic, but a random feature depending on each characters Teamwork level (a combat skill). During a team attack, after the player-initiated attack on an enemy, another member of the party will attack the enemy with the same type of attack. Meaning, if you use a ranged bow attack on an enemy, another party member may also attack with a bow immediately following.
When attacking, characters are more vulnerable when attacked from the side, rear, and from a higher vantage point.
Each character has a special skill that triggers when a critical strike is landed. This special skill lasts for a limited number of turns and imbue beneficial effects on either a specific character or the entire party, depending on which skill is used.

Skills and Spells

Core Skills

Players can level up core skills based on actions they take on the battlefield. For example, being pelted with ranged attacks will increase the character's ranged defense. The core skills are as follows:
  • Melee
  • Range
  • Magic
  • Melee Defense
  • Range Defense
  • Magic Defense
  • Reaction

Combat Skills

There are combat skills that increase a character's ability in each area. These are leveled up through use:
  • First Strike
  • Flank Attack
  • Rear Attack
  • Charge
  • Deflection
  • Elevated
  • Guard
  • Backlash
  • Critical
  • Teamwork

Magic Spells

Magic spells, if not initially known to the character, can be learned by equipping tomes purchased shops. Once the magic spell has been leveled up, the player does not have to have the item equipped in order to use the spell. As with melee weapons and core skills, magic spells are leveled up by using them in battle. There are single-tile spells and area of effect spells. Here are the available magic spells in the game:
  • Dark Star
  • Void Blast
  • Ice Comet
  • Tempest
  • Flame Volley
  • Roman Fire
  • Salamander
  • Paralysis
  • Envenom
  • Ensnare
  • Cursed Weapon
  • Enfeeble
  • Holy Shield
  • Haste
  • Bless Weapon
  • Mobility
  • Divine Power
  • Mana Charge
  • Heal
  • Healing Burst
  • Healing Rain
  • Cure
  • Magic Shield
  • Greater Shield
  • Mending


By the end of the game the player's party consists of the following players. Their special skill is listed as well.
  • Tobias (Heaven's Favor)
  • Calvin (Spell Haste)
  • Connor (Frenzy)
  • Altyria (Inspiration)
  • Luce (Rally Cry)
  • Gren (Intimidation)


In addition to the maps the player must pass through to complete the game, there are a number of hidden maps the player will only find by doing a specific task on standard maps. The required tasks can often be found by reading the dialogue found in the bars at campsites/villages.

The additional secret maps are:
  • Four Swordsmen Spring
  • Ragnar's Gorge
  • Trivishim's Corridor
  • Keliask's Tomb
  • Halls of Atonement
  • Foreign Quarter
  • Avery Fields
  • Gillbaris Gardens

Multiple Endings

Throughout the campaign there will be dialogue and the player can select one of two choices. Each of these choices is aligned with either Altyria or Luce. There are seven choices in all, and at the end of the game, whichever character you sided with the majority of the time will be the ending you receive.

Critical Reception

The game has mediocre reviews, with a current 67% on Metacritic. Review sites almost universally criticized the art style, noting that the characters looked deformed. Also mentioned was poor voice acting, and although the SRPG gameplay was solid, it did nothing to move the genre forward. Excessive load times, especially for a game loaded on the hard drive, were noted as well.