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Old 05-19-2014, 02:15 PM
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Default Screaming geysers of blood!? Let's Play Vandal Hearts!

Hey there, everyone! I decided to dip my toe into Let's Play-ing, and I couldn't think of a better place to start than a game that's near and dear to my heart, Vandal Hearts for the PS1. It's easily one of my favourite games of all time (unsurprisingly, given my avatar and user title), but prevailing opinion seems to be that it is a cute but forgettable SRPG that's inferior to its more famous cousins like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. Personally, I find those games dry and tedious; fittingly, Vandal Hearts has more heart.

It may have a comparatively simplistic advancement/customization system (which I think is to its credit, frankly), but it's more colourful, it's quicker/punchier, it has almost no grinding to speak of (unless you actively go looking for the couple of exploitive work-arounds, which is kind of silly and completely unnecessary), and almost every mission is unique, with varied challenges or objectives that are informed by the narrative. FFT has that one phoned-in mission where you stand on a couple of floodgate buttons (likely after killing everything else), but almost every battle in Vandal Hearts has some sort of fun new gimmick. Kill the guard dogs before they alert anyone! Get off the disconnecting rail cars! Kill as few possessed villagers as possible! Or, y'know, play FFT and fight the same boring chocobos on flat grasslands 800 times and maybe kill a named guy or two once a chapter.

Now, I mentioned this recently in another thread, and several people were quick to point out that VH actually has a lot more in common with the Shining Force games (which I also love) than it does with FFT and its ilk. And this is true! However, I have a lot of irrational hatred for FFT stemming back from high school when it rose to popularity. I still played it and loved it along with everybody else, of course (and had the maxed-out game clock to show for it), but it drove me crazy that none of my school-yard chums would give VH the time of day but gushed all over FFT, and I felt like they only liked it so much because of its branding. They went so far as to call other SRPGs (including VH itself!) "Final Fantasy Tactics clones", much the same way that FPSs were called "Doom-clones" at the time, and it made me absolutely livid. After all, Final Fantasy Tactics was nothing more than a Vandal Hearts clone! Of course, I now know that neither was exactly the progenitor of the genre, but Vandal Hearts did precede FFT by a year, so I still feel like I had the moral high ground.

In any case, I feel like Vandal Hearts is the far superior game, and one of my primary goals for this LP is to do high school age JBear a solid and marshal that case. I still love playing through this game again, even now, and I hope to make converts out of at least a couple of you!

I should make it clear that, lest the thread title scare everyone away, the blood geysers are indeed present, but they're just sort of this strange little incongruous oddity and not really very representative of the game as a whole. For whatever reason, someone decided that enemies should die in a hilarious over-the-top explosion of blood accompanied by the sound of... tearing metal? I think it's supposed to be a scream? Maybe? It's weird, is what I'm saying, but I love it. It really must be seen to be believed.

Now, some of you may have heard that this game is in fact the first in a series, but this is regrettably not true. Internet rumours have insisted for years that the game spawned a couple of sequels, but those sequels don't actually exist, in the same way that George Lucas stopped making movies after Return of the Jedi. (Honestly, I sort of like VH2, and I finished it, but I would never actually defend it as a good game. It's more of a... interesting but ultimately flawed experiment?)

I've already taken all of the screenshots for my first update, but it'll likely take me a day or two to get it all organized, so in the meantime, here's a link to the intro music (sung by Jadranka Stojakovic) to whet everyone's appetites:



If that doesn't tug at your heart strings, then I don't know how to break this to you, but you may have no soul.

Last edited by JBear; 05-19-2014 at 03:13 PM.
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  #2  
Old 05-20-2014, 10:26 PM
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Man, I was always such a fan of this game, it was one of the first PS1 games I ever played. Looking forward to this!
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Old 05-20-2014, 11:01 PM
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The LIBERATION ARMY

For a while there it seemed like every game had a LIBERATION ARMY
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Old 05-20-2014, 11:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarcasmorator View Post
The LIBERATION ARMY

For a while there it seemed like every game had a LIBERATION ARMY
My thunder, you're stealing it.

(Seriously though, I'm polishing up the first update right now, and I just wrote in a bit about that.)
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Old 05-20-2014, 11:39 PM
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I've got some notes I took (a few years ago I think?) about differences in the Japan-only Sega Saturn version, which I could chime in with when appropriate. I only went through most of the first chapter, though.
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Old 05-21-2014, 06:37 AM
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Absolutely! I didn't even know that there was a Saturn version, so I for one would love to hear what's different. If there are more than a few token differences, then I may have to track down a copy and see for myself. I'm always looking for an excuse to play more Vandal Hearts.
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Old 05-21-2014, 06:38 AM
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This should be a fun LP. I don't remember why I stopped playing this years ago, just that I did. I was enjoying it a lot too!

It is like Shining Force, except you have a lot more options. Shining Force is fun but pretty much a standard RPG with SRPG style battles - its maps are built more around simple choke points with the occasional hazard.

I remember VH having tons of map variety, and even without the map variety, they let you do things like push/move objects, climb up/down height and generally reshape parts of the battlefield.
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Old 05-24-2014, 07:48 AM
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And we're back! To recap the previous backstory dump: 15 years ago, a rebel army overthrew the corrupt monarchy and established a new democracy, but the rebel leader disappeared soon after. In the present, a context-less group of soldiers found a strange altar on a mysterious island and triggered some sort of blinding flash of light. Finally, our trio of player characters disguised themselves as merchants to draw out some bandits and are about to kick some bandit behind!



The objectives fire in from the right side of the screen as the map pans around to set things up. This first fight is a pretty straight-forward affair, and more of a tutorial battle than anything. Both sides are aiming to defeat the other side's leader. It's possible to lose this fight, but you'd need to work pretty hard at it.



Here's the overhead tactical view. Blue dots are Team Merchant, while red dots are the bandits. Zoot is the red dot up there next to the 'W'. That's actually a really obnoxious place for him to be, but I'll get back to why that is in a bit. First, let's take a look at our heroes:



Ash is way ahead of us, with "Hero" printed right on his stat screen. That's his class, not his last name. Hero is a special class reserved for Ash, and it's a good one, with a mixture of great physical stats and some limited healing and offensive magic. He starts with a single healing spell that I'll show off a little later. At level 5, his starting level is one higher than his friends, because he's just that awesome.



Clint here, meanwhile, is a Soldier, and that looks to be a pretty raw deal, since he doesn't have any fancy magic, and has notably lower stats than Ash. He doesn't even get to use a long sword.



Diego doesn't look to have fared much better at first blush, with even lower stats than Clint, but as an Archer he's rocking a bow, which allows him to attack at range. And, even more importantly, he looks absolutely dashing in that bandana, and has a disarming grin.



Here's the information that you're given when you put the cursor over a character. You'll notice a 0% on both the top-left and bottom-left corners of the screen. This is a defensive modifier granted by terrain. Ash here is standing out in the open on a Plains space, so he gets no bonus defense.



Clint, however, needs every edge that he can get, so he's chosen to hang out on a Prairie square, granting a whopping 5% bonus. That may not seem like a lot, but I'd say it's pretty generous given that it's just grass. You may notice a third terrain type just to Clint's north here. That's Thicket, which I apparently didn't get a screenshot of. It grants the highest bonus on this map, at 15%, so if you're expecting to get beat on, it's a good place to hang out. You can completely ignore terrain and make out just fine in this battle, but it's something to keep in mind going forward.



Here's the control menu that we get when we select a character to act. Characters can Move and then take an Action, but can't Act and then Move. Examine interacts with the square that you're standing on in various ways, while Push... pushes things. For those of you who have played the GCN Fire Emblem games, this isn't what you're thinking. There's actually nothing in this battle that I can use to show it off, so it'll have to wait until a later update.



But enough explanation: it's time to hit some dudes in the face! Clint here takes the initiative and moves over to the nearest bandit to introduce him to the pointy end of his short sword (notice his sprite: short swords are apparently wielded two-handed and nearly as tall as a person).



Here's the summary screen that we get before Clint attacks. No complicated damage estimates or hit %s to be had here: it just tells us who is involved and how much health they have, along with their terrain modifiers.



Clint hits him for a decent 9 damage. Not bad. Judging by the look on his face, he certainly didn't enjoy it, at any rate (I love the animations in this game).



But wait, what's this? It looks like he really didn't like it. What's he doing with that...?



OW. Hey, what gives, I thought it was my turn?! Attacks in Vandal Hearts are not just one-sided affairs: if the enemy that you attack is capable of returning the blow, then he or she will gladly do so. This makes ranged attacks even more valuable then they'd otherwise be, as they can attack without reprisal (unless the target also has a ranged weapon that can reach back, in which cast ranged exchanges take place).



Well, Clint got a bloody nose for his trouble, but he also got a delicious 30 experience points. Characters gain a level every 100 points, so that's almost a third of a level right there. Since there are no random battles in this game, every point of experience counts. Pretty much every action grants experience points, and no one wants to look at pictures of that little dialog box 1000 times, so just assume that everyone is getting experience for their actions from here forward.

I'm one of those OCD people who needs to level all of his playable characters at the same pace in any game, but Vandals Hearts rewards that kind of behaviour more than most, as there's none of this "you can only have 5 of your 12 characters for this battle" nonsense. If your posse has a dozen characters, then they can all take to the field. You need to work hard to keep your characters all evenly leveled (especially in this first battle where Ash can pretty reasonably solo the whole thing), but you'd need to work even harder to get their levels very imbalanced, as there's a built-in catch up mechanism where characters get bonus XP when interacting with targets that are higher level than them (and are similarly penalized for interacting with lower-level targets). This is component #1 of the silly power-leveling exploits that I won't be making use of.



Alright, enough of that: back to killing! Clint softened that guy up for us, so let's see if Diego can finish the job. Here's Diego's attack range. Looks like he can attack up to four space away in a straight line. Perfect! I'll just sidle on by Ash and plant myself on the grass space that Clint just vacated...



Oh dear. That's not good. If you can't make it out from the screenshot, the bandit's space is not highlighted in red. So what gives? See how Clint and the bandit are up on a little ledge there? Well, it turns out that elevation matters, and that's just a little too high for Diego's arrows to reach. You want to give your Archers the high ground whenever possible, as they can get some ridiculous attack ranges from a sufficiently elevated perch (however, you also open up blind spots in the spaces closest to you if you get up too high), and attacks from higher elevations get bonus damage (this includes melee attacks).



Since he hasn't taken an action yet, you can still cancel Diego's move at this point and bring him back to the square he started from, but I forgot that I could do that, because I was still getting back into the swing of things. So I ended his turn on the square with him staring angrily at the bandit that's just out of reach. But, this presents a good opportunity to demonstrate another key concept: facing! If you end your turn by attacking, then you'll face in the direction you attacked, but otherwise you get to choose the direction that you face to end your turn, and it matters. Attacks from the side do extra damage, and attacks from the rear do even more than that. Here's a delightful diagram from the instruction booklet to illustrate the damage bonuses from facing and height:





Alright, now that I derped and skipped Diego's turn, it's time for our Hero to show us what he's made of.



Okay, yeah, that'll do just fine. Fire Emblem fans can think of Ash as this game's "Jeigan". He can one-shot everything on the map except Zoot. He's not quite as bad as most Jeigans are in those games, since Ash is an amazing character that you want to level up, but you'll still do well to keep him in check a bit and let your other characters get some much-needed XP.
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Old 05-24-2014, 07:49 AM
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Alright, now it's time for the bandits to act. Only two of them are close enough to attack, so this should be pretty quick.



The enemy archer decides to demonstrate how much better he is at this whole elevation thing than I am by plinking at Diego from the top of nearby hill, putting him just outside the range of Diego's counter-attack. Fortunately, his arrows are evidently made of nerf. He'd better enjoy the free shot; it will be his last.



Next to act is the beefy brigand that Diego foolishly left alive last turn. He's repaid for his stupidity with a stab to the back, and the damage is starting to quickly add up. These bandits must have read the instruction booklet as well, as he positions himself for both maximum damage AND defense by striking Diego from behind while standing on top of a thicket space.



Unfortunately for him, he only had 5 HP left, and some greenery wasn't enough to prevent the point-blank arrow to his face from ending his life. That's right: Archers will happily counter-attack from melee range, and although it might look like the bandit survived the blow in this screenshot, that's just because I was a little quick on the draw with the capture key and caught his HP bar in the process of draining away. The beginning of the blood shower is a dead giveaway. Sorry.
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Old 05-24-2014, 07:50 AM
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Alright, that was it for the bandits' turn. Now it's time for REVENGE. Diego positions himself on a nearby rise and decides to go after some fresh meat.



That, uhhh... that didn't work so well. It's hard to tell from the screenshot, but that's after Diego's attack. I wasn't able to capture an image of it, but the bandit brought up his shield and took the arrow on it with a satisfying thunk noise. Blocks happen rather often in this game, and they are always terrible when the enemy gets them and always amazing when you do. Vandal Hearts has very little mechanical transparency compared to games like Fire Emblem, so your guess is as good as mine as to what impacts block chance. I'm reasonably certain that they're more likely when attacked from the front, but other than that, my strategy for dealing with them generally involves lots of prayer.



Ash is too far in the back to reach any enemies with his next move, so he decides to sidle on over next to the injured Diego and try out this fancy Hero healing spell. But... for some reason he can't target him?



Oh. Well that's a bummer. That's not a typo: a range of 0 means that it's self-targeting. Looks like that selfish jerk Ash will only be healing himself.



With nothing better to do, Ash moves over next to a tree and plants his back to it, so that the enemy can't strike him from behind. Clint decides that he wants in on some this hot tree action and does the same (except that he faces the wrong way, because the man controlling him is an idiot).



Always ready to capitalize on an error, the bandit archer runs over and shoots Clint in the back. Thanks to that sweet thicket defensive bonus, however, Clint largely shrugs it off.



The other bow-wielding bandit, incensed at this brazen disregard for his partner's prowess, decides to rush over and shoot Clint at point-blank range. I... I don't think that's how you Archer, friend. You have made a poor life choice here.



Or should I call that a death choice?



Clint gets over half of a level for his Public Service Announcement on why Archers shouldn't attack from melee range.



Seeing how his friend just fared against Clint, this bandit decides to try Ash on for size in hopes of an easier mark.



Ash ain't nobody's mark.
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Old 05-24-2014, 07:52 AM
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Guess what time it is? It's BOSS TIME.



The attack animations in this game are so great you guys. Not pictured: Zoot sounding like a possessed robot as he attacks for some reason. Also: OW.



Ash's counter-attack doesn't look all that impressive, but Zoot only has 14 Max HP, so he's already almost half dead.



And now it's time to make his full dead.



I managed to capture the key frames of Ash's attack animation pretty nicely here. He plants his feet, draws his sword back, and then stabs it forward. Characters always turn to meet the blow, but that's just how it's animated. This is still a back attack, and Zoot will return to his original facing once the exchange ends, since he managed to survive the blow with a whopping 1 HP. Jerk.



But not before smashing Ash again with his bizarre dual-wielded hook/cutlass haunted robot attack. That shit hurts.



LEVEL UP GET. This is accompanied by a quick little fanfare and some jumping. I tried so hard to get him mid jump, but just got three shots of him landing. I'm a PRO at this you guys.



Now that Ash has set him up, it's time for Diego to knock him down and collect that phat boss XP.



But what's this? Is Ash yelling? Or do I see yet another tactical system at play? TO THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL!



Oh. That's not cute artwork, that's just a boring diagram. Still, you get the idea; it's pretty simple (and don't worry: there will be more charming instruction manual artwork to come in later updates).



So Diego takes advantage of his elevated terrain, back attack, and supporting unit bonus to deal... 1 damage. There's no overkill in this game, unfortunately. Oh well, dead is dead.



Or is it?



Oh well, who cares? We won! Hooray!



The battle results screen makes a satisfying blooping noise as it counts up the kills one by one and grants you money for each kill. But wait, what's this... I only see one enemy archer there. Guys, by going straight for the boss and ending the battle prematurely, we let one get away!

THIS CANNOT STAND. I'm redoing this battle, and none of you can stop me.
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Old 05-24-2014, 07:55 AM
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Every game should have an option to reload from the start of a fight. It's incredibly convenient. Some highlights that I wasn't able to capture in my first pass:



Healing faeries!



Level-up jumping action shots!



Hidden items!



Deaths! (Don't worry, they got better.)

...

Wait, hidden items!?

Yes, that's right, Vandal Hearts has hidden items, and almost every map has them. They're actually pretty painless though, all things considered. You can never know that they're there and still complete the game just fine, but there are a few super special items hidden this way that gate some pretty cool bonus content, so you'd better believe that I'll be going out of my way to collect most of them.



The first thing you'll want to do on any new map is pull up the overhead tactical view. Vandal Hearts is pretty generous, in that its hidden items are almost always on a piece of visually distinct terrain (it may be always, but I'm hedging my bets in case there's a stupid one later that I've forgotten, or one that I don't know about). Does anything jump out at you guys about the above map?



How about now? The bottom-right one is a bit hard to make out at this distance, but those two squares are both visually distinct from any other square on the map, and they're where our two hidden items are hanging out.



Here's a closer look at both. If any of you wanted to call this out as bullshit, I wouldn't put up much of a fight, but I think they're a neat addition, they're visually cued, and they're not required for advancement. Also, there's none of this move-item nonsense from FFT; if a character wants to search a square, they just need to move onto the square and Examine it. This doesn't even consume their action for the turn, although it does commit them to moving to that square.

In any event, the far bigger problem here is actually getting those items without killing Zoot and ending the fight prematurely. Automatic counter-attacks are kind of a pain when you're trying to artificially extend the length of a fight, and one of the spots happens to be quite close to where Zoot starts the fight. The only way that I've found to do it is like so:



I retreat my whole team to the south and then go east around the mountain, picking up the 1st item on the way. Team Bandit follows along but gets bottlenecked in the narrow path, buying me the time that I need to circle around and grab the 2nd item.

Then the quarterback passes to the wide receiver on the left and goes for a touchdown.



Anyway, we get a Long Sword and a Mad Book for our trouble. THIS IS NOW CANON. Now where were we?
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Old 07-16-2015, 01:30 PM
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Zohar is just the best, a total game changer. I love seeing this get updated, keep up the good work!
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Old 07-16-2015, 03:28 PM
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What's more terrifying: Zohar warping the planes of reality, or his level-up dance?
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Old 08-28-2015, 07:53 AM
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Hello there everyone, and welcome back to Let's Play Vandal Hearts! In our last update, Ash, Grog, and Sara escaped the mysterious land outside time that they'd been trapped in, with the assistance of the enigmatic sage Zohar, who offered his much-needed help in both recreating the tear in space-time that had stranded our heroes and kicking incredible amounts of ass. We last saw Ash and co. plunging into the new time portal, and now shift our focus to some of the other squad members who were left behind, struggling some three years under the boot of Hel Spites, self-proclaimed God-Emperor of Ishtaria, and quickly running out of options...



That's an intimidating force you've got there, Zoot, but I'm not sure you know what "surrounded" means. Also, why does your name sound so familiar...?



"You may work for the empire now, but you're still just a petty thief!"

Yes, that is indeed Zoot Gach, the thief that we apprehended back at the end of the game's very first battle. He has a new hat and a new sprite, but it's definitely him. To remind everyone, that was actually the second time we'd arrested him, as our heroes remarked at the end of that first battle that they'd just thrown him in jail only months before. It was implied at the time that he had friends in high places, and it seems pretty clear now that those friends consist of one or both of Hel and Dolf.



"...ranks of the army. Now these scoundrels steal from the innocent under the protection of the empire. 'Tis a sad sight to behold."

Oh, apparently Hel is conscripting right out of his own dungeons. That's a time-saver.



*AHEM*



Where's the question mark! The game certainly hasn't been shy about employing interrobangs up to this point. I guess they blew the question mark budget on ellipses.



"Torch it! We'll burn all these villages to the ground!"

Zoot leads with all the nuance you'd expect of a bandit, winning the hearts and minds of the people one scorched village at a time.



Clive seems to be missing Dolan and Diego's bravado...



...but he's still on board with the "plan". I for one don't believe in the no-win scenario, so let's get to work. But wait, what's that over there?



The cavalry's here, boys!



Clive's your "friend", and Diego's what, chopped liver?



From behind you, that's where. Now to show you what being surrounded actually looks like.



Gladly, but if it's all the same to you, Diego, I think I might elect to show 'em the old dark wizard play instead.
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Old 08-28-2015, 07:56 AM
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Welcome to Terasu Village. That's a whole lot of red, but honestly, after several gimmick battles in a row, I'm excited to have a real fight on my hands.



It seems a little odd that losing the entirety of the eastern group that's defending the houses doesn't constitute a loss, but I guess Ash is just that important.



This battle marks the return of treasure (and the return of shoving things to collect said treasure)! We have two clearly visible chests...



...and two more hidden items (the odd patch behind the front-most shield-bearer and the small crater directly to Zohar's right).



This battle also introduces us to a whole host of new enemies, although we've technically seen Grenadiers before during the archery Trial of Toroah. Grenadiers and Centurions compose the bulk of the enemy force, and I don't know which of these two helmet designs I find more perplexing/upsetting.



Zoot himself is escorted by a pair of spellcasters. The Deacon can cast a single-target healing spell, and the Warlock can cast a single-target attack spell, and we're very likely to see plenty of both. Zoot also has a self-healing spell, but with only 4 MP he can only cast it once.



I start things off by having the eastern group square up behind a couple of boulders. There's no point in shoving either boulder at the moment, since there are no enemies in front, but, to be honest, I'm pretty sure that I've never seen an enemy stand in the path of Diego's boulder here (and I know of no way to manipulate one into doing so that wouldn't be needlessly complicated).



Meanwhile, Huxley repositions a stack of two boxes off a small cliff one space to the north with a couple of shoves. The solution to this brain-teaser is to shove in the same direction 3 times in a row to make a raised path to the chest.



That just leaves Clive to act in the eastern group. You may be wondering why I haven't made a fuss over Clive joining our party. Well, I'm sorry to report that he hasn't. He's our first friendly NPC, and that's about as obnoxious as you'd expect. He acts at the end of each enemy turn, and, in the proud tradition of SRPG NPCs everywhere, has the self-preservation instincts of a screamapillar.



I still have Ash's group to command before I need to worry about Clive, though. I begin by having Grog and Ash move forward side-by-side, far enough to draw in the enemy's lead elements, but not so far that they won't survive the enemy turn (and with such a large enemy force, that's a very real possibility).



Zohar makes a brief detour to pick up a chess pieceUnicorn before advancing as far as he can with his dismal movement. The Unicorn is our latest odd piece of junk with an inventory description of "??????????????", which pretty succinctly covers my present thoughts on the matter.



I end my first turn by having Sara move up and give Grog a small defensive boost. I've said before that Mystic Shield generally isn't worth using, and I stand by that, but she doesn't have anything better to do at the moment, and Grog's likely about to take a beating.
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Old 08-28-2015, 08:00 AM
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As predicted, the enemy turn begins with a Centurion charging up to Grog and taking a swing at him. And I do mean a swing, as the attack animation here has him twisting forward through a ~270 degree arc.



That's a pretty beefy reprisal in comparison, so I'll let Grog bask in it for a few seconds before Ash puts him to shame.



That's how it's done, Grog.



Unexpectedly, this Grenadier decides to go after the slightly stiffer target and lobs a bomb at Ash. The Grenadiers here will mercilessly focus-fire weakened targets like this, which is why I only inched out onto the bridge instead of charging across.



Zoot and his escort are content to stay put for the moment, but the rest of the troops that didn't head towards Ash get into position for a charge up the staircase towards Dolan.



Huxley's healing isn't needed yet, so he continues to push boxes around.



Oh boy, another Herb. Exciting.



But what's this? I guess I spoke too soon. This is our first MEGAHERB. It's... a stronger Herb. But still: MEGAHERB.



One enemy is pretty much a best-case scenario for boulder pushing, so Dolan prepares to rock this bat's world.



Boulders may not be particularly effective, but they're still fun to push. I like that final image of everyone quietly watching the boulder explode.



With the boulder out of the way, Dolan moves forward and easily dispatches the injured bat. For all of the doom and gloom that preceded Ash's arrival, I suspect that Dolan could hold this chokepoint at the top of the stairs indefinitely, provided that he had Huxley nearby to top him off each turn. #Guardsmen



Over in the SE corner of the map, Diego exchanges blows with another bat, and is incredibly lucky not to be paralyzed by its counter-attack (in my experience, the paralysis has a > 50% proc rate). My intention was to let Clive finish it off while it chewed on a helpless Diego, and that may yet still happen, but this will certainly work too.
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  #18  
Old 09-02-2015, 03:42 AM
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What's this? A new update? Huzzah!

Very well done as always. Love the descriptions of the magics, Guardsmen are phenomenal, and Clint was a very heavy hitter for me so I can't wait for you to get him back. Keep up the good work!
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Old 09-10-2015, 10:33 AM
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Thanks! Flattery will get you everywhere. (Also, this is a short update, so it took a lot less time to put together.)
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Old 09-10-2015, 10:36 AM
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Hello there everyone, and welcome back to Let's Play Vandal Hearts! In our last update, Ash reunited with the remains of his old squad just in time to help them defend a village from an Imperial military unit led by thief-turned-squad-commander Zoot Gach. After finally putting an end to Zoot, Ash and his friends were shocked to learn that they'd been gone not just the single day that they thought, but in fact three whole years. After Clive brought Ash up-to-date on what he'd missed, Ash immediately set about planning a formal rebellion, with the first step of that plan being to storm the Imperial prison and free some political prisoners, including our imprisoned squad-mates Clint, Eleni, and Amon.



But before we get to any of that exciting stuff, we have Basil Gate to contend with. Last week I promised a filler battle, and this week I deliver. Let's get this over with.



Are we sure? That would actually be really convenient.



This is almost exactly what we were up against last battle, less one bat, one Grenadier, and one Zoot Gach.



Okay.





*drops mic*

Basil gate offers nothing novel or interesting, and is arguably easier than the battle that preceded it, with a weaker enemy force (although admittedly a more symmetrical tactical position). In its defense, it tries and fails to do something interesting with the terrain, with a few towers in the middle of the map that aren't generally worth the time it would take us or the enemy force to scale. That being the case, I won't bore anyone with a detailed breakdown. Suffice it to say, I hit them hard and fast, softening them up with a Phase Shift from Zohar and then smashing into their ranks and removing all opposition save the enemy Deacon by the end of Turn 3.

I tried to let Diego and Dolan do most of the heavy lifting, since they've fallen a bit behind the rest of the team in XP thanks to missing the past couple of battles. This is also true of Huxley, but, thanks to the way that XP scales based on the difference between the caster and the target, healers falling behind is rarely a worry. It also bears mentioning that this is the second battle that meets the two criteria that I mentioned earlier that are required for the leveling exploit: the presence of healing tiles and the ability to control when the battle ends. So, you can do that here if you feel like punishing yourself and didn't take the previous opportunity.




I left the aforementioned Deacon alive so that I could wander around the battlefield hassle-free and do some looting. The chests contained a couple of mundane items (MEGAHERB!), but the buried items were a bit better, consisting of an Iron Boot (we already have one of these in the Depot, and they're very useful, so I'll try to remember to show one off at some point) and a Tarot card.



And with that, we're out. With no one left to heal, the Deacon obediently stood in place until it was time to end it.
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  #21  
Old 09-10-2015, 10:41 AM
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The battle itself may have been filler, but the post-battle cut-scene gives us our first look at Emperor Hel Spites, as he and Dolf meet with some "financiers"? Our allies already gave us one plot dump, but now it's time to find out what our enemies are up to.



For some reason, Dolf keeps the magic stone in a bottle that's half as tall as he is.

"The empire's greatest scientific minds have been studying this stone. They found that this stone is from when the universe was born! It contains a spark of the original Flames of Judgment!"



That game was awful!

(Full disclosure: I'm being hyperbolic for lulz here. Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment was not a good Vandal Hearts game, or a good narrative prequel, but it wasn't awful. It was an unremarkable SRPG with a regrettable art style.)




Is is okay if your portrait sprite makes me laugh?

"I admit that the stone is unusual. But I don't believe that it has the power to evaporate entire cities or destroy the world."

Umm... that sounds bad. I thought the stone just made glowing magic zombie generals.



These financiers will never show up again, but they all still have unique sprites and unique portraits.



"Toroah saved the world by sealing the Flames of Judgment with a ring. This ring was passed on to his descendants, along with a holy command. They were to found a country to protect this holy ring at all costs. This was the Holy Ashah Dynasty's task! But at some point they forgot. 18 years ago, when the royal family was cast down, the ring was lost."

Man, if just losing it was sufficient, why not just turf it off the side of a ship in the middle of the ocean?



Oh, good, Kane is here. I'm sure he'll have a lot to contribute to a planning meeting.



You can see Kane's sneer progressively deepen over the last three screenshots. He's at maximum sneer here.



"Oppressing the people is easy, but ruling them is a different thing. Kane, you and I are strong. We make our own path in life. But most people are weak, relying on the power of religion or government to protect them. These weaklings need symbols to follow. What better symbol to rule the people than the Flame of Judgment? It's time for us to unify this continent under one banner! We must find the Royal Ring. Search this land from high to low!"

It seems like Hel is trying to groom Kane as his successor, which is probably bad news for the people of Ishtaria. Hel's little speech here ends the scene, and we move to another part of the building...
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  #22  
Old 09-10-2015, 10:51 AM
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Kira's just thinking about Clint. I know that thinking about Clint makes me sad.



Not as bad as she's going to feel when I catch up to her.



Dolf is surprisingly adept at reading faces for someone who doesn't seem to realize how cartoonishly evil his own looks at all times.



Say what, now?

(This feels like a bit of a red herring, since the explanation that the game later gives is... unsatisfying. I'm going to chalk it up to a translation error, and just make it clear now that Kira has no motivation to be seeking revenge on Ash and co. specifically, but rather the world in general. "Have you forgotten what was done to your family?" would be much less misleading here.)



"...but people must realize what's happening in this country. Hel and his minions are sacrificing countless innocents, and for what? All to pursue his insane goal of world domination. I'll make my move soon. I need your support!"

Hel and his minions... like you?



Kira, I realize that he talks a nice altruistic game, but have you seen his face? Or followed any of his actions thus far? I mean, I buy that he's planning to betray Hel, but I question his motivations...



Kira exits stage left as the doors slam closed with a satisfying clang.



Shortly after she exits, this charming fellow enters stage... centre? A clear fan of the Zohar school of introductions, he warps up out of the floor to appear just behind Dolf.



Just in case any of you were also falling for Dolf's act, he both figuratively and literally bares his teeth here as he addresses his evil Warlock minion. I don't think Dolf much cares for surprises.



Note Xeno's bow here. I recall that, as a lad, when Xeno first appeared, I assumed that he was secretly the one running the show. It makes sense, given his entrance and his appearance, but Dolf makes it very clear who's in charge here as he tasks Xeno with spying on Kira.



I managed to get a shot of Xeno melting into the floor as he makes his exit. Just in case you forgot that you were playing Vandal Hearts, Dolf gives us an extra-long parting ellipsis.



And that's Basil Gate! Next up is Reed Highway, and I'm pleased to report that it's a much more interesting encounter.



Before I go, though, here's a look at the Tarot card that we just dug up. Like the Macroman from earlier, it is apparently a collector's item. Hrm...

Next time: It's my way or the Highway. (Alternative joke: Highway-men)
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  #23  
Old 09-10-2015, 11:03 AM
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What does Hel Spites need with financing? He's the unilateral ruler of the entire world, or at least all of it we've seen so far.
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  #24  
Old 09-11-2015, 12:40 AM
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It takes money to run an empire, and now that he has taken control he intends to keep it. It's the same lesson he tried to teach Kane.
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  #25  
Old 10-05-2015, 01:19 PM
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Hello there everyone, and welcome back to Let's Play Vandal Hearts! In our last update, we steam-rolled an unremarkable filler battle at Basil Gate on our way to stage a prison break, and then got to check in on Dolf Crowley and Hel Spites' current machinations: Hel has the military scouring the country-side in search of the Royal Ring, a magical artifact needed to unleash the full terrifying power of the magic stone already in their possession, while Dolf schemes with his warlock underling Xeno and our erstwhile companion Kira to depose Hel and take his place. Kira seems to be having second thoughts about selling us out, though (better 3 years late than never, I guess), so Dolf has tasked Xeno with keeping an eye on her.



We join our heroes on the march down the highway, heading towards the Imperial Prison...



Diego was out in front scouting, and returns with bad news.



Gee, who would have thought that we'd run into an Imperial patrol while marching straight towards the Imperial Prison down a primary thoroughfare in broad daylight. What's that? Literally everyone?



I think the clear best solution is to stand in the middle of the road and talk about it.



Thank you.



If anyone playing this for the first time button-mashes through this dialogue, they're about to have a bad time.



As soon as Ash finishes speaking, everyone breaks and heads for the nearest trees.



With one notable exception. Damn senile old man.



Huxley, where are you going?



Huxley?



Okay then. I guess Huxley doesn't know what a tree looks like, but they still shouldn't be able to see him behind that hill, so I guess it's all good.



Welcome to Reed Highway! If it wasn't already clear from the dialogue, the mission loss conditions make it obvious that this is not just a standard battle. Our goal... is to wait. Once the enemy patrol get to the centre of the map, we need to spring out of cover and wipe them out without letting anyone escape and warn the prison.



There's a single item to be found in this battle, buried at the rear of the starting enemy position (that crater between the rearmost pair of dogs), which means that we need to spare someone to run over there and get it while the rest of the squad handles the fighting. Well, I say "need", but honestly, this particular item is pretty skippable if you don't want to go to that much trouble.



The enemy squad primarily consists of enemies that we've fought before, with the exception of the leader. Any one of these units exiting the map count as an immediate loss, so the Guard Dogs, with their excellent movement range, are our biggest concern, although I'm not sure why we need to worry about an escaped dog.

"What's that, Guardie? There's an enemy squad down the old well?"



Here's the leader. He's pretty unremarkable, other than his bad-ass weapon (I want a Kill Bow) and badder-ass name. He narrowly beat out Luke Archer and Han Sniper for the job. (Chewbacca Bowman was disqualified when he ripped off the military recruiter's arms and beat him with them.)



Here's our starting positions, with most of the squad hiding behind the trees and Huxley... doing his thing. The main team's task is pretty straight-forward, but as you can see, Huxley has a few toys to play with, and, although this little puzzle isn't particularly complicated, a single misstep is likely to cost you the win.



Before we begin, I'd like to demonstrate that Ash absolutely was not kidding around with his pre-battle warning ("If we move, they'll notice us and flee for sure."). It might make intuitive sense that you can safely move around in cover so long as you stay out of sight, which would allow you to shuffle your units around for an optimal ambush formation, but drawing sight lines from each individual enemy unit to each allied unit sounds like a lot of work for a mechanic that only appears in this one battle, so they went with the much simpler implementation of the enemy immediately detecting any movement at all.

Let's see what happens when I move Diego from his relatively exposed starting square with no immediately adjacent trees to this more obscured square, nestled between three different trees...



"They can't be planning to attack the prison, can they?! Somebody! Get away from here fast and warn the others!"

Lando Hitman spots us immediately and sounds the alarm.



The rear-most archer takes a few step back and...



...we get our first look at the loss screen (and the rarely heard music that goes with it). As you can imagine, a battle that tasks you with doing absolutely nothing for several turns was a nigh-insurmountable obstacle for an impatient teenager, so I saw this screen a lot on this particular map.
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  #26  
Old 10-05-2015, 01:23 PM
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Conveniently, though, a single button press on the loss screen immediately brings up a load menu, allowing you to restart the battle from the beginning or load another save file and possibly make different pre-battle preparations.



This time I obediently end my turn, so the patrol works their way across the first bridge and Ash opens the second turn with a warning. If you weren't paying attention to the pre-battle dialogue, this is the first in-battle indication of what the game expects of us, and the first you'll see on each subsequent retry. Frankly, I think you'd have to be pretty bone-headed to not pick up on what's going on pretty quickly, but I'd still much rather have seen this warning at the beginning of turn one rather than turn two.



Ash's turn three warning is... less helpful. Anyone who takes this as a sign that it's time to attack is guaranteed to lose, as the rear elements of the enemy force are still too far back.



Teenage JBear lost his patience and pulled the trigger here at least once, I'm sure. I mean, they're right there! Obviously this isn't when the game wants you to attack, but as an experiment I did a run of this battle where I attacked at this point and actually was able to barely scrape out a win on my first try with liberal use of Phase Shift and a clutch Mad Book to paralyze the rear-most dog a few steps from the edge of the map. An Archer likely would have made things even easier, but I think it might be impossible without a Sorcerer. In any case, it's certainly not recommended.



Honestly, the turn that the game wants you to spring into action is a bit counter-intuitive, as this shot of the enemy patrol makes it looks as if we've waited too long and they've left us behind (the fact that Ash never actually gives the attack order doesn't help matters). However, if you examine the map from earlier, you'll notice that our ambush position is actually biased towards the eastern side of the map, and the enemy AI just seeks out the nearest edge, so most of the enemy units will actually try to run back past our position.



We start things out in style with a Phase Shift that collapses in the canyon walls and softens up the entire enemy patrol save the lead-most dog. Zohar gets a level-up in the process, as he often does after hitting so many targets.



Phase Shift left this archer at about 1/2 health, and Dolan sneaks up behind him and takes care of the rest. Honestly, though, I suspect he could do the same from full health.



The dogs weathered Zohar's magic better than their handlers, so Team Time Travel springs into action as Ash hits this pair with a Rolling Fire to soften them up further...



...and Grog and Sara finish things off, netting both of them a level-up.



Diego can't reach any of the remaining enemy units, so I point him towards the Eastern end of the map in preparation for a mad dash to get the buried item. Because of their high movement ranges and ability to fly, Hawknights are often on treasure duty, and are in fact required for some later items. No team should be without at least one.



As I said earlier, Huxley has no time to waste, so he immediately hops on the bridge button and starts making his way across. He also tosses a Mystic Shield on himself for some token XP because he has nothing better to do and likely wont see any action this battle.



Lando Hitman yells the same warning as I showed you earlier, and the enemy forces immediately begin to scatter to the ends of the map. Of the units that are still alive, this sends two dogs and one soldier west, while Lando Hitman and a couple more soldiers head east, right into our midst. The enemies in this battle are entirely focused on flight, and won't make any attacks other than counter-attacks. Which is particularly silly in this instance, since it wouldn't have cost the archers anything to take a couple of potshots.
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  #27  
Old 10-05-2015, 01:27 PM
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I can't resist having enemies lined up nicely for me, so Ash hits Lando Hitman and his escort with another Rolling Fire.



Grog and Dolan finish off the soldiers, and Diego makes a brief detour to finish off Lando Hitman, since he was the one most in need of that delicious boss XP (and does indeed gain a level for doing so).



I will, Lando Hitman, I will. Requiescat in pace.



That just leaves the west group, and Huxley spends the next two turns cutting off their escape route just in time, which forces them to turn around and run into the waiting arms of the rest of the squad.



Grog tries to finish off the last solider as he runs back, but he stubbornly throws up his shield to block, so I have Zohar paralyze him instead, in case I need to stall to give Diego enough time to dig up his treasure.



This turns out to be entirely unnecessary, though, as the rest of the squad are able to arrange themselves such that all escape routes are completely blocked off. When this happens, rather than fight their way out, the remaining enemy units just give up and stand still, waiting to be slaughtered.



This gives Diego as much time as he needs, which he used to dig up a Magic Staff, which is promptly sent to the wagon. We'll take a look at it after the battle, but given how long it's been since we've seen a new weapon, it's pretty safe to assume that it's an upgrade.



This situation gives me room to play, so I let Sara run in and use Stone Shower, which is too costly and too finicky to see much use in normal play.



Grog and Dolan finish off the injured dogs, netting Dolan a level in the process.



Finally, I let Ash bring us home and collect some more gold to throw on the pile.

And that was Reed Highway! It's a pretty simple affair if you know what to do, but I think it's a pretty neat idea even if the engine wasn't quite up to the task, so it's a sentimental favourite.



Our new Magic Staff is indeed an upgrade of 4 AT over an Iron Staff, so I give it to Huxley, as he is slightly more likely to hit something than Zohar, although if any of your non-Monk casters see a lot of melee combat then you're doing something very wrong.



Oddly, there's no post-battle narrative, so here's a sneak peak at what's coming instead. Looks like Clint got so tired of waiting for us that he's napping. But I wonder who that is with him?

Next Time: Prison Break!
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  #28  
Old 10-05-2015, 11:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JBear View Post
(Chewbacca Bowman was disqualified when he ripped off the military recruiter's arms and beat him with them.)
Private Bowman, you're not going to get a medal that way. That shit may fly in Kashyyyk but not here.
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  #29  
Old 10-22-2015, 10:21 AM
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Hello there everyone, and welcome back to Let's Play Vandal Hearts! In our previous update, we sprang a road-side ambush on an imperial patrol, making sure that none of them escaped to warn of our approach. As our heroes make their way towards the Imperial Prison, our focus shifts to the very prisoners that we're hoping to rescue...



Clint's cellmate is a new face, and I love his goggles. They apparently don't have much to say to each other. This is likely because they've been locked up here for quite some time, but I know that if I had to share a cell with Clint, I certainly wouldn't want him to talk much.



The silence is broken as the guards escort in a more familiar face.



...and then proceed to shove that face into the floor.



Count Claymore is clearly pained at how both of them immediately addressed him as "Old Man".



"My name is Darius. I'm a tinkerer by trade. I quarreled with a soldier... next thing I know I'm in here. The big guy here calls himself Clint..."

Ooo, a tinkerer. Before anyone gets too excited, note that this never really becomes relevant. Darius here doesn't have nearly enough beard to build us an airship.



Don't worry, Count, we're all sorry to know Clint.



The game's kind enough to remind players where we've seen Count Claymore before, which saves me the trouble of linking to a previous update. That being said, their previous meeting was probably the most upsetting scene in the game to this point, so I would think that most players would remember it. It's certainly always stuck with me.



These revelations from Claymore might be more shocking if we hadn't already just learned all of this from the cutscene with Dolf & Hel a couple of updates ago.





Fortunately, the game's aware of this, and is kind enough to time-lapse over the history lesson.



Looks like the interrogators are wasting their time, though, because Claymore doesn't know where the Royal Ring is. Well, that or he's lying to us. Given how their previous meeting went, I might be disinclined to trust Clint in his place. Also, he's Clint.



Speaking of interrogators, Darius hears someone coming...
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Old 10-22-2015, 10:23 AM
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It looks like another "friend" has come to join the party.



Apparently she's here to gloat?



DEAL.



Clint, however, can't help but be Clint, and doesn't share my enthusiasm, ignoring the keys as Kira flings them into the cell with a jingle.



Umm, Kira, I think I have some bad news about what you're doing now then...



And with that ringing endorsement, Kira exits stage left in a hurry. Sure would have been nice to have an archer with us, Clint.



Ask and ye shall receive! Happy to have you aboard, Darius.



Our heroes bravely leave the injured old man rotting in a cell as they make their escape.



One abrupt cut later and we've also sprung Amon and Eleni and we're all armed and armoured.



Clint smoothly dodges having to explain that he cost us a 5th member for this next battle.



Darius isn't kidding here, so pay attention. Much like the previous map, the game dispenses crucial advice for the upcoming battle just before it starts.



It's probably for the best that Kira isn't here after all, because I'd imagine that the rest of the party would have to swing at that slow pitch for a back-stabbing joke.
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