Vandal Hearts is a tactical role-playing game released in the United States for the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn in 1997. It was among one of the first games in its genre to be released to the western market, paving the the way for more popular titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics and the Ogre Battle series to reach foreign markets. The game follows Ash Lambert and his friends as they attempt to restore peace and prosperity to the Ishtarian Empire.
Toroah the Messiah traveled the land of Sostegaria thousands of years ago, laying his teachings upon the scattered, confused, and near-barbaric men and women throughout the varied colonies. upon his passing, his descendants and disciples took on their own political right and created the Holy Ashah Dynasty, which ruled through means of religious doctrine and military prowess from then on. The Dynasty's rulers began to fall to corruption after a time, and long periods of civil unrest followed.
It was from these oppressive wounds that Arris the Sage was born, and he ignited the largest rebellion in history by uniting various anti-royalists into a single guerilla unit. The Liberation Army rolled over its competition and secured itself as the ultimate ruling force in Sostegaria, basing its structure on democracy. The leaders of the Liberation took command, except for Arris, who suddenly vanished and was never seen nor heard from again.
Fifteen years following the revolution and the establishment of the Istarian Empire, the Security Forces find themselves increasingly at odds with Minister of Defense Hel Spites and his Crimson Guard. Commanded by Hel's son Kane, the elite anti-terrorism squad concers itself with crushing the remnants of old Dynasty, and in doing so allows bandits and murderers to run free about the country side. Ash Lambert takes it upon himself to repair the situation and finds himself tangled in a web of lies, betrayal, and deceit that leaves him as the key force to restoring Ishtaria to the vision its founders had realized.
- Ash Lambert (Hero) - The son of a close friend and eventual traitor to Arris the Sage, Ash struggles to maintain the self-esteem to carry on his high standing within the Istarian Security Forces. Regardless, he is a man of strong morals, and wil stop at nothing to ensure that justice is done.
- Clint Pickard (Knight/Armor) - Ash's second-in-command, Clint is a stoic warrior by profession and a generally quiet and reserved person. Unfortunate happengings in his personal life have left him extremely cautious about in who he places his trust.
- Diego Renault (Archer/Hawknight) - The "comic relief" of Ash's platoon, Diego is relatively whimsical and carefree in his attitude, though he has little trouble getting his job done.
- Eleni Dunbar (Mage/Monk) - The adopted daughter of the great General Magnus, Eleni joins Ash and his friends in hope that their travels will lead her to her missing father. She comes to find that her past isn't quite as simple as she can recall.
- Huxley Hobbes (Cleric/Monk) - Eleni's wise teacher, Huxley accompanies the general's daughter when she joins up with Ash. His prowess with healing magic becomes invaluable in the world-changing events that inevitably ensue.
- Kira Wolfstan (Archer/Hawknight) - A mercenary who finds herself intertwined with Ash and his friends after a fierce brigand ambush. Kira is as quick on wit as she is with an arrow, but future events may call her allegiance into question.
- Grog Drinkwater (Knight/Armor) - Formerly a well-regarded ship captain, Grog has instead taken up alcoholism as his profession. With not a little convincing, Ash brings Grog's quick sword arm into his ranks.
- Dolan (Knight/Armor) - An old warrior serving under General Magnus, Dolan hooks up with Ash and friends in an effort to search for his former commander. his quest leads himself and the party into dark, dark places.
- Amon (Archer/Hawknight) - Young and spirited, Amon serves under Dolan. Despite his free demeanor, his loyalty is unquestionable. He seems to have romantic eyes for Sara.
- Sara (Cleric/Monk) - A young healer rescued from Toroah's Ark by Dolan. Sara is strong-willed and well in-tune with the magical arts. She's extremely close to Amon, but it's unclear whether or not she returns his apparent romantic feelings.
- Zohar Abu Sa'id (Mage/Monk) - Mysterious and powerful, Zohar comes from a time long before the war overtaking Sostegaria. Spinning himself back into the fabric of time, his sudden involvement in the conflict helps turn things around for Ash and his friends.
- Darius (Archer/Hawknight) - An older man imprisoned by the Crimson Guard, Darius is a tinkerer and inventor. He and Huxley seem to have a shared animosity triggered by undisclosed past events.
The bulk of gameplay in Vandal Hearts takes place on various isometric combat planes. For the most part, the player controls the entirety of the game's cast of characters, moving them through the terrain on a square grid. Battles are turn-based and focus heavily on a rock-paper-scissors class system. Air units are weak to archers, whereas archers are weak against swordsman for example. This rudimentary system allows for simple but realtively fast-paced encounters.
Apart from a heavily-concealed side quest, each scenario is mandatory and is a central piece of the game's narrative. Some ask the player to defeat all of the enemies on the board, and still more will demand a more complex task such as eliminating a specified boss unit or defending a few objects for a certain number of turns. Almost every battle will result in a game over screen if Ash Lambert -- the game's primary protagonist -- is killed, so keeping him alive is particularly compelling.
Outside of combat, the game utilizes a simple menu system to navigate the world. Towns and cities static backdrops with a tavern or shop to visit. there's very little to do in Vandal Hearts outside of participating in some harrowing conflict. Each character can take one of two profession paths as they level up, with classes like soldiers able to become swordsman and then duelists, or an armor and eventually a guardsman. These paths place them in entirely different spectrums of the rock-paper-scissors gameplay, so it's important to balance out the different kinds of characters one has access to.