RPGamer Feature - The Road to E3 - Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment Interview
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 08.2009(XBLA)/

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As we followed the Road to E3, we hit a bit of a detour last week, but we're back on course now. This week Konami's Jay Boor was able to get us in touch with a couple members of the Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment team, Associate Producer James Wong and QA Lead Ryan Graff. Here's what they had to say about the upcoming XBLA/PSN title.

I'm a big Vandal Hearts fan and have been hoping that the series was not dead. What made now the right time to revive Vandal Hearts?
Konami: Since Vandal Hearts II was released in 1999, loyal fans have carried a torch for the series and some of them work for Konami. The original Vandal Hearts was a major milestone in the tactical RPG genre almost the first 3-D tactical RPG ever made and it helped pave the way for much of the evolution that the genre has gone through since. The main goal of the project is to fuse that evolution with the original game's charm, fast pace, and light, approachable gameplay.

One of the complaints people have had is about the cartoon-style character art. What is your response to this criticism? How does the art style fit your vision for the game?
Konami: It's worth noting that the version of the game those screenshots were taken from was in fact a pre-alpha build. Some of the art, like the character portraits, was actually concept art.

Since Vandal Hearts and Vandal Hearts II had such different art styles, finding the right one for the new game has been a long process. Vandal Hearts I had a mix of serious-looking characters, such as Ash, Clint, and Xeno, and cartoony-looking ones like Diego and Darius. Vandal Hearts II had a much more serious and gritty style, looking less like anime and more like oil paintings from the Renaissance. Both styles have their fans, and we hope that the style you'll see in the finished game is one that everyone can enjoy.

The area that stands out in most people's minds about the Vandal Hearts series is the superfluous amounts of blood during combat. We've not seen this so far, what's the deal?
Konami: There's been a bit of misinformation when it comes to the blood sprays, but they definitely are in the game. Some sites covering the demo remarked that they'd seen a fountain or geyser of blood. The blood geysers are certainly in. However, what we showed was taken from the pre-alpha build.

Like all fans, we know how important the blood sprays are as a series trademark, and we're always fine-tuning them (along with all the other effects) to make sure they gush just right. So stay tuned.

Flames of Judgment is labeled as a prequel to the original Vandal Hearts. Are there going to be some direct tie-ins and how much of an impact do you expect them to have on the original's story?
Konami: Yes, there will definitely be direct tie-ins; some you might expect, and others you might not.

Part of what makes both the original games' stories great is that they give their worlds a sense of history and mythology and they show how blurry the lines between the two can be. Some of the games' legends turn out to be literally true, while others, the characters learn, have changed over time either because ancient scribes mistranslated them, or because those in power rewrote them to support their own regimes.

Telling this particular story and some fans have already guessed which story means having the utmost respect for the first game's canon. At the same time, there are enough blanks within that canon that, while keeping to it, we're able give players twists and turns as well.

Vandal Hearts I had a wonderful story, and Flames of Judgment's story is designed to work in harmony with it. That doesn't mean that everything will happen as you might expect, and it won't cover every event between the two games. But it's a start...

This game claims to have a good deal of character customization. Will it be anything like the original's branching class system or something totally new?
Konami: I think that the term 'character customization' may have been a misnomer. While you won't be able to visually customize the characters' outward appearance, you WILL be able to make any character a specialist in the way you want to shape them.

Part of the original game's charm is that the game moves so quickly, both in and out of battle. No wading through cascades of menus, no micromanaging stat points; just make a few decisions, and boom, your character's all set.

For Flames of Judgment, we wanted to retain that user-friendliness, but we also wanted to give the player more control over their characters' specific traits. The result is a game that tracks the way you play each character, and automatically improves their individual skills as you put them to use. If you want a character to specialize in a certain field, or branch out in two skillsets or more, just play them that way, and they'll naturally adapt to it.

That's not to say that every character can learn to do everything equally well; that would be dull. Certain characters learn certain skills faster than others, and each of them has a unique ability tailored to their personality. What this system does is allow the player to give their characters backup plans; if your big bruiser's headlong charge doesn't go as well as expected, you'll be glad you taught him how to heal.

Why the decision to make this a digital download instead of a full retail release?
Konami: We saw a chance to give players something new. There are very few new RPGs in any current-gen downloadable market (and even fewer tactical RPGs), let alone on this game's scope and scale. Flames of Judgment is nearly as large as Vandal Hearts I, with over two dozen playable maps, story sequences, towns, overworld maps, over ten minutes of cinematic FMVs, and multiple endings.

What ever happened to the rumored DS Vandal Hearts game from a few years back?
Konami: It remains a rumor to us as well.

If you have the option of continuing the Vandal Hearts series past Flames of Judgment, what would you most like to do with the series?
Konami: From the beginning, Flames of Judgment was built as a foundation on which to expand. We hope that fans of the series come to love the characters as much as we do, and that enough of them ask us for more of those characters' stories. We're not necessarily restricted to downloadable titles, either; if there's enough of an audience for it, we could conceivably go to other platforms down the road.

RPGamer would like to thank Jay Boor at Konami along with James Wong and Ryan Graff for taking the time to help put together this interview. Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment will be released in August for XBLA and in September for PSN.

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