I started playing it a couple of days ago. I'm up to the point where we reach Gilbaris Island. Here are my thoughts so far.
The characters aren't very appealing.
Most of them are whiny kids. I understand it's quite common for JRPGs to have youngsters in the leading roles, but the first two VH games were quite grown up. In VH2 we started off as children, but that was only for the prologue chapter. In chapter 1 onwards we were all adults. In VH1 we had Diego the cocky comedian and Clint the big sexy brooding guy, and in this game we've got two nerds and Connor who whinges at every decision. I do like Luce and Gren, though. Several times i've been worried that I was about to lose either of them permanently.
There aren't a lot of weapon varieties.
Just short swords, daggers, bows, axes and hammers. No spears, no staves, no throwing weapons. The game allows us to switch between each character's primary and secondary weapons so you can swap a short range weapon for a long range weapon, which is kinda cool. But there are no weapon techniques to learn though, and it feels like there should be. VH2 allowed us to learn weapon techniques that could be transferred to other weapons of the same type, and Suikoden Tactics had technique runes such as Great Hawk for archers and Viper for sword users. The hammers don't make sense in this game, because the standard attack causes the character to fling his weapon around several times, damaging targets on all sides. Surely this should be a technique rather than a standard attack (when a hammer user does a counter attack, it only hits one enemy) and hammers are supposed to be those big clunky slow weapons in RPGs, and in this game a character can quickly get lots of hits in quick succession while my speedy archer girl can only fire one arrow at a time.
The menus are AWFUL
For shopping and changing characters' equipment or just examining their stats - who the f#ck designed these menus? The original VH had perfectly simple menus to navigate around, and these menus are all over the place. Why not just stick with the original design?
There are quite a few references to the original Vandal Hearts
This is quite welcome, as VH2 was totally disconnected from the first game. This time we hear the names of familiar locales, and a lot of character surnames are used for tavern names. We're also learning about the original flames of Judgement from the first game and the ring that was used to control it.
I've been using the same group for ages.
It feels like I've been stuck with the same 6 units for a big chunk of the game now. Maybe this game goes on a lot longer than I'm expecting and I will eventually recruit more PCs, but one of the things that stops me from replaying an RPG is spending too much time playing with the same people. It looks doubtful that I'll end up replaying this game as many times as I've replayed the first two VH games.
The music is boring and forgettable.
This could be my nostalgia, but the original VH had some exciting iconic music for the battles and towns, and not forgetting those beautiful haunting vocals from Jadranka. VH2 had some nice tunes as well, some of them reminded me of Basil Poledouris' theme from Conan the Barbarian. The background music to this game really is just dull background music.
I'm liking and hating the graphics.
Graphics have never really been Konami's strong point when it comes to their RPGs, and the stumpy polygons were one of the reasons I didn't play the game sooner (similar with Suikoden Tactics, giving us stumpy versions of the more realistic characters we had in Suikoden 4). I love the bright colours of VH1, and these were all replaced with VH2's drab palette, although I did kind of like the character animations during storyline events in VH2, the characters' gestures when they were talking gave some life and humor to VH2's dreary storytelling.
This game has brought back the bright colours of VH1, and a lot of the scenery is quite pretty. I don't like the character portraits, they look like shoddy renderings of the character polygons. I wish they had used some nice hand-drawn portraits like we're used to seeing in Suikoden games. I also miss the animated portraits from VH1, with the characters' lips moving and eyes blinking while their dialogue boxes popped up. That was one of the quirks that keeps VH1 feeling like a fresh game that hasn't aged badly after all these years.
I do like the cut scenes, which look a bit like animated comics, and I wish there were more of them. they are more relevant than VH1's weird CGI animations which looked like they were set in an entirely different era to what we see in the game (although I loved that narrators voice from VH1)
The maps set in dark caves and dungeons are a bit too dark and need better lighting, I can hardly see anything during these battles.
There's not a lot of strategy going on.
Throughout the first two VH games we spent a lot of time trying to reach higher ground so we could inflict maximum damage, while trying to receive minimum damage by avoiding enemy archers who were perched up on walls and cliffs. These tactics were missing from Suikoden Tactics, which I could forgive because that game was mostly about runes and elemental terrain. But without it in this game, it doesn't feel like a Vandal Hearts game. Most of the maps are pretty flat. I've encountered a few maps with dead ends where I've sent characters through thinking there might be a shortcut, only to have to spend turns sending them back the way they came. This seems like bad design work to me. The "push" command has been brought back from VH1 so we can push boulders into buildings and push over torches to create a flame barrier to halt the enemies. But opportunities to use these tactics are few and far between. It also seems we can't use natural terrain to our advantage, like placing characters in hedges or on water to increase their defences. Which bring some onto one more thing...
Where are my wings??
I've been playing for quite a while and still not received any winged units yet. Do they exist in this game? I was hoping that when I reached the Biruni university, I would meet some kooky inventor who had invented a flying suits that allow us to perform aerial attacks, but no such luck there.