Sometimes it’s nice to travel off the beaten path when it comes to video games, as it can take you to some pretty weird and wonderful places. With the advent of Greenlight on Steam, gamers are more inundated with choice than ever before due to the rapid growth of the indie gaming market. Eventually, my travels would take me to a little title called ‘Vagrant Hearts’ – an RPG Maker product from Warfare Studios.
The story of Vagrant Hearts follows two sisters Scarllet and Beatrice, who live peacefully in a quiet little village. Over time, they discover that Beatrice has the extraordinary ability to heal people – which draws the attention of a peace-keeping order known as The Brotherhood, who have particular interests in her ability. As the story unravels, the intentions of the Brotherhood are brought to light as well as the introduction of numerous other factions as the two sisters are caught in the landscape of a political/religious conflict which ultimately binds them together to save the world of Azulel.
At the center of the story, Vagrant Hearts must be applauded for quite a number of things. It is incredibly rare to find a game that features two female protagonists, and it manages to do so with a kind touch – with much of the story focused around the shifting relationship that Scarllet and Beatrice share and how they will grow both with and without one another. This is what ended up drawing me into play Vagrant Hearts, and kept me going right through until the very end of their journey – regardless of hiccups along the way.
However, one of the most unforgivable errors that Vagrant Hearts makes is also through its storytelling also. As a small game, it features no audio dialogue and so the story is told traditionally through the use of text dialogue. What I found particularly frustrating about this narrative technique, was that it seemed as if the script hadn’t been properly proofread – in that there were a startling number of both grammatical and spelling errors which somewhat broke my immersion during the game. For a product that relies so heavily on its story being delivered by text, it makes the overall product feel both unpolished and amateur despite its progressive delivery.
In terms of design, the game provides a very traditional 8-bitesque return to old school RPGs from the days of old on NES and SNES – complete with a turn based system that essentially feels like it was cut and pasted from an old Final Fantasy title. One of the few unique things about the design of Vagrant Hearts was the inclusion of “crests”, which would allow you to assign spells to your characters based on the crest that you would assign them. Despite being a simple system, it allowed for some variety in a game architecture that offered little user input besides assigning equipment to the different characters when you purchased/found upgrades for them.
Unfortunately, I often found myself feeling bored; especially by the end of the game. It appeared far too simple to essentially game the system, where my party focus consisted of the two mage characters using their stun spells to stun lock enemies in fights, which was met with little resistance. This was highlighted by the end boss, which only took two attempts to defeat, despite its damage output far outweighing the HP numbers of my party as I discovered in my first attempt. Design like this feels cheap and reminds me somewhat of the “GF Spam” agony I felt over Final Fantasy VIII – it often felt like there was only one strategy to claim victory.
Being a game from RPG Maker, the controls were generally straight forward and really only utilised a handful of keys as per most traditional PC games. I was blessed enough to only encounter one bug in the entire game – where I became stuck in a door entry, and would end up having to exit and reload the game several times before it corrected itself and I could continue playing. Doing research on the game while I was playing, I did comes across a number of people discussing in-game and graphic related bugs on the forums– however, it seems that Warfare Studios has mostly ironed them out at this stage in the game’s lifecycle.
Stylistically, the game’s soundtrack is complimentary but not outstanding by any degree. Eventually, as the game wears on, it can become tiresome that there is only a handful of songs which are seemingly reused in various cutscenes and entries into various towns and villages. I found more than once that I had to take off my headset and take a break from the battle music due to monotony, as often you would be fighting for an extended period of time towards the end of the game.
While the game certainly lacked a lot of polish and glitz, I do have to give credit to Vagrant Hearts in being able to drag me across the finish line despite the issues I had with the game. For its current price on Steam at $9.99, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to purchase it – however, the sale price currently at $3.49 is much more agreeable for a game of this particular caliber.