The Play’s the Thing – Vandal Hearts II Eschews the Novel for Drama


Let us speak in generalities. What we call role-playing games (RPGs), whether they’re Japanese or western-produced, share two common ancestors. The first is Dungeons & Dragons. Created in 1974, it would gain popularity worldwide, including in Japan by the mid-80s. Dungeons & Dragons ‘gameified’ concepts and creatures from several sources but primarily borrowed heavily from the second RPG common ancestor: Lord of the Rings.

RPGs started off as a vague approximation of Lord of the Rings and its descendants, filtered through the gameplay codification of Dungeons & Dragons, and processed even further through the technical limitations of the platforms these games were designed for. During the 80s and 90s, part of the allure of RPGs were that they were one of the few video game genres that were dedicated to story-telling as more than window dressing facilitating a gameplay experience.

Inspired by both its common ancestors, RPGs have tended to aspire to character-driven storytelling that emulates prose fiction. With all things there are exceptions, but the ideal of emulating the rhythm and cadence of a great novel has long been the aspiration of many RPGs.

Vandal Hearts II, Konami’s 1999 sequel to their 1996 cult hit, Vandal Hearts, is as much inspired by its ancestors as any other RPG but makes some hard pivots when it comes to the layout of its plot and the method it uses to deliver.

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