Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment is actually a prequel to the 1996 PlayStation original. Your nation has gone to war with the chaps across the border and, in a massive battle that was set to end the war, fire rained from the skies and everyone was wiped out. Or so it seemed...
That introduction sets up the premise in which your ever-changing team of youths find themselves in the thick of a battle between forces, lines continuously blurring between the good and the bad.
VH:FoJ is a turn-based role playing game from Konami. Players are tasked with leading a party of characters into combat where your every move is defined by the gridded ground on which you stand. Each character has a range of skills; most can perform magic as well as more mundane physical attacks, including the ability to aid party members or hinder enemies (rather than just damaging them).
Brute force is not going to get you anywhere in this game - instead, success comes about by the smart (and tactical) application of your skills and abilities to the problem at hand. Each level, in addition to being laden with enemies (which typically outnumber you), is also a puzzle. It will probably take several attempts (once you get past the first couple) just to see how things play out before you come up with a winning plan to get you through.
Battle is strictly turn-based (rather than teams taking turn), with each character populating a turn queue displayed at the top of the screen. Some characters can cast a haste buff on a character, forcing them up the queue so that they take their turn next - it's a useful tool in your arsenal, you'd do well to remember it.
If you do happen to lose a character in a level, fear not. Unless their staying a live is a requirement for that particular scenario, they'll be back for your next battle. Loot can be found in chests on the map, although grabbing them will use up a valuable turn for the character you task with their collection. In fact, figuring out how on earth to get some of the loot is a good replayability mechanic for seasoned players once they've finished the (lengthy) campaign.
Tactically Vandal Hearts is challenging. You need to be aware of what you've got at your disposal and you need to be able to think about how and when to use it. Being turn-based, there's plenty of time to think about things and you can generally think through the next few turns fairly accurately if you give yourself the time to do so. It may seem like you're stretching out an already slow experience, but it's much better to take 45 minutes to successfully complete a level than it is to fail it three times at thirty minutes a pop. If you fail, remember, it's game over (you have to load a saved game to try again).
Graphically, well, there's no kind way to put this - it's poor. The graphical style is an odd choice, with weirdly misshapen mini-bobblehead people populating the landscape. The concept art that litters the loading screens is amateurish and the execution of this art style in-game is awkward in ways that cannot be excused by download or budgetary limits alone. Poor animation and awful cutscenes round out the consistently sub-par visual package.
There are numerous quirks in the experience. A camera that limits your ability to place it where you want, and then moves around during combat. A difficulty ramp which introduces the basics and then chucks you in the deep end to watch you drown. A clunky interface for managing conversations. The unexplained purchase and sale of loot and the management of your inventory.
There's nothing overtly wrong with the game but there's nothing that really stands out about it positively either. It's a good price and if you're looking for an old-school turn-based RPG for your 360, it's worth a look. Just be aware that it's nothing new, kinda hard and far from the prettiest game in the room.