Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: Vandal Hearts (PS1)

Welcome back for another Lesser-known Video Game Soundtrack!  Today, we’ll look at an RPG developed by a company not particularly known for RPGs and composed by a composer who seems to have a vanishing problem.

Konami released Vandal Hearts on October 25th, 1996 in Japan and March 27th, 1997 in the US.  The game was one of the first RPG releases for the then-new Sony Playstation.  I believe (and please correct me if I’m wrong) it is the first true turn-based strategy RPG for the PS1, though I cannot find any sources to really confirm or deny it.

This game both benefits and suffers from its early release date.  Here’s a little perspective:  The Super Famicom/Super Nintendo was still going strong and churning out RPGs, such as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (US release – March 9th, 1996), Lufia II:  Rise of the Sinistrals (US release – August 31st, 1996), 聖剣伝説3 (Seiken Densetsu 3/Secret of Mana 2) (Japan release only – September 30th, 1995), and finally, Chrono Trigger (US release – August 22nd, 1995).  Konami had already had pretty decent success challenging the SFC/SNES market with Suikoden (released in Japan December 15th, 1995 and nearly a year later in the US), one of Konami’s first RPGs EVER.  Still, why make another RPG AND why make an RPG for a console that, at the time, had incredible amounts of competition from other 32-bit consoles?  Wasn’t this a big risk for Konami?

Yes and no.  Konami managed to navigate this successfully… kinda.  The timing of the release of Vandal Hearts benefited those who had already bought a PS1 while waiting for Final Fantasy VII, which is what everyone basically did haha.  Still, it was forced to compete with the large market of RPGs already released for SFC/SNES.  Not much data is available about how many copies the game sold but it was enough for them to release a sequel… so it must have been positive, at least.

As we all know, the arrival of Final Fantasy VII changed the RPG genre forever and sadly managed to bury/outshine a lot of the RPGs that came before it.  Thus, today, Vandal Hearts is most likely known only to gamers who 1.  Love strategy RPGs 2.  Bought a PS1 WAY BEFORE Final Fantasy VII was released.  Unfortunately, this is very very few people.

Just seeing a PICTURE of this battle gives me heartburn.

Well, enough history.  Let’s talk about the composer(s).  The lead composer, as listed by many different websites, is Hiroshi Tamawari.  I uh… cannot find ANY information about him.  It appears that he may have ONLY written the music for Vandal Hearts and Vandal Hearts II and may have helped work on the music from the Twinbee series.  He also worked on Suikoden, as a secondary composer.  After he composes the music for Vandal Hearts II, he just seems to disappear.  Maybe he still composes under an alias?  I cannot find ANY info about him past 1999.

Connecting some dots, the lead composer for Suikoden?  The legendary Miki Higashino.  Interestingly enough, Higashino is listed as the SECONDARY composer for Vandal Hearts.  This is purely based on my own thoughts and is in no way necessarily true but the music from Vandal Hearts sounds an AWFUL lot like Higashino.  One of the themes is basically the Boss Battle Theme from Suikoden II, written by Higashino.  Example:

And now Vandal Hearts:

Now is the mark of Tamawari’s influence ON Higashino or is this Higashino’s influence on Tamawari?  I’m not even sure.  So little is known about Vandal Hearts that basically anything I say is just an educated guess, at best.  I mean, maybe Higashino WROTE some of the tracks to Vandal Hearts but not all of them.  I wish I could find the answer…  Oh well!  Maybe you guys out there know?

So why highlight the music to this game?  It’s um… bizarrely constructed.  Part of me loves it and part of me… well… thinks that the lead composer for the game, whoever it was, either knows a lot about music theory or very little… and both of those implications scare me.  Listen to this track:

The chords are chords but… are they chords… but…?  Some of the background figures in the emulated horns and trombones are so confusing.  They don’t sound like they fit… or do they?  Something is a little off.  Maybe Vaclav Nelhybel influenced the composer!  I doubt it… but it reminds me of him.  A lot of the tracks are bold and angular brass pieces.  Very interesting for 1996.

Another track that makes me think Higashino did some of the work:

Bad MIDI saxophones/reed organ thingies are some of Higashino’s favorite things to use.  Exhibit A.  Exhibit B.  Jus’ sayin’.

Anyhow, here’s the full soundtrack in one link.  It’s set up in playlist format so it may be better to listen on YouTube itself.  You can click here to go to YouTube and check it out.  Otherwise, listen below and enjoy!

Thanks for reading!  Feel free to leave comments!  :D

About Classical Gaming

Steve Lakawicz holds an MM in Music Performance from Temple University as well as a BM in Tuba Performance from Rutgers University . His teachers include Paul Scott, Scott Mendoker, and Jay Krush. His love of video game music has lead him to form a blog, Classical Gaming, to promote discussion both casual and academic about the music of video games. He is the co-founder of the video game/nerd music chamber ensemble, Beta Test Music and regularly composes/performs chiptune music as Ap0c. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he teaches college statistics at Temple University. View all posts by Classical Gaming

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