Vanguard Bandits - Review

"I protect peace and candy!"

By: Anna Marie "Paws" Whitehead

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 6
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 9
   Plot 9
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Variant to Each path; Easy to Hard
   Time to Complete

Appx 15 hours for each path

One and a half thumbs up

Title Screen

   Working Designs has always had a small but fanatical following. Moving and reworking old school games in the Lunar series onto the PlayStation has gained them a lot of recognition for their hard work. While Vanguard Bandits was touted as a 'filler' game between the first and second Lunar, it manages to shine quite brightly and doesn't have a hint of the thrown-together feeling I expected. I must be playing too many substandard games lately.

   If you don't like battle, alas, Vanguard Bandits is not really for you. In order to advance the plot, and to experience much of it, you must do battle. Prepare to enter 3D maps full of mean mecha called ATACs (All-Terrain Armored Combatants). Standing twice the height of your average Vanguard Bandits building, they're meant to bash the baddies' skulls in, and do so several ways. We begin with your basic attacks, which vary with which weapon you are using. Obviously, swords slash and pikes jab. As the game proceeds, a large variety of new moves become available to each character depending on their stats (listen to Kamorge, youn grasshopper), ATAC (some moves are unique to some ATACs), weapon, and amulet. Getting confused yet? Surprisingly, it's simpler than it sounds. Every level up, you have 3 points you may distribute amonst your stats. Hit a stat requirement, gain that attack (like a tackle). Your amulet may be of 4 (well, 6 really) elements: wind, earth, water, and fire (and light and dark). Personally I stuck to wind for a very useful long distance attack and to earth for its healing capabilities.

Also thrown into the mess is a duet of restrictions. Now, if the world was perfect, you could in one turn walk across the field, launch your biggest attack, and smear everyone on the map. However, you're human (and machine) and as such you have limitations. These are expressed in two different forms: AP and FP. Action Points determine how much you may do per turn: AP are spent whenever you move or attack, the more powerful attacks consuming more AP; some ATACs also take more AP to move. Your AP bar fills up as time passes in the game, and when it gets to 100 you may expend it. Different ATAC as well as different terrain effect how far you can move and how much AP it takes. Fatigue Points also keep you in line. Each action makes you a little more tired; this includes defensive actions. Unfortunately, you're forced to do something each turn. Your FP starts at 0, but if you reach or surpass 100, you will become frozen and all enemies who can will attack you. Since you are frozen then hits are guaranteed and you cannot attempt any action against them such as dodging. Generally this spells demise for your compatriot even if they are at full health. It gets better: if Bastion is knocked out, it's Game Over. If one of your buddies get knocked out, well, they get a little unhappy with you. More on this later.

Silly Little Comment on Screen
Silly Little Comment on Screen  

   Now, what else is there besides battle? Interface, of course. The non-battle gameplay was well done, though not much of it existed, which is normal for a TRPG. Between battles one may look at the briefing for the next missing, talk with their buddies, occasionally shop, as well as the usual save and/or quit options. Interviewing (ie, talking with the buddies) becomes important in the game because certain paths and endings depend on how different characters feel about you. How they feel is clearly evident in their small facial value. The sadder they look, the less they like you. Big red heart? Aww, they're in luvvvvvv...ahem. You may choose to speak 3 different times with one or more people. Talking to them will slowly improve your relationship with them. Using them in battle also effects their love or hate for you; if they're constantly knocked out, they're not going to be very devoted. Also keeping everyone around the same general level seems to keep the troops happy.

Shopping becomes an experience you'll crave in Vangaurd Bandits, even if you're a guy, because shops are only accessible about 3 or 4 times per path (that's about every 5 missions), and you'll really want to take advantage of them. The general rule of thumb I kept was weapon, amulet, and then accessory (gee, maybe they put it in that order for a reason ;). I also spent a lot of time switching around different ATACs with different people since most paths give you extras and you can swap Devling and Barlow's old klunkers out of your regularly scheduled programming. Surprisingly, nearly everyone can use Andrew's ATAC, and since he was inherently fast, I usually put him in the Alba once it had been vacated.

   Don't vacate those brain cells, however, this game still needs some sensory output ready to work. The sound for the game was done well, as muted an effect it has. It plays a background role with nothing really standing out, but everything completely suitable for the scenario. The final song at the end of the Kingdom path is especially touching, and the voice acting is good. The voices are really suited to the characters. There's also some lovely vocal songs during the intros of the game.

   There are aspects of the game that stand out more than the background music, though. The game stands out not only because it is tactical in nature, but because it has several new ideas or new twists on old ideas. Many other games require you to charge up a meter in order to get ready to make your move, but in this case you are expending pieces of it instead of blowing the whole thing. The relationship system has popped up in a few more games recently, in the guise of talking to enemies or allies during battle rather than between, just to name two examples. Rarely do you find games which force you to make moves or which is heavily defense based like Vanguars Bandits. Overall I found the game a nice change from the regular.

   Also a change from the regular is the plotline. While I won't argue basically all RPGs require battle for the continuation of the plot, very few games I have played have managed to feed the plotline through the battles so well you feel like you're actually doing something. Perhaps I'm just partial to tactical games, though. It's also neat to see small plot points threaded through the Interview system. Talk to Barlow a lot and you'll find out about Reina's...well, not so hot cooking. Devlin actually has soft, albeit comical moments, and Andrew is just a sexist bastard-but such a loveable one, you can't help but laugh.

Cutesy or Realistic Name
Cutesy or Realistic Name  

   Vanguard Bandits is a game full of chuckles, but don't scoff at the translation. It's basically flawless. Although my English may not be perfect, I found no mistakes at all and understood completely what was going on. If only other companies were as good at translating as Working Designs, perhaps we wouldn't find this trait so surprising.

   One thing that did surprise me, however, was how much I enjoyed replaying it. Since there are 5 unique endings off of 3 unique paths, you're never really bored playing it unless you're stuck getting a bad ending over and over again. Most of the divergences are easy to pick out, and if you can't figure them out, there's always the strategy guide. I had no problems at all playing all three paths multiple times.

   Thankfully the anime-like graphics will keep you coming back to the game as well. However it may be a style some people don't enjoy, everything is well-designed and well-laid out at least, so you're not suffering too much. I also liked the way they used color, or lack of it, in some cases. The map looks, well, like a map should.

   Throughout your travels, you will come to various easy or difficult points in the game. By far, the Kingdom path is the easiest and Ruin is the hardest. Also, expect the final battle, no matter which path you take, to be very difficult. Long distance attacks generally persevere.

You know the deal-title it.
You know the deal-title it.  

    You'll want to play this game through, likely, about 3 times. At 15 hours per path, that tosses the game into the range most RPGs seem to be nowadays (40-50 hours). If you're more aggressive than me, perhaps you can shave an hour or two off each path, but anything less and you'll get creamed the last two or three battles.

   All in all, Vanguard Bandits is a nice break from the usual RPG. If you enjoy a good plot, some deep chuckling, and have some spare cash, I'd suggest picking it up. Hey, even if you don't play it, you can always check out the Lunar 2 Demo inside. That, or use the case for a doorstop.

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