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Mech smashing fun at its finest
Working Designs has been around long enough to know what today's RPGamers want to play. While the strategy battle system with mechanical suits is nothing new in the market, Working Designs chose to bring over the almost unheard of title Epica Stella. So unheard of was this title that Working Designs was reluctant to even give the name of the original game. Working Designs does more than just translate one game after the next, but instead reworks phrases, characters, and sometimes the entire plot until they come up with another masterpiece. Vanguard Bandits continues their ever-growing line of perfection.
The opening scene shows a young man with his father, Kamorge, in a remote part of the land. While the father is very strict with Bastion, he has a deep love and respect for the boy. On the run from the armies of the Juranis Empire, the two men take a break to continue training. However, it is not long before they are discovered once again by the Empire's forces. Kamorge and Bastion hastily leave the scene to combat their new enemies.
The Imperial troops lay waste to the small village where our heroes have taken refuge for a spell. The soldiers show extreme satisfaction in driving fear into the hearts of the helpless villagers. Safely inside their ATAC suits, they simply outclass anyone who tries to stop them, that is, except for Bastion and Kamorge who also appear in their own ATAC suits. A battle quickly ensues, and with the surprising help of two female strangers and their own ATAC's, the soldiers do not put up much of a fight as they are slain, bringing peace back to the devastated village. Seeing the terror inflicted upon innocent people because of their visit, our heroes decide to depart quickly.
And so begin Bastion's adventures. While it is clear Bastion is a chosen one of legend, how he continues throughout the game is completely up to the player. With 56 different missions, five distinct endings, and three separate story lines, Vanguard Bandits lets the player decide the entire game. In fact, some endings are not simply determined by what the player has chosen, but also how well the battles have gone, or which girl Bastion flirted more with. Will Bastion fight for the good of the Kingdom against the corrupt Empire? Will he be able to find the elusive Ultragunner, the ATAC of legend? Will Bastion become an outcast because of his inability to control his emotions? All these questions and many more can only be decided as the game progresses. Each time through, a different result can be had. Be warned, it's very possible, in fact, very likely that Bastion will fail, even if the game is completed successfully.
The battle system is the heart of the game, as each major event is a battle, and as the player progresses along the current adventure, decisions on the field of battle may affect the path chosen. At a glance, the game is typical turn-based strategy. The player views the area from above, using the L1/R1 buttons to rotate the field, and the L2/R2 buttons to change the angle up and down. Various landscapes with forests, bridges, castles, showy hills and scorching deserts await as the Continent is vast.
The only aspect of the game that really stands out is what happens once an attack takes place. Quickly the game changes to a side view with the attacker on the left, and the defender on the right. The attacker's position relative to the defender, be it behind, beside, or in front, not only affects what the defender can do, but will also be shown here. Nothing is more vindicating than a hard slash to the backside of an enemy ATAC while he's not looking, which is typically the most rewarding statistically. To add one more aspect of enjoyment, the two people involved with the attack will also jeer and taunt and, if hit hard enough, scream in agony as each action is played through. Striking a death blow will bring another round of reactions from both the dying and the victor. Since the content of the text is superficial, expect the amusing Working Designs' humor and cliches now and then.
As with most turn-based games, strategy is the key to victory. With each person donning their individual ATAC, it becomes a huge mass of mechanical destruction and mayhem once the battle heats up. The AI of the enemies seems to thrive off the confusion this can create, so the most important key may be avoiding mistakes. One or two mistakes and victory can still be had most of the time, but each mistake significantly diminishes the chances of survival. Later as the game progresses, elemental amulets can be purchased. These amulets grant the owner magical powers of healing, attack, and status changes, such as increased defense or inability to move. The usage of these amulets can become critical as each battle increases in difficulty.
There is no secret key to victory. Each battle must be sized up, and decisions can only be made after the battle has already started. Expect to be outnumbered at every turn, leaving the team ragged as wave after wave of ATACs bear down on them. Losing one member can not only mean the chance to win has been squandered, but the downed ally will have lower morale, which Bastion will have to deal with during his quest.
The musical score is nothing memorable, but it doesn't interfere with anything either. Looking back, there was no tune I could recall that was overpowering with emotion as some of today's game music has become. The introduction song is cute, and the start screen music is pretty unexpected, but unfortunately doesn't match the rest of the music of the game.
The only reason not to get Vanguard Bandits would be if you can't stand strategy type games at all. The story has a wide variety of emotions, from sappy love stories to vile deception, witty humor to angry insults. The characters have excellent development, and smashing up hundreds of mechanical ATACs on the path to victory doesn't feel too bad either. Due to the number of missions, and the length of play, I wouldn't recommend simply renting the game, unless you like teasing yourself. Just do yourself a favor, and buy it right now. You won't regret it.
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