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Vanguard Bandits - Review

Front Mission's Alternative

By: Jake Alley


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 9
   Plot 6
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

20-25 hours

 
Overall
9
Criteria

Vanguard Bandits
 

   Tactical RPGs are becoming more and more popular. However, they still haven't reached the point where people heavily criticize them. As long as a game has a single unique feature, it will be praised as innovative. For this reason, Vanguard Bandits comes as a true breath of fresh air, as it has gameplay innovations which force the player with truly unique strategies.

   Combat is beyond a doubt the most important aspect of any TRPG. In addition to the standard staples of gradually increasing the enemy numbers, and worsening the terrain, Vanguard Bandits has a wide variety of innovative features. All actions require expenditures of two resources, AP and FP. Moving and attacking both require AP, so if one chooses to move as far as possible before attacking, one won't have enough AP for one's most damaging attacks. Vanguard Bandits is also the first game of it's kind which allows characters to move, attack, then move some more, although doing so is costly enough that any such attack must be very weak. All AP is restored at the beginning of the character's next turn. FP increases slightly from doing most attacks, and greatly from magic based attacks, which generally require less AP.


They fight.
Good Battle Graphics  

   The most interesting aspect of combat however is in the defense, not the offense. When a character is attacked, there are a number of options available to them, one of which must be chosen. When attacked from directly behind, one is forced to choose avoid, the option which reduces the chance of a successful hit. However, attacking a character from behind grants a huge accuracy bonus, almost guaranteeing a hit for full damage. When attacked from the side, one gains the additional options of defending, which cuts the damage received in half, and attacking, which allows the defender to use any of their attacks with no AP cost, but an extremely high FP cost, after receiving receiving full damage from the attacker. Finally, when attacked from the front the forth choice of counter attacking becomes available. If successful, the attacker takes a fairly large amount of damage, and the defender is unharmed. All of these defensive maneuvers cost a large amount of FP however, and you must do one. As for what's so bad about this, if a character's FP reaches a certain point, they become frozen, giving more or less every enemy a chance to attack them once for a much larger than normal amount of damage, and a 100% chance to hit. Between these factors, and the fact that healing is almost nonexistent, defensive positioning becomes much more important in Vanguard Bandits than in any other game of it's kind, making for some very unorthodox strategies.

   Outside of combat, Vanguard Bandits falters a little. There is no way to equip new weapons as you buy them and no way to easily switch between characters when you are equipping them. Aside from these minor flaws however, the game interfaces very well. There is a simple menu between fights from which you can talk to your characters, save, and shop. In combat, you can easily see the stats of every unit in combat, a full map, and before confirming an attack, the exact results that will occur from a successful attack, as well as the chance of hitting.


Gunbuster!
Anime Intro  

   The first thing which must be mentioned regarding Vanguard Bandits' music is the sheer variety. Before even pushing a button, one can hear the lyrical theme song played during the anime introduction movie, followed by the lyrical title screen song, followed by the rock track played during the trailer-like demo, and a fourth song played upon returning to the title screen. Needless to say, there's a fair variety of music during the game, some quite good, some not so good, and some, like the lyrical title screen track, apparently pulled straight from the mid 1980s, which are a matter of personal taste.

   While most tactical RPGs simply provide harder and harder fights as the game goes on, Vanguard Bandits does a very good job of keeping things interesting. There are battles where you begin surrounded on all sides by enemies, where the cost of moving is greatly increased, and fights where your capabilities are hindered all around preventing the best attacks from even being used. There's even a chaotic three way fight at one point. This sort of thing mixes gameplay up very nicely. In addition to fighting, there's a sub goal of making sure the other characters on your party get along with the main character, which among other things has a profound effect on the ending.

   The plot of Vanguard Bandits is nothing special. To be honest, it's quite clichéd. It's the typical "Moody teenage boy is the only one who can use the very good mech to destroy the evil empire" storyline, and not even with any real twists. However, depending on what one does early in the game, the story branches off in one of three directions, telling this story from different perspectives, and generally making for a more intriguing experience. With all the variety in the gameplay, and the fair number of fights per chapter, around twenty, there truly is incentive to play the game through more than once. Doing so also rewards the player with the special little perks Working Designs loves inserting in all their games.

   Speaking of Working Designs, they provide their usual outstanding translation. In addition to translating the game quite well, as usual, they inserted a variety of amusing little jokes in place of non-vital dialog. It takes a fast eye to catch all these however as most one liners are exchanged rapidly while attack animations are displayed.

A Conversation

Conversation
 

From the normal map view, Vanguard Bandits is nothing spectacular. However, whenever an attack takes place, it switches to a very highly detailed polygonal view as the two ATACs (mecha) involved exchange a blow or two, as well as some cutting remarks. While this feature can be turned off, it is easily the most amusing aspect of the game. Additionally, when characters speak to each other, anime style closeups of their faces are shown, with a very wide variety of emotions displayed.

The difficulty of Vanguard Bandits is difficult to gauge. On the one hand, once one obtains the best ATAC in the game, one can more or less win every fight with only the main character. However, keeping your other characters alive and happy is somewhat more difficult, and is necessary to get the best ending.

While it may not be the best game of its kind, or the prettiest, Vanguard Bandits is a very unique game. If you're a TRPG fan, and you're sick of the conformity of the genre, pick it up right now, and get a breath of fresh air.





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