|| Vanguard Bandits - Review
Front Mission's Alternative
By: Jake Alley
| Battle System
| Replay Value
| Time to Complete
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.
|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.
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.
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.