Review by Xenon

"You'll play it again and again and again, you get the picture"

Vanguard Bandits is an original Strategy RPG game from Working Designs and Human Entertainment. It is one of the best Strategy RPG games on the PlayStation. I highly recommend this game to fans of such games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre.

Gameplay

First off, I have to make something clear. While Vanguard Bandits is an RPG, it is a Strategy RPG. That means that rather than just taking turns attacking back and forth, you must move in to range to attack. Different Attacks have different ranges. A lot of people have been disappointed by this game because they were going in expecting a game like Final Fantasy VII and ended up with a game more like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. Now that we have cleared that up, we can move on.

Vanguard Bandits has no exploration. It goes from Event to Menu to Battle to Event and so on. Choices you make during these scenes determine what story line you follow, and which battles you’ll fight. To make this even more complicated, shops are only available after certain battles.

Even as Strategy RPGs go, Vanguard Bandits is a little strange. For starters, there’s no basic “attack” command. Instead, you choose an attack from your list of abilities. Each attack consumes a certain amount of AP (Ability Points) and adds certain amounts of FP (Fatigue Points). AP is required to do practically everything. It acts as your action meter (100 AP=turn), is used to remove FP at the end of a turn, is needed to move, and is needed to attack. FP is added on whenever you attack, if you get 100 FP, your unit will become “Frozen”. This adds quite a bit of strategy to the game. Do you take the action? What if you’re frozen and helpless?

To further complicate matters, every action taken will be responded in some way by the enemy. The enemy (or you, if you’re the one responding) can choose to either Attack, Defend, Avoid, or Counter (stops the enemy attack), but that’s not the end. Responses cost you some FP, but no AP, and here’s where it gets tricky, you must respond in someway. Since the FP requirements are rather high, a swarmed ally will become “Frozen” rather quickly. Hmmmm, more strategy.

The way character level’s work puts the player even further into a strategic position. Rather than have a set level gains for the characters, the player gets 3 “attribute points”, so to speak. Each attribute point is used to put one stat up one point. So, you can raise your strength by 2 and you agility by 1. This both allows and forces customization. It’s not ALL free reign though. Abilities require the character reaches certain values in certain stats before he or she can use the skill.

Human decided to through two final curveballs into the system. First of all, you have to remember that these are people inside of giant robots. As such, some characters can change between ATACs. This affects there fighting ability as different ATACs have different base stats.

The final little aspect of game play is support skills. Depending on which stone you have equipped to the ATAC, it will have different support skills. These skills range from restoring FP and HP to boosting attacking and defense. Choose your stones carefully.

Battles take place on a map divided into squares. You move along and attack if you choose to and are able. Once an attack has been chosen, you’re taken to the action screen where the actions take place. You even get to read little quotes from the characters. Once you’ve attacked, your turn is over.

On a whole, Vanguard Bandits is a relatively challenging strategy game. This may discourage some players, but I personally like it. It makes the game last longer.

Story

Basically, our young hero Bastion is trying to save the Kingdom from the vile clutches of the Empire. But, it’s not that simple.

There are three main stories in Vanguard Bandits. While they all lead to about the same ending story-wise, they develop everything else differently. Characters that join, the attitude of the characters, battles fought, ATACs acquired, almost everything.

It doesn’t end there though. In two of the three storylines, there are multiple endings. So, in total, there are five possible endings.

As far as the actual story goes, it has its high and low points. On the whole, it’s good, but it could’ve been better.

Graphics

There are two graphical styles in this game. The first style is used for people and ATACs on the battle field. It’s standard sprite type graphics. I think this was well chosen, it makes the characters look better than jagged sprites and cuts down on loading time.

The second type of graphical style is only used during the Attack sequences between the two characters. It’s fully 3-D polygonal type. The ATACs look well done, even with the jagged edges. You don’t notice the edges as out of place in most instances though. Most of the ATACs in the game were made with lots of edges anyway.

The only other graphical note I can make is that pictures of the character that’s talking are used in the game. Not a big deal, but I’ve always liked it.

On the downside, during the action sequences, the game can sometimes slow down and the graphics may overlap each other causing weird views that wouldn't happen. This only seems to happen on a PSX though, when played in a PS2, the problem is eliminated.

Sound

Vanguard Bandits has a very good soundtrack. I found the sad/tragedy theme to be one of the best of that type, falling short only of Suikoden’s Guitar Theme of sadness and possibly Final Fantasy VI’s “Forever Rachel”. The two themes played during the attack themes have enough bounce not to get boring. The vocal songs are good, but not quite up to the caliber of Lunar. Nevertheless, Vanguard Bandits soundtrack is wonderful. To highlight this excellent soundtrack, they even put in a music selection while you use the ATAC viewer.

Replay

This is where Vanguard Bandits really shines. Vanguard Bandits replay value is astounding. With 56 battles, 5 different endings, and 3 main storylines, you’ll be playing this game for hours on end.

The replay value comes partially from the game’s length. It’s long enough that the beginning doesn’t get too boring, and short enough so that going through the game isn’t too much of a task that it gets old.

Honestly, Vanguard Bandits strongest point is its replay value. It’s has good gameplay, and an excellent soundtrack, but it’s replay is just that good.

Summary

If you enjoy strategizing, you should go out and buy this excellent strategy RPG by Human and Working Designs. No, Vanguard Bandits is not for everyone. Some won’t like its relatively slow play-out. Others may not like the difficulty. But for those who appreciate it, Vanguard Bandits is excellent. It’s cheap now, $15-$20 US, and you should snatch up a copy while you can. Working Designs even threw in a huge LUNAR 2 demo! So, go, buy, help the economy!!!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/19/02, Updated 06/19/02


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