| I love strategy RPGs. The PlayStation has seen a few a few
of them, including Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and two installments of the Vandal
Hearts series, and theyre some of my favorite RPGs on the system. If you enjoyed any
or all of these games then Vanguard Bandits is a must own title. If you havent
played any strategy role playing games then you need to start, and you should start with
Although essentially set in a fantasy environment, Vanguard bandits distances itself from its PlayStatoion strategy RPG breathed by taking a decidedly anime twist. It seems everyone runs around in big mech suits with even bigger swords/spears/clubs and pummels the crap out of each other when the situation calls for it. Fortunately for us gamers, the situation calls for it quite frequently.
Vanguard Bandits is essentially a series of interconnected battles, separated by a few menus which give you the ability to manipulate character equipment, go shopping, and interview members of your party. There is no map wandering, so when youre done with the menu screen you jump right into the next battle. The battles are fought on fully rotatable 3D landscapes that are essentially divided into an invisible grid. Each character and CPU baddie has a speed rating that determines when they move. The emphasis is on hand to hand combat, a change from the huge summoning spells of Final Fantasy Tactics, and the enormous fireball chucking wizards found in Vandal Hearts II. Each action a character takes increases their fatigue meter, including dodging or defending, so a warrior who charges in Braveheart style to hack apart the hordes of enemies will collapse in exhaustion and be reduced to scrap metal long before they smash their way through the bad guys. Instead, most battles will be won by finding a defensive sweet spot on the map, working out some sort of workable formation, and weathering the storm. Opponents also suffer from the same fatigue weakness, so super powerful opponents can be defeated by dispatching their lackeys, surrounding them, and pounding them into exhaustion so they can no longer defend themselves.
If you think graphical prowess and state of the art sound ought to be the standard by which video games are judged by, then you will be disappointed with Vanguard Bandits. If you think video games ought to be judged by the number of nights you stay up until 2:00 A.M. glued to the screen, lost in the battle, and are down right pissed that you have to put down the controller so you can get to sleep, then Vanguard bandits is an absolute masterpiece. The graphics are dated by a couple of years, and there is a noticeable lack of definition to the characters and their environments. Still, the graphics are passable, and far from being poor enough to detract from the experience.
My only real complaint with Vanguard Bandits is that the story is essentially generic with a pretty mundane plot that is growing ridiculously recycled. Orphan boy realizes his true heritage, begins quest, becomes involved with hot girl, realizes political problems go beyond what he had grown up to believe, sees that there is a head to the evil -- a puppet master behind it all, is betrayed by someone he trusted, fulfills prophecy in getting ultimate ass kicker of the ancients, vanquishes evil, exit. This is the basic story of every single strategy RPG I have mentioned in this review, and is the exact story in the vast majority of the RPGs released on the PlayStation, and the few others will only be missing one or two of these elements. It is my firm belief that there will come a time when the great game producers in the sky will realize that, despite the fact that sales are good, this is not the story quality that gamers want. It is simply what they are willing to settle for. Still, I dont mean to be too hard on Vanguard Bandits because they broke the mold in many respects. While the overall plot is generic, the character interaction within that umbrella is excellent, giving us numerous sub plots, and a complicated web of desire and love denied reminiscent of A Midsummer Nights Dream, only not written as well, but with the pleasant inclusion of giant robots whacking the hell out of each other.
While the story/plot of Vanguard Bandits is relatively blah, the dialogue within that story is nothing short of phenomenal. Its witty and engaging and downright funny at times. The characters are diverse and endearing and have no shortage of snappy one liners that are always good for a chuckle. I just couldnt get enough of Claire, the valley girl mech pilot who always threatened to annoy me with her valley girl slang, but at the same time she, like, totally kicked ass, and never stopped entertaining me. How often do video games actually make you laugh? Not that often, but with Vanguard Bandits, I laughed frequently. Sometimes with the characters and sometimes at the characters, but the result was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The masterful translators of Working Designs have never been better and everyone who plans on writing dialogue for a game should sit down and take notes. School is in and Working Designs is giving lessons.
Vanguard Bandits has excellent replay value, especially for an RPG. There are five different endings and three different branches to pursue. Your decisions will decide which branch you go down, and this will affect who you will ally with, and who is in your party. Each branch also contains different battles, so there is still a lot of new stuff to see even after beating the game a couple of times. Depending on who you flirt with the most, and how you react to them in conversation, several different love interests will present themselves and this leads to different battles and a different ending. This flexibility also spices up the otherwise predictable story line, and helps Vanguard Bandits distance itself from the competition by offering more choices in how the story will progress. Each branch will take around twenty-five hours, and unlike many games that offer different cinematic endings that dont inspire you to play the entire game again, the ability to construct a completely new party and engage in new battles kept the game fresh and interesting, and kept me coming back for more. Expect to spend around sixty-five to seventy-five hours to complete all three branches.