Vanguard Bandits is one of the few Working Designs titles I had missed when it came out on the PSOne back in the day. So when I found out Monkey Paw had put it on PSN, I was glad I would finally have a chance to give it a go. The game is an isometric Strategy RPG much like Final Fantasy Tactics or Front Mission 3. You move on a grid based map with your characters controlling All Terrain Armored Combatants, or ATACs for short, which are basically giant mecha.
The game’s story takes place on the continent of Eptina, where wars have raged for years over things like goods, land, and religious beliefs. There are several different factions to be found within this game. Some will be your allies while other will be your rivals. You will start the story as Bastion, a young man who, with the help of his father, fights the empire to restore The Kingdom to it’s former glory.
Vanguard Bandits plays out in 20 battles that follow down three different story paths. After each battle, there is an intermission where you can talk to your allies to build morale, change equipment, and shop at certain times. There are several factors that determine which story path you will take such as morale and relationships with other characters in the game.
Each ATAC has a variety of attacks. How and when they can use these attacks will depend on the weapon and gemstone you have equipped to them. Spears will have a longer range than swords and the gemstones will grant different kinds of special attacks. As always with these types of games, Flanking is very important as attacks from the sides and rear will be much more effective than front attacks.
Each character will have two different kinds of points: FP or fatigue points and AP or action points. These will be consumed each time you attack or defend. You will want to be careful not to let a unit get surrounded. If they run out of FP they will become stunned for a number of turns, unable to attack or defend. This added a bit of a challenge to the game because if you use up all your points attacking you won’t be able to defend as much.
There are 3 different types of attacks: normal attacks, knockdowns, and collisions. When you are attacked you will be presented with different options for defending the attack. You may counter-attack, defend, or try to avoid the oncoming attack. If you are hit with a knockdown attack, you will not be able to counter-attack. So, you should either defend this attack to prevent from being knocked down or try to avoid it all together. The attack and defense system of this game works out a lot like playing rock, scissors, and paper really.
The game’s graphics are pretty good for a PSone game. Nothing really fancy but they fit the mood of the game well enough that there is nothing distracting about them either. When you are attacking and defending, the game will show short little scenes of the ATACs doing combat. This put me in the mind of the Shining Force games in this respect. You will see the same ones a lot during the course of this game. These can be turned off at anytime in options if you get tried of watching them. The sound effects fit the game fairly well. There is nothing really special about them but they get the job done. The music is pretty bland as well. There’s not really anything wrong with it but nothing notable about it either. The opening theme was dubbed in English and, considering when it was done, it’s not that bad.
In short, Vanguard Bandits is a pretty good strategy game. There is nothing really that sets it apart from other games in the genre, but it’s story is interesting enough that you will want to play the three paths just see how they all come out. The combat is balanced well and each map will present new challenges for the player to overcome. Some battles seem impossible at first but, with some fine tuning to your tactics, there will always be a way to come out on top.