|Title: Vangaurd Princess
Developer: Tomoaki Sugeno
Release Date: June 26, 2009
Age Rating: Teen (unofficial)
There’s a very good chance that you’ve never heard of Vanguard Princess. After all, it’s a Japanese indie fighting game brought to the West by a small team that mostly does comic book creation and manga localization. And it’s not available on Steam, so you’ll have to get it from Gamer’s Gate or Amazon Game Downloads. Neither of which should be a problem, by the way, since this is DRM-free. But if you’re a Valve fanboy who must have everything on Steam, this probably isn’t for you. I would wager (or at least hope) that most people that frequent this site enjoy fighting games. So, you might wonder, is this for you? Well, let’s take a look.
Every fighting game must have a unique hook that makes it different from, essentially, Street Fighter (the one that every other fighting game is compared to). For Mortal Kombat, it’s the blood. For BlazBlue, it’s the unique power every character has. For Dead or Alive, it’s the female cast (or at least it used to be; by my count, in Dead or Alive Dimensions, there are actually more male characters than female ones). Vanguard Princess’s hook is a unique form of tag-teaming.
On the character selection screen, you choose one of ten main characters and one of five partner characters (there are no unlockable characters, unfortunately). You control the main character with Low, Medium, and High attack buttons, and you control the partner character with a single attack button. Your partner’s abilities range from support (for instance, depleting the opponent’s special gauge), to attacks, which are fairly powerful in their own right. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t work quite like I’d like it to. I wouldn’t say there’s anything wrong with it, really, but in my experience, I often don’t end up using them because the character’s attacks often get in the way of each other. For instance, I’d tell my partner to do a ranged attack, but I’d get in close to the enemy and do a grab, making the ranged attack useless. I won’t pretend that I’m pro-gamer material, but that’s my experience. Plus, the partner character won’t do anything if the main character has been downed for a second, which is when I’d really like to see the partner character show their stuff. But these are personal nit pics about the design choices, not complaints about broken design.
Vanguard Princess contains little in the way of differing modes of play. You’ve got story mode, which is just arcade mode in any other fighter, you’ve got local versus mode (no online component at all), and you’ve got practice mode hidden away in versus mode. Let me reiterate that multiplayer is relegated to a single screen, so you’ll probably need at least one controller (probably 2). From my limited experience with the mode, it works just as well as a single player match, so if you can run it fine in single player, you should be fine in multiplayer. Though, it needs to be said that if you expect your fighters to have as many different modes as Street Fighter IV or Mortal Kombat, you are going to be disappointed.
The key to a successful fighting game, in my opinion, is to have a diverse cast. All the characters must have a unique style, and at the same time, have a list of moves that is similar enough to the other characters that you know basically what you’ll get when you press a button. Vanguard Princess pulls that off quite well. The game’s all-female cast is quite a quirky bunch, and every character has abilities that make her unique. There are no clone characters here, and every character is fun to use. There is a very short list of special moves for each character (less than six moves, including super moves), and each partner character uses the exact same button combinations. That means that learning a character comes down to mashing the buttons to figure out the attacks. There is a super attack meter, and it fills like any other fighter: every attack you connect or damage you take powers it up. Partner characters have a meter that determines what attacks are available, as the cost for each skill ranges from one to five. This bar fills automatically, though, so it shouldn’t be a problem. You might be wondering about the balance, and I can’t quite tell. There are times that I think that Lilith might be over-powered, at least compared to some other members of the cast, but then I’ll beat her with the another character easily.
The art and sound in this game is mostly just average. Character animation is bright and colorful, but while the art is good, it’s no Street Fighter III. Don’t get me wrong: there’s no slowdown, or stuttering, or missing frames. It just doesn’t have the fluidity of other sprite-based 2D fighters (though since this was created by one guy, maybe that can be waived). It’s more akin to Street Fighter 2. Certainly serviceable, and not bad, just not good. The music isn’t bad, and certainly fits the tone, but there’s no standout themes like you’d typically find in most other fighters, like Ryu’s or Ken’s iconic themes from Street Fighter. Perhaps it needs to be mentioned that these tracks were purchased from a site that allows their music to be used in commercial projects. The sound effects have a significant punch, so you’ll always feel satisfied with each attack. There’s really not all that much to say about it. It’s average. There’s enough gameplay style though, that average is fine in this case.
There’s one important aspect that I want to bring up, which is the game’s difficulty.
As I said above, I am not EVO material. To be honest, I’m not very good at fighting games. But I still love them. I love mashing buttons, pulling off simple attacks, beating up my opponent, and feeling amazing at the game, even though I know I’m not. Generally, I end up playing on the easiest setting, and still break a sweat. So, with that in mind, let me tell you: Vanguard Princess is too hard! Even on the easiest setting, the final boss is a real challenge, often requiring many continues (which fortunately are unlimited). The challenge from the final boss comes from the fact that she is clearly designed to test the player’s skills, with significantly high-powered ranged attacks, and the most powerful partner characters. It’s just really hard to dodge all her attacks, and even on the easiest setting, she’d often end up with a perfect win. I don’t really think that it’s my lack of skill either. In most fighting games, if I turn the difficulty down to the low setting, I never feel like, “Oh, I’ll never beat this.” That’s how I felt coming out of the final boss in this game.
When I jump into a fighter, I want to experience the stories of the characters, which may be a little weird, but that’s my fun. I had to put a lot more work into this than I should have on easy. Sure the story in this one isn’t terribly compelling (the creator of magic has gone crazy, and it’s up to one of the playable characters to take her down), but it is there, so I want to see it. Easy mode in fighting games is supposed to be made for people like me. Why is this one so hard? If I wanted hard, I’d bump it up to normal (and get squashed).
Is Vanguard Princess worth buying? Well, consider the price: $5. Despite my personal complaint about the game being too hard, I consider it a worthy purchase. I think that if you get an hour or more of enjoyment for every dollar you spend, that’s a good deal. I’ve definitely gotten 5 hours out of Vanguard Princess, so yeah. It’s not perfect, but if you enjoy fighting games at all, and have a few hours to kill, by all means, give it a shot. I’ve tested the game on a Pentium 4 machine, and the game runs quite well, so if you have a machine built in the last ten years, you should be able to run Vanguard Princess just fine. Props to eigoMANGA for bringing a Japanese indie game to Western shores.
Review copy supplied by author.