Vanguard Bandits is a Working Designs PS1 2000 Strategy/RPG, apparently PS1 owners got the worst of the two 32-Bit Generation Strategy/ RPGs released by By Working Designs. Unlike the all time great Dragon Force which was released on the Saturn, Vanguard Bandits while sporting the usual excellent packaging and translation work that Working Designs is known for is a fairly mediocre game.
I know it is blasphemy to call a Working Designs RPG “mediocre” but Vanguard Bandits manages to really earn the title. The game doesn’t do anything to place itself in the same league of a Vandal Hearts “good Strategy/RPG” and much less in the league of the amazing Dragon Force or FF Tactics.
As always Working Designs did the best it could to make the game attractive to Hardcore and to RPG fans in general. By this I mean to the fact that they packed the game in an attractive collector metallic looking case complete with compelling anime Artwork that would make the game standout from other games on the shelf.
Also the game had a little added incentive for the hardcore RPG fan to get his hands on it, it included a collectors Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Demo, which is actually a pretty extensive demo of that great game. As is customary of Working Designs they only released a limited amount of copies of Vanguard Bandits and thus the game can now be classified as one of those hard to find PS1 RPGs.
However unlike other excellent Working Designs products that are worth the trouble of getting at any cost, Vanguard Bandits as I described before is a mediocre game, that actually manages to earn the Mediocre tag thanks to the efforts put forth by Working Designs had another publisher brought this game over here they game might have actually officially sucked.
Working Designs did enough work in gameplay enhancements, presentation and translation to manage to save the game from falling into the depths of disaster.
To start things off, the story has a very long and detailed historical background on the manual that tells us of the events that occurred that lead into the Pharastia Kingdom against Junaris Empire war, which is where the game starts at. You take the role of Bastion and young man whose father Kamorge has been persecuted by imperial forces for as long he can remember.
Bastion has spent most of his years alive practicing the art of fighting in ATACs (All Terrain Armored Combatant) which resemble Gundams (from the Anime series) or most familiar to RPG players Gears (From the Xenogears Video Game), it is inside these vehicles that battles on the field are fought. The thing is the Junaris Empire is gaining momentum and Bastion must find the legendary Ultra Gunner (An ATAC of legend which is buried somewhere in the continent of Eptina where the game story takes place) to turn things around and end the war.
So yeah when it comes to giant Robot stories in RPGs you can’t get much more clichéd than that, it has all the ingredients: The quiet hero, the Legendary Robot that only the quiet hero can pilot, etc. While Working Designs usually is able to save most RPG stories from becoming dull, it must be said that they didn’t quite pull it off on this one.
Human Entertainment the Developers really created a clichéd crappy mess, what’s the point in putting all that background story in the manual if the game’s plot never gets too deep. While the game is short (8-10 hours) and the game must be replayed at least 3 times in order to see everything in the story, even attaining the “great” ending doesn’t change the fact that the tale is predictable and that it simply sucks.
Since there is no exploration, and there are few in game cut scenes (they are pretty basic at that) there is no real character development here, even though the Villain is evil, he never really made me hate him or even dislike him because the game didn’t develop him properly. The same goes for the rest of the cast with the notable exception of Andrew (I know his name isn’t the coolest thing to hit a Japanese RPG), while it seems Working Designs tried hard to give each character a distinct personality, there is only so much a publisher can do, when the story was meant to stink from the beginning.
That being said Working Designs famous and brilliant (if a bit shameless) humor is present in the form of the character Andrew who is the saving grace of the other wise dull plot. No Andrew isn’t the chosen one or the stereotypical heroic character. He more of like the 30 year old bachelor who tells dirty jokes and is always flirting with every girl and woman in sight, and thinks he is some sort of super stud. He has some of the best one liners in history I dare say, and he kept me playing for better or for worst.
While the story offers a few story branches in which you can choose to go one way or the other, by simply choosing from a line from a dialog box at some events, no matter which way you take or which ending you get, the story still feels dull and will not likely inspire any Fan Fiction, and I actually think a Fan Fiction of this game done by any knowledgeable RPG fan will probably provide a more interesting story than what was presented here. As I stated before the Manual contains great Historical background for the story, it’s just that the writers in Human Entertainment didn’t know what to do with it apparently.
The music doesn’t fare much better it gets repetitive after awhile since there isn’t a great number of tunes in the game, and the compositions are mediocre which is a word that is becoming quite repetitive in this review.
The graphics don’t fare much better, while the artwork is top notch as evidenced by the sweet Anime character designs and by the great ATAC designs, however that is where it ends, the sprites during the events are primitive as are the pre-rendered and flat 3-D backgrounds, that are present during some events and in all battles.
The sweet anime Cut-scenes are well done, and while the in game graphical package is mediocre (even for it’s time) it gets the job done if the game failed to reach “good” status it wasn’t really because of the graphical package, it was a combination of weak story and …
Generic simplistic gameplay, while already discussed the branching storyline, it must be said here that this is a Strategy/RPG so exploration is supposed to be limited but not inexistent, games like Growlanser II ( one half of Working Designs Newest Strategy in order to level up and gain money for power up equipment.
Sadly Vanguard Bandits features absolutely no interaction with the game world other than when you are in the middle of a battle, you cannot seek random battles as every battle that happens in the game is pre planned and part of a mission. So the game follows in to the steady progression of fight a battle win move to an event in which the plot moves at a tremendously quick pace that completely kills character development, then you are trust into a Menu Screen with various option such as Interview in which you are allowed to talk to a maximum of three characters per interview, briefing contrary to what the word ‘briefing’ might lead you to believe very little strategy if any is discussed here, but it does give you an overview of the battle map in which the battle will take place. The next option is shop which most of the times is blocked, but when open you can buy weapons and accessories for your ATAC to use. The next is the Equip command which obviously allows you to equip the purchased Equipment.
Those options are followed by the usual options of Saving, Loading and Quitting. At the top of the menu screen is the word “Mission” which will take you right into the battle field in order to keep the story going, after the battle is over rinse and repeat.
This pattern begins to get annoying sometime soon after you start your second play through . Random Battles while I missed them, their omission was ok as the game was made to be finished quick in order to play thorough it multiple times and there is never really a need for money as there is always plenty of money to go around.
The Battles are really purely won in strategy since you can’t really level up your characters as often as you would wish to make them more powerful, since like I said before Random battles are non existent in the game, so you will have to do with the battles that the game throws at you. I did realize that all battles can be won as long as you get your stronger characters in the front lines, to repel enemies as most enemies can’t give that much damage from the front the game rewards you for hitting enemies from the back ( That didn’t sound very good…), so the best thing is to place your party in a place on the field where the enemies can’t sneak up behind you.
I found the difficulty ranging from moderate to easy, so no frustrating moments in this game at least, once you kill an enemy if you level up you will earn three points which you can distribute among your stats to up your ATAC’s well STATs. This is one of the few customizable aspects of the game, as you can focus more on speed than power or vice versa. All in all the battle system while it required strategy it wasn’t satisfying the lack of random battles to up your stats hurt a bit, but what was a real downer was that all battles pretty much played exactly the same, and all of them could be won using the same tactics. So as far as Strategy?RPGs go this as basic as they get.
The remaining question to answer is this: Is Vanguard Bandits worth a purchase? Yes and no, this the kind of basic bare bones game that will appeal to someone who has never played an RPG, and needs something easy and quick to get started, it will also appeal at least initially to hopeless Working Designs fan boys (like me) every one else should stay away, it’s not worth the trouble getting specially since games like FF Tactics are selling for cheaper these days at Game Stops.
Gameplay: 5.0-Mediocre the doesn‘t do anything in this department to compete much less surpass most strategy RPGs out there, the battle system is bare bones, the only saving grace it that the game is short and easy, so I didn’t waste much of my valuable time on it.
Graphics: 5.5-Weak very weak, the environments are flat blocky and lifeless. The character artwork however is good.
Music: 5.0-Does the job in staying in mediocrity land along with the other categories. Not enough variety and the compositions themselves are uninspired.
Story: 5.0-Bland and lifeless, No character development not even the flirty Andrew could save the game, the story had some potential to get at least an 8, but the writers stank the joint. Props to Working Designs for delivering another solid translation but they were working with a bad plot to begin with so there is not much they could have done,
Addictiveness: 5.0-You are supposed to play it multiple times to get everything out of the story, but since the story is so weak, I don‘t see many fans replaying the game.
Overall: 5.0-Not the worst RPG I have played but not one of the best either. This is the kind of game that did not permanently leave a scar as it wasn’t that bad, but it will also be a quickly forgettable game because the game plays too much by the book (a basic book on doing Strategy/RPGs at that) to pull anything spectacular or at least memorable. A subpar Strategy RPG that will only warrant a purchase for completists and Working Designs buffs like me.