Tactical RPG fans rejoice, as Vanguard Bandits has found its way to the PlayStation Network via Monkey Paw games! If this enthusiastic outburst has you puzzled, then chances are you haven’t heard of this game. This is somewhat forgivable, to be fair, as original developers, Human Entertainment, didn’t see it published in Europe. However, with more than ten years passed since its initial release in Japan and North America, has it still got something to offer? In short… not really.
We enter the game as Bastion, a young and inexperienced soldier still under tutoring from his father. However, he is restless and eager to spread his wings and convince his father that he’s worthy of fighting the dreaded Empire. From here, were tossed into a familiar story of a Continent plagued by civil war between rival factions. Unfortunately, the whole “unlikely band of heroes” teaming up to take down “the oppressive Empire” is as yawn-worthy as it sounds, and the cast of characters do little to involve you in any committed sort of way. There are at least some twists and turns along the way, but none that make it stand out from every other standard RPG storyline.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good game, but I can almost guarantee that you’ve played better turn-based RPGs since 2000, likely in the form of Final Fantasy Tactics or the Disgaea series. This being the case, Vanguard Bandits may feel rather archaic to late adopters, but the fundamentals are spot on and it soon becomes easy to overlook its cracks of age and enjoy the solid gameplay underneath.
Said gameplay consists mainly of 2D sprites taking turns on a grid of squares representing, in 3D, different environments like grassy plains, dirt paths and dusty trenches. Luckily, Vanguard Bandits hasn’t aged that much visually thanks to the genre’s general lack of reliance on graphics. What matters here instead is the depth of gameplay which, against the test of time, Vanguard Bandits has maintained. Starting with just two characters and gaining more followers as you progress, you must battle your way through 60 missions on board your ATAC (All Terrain Armoured Combatant). At the start of each turn, you can manoeuvre your mechanical monstrosity over a limited amount of tiles and into an attack position. From here, you’re prompted to select your command and attempt to disable your enemy’s ATAC. The game throws you straight into the deep end on the first mission without as much as a tutorial, but it only takes two minutes to adapt to what is essentially turn-based battling at its most basic.
Although you may feel rather limited in what you can do on the battlefield, rushing in like an idiot will get you killed. The first few missions may let you away with such ignorance but don’t be fooled, it gets pretty tough pretty quick. Hang tight though, just dust off that old brain of yours and you’ll be flanking ass in no time at all. The more experience you earn, the easier the game will be in the long run. When you do level-up though, be sure to spread your skill points wisely among your attributes; it’s no good being a defensive powerhouse if you haven’t got the skill to fight back.
A nice addition, and a feature that was the game’s key selling point in 2000, is the impressively rendered battle animations. When your humble little sprites clash on the grid, a fully rendered battle sequence takes place to visualise what just transpired. They’re quite pretty to look at, but they usually only last a few seconds. This is understandable though, as it wouldn’t suit if the battle sequences were to break the flow of gameplay.
The multitude of missions are broken up by cut-scenes that, while just a tad long-winded, do a great job of progressing the story and presenting new scenarios inevitably leading to some more robot stomping. Also, just before a new mission kicks off, you’re given the opportunity to cash in your loot and buy new items to aid you in your quest. Be sure to equip the best gear too, as you’ll encounter better weapons, stones and amulets that will increase your stats.
If you have the patience to wait out the story sequences between battles, you’ll find the traditional turn-based gameplay to be as engaging as it’s ever been. It might not match up to other releases in the genre over the past eleven years, but Vanguard Bandits is a deep, tactical gaming experience that feels rejuvenated for 2011 with easy access through PSN and a relatively low asking price considering the content on offer.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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