Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review - Vanguard Bandits

Vanguard Bandits, translated and released by Working Designs in 2000 on the original Playstation, late in its life, is a turn based strategy game with political undertones and giant robots. You play as Bastion, a teenager with green hair and orange skin and a bad attitude. Like most obnoxious teenagers in Japanese games, he's destined to save the world. This game is a dumber, less involved game along the lines of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, and it has aged poorly. Working Designs' translation doesn't help.

This is a really ugly game. You position units on an isometric map and move them towards enemies to attack. The sprites are poor and have almost no animation to them. When you attack or defend, the game shifts to clunky looking 3D models that whack each other while your characters yell one liners. Instead of focusing on one style that worked well, developer Human Entertainment chose to try their hand at two vastly different styles, neither of which looks good at all. The fact that both the giant robot and human designs are terrible doesn't really help. The faces on these characters would be considered poorly drawn in an amateur game; I'm shocked they made it into a professional product.

The premise of the game involves nations at war, several in search of a Super Robot. Your character is the long lost prince of one of these nations, and the Chosen One who can pilot it to unite the continent (and fall in love with his sister along the way). You can ally yourself with different characters based on dialogue choices, but none of the plots are interesting or well written. The expository scenes are terribly dry, and the humorous scenes are dumb. Working Designs was known for injecting humor into their translations, but most of this humor involved bad pop culture references (See the Bill Clinton jokes in Lunar) or body humor (See the fiery redhead yell about her PMS when she attacks people in this game).

Working Designs made a name for themselves by bringing obscure titles to North America and giving them more "life," but honestly, they weren't very good at their jobs. It took years for them to release games, and their writing always ranged from boring to juvenile. They did put out very nice special edition boxes, long before that was the norm. Nowadays, with companies like Atlus taking up the task of translating obscure titles and treating them with more dignity, Working Designs 90's titles feel like a relic. The silly translation of something like Final Fantasy IV may feel dated, but nothing will feel more dated than Monica Lewinsky jokes in a medieval RPG. As an aside: The English language songs CEO Vic Ireland wrote for both the Lunar games and Vanguard Bandits are really, really horribly written.

Vanguard Bandits' combat isn't much more exciting than its dialogue. You move robots around, select attacks which consume Action Points, and worry about overloading your Fatigue Points, making your character dizzy for a couple of turns. It's a very basic turn based strategy game, and since the game's missions are extremely linear (you make a few choices during the game, but never get to freely explore) there's usually just one or two ways to win. When an enemy attacks, you can guard, dodge, or try to counter. Your number of skills is pretty low, and none of them offer much in the way of exciting strategy. It's a really barebones game, especially compared to Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and the Shining Force series. Some of the fights are tough, but the combat itself doesn't have much to offer. You can determine how to raise your stats after gaining levels, but there's so little customization throughout that it's hard to get excited about that.

I really enjoyed this game when I first played it, but I was a lot younger with a much higher tolerance for Bad Anime. It didn't strike me just how cliche and dull this game's world and characters were at the time, and I was hungry for another strategy RPG after playing Final Fantasy Tactics to death. The number of endings and branches was exciting at the time, but none of them are good enough to justify multiple playthroughs now. I replayed it when it was released on the Playstation Network expecting to have some nostalgic fun, but the result was massively disappointing. The art's bad, the writing's bad, and the combat gets stale quickly. There's not really much worth recommending here.

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