Cam’s Eye View Two Part Tactics Game Special Part 1: Vanguard Bandits for the PS1 review

I have a quiz for you all. Here are 5 different game titles. Clock Tower, Monster Party, Kabuki Quantum Fighters, F1 Pole Position 64, and Air Boarder 64. What do these 5 games have in common? If you look at their genres, they have nothing in common, but they do share one common developer. If you don’t already know, the developer’s name is Human Entertainment. A company founded in 1983 has made some noteworthy and cult classic titles until their closing in 1999. Here is also a bit of a fun fact. Goichi Suda or Suda 51 was one of the members who left the company after Human’s closing to open up Grasshopper Manufacture. Anyway, I am here to talk about a gem that is rarely, if ever, talked about. It’s a Tactics game. It’s a genre I have never touched, but I decided to give it a try with another tactics game I found myself enjoying. Let’s start with this one made by Human first, Vanguard bandits for the PS1.

The story takes place on the Continent of Eptina where different battles have taken place between different groups for land, money, and supplies. Each army or kingdom uses giant mechs called ATACs.  The story revolves around a 15-year-old male, named Bastion, who one day gets caught in the war with the main antagonist, Faulkner, who is in charge of the Imperial Army of the Junaris Empire. Bastion will meet many allies of different kingdoms who will want to band with Bastion to take down the Junaris Empire. The story has 3 different campaigns depending on how you tackle the game, with two different ATAC’s you can take control of. The story is very much like a Gundam anime or something like Escaflowne. Heck, some of the designs of the characters and robots LOOK like they were ripped right out of Escaflowne. It’s not a fully original story, and Bastion is not a fully interesting character. I blame his age and just the trend of animes at the time where 15-year-olds could pilot giant robots that could cause massive damage. It’s still enjoyable, but you will probably be enjoying the ally characters more than Bastion himself.

The gameplay is very much like the tactics games that were made back then, like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, and Fire Emblem. You will control a group of mechs piloted by the many characters that join your army to take down the bad guys. You fight on an isometric field, with your characters in their giant robots being able to move around in a grid-like field. Once you get close to an enemy, you can either attack him from the front, side, or to do more damage, attack them from behind. You have your usual normal attacks, but each character can also learn special moves with the robots each time you level. When you go into battle, the whole area turns 3D and you actually get to see the 3D-modeled mechs attack. It’s like how Fire Emblem breaks off from the battlefield map to see a little battle animation happen. Now, leveling up is a little more important here since the game can be pretty difficult. I mean, it isn’t going to stupidly punish you like the Disgaea series, but you need to make sure you keep leveling up your characters or else they will get wasted by the tougher enemies. There are multiple stats that you can increase, but you can’t increase them all at once. When you level up, you get 3 skill points and you can move them around to wherever you want. Depending on where you put them, they will learn new abilities. You can also gain new mechs during your journey. The most unique part of this game is that there are actually 3 separate storylines that can happen, depending on which paths you decide to take. There are also the usual shops where you can buy stuff to equip your characters to gain additional abilities. This can be a very tough game if you do not know what you’re doing, like not leveling up ALL of your characters or doing the right tactics. Enemies can kill your allies and they will not be able to battle until the next mission. There is a lot of strategy here, so don’t think you can rush through this game with the strongest characters without some proper strategy.

Graphically, it’s what I expected from tactics games from that time. The little 2D sprites are well detailed and the 3D models look good for that time period. The robot designs look great and are pretty imaginative with a lot of them I swear are from Escaflowne or some kind of mid-90’s robot anime that wasn’t Gundam. The anime opening looks decent for the time. I think Breath of Fire 4 and Lunar: Silver Star Story’s anime cutscenes look better. The music is also good, but it’s not as strong as, say, Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle’s music, which I think is a bit more catchy. Kouji Niikura composed the music. His only history of work is this game, Ape Escape 3 as a sound designer, and was the composer for Clock Tower 2. Overall, it’s a solid presentation for this kind of game genre, but I guess I wish there was more to it since this game came late in the PS1’s life span, but overall its pretty good.

Well then, what could be wrong with this game? For one of the few tactics games I have ever played, I just found a few things wrong with it. One of them is the obnoxious Fire Emblem and Tactics ogre mechanic where you can’t revive fallen players. Granted, they don’t stay dead for the rest of the game like in those two other titles, but I would have liked to have had the ability to bring back fallen comrades with a revive spell or something, since a lot of battles later in the game can be really tough. I also wish the action moments were handled better where you see the 3D models of the robots do one attack and then you go back to the sprites and the overhead battlefield map. I think they could have easily made this game livelier with the robot combat being real-time and making it like a Power Stone or that mini-fighting game in Xenogears style of gameplay. I just think that Tactics games can be more than just take a turn, attack, and wait for your next turn. This is why I like games like Valkyria Chronicles where you can move your character wherever you need them to move, and attack when you want to when it’s your turn.

So, what are my final thoughts about this game? I think for a late PS1 game, I would consider this game a gem. It has a lot of the stuff tactics gamers would love and it has its own charm, and it’s a shame that Human Entertainment went out of business since I could easily see this game getting a sequel of sorts. Now, finding a hard copy will be very hard. The highest I have seen it is 70 dollars, but I know it goes for much more. Luckily for me, the PS3 has it in the PSOne Classics section of the online store for 10 dollars. That sounds like a good deal to me. How about next week we tackle another great Playstation Tactics game, but a bit newer?

This game gets a 7 out of 10

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