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Vanguard Bandits
Platform:  Playstation
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Human
Publisher:  Working Designs
Features:   Analog Control, Vibration Function, Sassy Transla
Ratings:  Early Childhood
Memory Req.:  2 Blocks
I think that I've finally figured out Workng Designs' philosophy on porting
over the games that they do, specifically in regards to their less than
straight translations: Much like the late Joe Papp, who bought
ultra-modernized versions of Shakespeare to the public for free in Central
Park, WD brings over games that would otherwise be neglected by larger
publishers, and with them, their "sassy" adaptations of more or less serious
scripting. Some purists cringe and wail whenever a new WD game is released,
but if you balance the solid production values and overall quality of their
work, you really can't complain.

That said and done, Vanguard Bandits is another fine effort from Victor
Ireland and company, and despite my initial misgivings about the dated look
and feel to the game, I found the game hard to put down (and I don't mean
review-wise!). Based on Human's Strategy/RPG Epica Stella, the game seems
really bland at first- the graphics are pretty but plain, there's no free
exploration of the world map, no towns to visit and walk about, or dungeons
to crawl. All the interior scenes are handled by the computer, and they move
along at a steady clip, advancing the storyline. BUT- the battles have some
great strategic moments, and the story is really very good, with all it's
twists and turns. Like the other mech strategy game out there, Front Mission
3, the game has a few branching paths that determine the ending you'll
receive (FM3 had two, VB has five), and like FM3, VB is pretty addictive as
well. BY taking a few steps backward and not burdening players with tons of
petty micromanagement found in most RPGs these days, VB actually strikes a
good blow for a return for simplicity.

The plot has more twists and turns than your average pretzel factory: A
father and son on the run turn out to not be related at all, and the son,
Bastion, soon becomes entangled in the destiny of an entire world. That's
all I'll give away, because the game is structured to drop a bomb or three
on you every few missions, and before you know it, it's 4am and you're
hooked. Occasionally, Bastion will have to make a decision that affects the
outcome of the next few missions and the actual game, so without a strategy
guide or a notepad, it's hard to keep track of all the elements you'll need
to get the best possible ending. I say, get the guide- it's cheap (but only
as far as the price goes), looks great on your coffee table(genuine warm
leatherette), and is loaded with some high-quality extras.

The meat of the game is again, the twisty storyline, and your battle
strategy in the nearly 60 missions you'll face. The game is no Final Fantasy
Tactics (it doesn't even pretend to be), but again, the pace of the battles
keeps you playing. The game also borrows a bit from both Vandal Hearts (the
overhead map and linear pacing), and the Shining Force series (the battle
scenes), but at least it takes some of the good parts without resembling the
source material too much. As far as the graphics go, I like the idea of
medieval mecha, and the mech designs are pretty decent- very Gundam
inspired. The game won't impress anyone looking for the next big thing, but
at least the battlefields aren't cluttered by mist, falling snow, and loads
of special effects. Speaking of effects, the battle scenes do what they do
with a mimimun of fuss and bother- there are spells and weapons leave light
trails and such, but the game in no way pretends to be a graphics showpiece-
you can even turn the battles off entirely.

There's a bit of pre-battle strategy involving chatting up your comrades to
boost their morale, as well as the ability to switch mechs and use amulets
and stones to enhance your skills. That's a nice touch, as is the fact that
on the battlefield, the direction you're facing, and who you're surrounded
with have a great deal to do with the potential outcome of each fight. The
music and sound effects are of the "love 'em or leave 'em" variety. Rather
than go with some sort of heroic medieval themes, Human scored the game with
what sounds like late 80's rock tunes all the way. The sound effects are
like the graphics- functional, and they do their job well. The opening
themes are really good, and I like how WD was able to (once again) do an
adequate translation of the lyrics, that while different than the original
songs, still conveys their spirit.

You can say the same about the translation of the story as well. As usual,
prepare for loads of jokes and double entendres. One major character talks
entirely in Valley Girl, and there are constant references to some of the
characters' possible dating preferences, so expect a few groaners as you
make your way through the game. You'll also see the word "bastard" pop up
more times in the game than you'll probably use it in real life, just to
warn you if you're among the easily offended. I just had a thought- since
they're always putting extras in all the games they port over (and there's a
lot of stuff in this one), perhaps Working Designs can offer both "Original"
and "Sassy!" versions of the translations, so that those who want to follow
the game's story as it was first written can choose to do so. As it is, I'm
sure that WD kept the main plot points intact, but constantly tripping over
the puns and such lessens a bit the game's impact a bit, I think.

Oh yes, before I forget, there's also a fantastically long and wondrous
playable demo of Lunar: Eternal Blue included on a separate disc, and this
is worth the price of VB alone. WD is pulling out the stops with this one,
and it's a great way to end their RPG run on the current Playstation. I
wished they would have also ported over Human's other mech game from last
year, the great Remote Control Dandy, but you can't have everything. As it
is, Vanguard Bandits is another quality product for gamers looking for an
out of the ordinary experience, from one of the most consistent publishers
in the industry.

Greg Wilcox

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