Op-Ed Cult RTS/Strategy Video Game: Vanguard Bandits
This week, I’m joining Kyle for Roll the List #33 in which we will be discussing cult RTS/Strategy videogames. I have to admit that strategy is a genre of videogames that I generally avoid as much as possible. Most RTS games require minds that can handle multitasking a bit more than mine. If I can remember how to handle one thing at a time, it’s a good day. Luckily for me, we broadened the genre to general strategy games and I have spent more hours than I can count obsessing over a certain Playstation One cult classic that goes by the name of Vanguard Bandits.
Vanguard Bandits is a fantasy strategy RPG that utilizes tactical combat involving piloting giant, armored mecha. In the story, a number of fantasy medieval countries have been embroiled in civil war for years over the fate of the continent. On the one side you have the Pharastia Kingdom which once controlled the entire continent and now has been weakened and split into a number of factions. These factions have either allied with or turned against the Kingdom in the fight against the Junaris Empire which would dearly love to finish its destruction of the Kingdom. Both sides use armored mecha, referred to in the game as All-Terrain Armored Combatants (ATACs), to fight over land and power. The player steps into the shoes of a young man named Bastion who gets dragged into the conflict a bit earlier than his mentor, Alugard, would like. Bastion ends up becoming a chosen one who must pilot the ultimate mecha in order to bring peace to the continent and the player must decide how to bring Bastion to that end.
If you’ve ever played a fantasy RPG, this chosen one storyline is going to sound a bit repetitive, especially considering that the Kingdom and the Empire become a fairly black vs white showdown. But what Vanguard Bandits lacks in nuanced plot, it makes up for with an intriguing array of story choices and character relationships. It’s an older game so it doesn’t have quite the flexibility of newer ones but what always appealed to me was the opportunity it gives players to further relationships between characters through the cutscenes that engage immediately before battle as well as in between missions. In addition to this, the player has a choice about which direction to take Bastion as the game progresses and it ends up having a total of 20 missions in one of three different storylines. These stories are impacted based on choices made in story scenes, morale of the group and/or character level. This player choice gives Vanguard Bandits a much more interesting story as a result.
What makes Vanguard Bandits a dangerously addictive game is the way in which the battles are fought. Each battle gives the player a certain number of mecha to control and like other tactics games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Front Mission, placement of your forces matters significantly. When the player moves a mecha into battle, a cut scene will be triggered that advances the story and relationships between characters as well as gives abilities to each side depending on whether the attack was a frontal assault, flanking or from behind. In addition to this, each time a mecha fights, their chances of becoming “frozen” and unable to defend themselves from counter attacks increases. The player has to balance terrain, direction of assault and the gamble of being frozen in order to win the battle and advance the storyline. And on a more superficial level, some of those mecha are just plain fun to fight in.
Despite not being as well-known as games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Vanguard Bandits is a fun and highly addictive strategy RPG. The ability to change the story as you progress, mecha tactics and entertaining characters have made it popular among those who have played this little gem. Before its re-release on Playstation Network in 2010, a sealed copy of this game was around $200. Not too shabby for game that had already been out for a decade in North America. I started playing Vanguard Bandits almost ten years ago and I still have to pick it up every once in a while just to get my mecha fix in. If you’re a fan of tactical RPGs, it’s definitely a cult classic not to be missed!
Check out Kyle’s take here!