Vanguard Bandits is a strategic role-playing game for the PlayStation. It was originally released in Japan under the title Epica Stella; later it was adapted for the PlayStation console, and it was translated for the American market by the video game company Working Designs. Released by Human Entertainment in Japan under the title Epica Stella, it was retitled Detonator Gauntlet by Working Designs before Acclaim forced the company to change it due to its similarity to the Gauntlet series of action-fantasy games. It was eventually released as Vanguard Bandits and included a bonus demo disc of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete for PlayStation.
This game takes place on the Continent of Eptina where numerous battles have taken place over territory, goods, and beliefs. In the midst of the conflict archaeologists in the Pharastia Kingdom discovered giant armored mecha that they called ATACs, or All Terrain Armored Combatants, that could be controlled by the thoughts of the pilot seated inside the unit's head. The Kingdom used the power of these ATACs to assume control of the entire continent, and then decided to use them to keep the peace in their new territories. Pharastia soon began to lose control as Coup d'etats and civil wars erupted which left it in a defeated state, with only their standing army remaining.
Vanguard Bandits is an RPG strategy game played on an isometric grid of squares with representations of all the player and computer controlled ATACs, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics and the Front Mission series by Squaresoft. Each character can move around on the grid, attack, and perform support abilities. All actions during that ATACs turn takes up AP (Actions Points), and attacks produce FP (Faint Points). If the Faint Points reach maximum, the pilot is knocked out and cannot perform any actions until he/she awakens, leaving him/her open to attack. When an ATAC unit attacks or defends from an attack, a detailed three-dimensional battle animation with music is shown over the normal grid. Between each battle is a story cutscene where the characters within the ATACs are represented on a similar grid and can interact and further the story line.
The player progresses through a total of 20 missions in one of three different story lines. Different battles and events happen based on the choices of the character within certain story scenes between battles, a character's level, or the morale of the group. Notably, if Bastion reaches a high enough level by the end of the third mission, he will be faced with the choice of whether to remain with his companions on the Kingdom branch or to chase after the game's villain, ultimately reaching the Empire branch. Each of these branches has two endings, the Kingdom branch depending on the overall morale of the characters and the Empire branch depending on Bastion's relationship with two female characters. And players who have beaten the game once are given the option of switching from the Kingdom branch to the whimsical, pessimistic, non-serious Ruin branch.
Each ATAC has a number of attacks available to it, depending on its weapon and gemstone; many major characters also have one (or more) special attacks not available to other characters in the game. Each attack deals a different amount on damage and has a different chance of hitting the target (affected, of course, by the character's own stats). Most attacks can only be made on adjacent squares; some can hit enemies further away, the Turbulence attack in particular having a range of four squares. Attacks from the side and rear have higher success rates and leave the defender fewer options; thus, flanking is a vital strategy in Vanguard Bandits.
Attacks can be classified into three types:
- Normal: Standard attack. Most attacks fall into this category.
- Knockdown: If the attack succeeds, the defender is knocked down and thus unable to respond with a counterattack. Selecting the Defend option (explained below) prevents the defending ATAC from falling over.
- Collision: Used only by particularly heavy attacks, Collision rams the defending ATAC full force, always toppling it unless the attack is evaded or parried.
Additionally, some attacks can cause temporary negative status effects on the victim, such as reduced speed or attack power.
When attacked, the defending ATAC has several options:
- Attack: Once the attacker has carried out their attack, the defender responds with an attack of their own. While this can cause significant damage, it also costs high FP (all AP costs are converted to FP for the purpose of counterattacking). Additionally, the counterattack will be canceled if the attacker uses a successful Knockdown or Collision attack. Cannot be used against rear attacks.
- Defend: The defender braces themselves and takes defensive maneuvers, thus reducing the damage received. Costs 30 FP and cannot be used against rear attacks.
- Avoid: The defender attempts to avoid the attack, thus preventing any damage. This is the only move that can be performed against rear attacks, and costs 20 FP.
- Counter: The defender preempts the enemy attack, thus doing damage while protecting oneself from harm. However, if it fails the defender receives more damage. Can only be used against frontal attacks and costs 20 FP.
If the defending character has the appropriate skill, some enemy attacks can also be parried, resulting in no damage to the defender.
As well as attacks designed to inflict damage, players can also use special abilities which assist friendly ATACs, such as increasing a stat, recovering HP or reducing FP. One skill, Turn Quake, is designed to be used on enemies; it rotates them in a random direction.
Terrain plays an important role in the game. Moving across difficult terrain such as forests and deserts requires more AP than normal, although not all ATACs suffer equally from this effect (some not at all). Some terrain is completely impassable.
All-Terrain Armored Combatants, or ATACs, are the main fighting force of the various armies in the game; indeed, the entire combat system revolves around them. ATACs are large bipedal, humanoid (though one ATAC is a quadruped) mechs powered by gemstones. Despite their high technological complexity, ATACs still utilize traditional weapons such as swords and spears. However, they can also use special attacks such as fireballs, earthquakes, flying shards of ice and tornadoes, depending on their gemstone.
ATACs that existed before the game takes place are called "Excavated ATACs". These were built by Eptina's original inhabitants and were discovered by archaeologists of the continent's current settlers. These machines became the basis for modern ATACs though none created since have surpassed an Excavated ATAC on the combat field. Each ruler of Eptina possesses an Excavated ATAC.
- The Pharastia Kingdom: Commonly referred to as The Kingdom, this is the remains of the Kingdom Army who are working to restore Pharastia to its former glory. The Kingdom is portrayed as the good side of the story, at least nominally. They are allied with the Avalon Principality.
- The Kingdom is involved in a long-standing war with the Empire, which has conquered parts of the Pharastian Kingdom, including its capital. The Empire supposedly started the war in other to seize Prince Bastion, the only person who can unlock Ultragunner.
- The Junaris Empire: The Empire was formed by a citizen named Degalle who spoke out against the fighting taking place. However, Degalle became corrupt with his newly acquired power. Its army is led by the calculating General Faulkner, and the Empire is laid out as the evil, antagonistic element in the game. Its army in particular is often associated with pillaging and looting innocent towns, even their own (although the Kingdom is also said to commit similar atrocities).
- The Avalon Principality: This small nation was formed by Duke Zeira and has a principle of hard work. Avalon supports the Kingdom but is engaged in its own conflict with the Muspel Nation to the south.
- Nordilian Forest: This large country is filled with vast forests and is ruled by a fierce warrior named Duke Logan. It is allied with the Empire, although it is assumed that Nordilain is being taken advantage of and used for the Empire's own purposes. Often in conflict with the Duchy of Hibernia.
- Muspel Nation: A desert country that became rich by using its resources and raw materials. Although it claims to be neutral, it constantly attacks the Avalon Principality and may secretly be allied with the Junaris Empire. The majority of the nation is considered poor, while its oppressive, scheming leader Duke Radcot lives in his own palace with his army, setting the stage for a revolt within the country.
- Duchy of Hibernia: This is a snow-covered nation in the north, ruled by the man known as Lord Alden the Ice Wolf. Originally, Hibernia was created by a Pharastian king who partitioned off some of its territory and gave it to one of his brothers. Hibernia's purpose is to watch over events in the Kingdom, and to step in to intervene in times or crisis. At the start of the game, Hibernia has taken no action in the conflict, although it does go to war with the Empire eventually.
- Dionne-Lehve: This country is ruled by warrior mercenaries who lend their services to any group. While they have no formal alliances at the outset of the game, they are at war with the Empire. Their leader, Marquis Dionne, is one of the most powerful warriors on the continent.
- Southern Alliance: A country on a peninsula to the far south. Interestingly, the player never travels there and it is mentioned by name only once in the entire game.
Long lost prince of the Pharastia Kingdom, protagonist of the game. When the Empire seized the Kingdom capital, Alugard spirited Bastion (then still a baby) and raised him, teaching him how to fight. He eventually returns to become the leader of the Kingdom against the Empire (but not in the Empire branch) at the age of sixteen. He pilots the Alba ATAC which he inherited from Alugard but later gains the legendary Ultragunner or the TIC-TAC, depending on which storyline he is in.
The beautiful princess of the Empire and Duyere's sister, one of the possible romantic interests for Bastion (particularly in the Empire branch). She has a temper as fiery as her red hair, and follows a "shoot first, ask questions later" approach to thwarting hostility and injustice. Often in conflict with General Faulkner. She pilots the Sylpheed, a blue-excavated ATAC with large wings.
- General Faulkner
General of the Junaris Empire, antagonist of the game. Faulkner is an evil, scheming man who will do anything to achieve his goals. He is out for revenge against the entire world for the death of his father, as well as other atrocities committed by the combatants in the war. Outwardly, he shows respect for the members of the Imperial family, but only so he can exploit them for his own nefarious purposes. He first pilots the Solaris which he gained from his father but later discovers the legendary and polar opposite of the Ultragunner, the Zulwarn.
Bastion's adoptive father and former bodyguard of the King of the Pharastia Kingdom. He fled from the burning capital with Bastion on the King's orders, changing his own name to Kamorge in order to hide from the empire.
Bastion's adoptive sister (and potential romantic interest). Her parents were killed by Imperial forces when she was very young, and Kamorge, who was a family friend, took her in. She cooks and cleans for Bastion's party. She eventually learns to pilot an ATAC.
A friend of Bastion and ATAC mechanic. Despite his small size and large spectacles giving him the appearance of a young geek, he is an extremely skilled ATAC engineer. He has some skill controlling ATAC's as well and takes hold of the Zulwarn eventually.
Alugard's elder brother and commander of the current Kingdom forces. He has a well-honed sense of honor, and dreams of the day when the Pharastian Kingdom will be restored to its former glory. Galvas is extremely inflexible and has nothing resembling a sense of humor.
Prince of the Junaris Empire and the heir apparent to the Imperial throne. Unfortunately (or fortunately for his opponents), he is brash, immature, naive and lacks leadership skill. General Faulkner uses him as a pawn for his plans. Duyere has a very intense rivalry with his sister, Sadira. He inherited the excavated ATAC Sarbelas from his father.
The silver-haired, pale-skinned ruler of Hibernia. He is at a constant state of hostilities with Duke Logan. Also considered to be the best chess player on the Continent (although in the Ruin Branch, Milea beats him on their second game and wins the rights to his ATACs for two weeks). His ATAC is the excavated ATAC Altagrave.
Duke Zeira is the ruler of the Avalon Principality. In the absence of their leader, Zeira helps the people of the Kingdom in their fight against the Empire, though he has taken some flak for this back home from people who believe Avalon has its own problems to worry about. His ATAC, the Toraedore, is an excavated ATAC which is notable as it resembles a Centaur.
One of Marquis Dionne's highest underlings, Andrew is a flirtatious ninja with a taste for both alcohol and women. He shows great confidence in both his combat skills and his ability to seduce the ladies.
Ninja maid working under Princess Sadira. Cecilia is a possible romantic interest for Bastion (again, during the Empire branch which she appears exclusively in). She is also a double agent for General Faulkner, who uses her to keep track of Sadira.
The saccharine crimson-haired daughter of Duke Logan, with a distinct Valley Girl personality. While an irrefutably spoiled brat, she does have considerable combat ability. She and Sadira have a rivalry going back to their days in the academy..
The ruler of the Junaris Empire, Emperor Degalle is assassinated on the orders of General Faulkner, so his weak and easily manipulated son Duyere (who is firmly in Faulkner's pocket) can take the throne. He is only seen in a flashback.
Devlin's "special friend". A hungry, pudgy pilot who often provides comedy relief. He claims his portly nature is due to a 'glandular disorder', which supposedly gives him a voracious appetite.
Devlin is a brash young man with a strong sense of honor. He has a fiery attitude, but he can't stand the spilling of innocent blood. He is also Melior's brother.
Ruler of Dionne-Lehve, Marquis Dionne is a gruff old warrior. His family was entrusted long ago with the guarding of Gratia, the stone required to activate the Ultragunner. His ATAC is the excavated Roaring Lion.
Duke Logan is the ruler of Nordilain. A man's man, he can never get enough fighting and is very aggressive. He also has a lecherous side. He controls the excavated Crimson ATAC.
One of Sadira's royal bodyguards, a somewhat relaxed older man. Franco acts as a father figure to the young princess, since her real father lacks either the time or inclination to be a father to his daughter.
One of Sadira's royal bodyguards, a serious old woman. Halak is the complete opposite of Franco in how she tries to rear Sadira. While Franco prefers freedom for Sadira to make her own mistakes, Halak prefers to boss the young princess around. She is the mother of Emperor Degalle (and therefore, the grandmother of Duyere and Sadira).
Reyna's close friend and fellow pilot. She has a somewhat androgynous appearance.
A blonde-haired, spirited girl who fights for the Avalon Defense Corps.
A brash, incompetent Commander in the Imperial Army. He also sports a horrible German accent which provides some comic relief. Zakov is always persuading Madoc so he can get the latest ATAC designs.
Duke Radcot is the overweight dictator of the Muspel Nation. He has ambitions of ruling the entire continent, and is not above double dealings and backstabbing in order to achieve what he wants. He controls the excavated ATAC Bahamut which resembles a dragon.
Ione's father and member of the Avalon Defense Corps. Frustrated with Avalon's commitment to assisting the Kingdom while neglecting its own people, Kaidul starts a coup d'etat instigated by Imperial agents.
Designer of many of the Empire's ATACs, including the Sharking. He is the grandfather of Puck, Bastion's engineer. Madoc has little if any respect for human life, and this is reflected in his ATAC designs.
Nana is the sweet daughter of the sleazy Duke Radcot. She steals her father's Bahamut ATAC after he is assassinated by a man in the employ of General Faulkner. Nana has a bizarre pet named Kyu-Kyu. She inherits her father's Bahamut after he is killed.
A commander in the Kingdom Military who betrays his country for more power from the Empire. He stutters and stammers a lot. He pilots a Kingdom exclusive ATAC called the Waiban.
Alden's right-hand woman, the only person on the Continent that Lord Alden unconditionally trusts. For this reason, he has her manage the affairs of Hibernia while he is away.
Assistant to Duke Logan, Shion is assigned to look after Claire. He is an extremely precise and professional person. However, he also harbors a secret crush on Claire.
A major Kingdom Commander whose town, Eiza and family have been seized by Faulkner to blackmail him into cooperating with the Empire.
Savaro is Faulkner's father. A former warrior of the Kingdom, he was tricked by Emperor Degalle into believing that it was the Kingdom who burned down his hometown, resulting in his wife's death. Savaro and the King killed each other as Imperial forces entered the capital. Faulkner inherits his initial ATAC from him after his death.
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- There is a secret ATAC in the Ruin Branch named No. 86 (strangely, it is referred to as No. 69 in the game's dialogue). It is the only unarmed ATAC, relying on its fists and a magic attack.
- In the Vanguard Bandits miniature book that came along with the game, Ronfel, from Lunar 2, can be seen actually talking in the demo strategy guide part of the book, where it should actually be Andrew.
- There is a low level katana in the game not used or seen call the "Tiger Blade" It is believed to be from the Souther Alliance Atacs, and isn't used at all. It is the first level katana, right before the Shimmersword. It's equivalent is the "Gradius" which is the level 1 sword.