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Video Game: Vanguard Bandits

Vanguard Bandits (known as Epica Stella in Japan) is a strategic role-playing game for the PlayStation in a medieval fantasy world in which knights and soldiers pilot mecha called ATACs.

This game takes place on the wartorn Continent of Eptina. In the midst of the conflict archaeologists in the Pharastia Kingdom discovered giant armored mecha that they called 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. Unfortunately as the ATAC technology began to spread, the kingdom lost hold of their place and went from managing the continent to trying to survive. The rebels turned into a superpower of their own and now the Junaris Empire is poised to take over the continent themselves. During the chaos a young warrior named Bastion begins to fight against the Empire and his journey will shape the face of Eptina.

Vanguard Bandits has a lot in common with old anime shows; the localization by Working Designs has a lot of Narm Charm with a lot of silly lighthearted moments but still holds the potential for some darker events. It possesses a large cast of characters that cover a range of motivations and attitudes, though most fall pretty easily into identifiable roles. With three separate story paths it holds a surprising amount of replay value.

Vanguard Bandits provides examples of:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Lord Alden bets his prized Altagrave ATAC on the outcome of a chess match. A game where he's undefeated. He loses the rematch game and the girl who beats him happilly runs off with the machine.
  • Ace Custom: The TIC-TAC.
  • Action Girl: Pretty much any female character.
  • An Ice Person: Anyone who uses a Water Stone gets access to Ice attacks. But special mention goes to Lord Alden, the Ice Wolf. His ATAC has a unique attack called Blizzard Break which is one of the strongest attacks in the game.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: The leaders of each nation get their own Excavated ATACs.
  • Awesome but Impractical: The Altagrave's Blizzard Break attack costs a paltry 10 FP and has a 2.05 damage modifier and 25% accuracy modifier. But it's crippled by an extremely high AP cost of 80, meaning if the Altagrave moves it probably can't use the attack.
  • Awesome Yet Practical: The Tidal Wave attack of the TIC-TAC ATAC is easy to consider as the best obtainable attack in the game. Costing only 30 AP and FP, has a 2.66 damage modifier, a 30% accuracy modifier and a range of 2. You can and should abuse this attack as much as possible.
  • Badass Adorable: Nana, while not your strongest character she is the youngest ATAC pilot you can get and has quite The Bahamut to back her up.
  • Badass Princess: Sardia, who packs one of the best ATACs and can acquire her own unique and extremely powerful attack in the same mission you officially start using her.
  • Becoming the Mask: Cecilia learns to love being a Ninja Maid. And maybe even learns to love...
  • Big Bad: Faulkner, it's rare when something bad happens that isn't at least on his order if not done by him directly.
  • Bifauxnen: Ione
  • Big Damn Heroes: Happens A LOT. The Second Mission alone has the protagonist team coming to the aid of survivors of a nearly destroyed convoy and then has another group of NPCs show up to help as well.
  • Big Eater: Barlow; in the Japanese version, he mentions cake in every single line of dialogue he has.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the good ending, you kill Falkner and bring peace between the Empire and the Kingdom... but you had to kill many of the people you cared for due to Falkner's Zulwarn turning them against you.
  • Boring but Practical: Turbulence. Enemies are hardwired to Defend against it and two casts of it on an enemy who Defends will make them skip their next turn.
  • Boss Battle: Many, and of a quite many forms too.
    • Boss Banter: Faulkner delights in taunting the party anytime he's on-screen.
    • Boss in Mook Clothing: Sharkings.
    • Duel Boss: One of the final missions has Bastion try this against Faulkner. Then subverted as Bastion gets help to deal with him.
    • Flunky Boss: Pretty much every Boss in the game has an assortment of minions fighting alongside it.
    • No Final Boss for You: If you're on the Kingdom Bad End well...
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: This is the special power of Faulkner's Zulwarn ATAC. He uses it in three of the endings: in the main "good" ending, he uses it on several of the minor heroes, forcing the heroes to sacrifice their friends for freedom; in the main "bad" ending, he hits Bastion with it, forcing him to attack his allies; and in the Cecilia ending, he attempts to use it on Cecelia as punishment for her Heel-Face Turn. This does not sit well with Bastion and causes his ATAC, Ultragunner, to blast Faulkner with a counterattack.
  • Broken Bird: Cecilia
  • Can Not Spit It Out: Sadira's crush on Bastion is obvious to everyone, potentially even Bastion but that doesn't stop her from constantly trying to hide it.
  • The Chessmaster: Lord Alden and Milea as literal examples of a chess-playing master and Faulkner as the scheming manipulator example.
  • Child Prodigy: Puck
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Happens to Milea on the Empire Branch. Every other character from before the split gets accounted for, even the few that only existed in one mission on the Kingdom Branch. Devlin gets this treatment too on the Ruin Branch, not appearing even after giving a speech about how —he wanted to keep fighting, while nearly every other character gets seen or mentioned again.
  • Dub Name Change: Ultragunner was originally named Ursragna in the Japanese version, which is a Japanese transliteration originally referring to the ancient Avestan deity/concept of victory.
    • Also Bastion was Randy in the Japanese version, no idea why they changed it though.
  • The Empire: Junaris Empire, though there are couple of good people you will be fighting primarily Imperial tropes in nearly any fight. That and Faulkner... Just Faulkner.
  • Everything's Better with Platypi: Nana's pet Kyu-Kyu.
  • Evil Weapon: Zulwarn, Faulkner's ATAC. On the Ruin path, Puck pilots it in the final battle... and in the Ruin ending, it turns him evil.
  • Fat Bastard: Radcot, Leader of the Muspel Nation. Even the soft spot for his daughter does little to offset this.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Puck and his grandfather Madoc.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The dialog can get pretty racy when you least expect it. Andrew is the biggest offender of this, But Ione proves for have a dirty mind herself.
  • Great Offscreen War: The first war is nothing but a blurb in the manual. The second war has been going on for fifteen years before the game starts and various things reference it. The only shot of it the players get is a flashback. Everything else is word-of-mouth.
  • Guide Dang It: Several. The game doesn't tell you that Morale determines your ending on the Kingdom Path, and getting on the Empire Path is not really intuitive (Bastion needs to be Level Eight or better after the fourth battle, which requires focused grinding). Recruiting Nana's not obvious, either (you need to lose one battle to trigger it).
    • At least the manual helped with finding the Empire Branch.
  • Harmful to Minors: Poor Nana sees her father's murder in one path.
  • Heel-Face Turn:Cecilia in her ending of the Empire Path
  • Hot-Blooded Sideburns: Andrew has some impressive normal sideburns of his own, but the big man with the Go Nagai Sideburns is Duke Logan.
  • Infinity–1 Sword: The Alba ATAC, Bastion starts with it, and though the Ultragunner and most Excavated ATACs are superior, it's still a solid suit for other characters.
  • In-Series Nickname: Lord Alden the Ice Wolf.
  • Justice Will Prevail: Kingdom Soldiers are often like this, proclaiming that the Kingdom will win even as they're defeated.
  • Just Like Us: Bastion can learn first-hand that the people of the Junaris Empire aren't as evil as he's been led to believe.
    • Faulkner learned this lesson while working for the Empire to destroy the Kingdom. Faulkner being Faulkner, he came to the conclusion that the Kingdom and the Empire are just as bad as one another. Hence his goal to eventually destroy both and rule over what is left.
  • The Kingdom: Subverted. At the beginning the Pharastia Kingdom seem to be going this way but a few missions in you see that the Kingdom isn't as good as people claim.
  • Lethal Chef: Reyna, and blissfully unaware of it too.
    Reyna: Bastion, why haven't you tried any of my cooking yet? Just because Ione got sick doesn't mean YOU will!
  • Lost Technology: Excavated ATACs.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Andrew. His sleaze is offset by his larger than life personality and the constant rejections he receives.
  • Love Triangle: The choice between Sadira and Cecilia is one of the main focuses of the Empire Story Path.
  • Magitek: The ATACs are piloted by the thoughts of the pilot and powered by magical crystals.
  • A Mech by Any Other Name: All Terrain Armored Combatants, or ATAC.
  • The Mole: Ganlon on every path, Cecelia on the Empire Path.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Halak
  • New Game+: Nothing carries over, but you can only reach the Ruin path on a second playthrough.
  • Ninja: Andrew and Cecilia, no matter which path you choose you'll have a ninja to back you up.
  • Ninja Maid: Cecilia takes it one more step by also being a Mecha pilot.
  • The Obi-Wan: Kamorge
  • Off Model: The quality of animation in the Opening animation changes between frames.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: On the good ending of the Kingdom Path, if anyone but Bastion lands a killing blow on Faulkner, he gets half his health back and taunts you.
  • Power Crystal: How the ATACs are powered and partly why the Excavated ATACs are so powerful.
  • The Power of Blood: Type AB, and a lot of it, fuels the Zulwarn.
    • In the Ruin Path Puck figures out a way to reduce the blood needed to fuel it. He only uses a few drops of his own blood to reactivate Zulwarn, though it still corrupts him.
  • The Power of Friendship: Bastion needs to be good friends with his allies on the Kingdom Branch. If he is, he can stop the enemies trump card, if he isn't, well...
  • The Power of Love: Causes Cecilia to betray Faulkner during her ending of the Empire Branch. As Faulkner tries to use Zulwarn to mind control her against Bastion, the Ultragunner counters and blasts away half of the Zulwarn's 662 HP. Don't mess with love when one of the participants has something called the Ultragunner.
  • Quick Draw: The Counter ability allows a character to preempt an enemies attack against them from the front at the expense of taking extra damage if they fail.
  • Rebellious Princess: Sadira has made it her personal mission to weed out the darker elements of the empire and she has the mecha to back her up.
  • Recycled In Space: Der Langrisser WITH GIANT ROBOTS!
  • Relationship Values: The game keeps track of the morale of your characters and this often influences which ending you'll get. Though the Empire path really only weighs the values of the two love interests, the Kingdom path weighs the total morale of your group as a whole.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The mysterious Kyu-Kyu. Technically, it's a platypus.
  • The Rival: Devlin. Even though he's on Bastion's team he will constantly question his every action and challenge him to contests. Expect him to always have crappy Morale it's nearly impossible to get him to like you.
  • Robot Names: Done with both the ATACs and the TIC-TAC.
  • Royal Brat: Duyere on any Branch, Sadira on the Ruin Branch.
  • Schizo Tech: Middle Ages. Giant robots.
  • Shipper on Deck: In the Empire path, everyone except Cecilia ships Bastion/Sadira.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: The Wind Strike attack does this.
  • Spoiler Opening: With three Openings it was bound to happen. The first is relatively free, other than perhaps the obvious conclusions that the main character and main villain get their own unique ATACs. The second opening however, which doubles as a gameplay demo, shows multiple scenes late in the game and spoils a fair bit. The third Opening, which can only be accessed after already beating the game, is a Gag Opening that can spoil you on the Ruin Branch of the game.
  • Strange Syntax Speaker: Halak seems to have a case of Yoda speak.
    • "Filled my depends with joy I have!"
  • Super Prototype: The excavated ATACs are examples. All normal ATACs are reverse-engineered off the originals, which can't be replicated due to their unique weaponry and power stone. Subverted in the Ruin Path. The Empire gets a hold of Ultragunner and its power stone, but can't make it work at all. Meanwhile, the brand new unique ATAC Puck builds for Bastion, the TIC-TAC, is as powerful as any of the "legendary" excavated ATACs and boasts the single strongest attack the player can use in the game.
  • Sweat Drop: One of Franco's portraits has this.
  • Sweet Tooth: Barlow is always seen snacking on some candy.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Because of the branching paths, certain characters can react vastly different then how they were before. Sadira on the Ruin Branch is the biggest example, playing up the Spoiled Princess thing to ridiculous heights. At least it is on purpose, as the rest of the party hates her for it and how her Jerkass ways keep landing them in trouble.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Happens to Milea on the Empire Branch. She straight-out vanishes for the entire thing, leaving Bastion to choose between Sadira and Cecilia.
  • Valley Girl: Claire, yet she still manages to be an Action Girl.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Kingdom.
  • Villain Override: The specialty of Faulkner while piloting the Zulwarn ATAC.
  • Weakened by the Light: The Ulragunner blasts the Zulwarn for half of its health in one of the final battles. In another it nullifies its powerful mind control and ability to interfere with ATAC operations.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the Empire path, if you pick Cecilia over Sadira, the rest of your companions will call you out for hurting the Princess' feelings.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: After every battle Faulkner changes his plan to compensate for whatever advantage the heroes have earned. Enemies recover legendary ATAC? Force them to delay offensive use by dealing with internal matters. Enemies ally with another country? Convince your battle-hungry ally to fight them, then wipe them all out once they've weaken each other enough. And recover all their Excavated ATACs in the process.
  • You Have Failed Me: On one path, Faulkner makes it clear to Radcot that he won't tolerate screwups. By means of a knife to the gut.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Depending on a decision early on in the Kingdom Branch, Ganlon could end up dead at the hands of Duke Radcot. ** Also, Duke Radcot to Faulkner in yet another branch of the Kingdom path.
  • You Lose at Zero Trust: Say hello to the Bad Ending if the morale of your characters is too low on the Kingdom Branch.
  • Zerg Rush: Many times over the game you'll be completely outnumbered by weaker enemy units. And sometimes you'll be outnumbered by stronger enemy units too!

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