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Vanguard Bandits (known as Epica Stella in Japan) is a Strategy RPG by Human Entertainment, released for the PlayStation in 2000.

It takes place on the wartorn Continent of Eptina, a medieval fantasy world in which knights and soldiers pilot mecha called ATACs. 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.

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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.


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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: Claire and Zakov both pilot Einlagers with a different coat of paint than the standard mass-produced model. Cecilia has a uniquely-colored Barbatos too. An unnamed bandit leader who appears in both branches pilots an Andoras with a spiffy custom paint job as well. None of these are actually any different gameplay-wise from the standard models though.
  • Action Girl: Pretty much any female character.
  • Adipose Rex: Duke Radcot, the Fat Bastard ruler of the Muspel Nation.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Becoming the Mask: Cecilia learns to love being a Ninja Maid. And maybe even learns to love...
  • Big Bad: Faulkner, who wants the power of the Ultragunner for himself to rule Eptina.
  • Bifauxnen: Ione is a very androgynus looking woman.
  • 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 always talk about eating something. Usually candy.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Empire-Sadira ending. Although you've triumphed over Faulkner and ended the war, and the final cutscene ends on a comedic note, Cecilia betrayed the team and died in the final battle, and it's unclear if Devlin, Barlow, Alden, and Melior survived your earlier, completely pointless battle with them.
  • 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.
    • A common defensive strategy is to move every unit to a bridge, hallway, or some other narrow place where most enemies cannot reach to protect them, while having the frontline units deal with them.
  • Boss Banter: Faulkner delights in taunting the party anytime he's on-screen.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Causing this is the special power of Faulkner's Zulwarn ATAC. It turns people into mindless slaves to be controlled like puppets, and a thorough ass-kicking is the only way to dispel the brainwashing.
  • Cannot 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.
  • Chick Magnet: Bastion. Reyna, Milea, Sadira, Claire, Cecilia and Nana have crushes for him.
  • Child Prodigy: Puck; kid really knows his way around [ATACs], best known in the Ruin route as he builds a powerful one from the ground up and finds a way to start Zulwarn with only a few drops of blood.
  • 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.
  • Degraded Boss: Sharkings. It's introduced as a boss, then the Empire starts to mass-produced them late-game.
  • Downer Ending: Fail to have substantial morale among your friends in the Kingdom Path by the end game? Bastion gets Brainwashed and Crazy and is unstoppable as he wipes out every single one of his friends before being taken under Faulkner's wing. Good job.
  • Dub Name Change:
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Getting the Good Ending in the Kingdom branch requires keeping your party's morale high throughout the game. This is harder than it sounds, as being defeated in battle will lower a character's morale, and some characters, most infamously Devlin, have other conditions that affect their morale.
  • Duel Boss: One of the final missions (the Empire route to be exact) has Bastion try this against Faulkner. Then subverted as Bastion gets help to deal with him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Flunky Boss: Pretty much every Boss in the game has an assortment of minions fighting alongside it.
  • 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. Reyna is completely shameless as well.
  • The Good 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. And its status in its glory days ends up being debatable.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Subverted; neither nation is "all righteous" as their claim to be and it was because of the corruption within the kingdom that the Empire exists in the first place. Bastion initially believed that the Pharasia Kingdom is good and the Junaris Empire is evil, which led him to clash with Princess Sadira during their first meeting, but he eventually realizes that both nations have their faults, and that the real victims are the civilians caught in the middle of their war. More evident during the Empire's route storyline.
  • 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, or that unlockng the Empire Branch requires Bastion to be Level 8 or higher after the third battle (which requires focused grinding and luck). 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.
  • The Heavy: Faulkner. It's rare when something bad happens that isn't at least on his order if not done by him directly.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Cecilia in her ending of the Empire Path
  • Hotblooded Sideburns: Andrew has some impressive normal sideburns of his own, but the big man with the Go Nagai Sideburns is Duke Logan.
  • Hufflepuff House: Exaggerated with the Southern Alliance. Despite being one of the nations in the Eptina Continent, it's only mentioned in the game and is irrelevant to the plot.
  • 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. It's regarded in universe as a pretty valuable ATAC
  • 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. He concludes that both the Kingdom and the Empire are as bad as one another; hence his goal to eventually destroy both and rule over what is left.
  • 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!
  • Lethal Joke Weapon:
    • The TIC-TAC is mocked by everyone during the Ruin Branch, but is just as powerful as any other Escavated ATAC.
    • The #69, which is a silly looking pink walking head with arms. Its threat is such that it makes the sharkings look tame. In spite of this, Faulkner and a few others are not happy about having to pilot them.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Faulkner's favorite strategy after obtaining the Zulwarn. On both the Kingdom and Empire routes, he'll find some people to brainwash and pit against you (Franco, Halak, Claire, Logan, Duyere, and Shion on the Kingdom branch, and Reyna, Ione, Zeira, Galvas, Ganlon, Kaidul, some Kingdom redshirts, and later Duyere on the Empire branch).
  • 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.
  • Market-Based Title: Epica Stella was published in North America as Vanguard Bandits.
  • A Mech by Any Other Name: All Terrain Armored Combatants, or ATAC.
  • The Mole: Ganlon betrays the Kingdom to the Empire on every path, also Cecilia on the Empire Path.
  • Mooks: The Barazaph seems to be the most basic type of ATAC, as they are utilized by several different countries as well as common bandits. Even so, Kamorge is skilled enough to kick some major butt while piloting one.
    • But much more prominent is the Barbatos, which is essentially the Zaku of Vanguard Bandits, being favored ATAC of the Empire's soldiers, and they are commonly used by bandits as well. You'll fight dozens of them all throughout the game no matter which branch you play. The Empire also has plenty of Einlagers to send against you as well.
    • Other countries have their own mass-produced ATACs used by common soldiers as well. The Kingdom and Avalon both use Glaives and Haizurons, Dionne-Lehve has the Dantarius (which is used by the Empire as well) and the Flaros, Hibernia has the Ratatosk and the Eigol, Nordilian has the Rahabor, and Muspel has the Yurangol. Also, the bandits roaming the land are fond of the Andoras (which is also used in small numbers by Dionne-Lehve and Muspel).
  • Never Mess with Granny: Halak, one of Sardia's minders/advisers.
  • 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.
  • No Final Boss for You: If you're on the Kingdom Bad End well...
  • Off-Model: The quality of animation in the Opening animation changes between frames.
  • Off the Rails: The Ruin route is what happens when Bastion through his desire to take over the continent ends up causing the Ultragunner to fall into enemy hands in part because Sadira, put off by his decision doesn't step in like she does on the Kingdom route. This leads to a number of events that wouldn't happen on the other rotues
  • 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.
  • Player Mooks: The Barazaph, Haurol, and two Ratatosks in the Kingdom branch. All of these ATACs have low stats and nothing that makes them stand out at all, but you're stuck with them for a good while.
    • In the Empire branch, you get a Barbatos, an Einlager, and two Korbelans. They're slightly better than their Kingdom counterparts, but still aren't really all that great, and you have to wait even longer before you can start replacing any of them with better ATACs.
  • Power Crystal: How the ATACs are powered and partly why the Excavated ATACs are so powerful as they have unique crystals of a higher quality.
  • 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 meaty 662 HP and severely debuffs its nearly-maxed stats. 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.
  • Real Robot Genre: Despite all ATACs being powered by magic, and the mysterious origins of the excavated ATACs, they aren't really treated as anything more than powerful weapons.
  • 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. In the Empire route, Bastion ends up in her forces.
  • Red Baron: Lord Alden, the ruler of Hibernia, is known as the Ice Wolf.
  • 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.
  • 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. In the Kingdom path, a few of your party members seem to ship Bastion/Milea.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: The Wind Strike attack does this.
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Gear: There are several party members who leave the party, and will take whatever equipment they have and whatever ATAC they're piloting with them. There's no way to remove equipment or ATACs from a character, so all you can do is make sure that they don't have anything that you're going to miss. Any EXP they gained will be wasted as well, and since you cannot grind and there is only a limited number of enemies in the game, this has the potential to mess you up if you let a Guest-Star Party Member soak up too many kills.
  • 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!"
  • Sudden Downer Ending: The Ruin branch, despite its rather ominous name, is packed with off-the-wall humor, features a completely absurd final battle, and even has some things going better than in the other branches, such as Thomson surviving when he dies on both of the other branches, and Faulkner not sacrificing hundreds of innocent people to activate the Zulwarn. It almost could have been the Golden Path if not for what happens at the VERY end. Puck has been posessed by the evil spirits inhabiting the Zulwarn, as a result of using his own blood to activate it. Most of the other characters QUICKLY bail out when they realize what's happened to him, but Bastion seems to have begun to fall under the sway of the Zulwarn as well as the result of a Compelling Voice that Puck has gained. The scene fades out and the credits roll before we can see what happens...
  • 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. He mentions eating candy or other sweets in pretty much every line of dialogue. Moreso in the Japanese version, where he prefers cake.
  • 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.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Nana is the pretty daughter of the gonk Duke Radcot.
  • 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.
    • On the other hand, she's a Victorious Childhood Friend on the Kingdom branch. Most of rest of the party seems to ship them, and if she doesn't join the party, Bastion will confess his love to her.
  • Valley Girl: Claire, yet she still manages to be an Action Girl.
  • Vestigial Empire: By the time the game starts, what once was The Good Kingdom is a shadow of its former self in size and strength.
  • 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 Happened to the Mouse?: In the Empire storyline, Milea vanishes after Bastion decides to pursuit Faulkner and is never seen again.
  • 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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