Vanguard Princess takes place in a not so distant future, rife with chaos and war. A plane is shot from the sky, and the only survivor is a young girl. As she matures, she begins to manifest strange powers, known as Tactical Sorcery. When The Government is left to their own twisted agenda, they decide to utilize her powers for military gain. This causes an experiment to go awry, known as the Astral Impact, and the girl's powers split, and divides between a host of unsuspecting young women. A girl bestowed with these powers is known as a Vanguard Princess.
You take control of one of ten playable characters. The roster is strictly female, and as with most fighting games, each has their own style, weapon, and method of attack. There are close quarter combatants like the wrestler, Lilith --Satan's daughter-- and the Assassin Kaede, mid range characters like Kendo Team Captain Saki or Sakuya Sword wielding Yui, and of course ranged opponents like the Government Soldier, Luna, and her revolvers.
You can also choose a side kick, that will stand by you vigilantly in battle, aiding with support, counters, and attacks every now and then. They're all little girls as well, and are as diverse as the rest of the colorful main cast.
Your character can move left and right, through a 2D plane, as well as jump by pressing up, block by pressing away from your opponent, dashing by double-tapping forward, and backsteping by double-tapping back. There are four main attack buttons: strong, medium, weak, and assist.
The H.U.D. consists of a several bars. The health bar denotes how much damage you've taken. Under the health bar is the image of a bird and what looks like a controller. The little twitter represents your character's stun, and flashes red as you block incoming attacks. Once it breaks, you're stunned, and birds fly around your head, allowing your opponent to deal some heavy damage. This is known as a Calcium State.
On the bottom of the screen you have a Special and Assist Meter. The Assist Meter replenishes itself during combat, and tells the level of your assist character during the fight. The Special Meter fills as you inflict or take damage. Once it's full, you can unleash your character's unique, most powerful attack, by inputting the proper button sequence.
Speaking of button sequences, anyone familiar with Guilty Gear, or Street Fighter, will feel right at home with the configuration. Fighting game veterans will instantly recognize the quarter circle forward, quarter circle back, forward, down, forward, and down, forward, plus two attacks, method of fighting.
The flow of the game is meet an opponent, defeat them, character dialogue scene, and on to the next round! Every now and then, there will be interaction between characters, where story moments occur. This usually happens during the middle of your conquest. Then, once the final boss is defeated, the ending, with some really impressive artwork, will allow you to see what becomes of you chosen heroine.
You know, standard fighting game stuff.
I was really surprised at how well all the characters animated. It's slick, and very fluid. There's a lot of nuance to each young woman. Every one of them has different battle animations, win poses, and special moves that sets them apart. It's never dull or copy and pasted. A lot of time and care went into the animation, and it shows through the environments, girls, and all the blazing special effects. Battles unfold beautifully, and it's a wonderful spectacle to witness all the madness blitzing across the screen.
Character designs in this game are also top notch. They are what you'd expect in an anime game. The girls have wild, over the top looks, with multicolored hair, crazy weapons, and clothing that leaves little to the imagination. Each character has a distinct look and style, with their own colors and stance to match. It's all hand drawn, with a lot of care and detail through out.
The gameplay shines! When I first picked up Vanguard Princess, I wasn't sure what to expect, as far as how well each character would control. But, like I said, if you're at all familiar with quarter circle back and half circles, you'll feel right at home with Vanguard Princess. Battles are quick, kinetic, with flashes of light, explosions, and lots of over the top special attacks. The controls respond brilliantly to every command. I never found myself fighting to pull off a move, or dodge, or jump, or anything. If I did, it was a fault in my timing and execution, not the game's.
While the game is really fun, it just seems to be a bit sparse at the moment. The opening title screen only has Story and VS modes. This is fine, but it would be nice to maybe have a few extras to peruse. Maybe a Training Mode, Image Gallery, Online Battles, etc. The title screen just feels so lonely. Also, an onscreen option menu, as opposed to one in the file menu, would be nice. After I switched to full screen mode, I could never figure out how to reach the menu again.
The move lists also suffer the same issue. There are a nice handful of attacks, and each character has one special/super move at their disposal. But, seeing the same special attack does get a bit redundant. They do have a lot of flash, flair, and some really nice animation, but I just wish there was more to mess around with.
I didn't find the assist characters very helpful. Also, with the frenetic pace of the game, I often found myself trying to attack the assist character, since they bob around in the background, and don't really have anything that differentiates them from the main characters. I think it would have been nice if they popped out only when they were needed, instead of always being on screen. With so much going on, it got a bit confusing.
As with every other fighting game, there is a cheap final boss. Frustration, thy name is Hilde. She has a devastating move set, both deadly at close range and at a distance. Projectiles hit from a full screen away. Some attacks and specials take up the entire battlefield. Oh, and she has two assist characters, that actually deal some overwhelming damage. Whether set to easy mode or not, she's a force to be reckoned with. Yes, she pissed me off.
And while I praised the designs, they are still standard anime fare. I mean, some are government officials, or assassins, intelligence officers, yet none of them really look the part. While this isn't a fault of the game --since this is something that permeates all of anime in general-- but I thought it was worth noting. In the end, they're all young girls, in revealing clothes, bouncing body parts, with the magical ability to shoot fireballs and wreak destruction and mayhem. It's fun, but not at all practical. Then again, what fighting game ever is?
Vanguard Princess can easily stand toe to toe with the likes of Street Fighter or any other fighting game out there. It's fast paced, the controls are responsive, attacks are wild, flashy, and the animation is really well done. The story leaves much to be desired, and the lack of modes makes the game feel a bit empty, but what is there is pretty solid.
Review copy of Vanguard Princess courtesy of eigoMANGA