Vanguard Storm Review

Square Enix took its first steps onto the App Store several months ago with Crystal Defenders, a somewhat enjoyable but flawed tower defense game.

Now the Japanese publisher is back with Vanguard Storm, another Final Fantasy Tactics spinoff that’s more of an action-puzzler. Unfortunately, Square Enix has repeated many of the same mistakes it made in the first game. The result is another winning gameplay formula that feels only partially realized.

It’s like Monster Dodgeball!

Vanguard Storm is a turn-based game that creatively combines influences from RPGs, tower defense, and even Chess. The rectangular game board is split into a grid four spaces tall by eight long. Monsters flow from the left-hand side of the screen towards the right side, and if you fail to stop them before they get there, you lose.

On the right half of the screen, you control a handful of heroes (starting at two, and gradually building to five or six) that you can reposition at the end of every turn.

Each type of hero serves a different function. Most attack various combinations of squares. Soldiers, for instance, have a melee attack that hits the square directly in front of them, as well as the squares above and below it. Black Mages shoot a magical attack in a straight line for four spaces; Dragoons do the same thing, only with a physical attack. Archers and Flintlocks attack in diagonal lines with physical and magical damage, respectively. There are also a few support classes that heal nearby units or boost their attack power.

The basic idea is to reposition these guys at the beginning of every turn to maximize the damage they’re doing, while minimizing the damage they take. Since the enemies all have different attributes–some move faster than others, are resistant to magic, are airborne, and so on–you have to constantly shuffle heroes around to make sure they’re targeting everything as efficiently as they can. You’re on a timer, too… one that goes faster and faster as you get further into the game. Your score depends on speed and life remaining.

This constant recalculation will fascinate hardcore strategy and puzzle buffs. Strategic retreat is often a necessity, and you’ll also sometimes need to sacrifice units to hold back the tide. But each stage consists of multiple levels, and if you lose heroes on one level, they won’t grow in strength for the next wave. For the right kind of player, Vanguard Storm could hold a lot of entertainment.

However, the game simply fails to make the most of its engaging gameplay. There are dozens of different kinds of enemies, but only eight types of hero, and that limits your tactical options. Their abilities never change substantively, either–they just get stronger as they level up. The layouts of the stages are all identical. Plus, there’s no story or personality behind the action, other than a few snippets of dialog every now and then, so RPG and Final Fantasy fans might feel cheated.

Another hugely annoying problem is that the game doesn’t automatically save your progress–you have to go into a menu and do it manually. We discovered this after accidentally hitting the Home button and losing two hours of play. There’s really no better way to piss us off.

Vanguard Storm’s music is great, with jammin’ rock renditions of everyone’s favorite Final Fantasy tunes. The graphics could have been better, though. The character art is nicely detailed, but neither heroes nor monsters animate well, and the attacks are little more than quick flashes. The battles look dinky, not epic.

Like we said, we think that a certain type of player might really like Vanguard Storm, but the game’s got too many holes right now to recommend to a general audience. We strongly suggest trying the Lite version before committing $4.99 to this one.

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