Honestly, I picked up Vanguard Princess simply because it was part of a Humble Bundle I wanted to get at for the other games in it. I found myself bored one day going through my Steam collection and decided it wouldn’t hurt to try it out for a bit since I hadn’t played any kind of fighting game in a little while. I’m pretty glad I did. For a game that was made by a single developer in Fighter Maker 2nd, it’s more entertaining than it’d seem to be. Welcome to my Vanguard Princess Review!
Gametype/Genre: Anime, Fighting
Developer: Tomoaki Sugeno
Reviewing: Steam version
In a future not so far from our own time, war and chaos run rampant and uncontrollable across the entirety of the planet. In this era of violence an unassuming passenger plane is shot down, killing everyone on board. Everyone except for one girl who was miraculously left completely unharmed . The girl grew up, as we are all wont to do, but she also started to develop mystical powers. A private research institute contacted her to begin learning of this gift of hers and how to help her with it, but The Government learned of her and wanted to use her powers for war. Her powers, which they dubbed Tactical Sorcery, allowed her to bend the laws of the universe to her will. When combined with her incredible combat prowess, The Government became determined to milk her for all that she was worth in cruel, inhumane experiments.
Eventually, her powers grew too much. They reached critical mass and a shockwave exploded out from her that traveled the world. This event, called the Astral Impact, bestowed Tactical Sorcery unto many girls the planet over. Seeing the potential there, The Government recruited these girls and made them frontline fighters. So powerful were they and so inspirational to the soldiers around them that these girls, dubbed Vanguard Princesses, brought peace to the world within a year of deployment.
The peace was not long as the original holder of Tactical Sorcery, now calling herself the Enforcer of Stellar Laws, returns and vows to destroy all of mankind. In response, each Vanguard Princess seeks her out. Some want to save the world, some seek their own answers through this meaning, and more still simply wish to meet more like themselves. When their wishes converge, there’s only one thing left to do: FIGHT!
At least that’s what the in-game cut-in claims. The digital game manual that comes with it offers a severely abridged and a little contradictory summary that kind of makes me wish that they’d left it to the game itself. Further information into how the story plays out is introduced as you play each character and revealing that would be spoiling the content for anyone who hasn’t played it, so I won’t expand on it in this review. What I will say is I enjoyed the various stories playing out and thought they were pretty well done for having so few tidbits given.
Characters and Visuals
There are 11 playable characters in Vanguard Princess, each with fighting styles vastly different from one another. In addition, there are 5 selectable Support characters that make the game the 2 on 2 brawler that it is.
- Yui Kutuna
Yui is 107th Successor to the Kutsuna-Musou School of Swordplay. With the Sakuya Sword, a powerful artifact that re-emerged in the world because of the Astral Impact, she seeks to find her sister who has gone missing. As someone who’s grown up in her school of swordplay, her style of fighting revolves around the powerful Sakuya Sword
- Character type: Rushdown
- Haruka Kutuna
Haruka was raised to become the Successor to her family’s swordplay style instead of Yui, but went missing soon after her powers awoke. Resurfacing as a sorceress instead of a swordswoman, she takes to the battlefield to find an old friend. Despite her Kutuna heritage, Haruka’s sorceress powers make it so she’s a long-ranged fighter, calling upon her spells for combat.
- Character type: Long-range Zone
Lilith claims to be the daughter of Satan and to have come from the Netherworld itself into the human realm. Of course, this is a rather hard claim to prove so no one believes her. Still, no one can deny her power since she took over as headmistress of The Girls’ Academy. Now she goes forth to prove that only a demon as she claims to be can be as powerful as she. Maybe it’s because of her claims, but Lilith is a grueling grappler with more range than one would expect from her.
- Character type: Agile Grappler
- Luna Himeki
Luna is a former soldier for The Government unit Braid Roar who chose to go her own way and become a bounty hunter operating out of a lawless demilitarized zone. She heads into the fray in search of a bounty after a tip about “one angry female dog”. Her history as a soldier shows in her fighting style as it is centered around gunplay, though with her current profession she’s chosen to spice it up quite a bit.
- Character type: Close to Long-range Chain Zone
- Kurumi Mirumati
Kurumi was a victim of a plane crash that left her without any memories of her past. She refuses to let that allow her to lead anything less than a cheerful life! She doesn’t know what draws her to battle, but she’s fighting nonetheless. Tying in with her lack of memories, she also lacks any kind of real combat style.
- Character type: Support Heavy
- Saki Mitonoya
Saki is the captain of her school’s kendo team and is a shoe-in for Student Council President next semester. Given the Hitohira Sword, a sword created from the test data of the Sakuya sword while The Government had it, Saki seeks the current holder of the Sakuya sword to gauge the Hitohira sword’s power and gain valuable combat experience. Given her kendo background, it’s no surprise her fighting style is controlled, precise, and deadly with sword in hand
- Character type: Rushdown
- Kaede Hioh
Kaede is a being wrapped in enigma, a mystery to all of the world including herself. Lacking her memories, she works as an assassin in the unsavory underworld and embarks to complete a contract given to her by The Government. As an assassin, Kaede’s playstyle is swift, constantly moving from screen to screen as she bug-bites her opponents from many different angles.
- Character type: Chain Rushdown
- Natalia Glinka
Natalia is a foreign intelligence officer known for her cool-head under pressure. Highly religious and strictly adhering to orders, she arrives in this country to gather intelligence on disappearances tied to a mysterious new weapon. Her strong religion is shown on her very outfit, crosses adorning nearly every piece of it.
- Character type: Grappler
- Eri Hasumi
Eri is a super soldier created by the government. Due to her purpose of creation, she’s got superhuman strength and great endurance. Tiring of the control over her life, Eri escapes the government to find freedom. She uses her strength to great effect in combat, arming herself with a pair of tonfa and a relentless rushdown fighting style.
- Character type: Chain Rushdown
- Ayane Ikumi
Ayane is an archer trained in her family’s style, though the training unfortunately cost her her left eye. Feeling that she is slowly losing the power given to her during the Astral Impact, she seeks out friend and rival, Yui Kutuna, for one last bout. Possibly due to her waning power, Ayane puts all of her focus into her Archery and keeping opponents away using it.
- Character type: Long-range Zone
- Hilda Rize
Hilda is the end-game boss, the original holder of Tactical Sorcery. Re-emerging into the world after the end of conflict, she seeks the end of mankind to protect the secrets of Stellar Law. As the original Tactical Sorceress, Hilda has a lot of raw power at her disposal and can either play a mean zoning game with her many skills or use the angel and demon summoned to her to deal out damage at close range.
- Character type: Mid to Long-range Zone
In addition to the girls, there are 5 (not counting the Hilda exclusives) Support characters assigned to every character. There’s the close-range, combo extending Eko whose hitstun and low cost allows her to be used often and to devastating effect. The zone-heavy, meter-eating Kanae has many unblockable attacks and traps that can make it a hazard to even dare to draw close. Mechanical Sierra is a slow moving, but long-ranged Support who can cover the whole screen to either give combo opportunities or keep enemies at bay, though her damage output is average at best. Juliet holds a deceptive amount of power in her small frame, discouraging enemies from getting too close in fear of her retaliation. She is slow though, so she somewhat depends on her handler to make a hit. Mini-Hilda has a wide range of applications, from combo extension to zoning games, at her disposal. The handler’s damage output must be great though because Mini-Hilda isn’t adding much in that regard.
Characterization happens in game, insights into a character’s personality and their relations with other characters displayed in their win quotes. Some girls are rather personable and want to make friends out of their defeated foes while others are lone wolves who would be quite happy to end their opponent’s existence for daring to be in their presence. Either way, it’s enough to begin to flesh out the characters and give you an idea for how they act and feel both in and out of combat. This is standard for fighting games like this, but pretty high-mid tier in my opinion in it’s execution.
With characters shelved for now, Vanguard Princess is a 2D sprite driven fighting game. The sprites, however are pretty well done and even 7 years after its release they look marvelous. The backgrounds, if you can stop to take a look at them, are pretty distracting in how nice they look. Some of the characters in the background even move around slightly. Not enough to be called dynamic, but it adds a bit of life to the battlefield.
Vanguard Princess runs at about 100 fps and is locked to a resolution of 640×480 no matter how big or small you make the window. In this regard, it hasn’t aged well at a time when games are running at 4k resolutions, but I failed to catch any artifact damage so it’s got that going for it. It allows you to play with either keyboard or gamepad, but keyboard fighting, unless you’re extremely used to it, isn’t really the recommended path here as the fighting is very fast paced. The screen starts off automatically in windowed mode so that may add a degree of difficulty.
Speaking of windows, there’s the huge issue of any computer past Windows 7 not being able to play the game in true full screen. You can maximize the window to fake it, but the taskbar is still visible at the bottom of the screen, the white bar with the title and options are stuck on top, and, if you’re really unlucky, bits of the rest of your monitor peeks out the side. Primarily the left side for me, but your mileage may vary. Trying to force the issue with compatibility mode resulted in the game stuttering and flickering and, in one case, turning green and sticking to an absurdly small section of the top left corner of the screen. F4 also did nothing to help the issue and I’m not sure if there will ever be a patch on the way to fix this since Tomoaki Sugeno seems to have stopped working on this series. I’m unsure if this is a Steam only problem or if it will also occur in the freeware version as well. My research indicates not, so if you have no problem playing in Japanese that will be the workaround you need.
Beyond that, I didn’t experience any problems with the game, though I feel I should mention there are no options for changing the performance either. It may be a limitation of Fighter Maker 2nd or a preference of it’s creator, but the only options available in game are the keybinding for either keyboard or gamepad and settings for the versus portion of the game. Within the frame of the versus setting, you can set your battleground, the rounds within the fight, and the time limit which can be literally anything between 0 which means infinite time and 99. This is also where you activate or deactivate the ability to use gamepads as you wish.
As a small warning, don’t abuse the soft reset ability in the game. Doing so too many times in quick succession will cause it to crash. That was, however, the ONLY time it ever crashed on me during the 4-6 straight hours I played it so it’s stable as hardwood floors in that regard. Also, while mentioning things that rarely happened, there was one time while playing as Kaede that the flashes that indicate her moves did not disappear from the screen for a good 5 to 7 seconds after the move was well and truly over with. I don’t know what changed it, but it only ever appeared while I was in Streak Mode so it isn’t very reoccurring at all.
While I never experienced these glitches, research tells me there are a few out there. If two characters parry close enough to each other, they’ll essentially parry each other’s parry with all the benefits that entails. Rarely, but most often happening to Lilith, a character will get stuck in mid-air. Either mashing it out or taking a hit seems to get rid of it though. In extremely rare cases, the corner will move with you and shorten the stage. Fighting it out til the end of the round and the place resets seems to fix that one. Sometimes Saki’s Liberty Art, a mechanic I’ll explain below, doesn’t scale based on the combo performed before it. There’s really nothing you can do at that point besides hope that YOU’RE not the one that glitch is being used on and cursing life itself if you are.
Vanguard Princess was developed by a one-man team. As a result of that voice acting isn’t very prevalent in the game, really only appearing during combat. Outside of that, there is no voice acting at all and the rest of the dialogue is delivered by text. The combat voice acting is standard fighting game fare. It’s not overly memorable, but it doesn’t grate on the ears despite hearing it for hours on end either. All but one of the characters also share voice actors with at least one other character, though you have to be paying at least somewhat attention to tell which characters are sharing the same person so kudos to the VAs in that regard.
In keeping with the one-man show vibe, the music and sound effects for the game are royalty free sounds provided by TAM MUSIC FACTORY and The Matchmakers. The OST is honestly great to listen to and I found myself with either songs stuck in my head while I was reviewing it or actively listening to songs from it. The soundtrack covers all stages, a song that plays during the opening cut-in, a menu screen, and multiple songs to fit the moods of different endings. I’d estimate there are 20 or 21 songs total and I didn’t mind listening to a single one.
The sound effects are pretty standard though. There are meaty sounds where you expect hard hits, the bullets have sounds that make sense, the usual you look for in a fighting game. Nothing in Vanguard Princess’s sound effect stack really stands out, but neither does it disappoint. Unless you were going for something that stands out, but then I suppose you’d be disappointed in a lot of fighting games.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Now we get into the meat of it all. Vanguard Princess has 4 buttons to use and 2 combinations you need to know, all of which can be customized by clicking the Options tab at the top of the game and hitting the option appropriate for either keyboard or gamepad. The Buttons are Weak (A), Medium (B), Strong (X), and Support (Y) with the combinations being A+B and B+X. A+B is used for Reflect/Parry. Firstly, you have to be in the right position. Stand or Jump Parry will handle High Attacks while Crouch Parry will get lows. Then the situation has to be right since Parry will not help you against a projectile, grab, or a Support. Then you have to pray that the attack you just tried to Parry isn’t a multi-hit or you have to Parry each of those hits. Then the timing for Parrying is exacting, but if you manage to pull it off you gain 28% of your Special Gauge instantly with an 10% up for grabs if you attack immediately after the Parry. If you whiff it, however, your shield will linger for a bit. As long as that shield is up, any attack thrown at you becomes a Counter Attack. This game doesn’t have much in the way of raw combos save for what you build with Support unless Counter Attacks get involved. They open the way for high damage combos, so you do NOT want to get hit with one. B+X will be what actually uses your Special Gauge in a special move called Liberty Arts. The LA will vary wildly between characters in both function and input and can almost always be blocked/interrupted, so knowing how and when to use your LA is critical in either human fights or the more difficult CPU fights. Missing your LA in any way usually results in some heavy recovery time that any opponent worth their salt is GOING to take advantage of, so you really don’t want to give them that opening.
In addition to the usual gauges are four more unique to Vanguard Princess: Stun gauge, Calcium Break gauge, Support Gauge, and Grasp. The Stun gauge and Calcium Break are small symbols under your life gauge and next to your character’s icon in the shape of a bird and bone respectively. As you take hits, the stun gauge changes colors going from blue to yellow to red. Another hit or two while in the red will cause you to become stunned and unable to do anything besides shake your directional keys/pad/stick to break out of it. In the meantime, your opponent is free to rain all manner of hurt upon you so you really don’t want to be stunned for long. The same concept goes for Calcium Break, but in this case the gauge decreases the more you block. If you block too much, you’ll become Calcium Broken which will leave your character open for a brief period of time for punishment. That said, being Calcium Broken is the same as being Counter Attacked. I don’t think I need to go over what a bad idea being Counter Attacked is again. Grasp is a word at the mid-bottom of the screen. It’s a very simple meter: if it’s flashing, throws and grabs will not connect; if it isn’t, they will. This is deadly important for grapplers like Lilith and Natalia, but everyone will want to have at least a causal eye on it. You can usually predict when it will flash though: during jumps, forward or backward dashes, and during hit/block stun.
The Support Gauge is almost as important as your Life Gauge and, at times, even more important than your Special Gauge. Vanguard Princess is a 2 on 2 brawler and by all that is good is it going to MAKE YOU use that second person you’ve got! The gauge has 7 states, 0 being empty, 5 being full, and the gauge itself being broken. If your main character is hit while your Support is actively out doing something, then it doesn’t matter if you had 5 before because you have been Support Countered and your gauge is broken, reverted to 0, and most Support attacks will not connect. How long it will stay broken depends on what your Support was out doing before you were hit, but it will last between 3 to 6 seconds. Even 3 seconds can be a long time in a fight, so plan your moves and defenses so that you don’t end up on a desperate defensive for 6 seconds while your opponent tears into you. All Supports have the same basic commands: 4 attacks using a direction plus Y and a Proxy Guard using back and Y. Proxy Guard allows your Support to block projectiles and other Supports from you, but they block ALL of it. If a multi-hit projectile is coming your way, your Support can absorb it all in one go, leaving you open to punish the shooter. The 4 attacks will vary wildly based on your Partner and their functionality. How fast the Support Gauge fills depends on both your character and how much blocking you do. Kurumi fills gauge the fastest at about 10 seconds from 0 to 5 while Kaede is the slowest at 25 seconds to do the same. Blocking causes your Support Gauge to drop, though how much depends on the character in question. Luna loses the least amount from blocking while Kaede loses 3 times the amount Luna does from each block. Support Gauge management, as you can see, varies wildly from character to character and the Support you choose so know your characters well if you want to do anything serious with the game.
A girl who can back opponents off you by launching a shoryuken type move, sneaking behind your opponent and kicking them or going over their heads and dive kicking them to extend combos for you, or shocking your enemies in place to create opportunities for you. She’s a jack of all who’s great at creating or extending your opportunities. She goes pretty well with everyone, but is probably really helpful for rushdown characters who need more combos. She also eats the least amount of meter per move out of the Support characters so she’s great for people who charge slowly.
This magical girl is a rather tricky customer with a bit of start-up time for all her moves and a tendency to eat up great amounts of your Support Gauge. Because of that, planning is required for how you’re going to use her, but her use is great in the zoning or pressure game. Between her ghost tricks to either discourage opponents from jumping or walking at her Handler and the generally unblockable nature of all her moves, she’s perfect for characters who need to control space or create pressure using their Support. She needs someone who generates a lot of Support Gauge to use her effectively though.
A mecha girl, Sierra has many full screen moves perfect for creating time for rushdowns to charge in or for zoners to play keep away. With her arsenal including rifles, missile barrages (which works even after a Support Counter), shields, and swords, she’s got short and long range options that gives her a bit of something for pretty much every play style for any character! She’s also very stun heavy whether her attacks hit or are blocked, does moderate damage with a few of her moves, and eats an average amount of gauge for all her utility.
More than even Kaede, Juliet eats meter like she’s starving and is slow and start-up ridden, relying on her Handler to make her attacks hit. If they hit, however, they are devastating since she easily deals the most damage out of all Support characters. All of her moves focus around the large flail she carries, either using it to bludgeon her foes directly, twirling it to play keep away, or creating energy balls with it. Juliet doesn’t really work well FOR her handler so much as she works well AGAINST her enemies, so she can be used by anyone but will require a bit of forethought and predicting the opponents moves to be used for maximum effect.
What if you took all of the power of Hilda and compressed it into a little girl’s body? The answer is this Support character. The only Support character with her own Support, Mini-Hilda has a wide range of moves that work extremely well with characters that want to be up in their opponent’s face. Not so much for zoners or keep aways though. Between her own butterflies (also able to hit after Support Counter) and explosions that allow her to provide cover or using her Support to extend or create combos up close, she may not do much damage, but she opens the door for massive damage combos based on how she’s used.
The girls themselves have two tiers when it comes to their health bar. Yui, Haruka, Lilith, Luna, Hilda, and Natalia have 1000 HP while Kurumi, Saki, Kaede, Eri, and Ayase have 900. In addition to their base health, there’s also guts threshold and guts factor which adds more effective health to them. The amounts vary between characters, but because of it almost no two characters have the same exact amount of health. Counter Hits eat extra depending on the move in question and different states gain different additional damage. Being hit while Crouching is ~20% extra damage, Jumping is ~30%, and Forward Dashing is 5% so taking advantage of each of those are important. As I made clear in the Character section, each Vanguard Princess has a different way of playing to take into account.
Rushdown characters are those who do everything in their power to get in close to their opponents and beat the ever-loving crap out of them. As a result they’re usually classified as close to mid range characters, depending on how they close the distance and where their attacks are most effective. There are basically two kinds of Rushdown in Vanguard Princess: Chain and Pressure. The Chain Rushdowns are Kaede and Eri who have movesets that link into one another in rapid succession to do most of their damage.
Kaede has a standard chain that can’t be changed and comes out fairly quickly. It doesn’t do much in the way of damage, so she relies mostly on her high agility moves and her high walk/dash speed to get in. She has the fastest walk/dash speed in the game and her back dash is invincible for a great portion of it so using those for all they’re worth will be important for playing her well. Since her chain is very unsafe during the first and third hits, she either needs a good Counter Hit mix up to guarantee hits, Support to make the opening, or to create constant pressure and only proceed to the third hit as a hit confirm. Fortunately, her mix up game is great since she has a Special Overhead and great normal lows to create high/low mix ups and her normal game is excellent to make up for the fact that her Support game is horribly lacking. Maybe due to her being an assassin, but she doesn’t seem to play well with Support since she both charges her gauge the slowest and loses the most gauge with each block. You’d either need a Eko who uses very little meter to create opportunities or to save the Support Gauge for special occasions to increase damage or create opportunities. She has two Liberty Arts, one that invincible until the move actually deploys and does good damage and one that completely ignores damage scaling and makes for a perfect combo finisher.
Eri uses the chains themselves to create high/low mix ups, able to change them on the fly with different button presses to perform overheads or slides to punch through her opponents defenses. If the chains don’t leave your opponent open, then her normal selection almost definitely will since she has a whole host of them that can easily transition into her chain or create openings for her Support that will allow her to slide into her chain. Her other normals are also very cross up/crossover heavy so a good Eri will have opponents guessing the entire match or desperately trying to keep her from getting anything started. She can also bait mistakes with her backdash since a good portion of it is invincible so even that may not be enough. She goes well with any Support so long as they allow her to get in or extend her combos. Her Liberty Art starts with 2 strikes. If they hit, then it transitions into a 7 hit combo that finishes with a blow that can wall bounce and allow for even more punishment. Even if the first 2 hits are blocked, she’s in a position where she can finish the chain as per usual which can take unaware opponents off guard.
Besides Chain Rushdowns, we have Yui and Saki to round out the Rushdown characters. The best way to describe them are as Shotos, meaning they have projectiles, DPs (Shoryuken-like), and a move that pushes them forward. It makes sense that they have similarities to them since Saki uses a sword based on Yui’s, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Yui is slow to start, but once she gets her rather long ranged normals going she becomes a force to be reckoned with since a good number of them can cancel into specials or her Liberty Art. With the range of her attacks, she can bait out Counter Hits that can take opponents from corner to corner and do half of their life in the right circumstances. In the same vent, her normals also produce sakura petals that, for as long as they linger on the screen, she can turn into projectiles that either make the opponent wary of just running in on her or blasting long range without thought. Between her high health and her DP to get her out of bad situations, Yui is able to sit on a defense while waiting for the opportunity to strike out. She’d work best with Eko, who adds combo opportunities or midscreen options, or Juliet who can turn Yui’s pressure game into Calcium Breaks with little difficulty. Her Liberty Art literally has her charge across the screen, locking her opponent in place if it hits them. Once she’s crossed enough distance, she DPs for massive damage. You’ll want to use her Liberty Art, well, liberally as her highest damage combos involve cancelling into it.
Saki is pretty much the opposite of Yui. Fast and a jack of all trades, Saki has an answer for everything and can do pretty much everything you need in a fight. With the ability to teleport in and out of range at will and hammer the opponent with a set up attack if they’re careless, use sakura petals much the same way Yui, can, has a great backdash to get her out of hairy situations, and her own set of dive kicks, Saki has a wide variety of techniques to overpower the opposition. Defensively, Saki has many anti-air options and her DP hits on both sides of her to snuff out crossover attempts and can be invincible during start up. Her health is average at best, but when used right that’s not a real problem. She works best with Eko, who improves what Saki already has, or Sierra who adds to her long range game and can add more combo ability to random confirms. She has two variations of her Liberty Art. The first one does more damage but puts the opponent on a hard knockdown while the second suffers a bit of damage and range loss, but makes up for it with the ability to wall bounce opponents for further combo potential. A big part of Saki’s game will be learning to cancel normals into her Liberty Art or transitioning to it off of juggle opportunities.
Vanguard Princess has two Grapplers to it’s name with vastly different styles: Lilith and Natalia. Grapplers, at their core, get into range and then use command throws to deal their damage to their opponents. These are the characters that need to pay the most attention to the Grasp bar at the bottom of the screen. The two Grapplers also have the best defense of the game, so don’t be afraid to whether some hits in order to put yourself into position.
Lilith is a Grappler that loves to move across the screen. A couple of her grapples fling her around or allow her to dash forward to make the grab and she has a special move that moves her forward a bit and chews through the Calcium Gauge. These are important because her walk speed is average at best and her dash is non-existent. Literally. She has no forward dash. Her back dash gets her out of sticky situations sometimes, but she relies on both her skill set and her Support to allow her to move forward. As mentioned earlier, she has great defense, 2nd best in game, so eating blows in order to gain position isn’t a huge problem and she has anti-air grabs or other tools to keep her from being jumped in on. It’d be best to pair her with Juliet, who turns her already outrageous damage and Calcium Break game into something out of someone’s worst nightmares, or Sierra who will allow Juliet to get into range easier with her full screen shots. Her Liberty Art comes out instantly so if the opponent is in range and has whiffed a move or is just caught unaware, it will hit. Which is bad for your opponent since it is easily one of the, if not THE, most damaging Liberty Art in game. Use it to punish overeager opponents, use it off of a Support, use it as a whiff punish, just use it, use it, use it!
Natalia is a lot less mobile, but no less terrifying. Her single grapple, when used at max effect, outranks most of Lilith’s grab in terms of damage so it’s a tool you’ll want to use often. She has much few options for getting in, having to rely on Support or her Pile Charge to pave the way through. In exchange, when she does get in she eats through the opponent’s Calcium Gauge like bone cancer. She needs a LOT of patience to play as though since her normal game is just bad unless she can capitalize off of Counter Hits. Fortunately, with the best defense in the game, patience is a virtue she can afford to have. Pile Charge smart, but often since it tears through a projectile and Support and use what normals she has to make her mix up game a nightmare. She needs either Sierra to open up all options and keep her safe or Juliet to make sure the opponent’s Calcium Gauge dies an inglorious death. Her Liberty Art is invincible until the first hit and MUST be blocked low. In addition that that, you can use Support every step of the way for maximum damage out of the move. Just make sure that third attack hits since that’s where all the damage is.
Zoners are characters that control space to almost exacting degrees. Most of them are long range, but some have enough options at close and mid range to make them viable there too. The Zoners of Vanguard Princess are Haruka, Luna, Ayane, and Hilda. Almost universally for these characters, keep an eye out for Proxy Guard since that means all your shots are getting blocked for about 3 seconds.
Haruka is pure ranged zoning. She doesn’t have many options for close range encounters and her standing normals miss crouching opponents, so she NEEDS to be at range in order to be effective. If she gets dragged into close range, she has the health to ensure she can get out again, but she doesn’t really have options to make anything high damage out of it without the use of Support. IF you can get into the right range though, Haruka has quite a few specials that will keep enemies at bay and chip at their health/Calcium Gauge. With the right Support, she can go a match without letting the opponent come within a 1/3 of the screen of her. The best pairings are Eko to open up some combo opportunities and as an emergency DP to back opponents off or Kanae with her unblockable attack set ups and zoning capabilities. Sierra will do in a pinch since she will add on to Haruka’s long range options, but an opponent using Proxy Guard will be the undoing of the both of you. Haruka’s Liberty Art is unique in that there is timing involved. You must hit X at the right moment four times to power her laser further. It’s easily her fastest full screen attack though so use it when there’s a Calcium Break or to punish a move. Just don’t miss the first input or else the laser takes forever to launch, erasing all combo attempts.
Luna is a mighty tricky zoner, darting in and out of range at all with her gun stances. Her bullets are the fastest projectile in game, so opponents will have to predict your shots in order to get their defense up in time. She does, however, lack a forward and back dash, trading them in for stances in her stance chain she can launch either attacks or bullets from. If you need to move fast, use the chain to move forward and backward and let the bullets lead you. Mastering this chain is the most important asset of Luna and poor use of it leaves her vulnerable to heavy damage. Luna is also 1 of 2 characters with an ammunition meter, measured out in 9 bullets the last of which is unblockable but only does half damage. You can gain bullets back using certain moves or within her stance chain, but running out of bullets basically invites opponents to come throttle you so that isn’t a good idea in any universe imaginable. Luna also has a mechanic called Speed Shooting where if you switch stances right, the rest of the attacks in that stance shoot faster and do more damage. This will be critical in truly mastering this gunslinger. She does well with any Support, all of them giving her something to eke out a bit more damage or by herself a bit more time. Her Liberty Art throws her across the screen, automatically crossing up opponents. After the bullets are done flying, she regains 2 bullets and returns to neutral. The thing with it is it must be launched from within her stance chain so it’s somewhat easy to see coming unless the opponent just isn’t knowledgeable about it.
Ayane is the other character that has a meter for their projectiles, her being 4 arrows under her health bar. The arrows regen 4.5 seconds after you use them, so smart use of them is required since they make up the lion’s share of her zoning game. Especially since the arrows can be fired in rapid succession one after another, can’t be Parried, and Proxy Guarding them is possible, but an exercise in futility. Besides them, her normals are fairly long ranged so she can out poke the majority of the cast if need be. Her biggest problem is that her damage output is severely lacking unless you use her command throw and, as a zoner, she really doesn’t want to be THAT close. Defensively, she has answers for all points an enemy might try to close in with and she’ll need to abuse them since she doesn’t have much in the way of health. Ayane has a mechanic called Bullseye where if you hit an enemy in a spot that varies from character to character, the arrow does up to 15% more damage. Learning where the spot is on each character and how to set it up will require practice and patience, but it can lead to combos where the opponent loses half their health. Ayane goes well with almost every Support, each of them giving her some tool to set up Bullseye, meter management or maintaining distance. The exception is Juliet, who would function as a weak zone tool at best when the enemy is up close. Ayane has 2 Liberty Arts, one of them a straight shot that bounces opponents for easy Bullseye shots and the other is a great zoning tool or punish in the right situation. Just keep in mind that, no matter how hard it is to do so, it is possible to Proxy Guard them and that you need at least 1 arrow to launch the attack to begin with.
Hilda is the boss character and shows that through her combat strength. While it is possible to use Maya and Kaya to do damage at close to mid range, where Hilda wants to be is far away, launching projectiles with little challenge and eating her opponent’s health, through chip or direct damage, and their Calcium Gauge. She has a variety of them, ranging from locking them at mid range for Maya and Kaya to capitalize on to a beam that knocks the enemy back across the screen and wall bounces. The majority of her damage will come from her projectiles though, so watch out for Proxy Guard even if it’s rather hard to do on some moves. Her normals are pretty lackluster and really only there to give Maya and Kaya time to set up, she has no command normals, and her crouch game is non-existent since it only consists of a sweep, so you’re going to want to spam her specials and her Support often. What this really means is keep opponents at mid to long range or else Hilda is in for a world of hurt. This can be somewhat difficult as Hilda lacks either a forward or a back dash, but if she is knocked down she teleports to a bit further away from your opponent in the direction you hold down. The only Support she is allowed to have is Maya and Kaya and they really only have two moves. These moves are great for setting up a projectile shot or keeping enemies away, but they are rather limited in that regard. Her Liberty Art causes her to teleport far away from the opponent and leave explosions in her wake, so it’s a great bug out tool if the enemy is truly pressuring her.
Kurumi is such a unique character that I really had to give her her own section. Kurumi has only one special that can be used by herself, almost no normals or command normals, and if she’s Support Countered she’s dead, but despite that she’s an almost viable character. Her normals chain into each other quickly and naturally for very easy damage and her Support Gauge fills absurdly fast compared to all other characters so she can abuse them to her heart’s content. She even has moves that will change based on which Support she’s using and will change the way she’s played a bit. Just don’t let her get hit too much since she doesn’t really have options for getting out of a situation without her Support and her health isn’t that great. As you might expect from a character that NEEDS Support to be viable, Kurumi gets along well with all of them save for Mini-Hilda. Mini-Hilda will lock out one of her specials and her second Liberty Art, the reason I say she doesn’t work well with Kurumi. Kanae has a special command grab with Kurumi, but this is in exchange for the special move the other Support share with her. She has 2 Liberty Arts, one of which is a dang near instant point blank combo for pretty respectable damage. The other requires both Kurumi’s Special and Support Gauges to be full, but after that she transforms based on which Support she’s using at the time to dole out damage. All Supports do something for Kurumi’s game even without the Liberty Art being taken into account, so playing them all and finding out which style you like the best will be key to making her work.
Whew. With characters firmly out the way, we can take a look at the different modes Vanguard Princess has to offer. There are 3 single player modes: Story where the story based on the character you’ve chosen will play out over 7 matches with 2 rounds a piece. The AI with increase with each match so there’s a bit of a learning curve for newbies to the game. The next mode, Team Mode, has no such curve. This mode pits you and your Support against two full characters who can’t hurt each other but can combo off their attacks on you easily. Don’t attempt this mode unless you are very familiar with your character or else just getting past the first fight will be frustrating. And there’s 2 fights after that you have to get through. With characters that can pair really well together like Lilith to terrorize you up close and Ayase to keep you from getting away. The final single player mode is Streak Mode where it’s you and your Support versus a team of 7 characters. After you defeat one, another appears until you beat your way through all 7. Health regeneration is minimal so getting hurt as little as possible in each fight and managing your gauges will be key to fighting your way through it.
Miscellaneous: Multiplayer and Replayability
There’s a Versus mode that’s pretty standard fare for fighting games. You and a friend pick a character and a Support and go at it until one of you win. Nothing particularly special until you realize that it doubles as the Practice mode as well. Using a few key presses, you can turn on infinite health, Special, and Support gauges that will allow you to drill certain moves and combinations into you without fear of retaliation. So that needs to be addressed and according to the Steam community page they’re finding a way to do so. Until it’s in though, that’s a standard mode that’s missing right there.
As for replayability, I played through it at least 11 times. So I found it immensely fun to play through and if I can find people to play against I’ll probably play it more. As it is, it’s still a great way to brush up on fighting game basics while I don’t have any other way to do so. Playing through this game just to get used to playing in tandem with another fighter on the field is great practice for any game really where you have to track two or more players. Team mode adds a feeling of chaos where sometimes just no one knows what’s going on with a fight. Especially not me.
You learn to keep track of it all anyway or you lose very quickly.
And, it has to be mentioned, in a game filled with nothing but girls fanservice is almost impossible not to have. It’s nothing outrageous, maybe just jiggling during standing animations or butt/panty shots during Liberty Art cut-ins, but it’s present so either be wary or be happy.
All in all, a great accidental find and a great example of a one man team doing something marvelous led to this Vanguard Princess Review. The mechanics aren’t overly complicated but there are plenty of them, the fighters look pretty and all of them are very different from each other, and the sounds are good enough to never become annoying. Supports are a heavy part of the gameplay, but I can’t bring myself to dislike that part of it since it adds an entire field of depth to the table that needs to be accounted for. It’s a shame that it came out at the same time as Blazblue or else I think it would’ve gotten a lot more recognition than it did. I’d recommend Vanguard Princess, 2 on 2 Brawler, to anyone who has even a passing interest in fighting games. May you find victory on the field of battle, folks!
Game: Vanguard Princess
Genre: Anime, Fighting
Reviewed: Steam version
Released: JP as freeware June 26, 2009, NA/EU retail February 28, 2014
Retail: $4.99 for the base game and free upgrade to the uncensored Director’s Cut. $1.99 to get Hilda, $2.99 to get Lilith, $3.99 to get Kurumi, knocking the total price up to $13.96
Vanguard Princess was reviewed with a retail copy of the game purchased in digital form through Humble Bundle.
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