English is rusty
Who doesn't like exercising their gray matter a little bit? For the PC however, the strategy market is filled to the brim with either real time or turn based war games, with big intimidating menus and all kinds of complications. Sometimes you just want to have a relaxing, chess-like battle with friends, perhaps with a little bit of RPG in there to get you through the day.
Well, look no further. Vantage Master Online was a game made by Falcom in Japan, originally designed for computers for retail, but it was scrapped for various reasons. So in the end they put up a site and gave the game away for free, and translated it into English version as well. So what we get in their loss is a very fine Strategy RPG game similar to the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics or Nippon Ichi games.
At first the game will ask you a few questions, Ultima style, to figure out your preferred class and race. Then you're off into the world of Vantage Master to defeat enemies in a battlefields of hexagons in various locations. The game is fairly straightforward to understand and control, and will please most strategy fans.
What makes it even better is the way that you magage your units. When the battle begins, it is just you and your enemy, but you start summoning monsters of various elemental loyalties Final Fantasy style. You can move these monsters all around to counter your opponents'. If your main character dies, however, it's back to square one. This makes the game very natural and easy to play once you start understanding the summons and can figure out which element counterbalences who.
And it gets better. Much like WarCraft, it has a very strict unit balance where some units directly beat down others. Vantage Master's battle system works a lot like that. Your type will affect the battle in a big way, whether positively or negatively. Your AI enemies will also battle and combat elements that you choose, so you must figue out which element to throw at them next. It turns the game into an effective rock-paper-scissors balance that works much better than some retail games now.
But eventually the single player gets old (it's just a lot of AI battles with no story on context). As the name might imply, you can go online, have fun with your friends and rip out their demon's souls. The online setup isn't perfect (pass around your IP's or get a good LAN party on), so you might want to play a few battles with the computer before you fully understand the mechanics of the game.
The production values really stand out as you play. The game is 32 MB, and while there is no music, the rest of the game oozes with life. Your ememies call out their attacks in Japanese, sound effects sound full, the animation is pleasing, and everything moves in colorful light. To put it plainly, it was obvious that at one time it was a retail game.
The actual translation, however, is not perfect. Spelling mistakes are common-place, and you must have an open mind to understand some of the phrases and words that they use. It never actually hurts the game, but it does make it a little harder to understand when you first boot it up, because of some of the words that get misplaced. It's also harder to understand because there is no clear cut tutorial, so plan on losing a few battles before you fully understand the game and it's mechanics.
But are those small nitpicks? Sure. For free, I can't say that there's a better Strategy RPG (perhaps Battle of Wesonth) but for this game, it sure is a fun diversion if you want a simple (yet deep) tactical battle, this is where you should get on. This game gets a 4.0.
Review by: Iendicis
Safe for all ages
Pentium,486DX2\\\\66MHz or higher
(Pentium with 100MHz recommended)
16MB Ram or more
27MB Hard Disk Space
2X speed drive or more