Welcome back to Falcomonth, today we’ll look at another game not called “Ys” or “Trails”, back in the days where companies made more than 1 or 2 series.
Vantage Master is a long-running series of 1v1 Strategy Games by Falcom, and while most of the games have remained in Japan, this particular version was actually translated and released for free by Falcom themselves. One may speculate on why they did this, perhaps in preparation for an actual commercial release of a later game in the series, but being that most of you are now thinking “I haven’t heard of this series, I didn’t know it was free”, I’m guessing that’s a good explanation as to why they never followed-up on that.
So, Vantage Master actually has multiple gameplay modes available, including support for play over the internet (good luck finding anyone still playing it.) For the purpose of this post I’m just going to set up a Free Play battle.
Now before you go wild looking at the screenshot thinking that this is some kind of supah Falcom crossover strategy game, I’ll note that these characters are cameos who pretty much change every game. VM mostly has its own original characters as combatants.
Vantage Master is basically a game about summoners battling for supremacy in a battlefield, so there are several characteristics of each individual master that help differentiate them.
1) Fighting ability – How well Masters use the Attack command and take damage. Most Masters can only attack in melee, but there are a couple that have ranged attacks.
2) Magic ability – Determines MP regeneration rate, which basically limits how much you can summon and maintain said summons.
3) Speed – More = more turns = good. Also note that in VM, movement speed is separate from turn speed – it’s possible to move really far distances per turn, but only get turns once in a blue moon.
In this particular version, I don’t think there’s any Masters that are good at all 3 categories – most of them have glaring weaknesses in at least 1 and it’s up to you to focus on your strengths and cover your weaknesses. Later games does have some hilariously overpowered ones if you want to just stomp the AI.
Generally speaking, I think fighting-type Masters are better in smaller, tighter maps where you can bring your physical prowess to bear on the enemy, while magic users are better in bigger maps where they can wear an enemy down through attrition and logistics.
I’m using Mail (from Popful Mail) who’s a Fighter type, but is actually relatively well-rounded, although slightly lower on the Magic side (the elf lineage must not be helping). She’s also pretty fast which I pretty much have to rely upon.
In the opponent corner are the 2 Goddesses from Ys. Their magic is sky-high, but as you can see the rest of their stats are questionable, though they do seem to have a ranged magic attack, which means their physical stats might not really be that hindering a factor.
In Free Play, you can adjust quite a lot of character factors like their current levels and what units they have access to, but I leave everything on default, which is everything unlocked + level 25 for both players.
The first thing you want to do when you start the map is capture Magic Stones, which provide you with more MP per round. This is sort of like capturing buildings for funds in Advance Wars – if you don’t have resources, you’re not going to win the war. Neutral Magic stones are very distinctive, purple tiles on the map assuming they’re neutral/unclaimed. If they’re claimed, they’re either blue or red depending on the player.
I summon a Guene-Foss (chinese-looking cloud girl) and Pelitt (Fairy) to capture some Stones for me. These are tier 1/2 Heaven units
“Wait, what’s Heaven” you ask? In VM, like with a lot of strategy games, there’s a rock-paper-scissors mechanic in place. Each unit has an element which determines what it’s weak or strong against, in the order of…
Earth > Water > Fire > Heaven > Earth
The chart is always available in-game so you don’t have to look it up. Of course, you can’t always hit someone with its elemental weakness due to positioning and other factors, but if you’re constantly going up against the wrong elements, you might need to rethink your strategy.
Here’s a Pelitt stats screen, although it’s probably much more helpful to read the little blurb that the Witch character gives you rather than trying to interpret it. (Is she like, the Vantage Master version of Deneb or something?)
To sum this up, Pelitts are cheap, flies fast and have no real offensive abilities whatsoever – the only thing they can probably damage is another Pelitt (and even then, not that much). They’re perfect for capturing Stones though, just because they’re so fast and cheap. They can also cure status effects, which is a nice niche ability that comes in handy once in a while.
The other unit, Guene-Foss actually does have some combat ability and their Magic allows them to Snipe weaker units, but they’ll fold like a suit when faced against any real threat. Still, they can still be used to threaten fragile units once in a while.
Heavens element units are my starters of choice for the mix between cheapness and mobility. For the other elements, they may have access to fast units, but those are not likely to be found in the lower tier units, and casting a high-tier unit this early when they’re probably not going to enter conflict soon isn’t the best of decisions.
A few turns later and the AI hasn’t particularly made the smartest plays. As you can see from the mini-map, I control half the stones on the map, while the AI seems to have blown most of their starting MP on a single Tentarch (kraken) and only taken a couple. Tentarches are a high tier water unit that’s one of the strongest in the game, with a pretty scary AOE spell that deals high damage to all units surrounding it, but it’s not the fastest so they sure as heck aren’t for early game Stone capturing!
The AI does seem to have an Oonevievle (scythe clown) on the left, a high tier Fire unit so I guess it’s putting all its eggs in the basket of expensive units.
I foresee the Tentarch being a bit of a problem in the future,so I need to summon an Earth unit to take it out.
Of course, the big problem here is that Earth units aren’t particularly well-known for their swift speed and ability to move through water.
I summon a Da-Colm (Golem) as my choice, a high-tier Earth unit, and I believe one of the two that can even move through water. They have a hilarious attack animation of shoving the enemy unit, and I guess they steal its lunch money after that.
Sniping the Oonevievle. Notice how I pretty much have control over the middle and top of the map.
There was a bit of a scare and a potential for a turn-around when the Tentarch entered into the middle of my units and used it ability though, dealing at least 8 damage to Mail amongst other things.
I retreated, summoned some more Da-Colms to push its face in (GEDDIT), and summoned a Marme (mermaid), which is a Water-based healer to recover my master’s health.
Incidentally, just like Langrisser or Advance Wars, units have a health scale on 1-10, so it’s pretty easy to deal how much they’ve been damaged and you never have to wonder whether a unit with 10/30 HP is more damaged than one with 100/69682 HP like in a couple of other strategy RPGs.
random whims as a basis super tactical genius, I summoned Pen Pen from Evangelion… I mean Zamilpen. It has decent stats but its main strength is its ability to freeze enemy units. Frozen (and petrified) units are as good as dead, though they can be cured with certain spells. The AI is not very good at dealing with statuses, though these guys aren’t that cheap and their magic is melee ranged so abusing that fact is a lot harder than it looks.
The goddesses are trapped in the corner so victory is in sight. Incidentally, I didn’t manage to kill the Oonevievle and it ran away to the top, where it plans to take my unguarded stones from me. Whoops! This puts a bit of timer on me to finish this quickly.
This must be the first time I’ve actually gotten Mail to attack in this battle. As you can see, she hits like a dump truck on wheels, but Fighter-type Masters have this issue with economy of action – you need to split your focus between reinforcing your summons and attack carefully or you’ll lose the war. Mail’s speed helps a little at this but still.
The other thing about Fighter-type masters is that as a player instead of an AI, you might not recognize what’s a bad situation to put them in and expose them to being surrounded and killed. To compensate, Fighter-type Masters usually have high defenses and can probably escape by the skin of their teeth – if you let a Magic-type Master get sniped, you’re generally going to be dead.
The enemy tries to hold off my advance with an Ae-Ferrion, an Earth Archer unit. I freeze it.
Some notes on Ae-Ferrion – it’s extremely slow, both in turn and movement speed – if you don’t summon it where you want it, it’s probably not going to get anywhere.
It’s advantage is of course, having ranged bow attacks and here’s a mechanic that doesn’t get to see play on this battlefield – arc and height mechanics are fully implemented in Vantage Master. For anyone who has played Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre, just like in those games, if you position ranged units on high ground, their range will get an increase and this really helps Ae-Ferrions who really want to not move as much as possible and just snipe at things.
With the resource advantage of my own, I summon two Oonevievles. They’re actually pretty niche units overall, but one thing they do very well is assassination, since their attack power is rather high.
One of my units gets Petrified, and I cured it with a spell from my Master.
That’s something I didn’t bring up earlier, but Masters have access to around 6 utility spells. A handful are good, such as one that instantly kills a unit, no questions asked, while most are of questionable use such as restoring a single health to all your units on the map. Due to economy of actions, it tends to be hard to justify using them most of the time, but curing a status condition that basically makes a unit dead would be one of those times.
Another note on Status Effects: Masters aren’t immune to them. If you can Freeze or Petrify a Master, the battle is as good as won. This version of VM only has Freeze and Petrify as Status, but future games in the series would have a wider variety to use.
The AI hasn’t particularly made great strategic decisions this turn, but one thing it does do well is keeping itself from getting killed. It summoned units to block me off, healers to stall me and otherwise did its very best not to get killed that it took me a couple of turns to accomplish that task. Looking at the map, you can see that it succeeded in capturing the tops of the top half, although I didn’t let it live that long to turn the tables around.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where the AI has the strategic and numeric advantage though, don’t expect to pull off some kind of miracle assassination that will turn the tables.
When Masters die, there’s a cute animation of angels ascending from their bodies. A cute touch is that the Goddesses have two angels rising, for obvious reasons.
Whoa Mail, did your hand get stung by a bee or something oh it’s just a victory sign.
Ok, so let’s talk about the other method of playing the game: Scenario Mode. Scenario Mode is a campaign with more RPG-like elements – you start off with only the lowest tier unit of each element and have to earn the rest and level up through beating stages. It works fine as a method of teaching the game or for those looking for a more RPG-like structure to their strategy games.
At the start of Scenario Mode, you’re given a personality quiz to determine which Master you play as. If you’re reading other posts on this blog, I think you know by now that I find this method of character creation awesome.
But on the side note, you can also see a problem with the game: the translation is done in-house by Falcom, presumably by people with a tenuous grasp on the English language. Some pretty glaring typos and awkward sentences abound, and I believe the plot events in Scenario Mode are completely untranslated. Even though you don’t need those to enjoy the game and they did a decent job translating stuff that’s actually relevant to playing the game, pretty sloppy work there Falcom!
And here’s my result, I’ll let the readers psychologically analyze what that says about me.
Like I said, VM is a series which has had a couple of sequels. The direct sequel to this I believe is VM Japan on the PC, which changes the setting to a Japanese one (surprise!) and the biggest addition is a unique Master ability for each individual one, which really helps differentiate Masters even more.
The most recent game AFAIK is a remake of this particular VM on the PSP called Vantage Master Portable. As you can see from the screenshot, everything’s in 3D now and I assume there’s maybe some balance changes here and there.
On the downside, I believe they removed just about every cameo character from other games like Ys, Brandish and Popful Mail and replaced them all with Trails series characters, which is an eerie foreshadowing of their future path.
So my final thoughts on the game? It’s a surprisingly well-balanced and designed game for its age and probably still worth playing today if you’re into the genre. It’s less complex than military warsims though but still complex enough that the game doesn’t just degenerate into repetitive abusable strategies.
Considering the price point of “free”, I think anyone who’s interested in either TBS or Falcom’s history should take a look at it.
Vantage Master Online Official Website – Download and Manual for the game.