Vagrant Story - Review

Dark Side of the Moon

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 3
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 8
   Plot 8
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Frustrating
   Time to Complete

20 - 30 hours


Title Screen

   Once again, Squaresoft has walked off the beaten path and came up with something new and refreshing to tide us over until something better comes along. Developed by the creators of Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story is just one of those really innovative games that breaks all the barriers you thought a system had, but suffers from one too many small flaws to make it really a blockbuster entity itself. Released during Square's "summer of adventure", Vagrant Story surprises us with it's new battle system, compelling story, and fantastic visuals.

   As mentioned above, this game is nothing like any others on the market, save for Parasite Eve, of which the game seems to have got most of its battle ideas from. Battles take in real-time without the need of normal RPG menus. You simply hit a button to draw your weapon, and then hit the button again to take a swing. While your attacking, a green "target sphere" appears to show you the range of your weapon. This targeting step pauses the action and lets you zero in on specific body parts of an enemy, with each part reacting differently to continued attack. Enemies with wounded legs runs slower, while another enemy's attack is reduced if it's arms are critically injured. Adding a wrinkle to this whole system are the chain-combos and consequently, RISK. Over time you'll learn the ability to continuously attack an enemy over and over without interruption, but each time you do, you'll raise your RISK meter. The higher your RISK, the greater chance you'll miss on your next attack and the greater the damage magic will do to you. As you can see, you must balance damage with RISK to more effectively dispatch your dark foes.

Prepare to be dead. Often.  

   Outside of combat is equally as complex, and this is where the game starts to lose points. The overly complex equipment management system is where many gamers are going to get lost, and in the game, dead. Each weapon you have has 16 different variables that range from simple "type" classifications (blunt, edged, piercing) to the large array of elemental and enemy class statistics. Each time you use a weapon against a certain type of enemy, it begins to become stronger against that type of enemy, but often at the expense of the other types. This leads to situations where your most powerful "zombie-killing" sword does next to no damage against that big dragon boss. Speaking of bosses, most boss battles are very frustrating as you can only do 1-5 damage to them per swing, if you don't have a weapon specifically designed to kill them. This "difficultly" is not hard, it's frustrating.

    What does help though, is when you find a workshop. At workshops, you can combine and create new types of weapons from all the assorted treasure you find lying around Lea Monde. While combining two good sword blades doesn't necessarily mean you'll make one great one, it does mean that you'll be able to preserve both blades equipment ratings. And in this game, exploiting an elemental or class weakness does much more damage than simple strength. Armor and shields work the same way as weapons, meaning they build resistances to continued attacks and that you may also combine them as well.

   Whew, and that was just the battle system. The plot though is equally as complex, which is quite a good asset as you'll actually want to know what's going on after you encounter all of its twists and turns. Unfortunately in this respect, you do have to traverse long dungeon after incredibly long dungeon to ever get to the great plot. And often, as a consequence of the time in-between plot-points, you forget what was going on before; drawing a "What the..?" instead of a "Whoa..!" and thus lessening the story's effect a bit. But for the most part, the story's presentation is exceptional through the use of the in-game graphic engine.

Unfortunately, there's many crate puzzles.  

    Vagrant Story's music is pretty much ambient music through and through, and for good reason: 95% of the time playing will be spent dungeon-crawling. But I had to admit, the music always matched the setting and environment of the time, and wasn't annoying in the least. Which is pretty much the best you can hope for. The sound effects were another matter, as in they really shined. Each weapon hits with a realistic sound and you can really tell the difference between fighting a dragon and fighting the undead, in terms of a solid sword hit or a hammer smash. Not to mention hearing all of those other creatures screaming at you from the other side of the room.

   Given that you cannot experience the entire game on only one time through, it's a good bet that you'll give this game another run-through. If you choose so, you'll have access to the other 13% of Lea Monde you missed and also test your skills against a bunch of even harder bosses in the "New Game+"-like mode. This is all provided of course that you managed to get past the difficult last boss and that you enjoyed the whole complex equipment management thing. Truth be told, Vagrant Story is not for every RPGamer. But if you like micro-management and dungeon-crawlers, than this game will be right up your alley. And at the very least, it will keep one busy until the next big Square game.


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