Vagrant Story - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Wayfarer's Tale
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

20-30+ Hours


Rating definitions 

   The terrorist group Müllenkamp has seized the Duke of Bardorba's mansion and killed several innocents, with its leader mysteriously disappearing afterward. Although the Duke is away at the time, an unknown assailant claims his life a week later, and Ashley Riot, an agent in charge of liberating the mansion, is the main suspect. During the week between the seizure and assassination, Ashley visits Leá Monde, once a prosperous town until an earthquake ravaged it twenty-five years ago. Vagrant Story, developed by the same team behind Final Fantasy Tactics, follows his adventures through the labyrinthine town, during which he gradually uncovers his lost memories...

   During his quest, Ashley must fight a variety of monsters. The player presses the circle button to have Ashley draw his weapon and enter Battle Mode. The player can then press the circle button again to make a green sphere appear, indicating Ashley's range of attack. If an enemy is in the sphere's range, the player can select one of its parts to attack and press the circle button yet again to have Ashley swing his weapon. Early in the game, the player gains a variety of Chain Abilities assignable to the square, triangle, and circle buttons, which the player executes by pressing one of those buttons at the right moment (i.e. during the split-second when a red exclamation point appears) while Ashley is attacking. The player can continue a chain of attack until he or she misses an exclamation point or uses the same Chain Ability twice in a row; paying close attention to the movement of Ashley's diverse weapons is helpful in mastering timed button presses.

You talkin' to me? Hi, I'm pixelated.

   After Ashley defeats a certain number of enemies with a particular type of weapon, moreover, he gains Break Arts specific to that weapon type, which consume part of his HP and deal damage to an enemy. Killing a certain number of enemies also unlocks more Chain Abilities for Ashley, in addition to Defence Abilities, which the player also assigns to the square, triangle, and circle buttons, and activates with timed button presses when enemies are attacking him. The use of Chain and Defence Abilities, however, increases Ashley's Risk Meter, with a higher number meaning lower accuracy and defense for Ashley yet increased potency for healing magic; a few items can lower Risk, although being in normal mode lowers it at a brisk pace, in addition to gradually recovering his HP and MP. As for stat growth, players can randomly gain a stat increase for Ashley after boss fights, and from certain consumable items.

   Ashley gains diverse magic through the use of scrolls found throughout his quest, which includes elemental attack spells, stat increasing and decreasing spells, healing magic, scan magic, and so forth. Most of the time, however, Ashley will be largely dependent on his weapons to get the job done. Each weapon is of one of three types--Blunt, Edged, or Piercing--and also has a certain degree of effectiveness against various types of enemies and elements, which players can alter with gems they can place into weapon sockets (if a weapon even has them). Additionally, players can disassemble weapons into their parts, a blade and a handle, combine blades and armor into different ones, and reassemble weapons, at Workshops.

Fire, FIRE! Kill the interface designers too, while you're at it

   As long as players have at least one Blunt, one Edged, and one Piercing weapon (preferably with gem sockets) and take enemy weaknesses into consideration when fighting (players can put gems into sockets and remove them any time), they'll have a largely easy time with Vagrant Story. The interface, however, can really bog down combat, since switching weapons and managing their gem sockets requires players to slog repeatedly through the menus, which are fairly sluggish; there are, however, shortcuts for consumable items, Break Arts, and magic. Since enemy types change constantly during Ashley's quest, casting scan magic to determine weaknesses (scan magic, annoyingly, can "Miss"), and changing/altering weapons as needed becomes a tedious process. In the end, the battle system is functional, yet somewhat loses its appeal when you slog through the menus for the bajillionth time.

   The interface is, of course, most unfortunate. The menus are, as mentioned, fairly sluggish, and managing equipment during battle and at Workshops can be painful processes. The game also limits the number of types of equipment and items Ashley can carry, and while I had no problem with running out of space for types of consumable items, I did repeatedly run out of space for weapons and armor. There are Containers where Ashley can store away excess gear, although the process of doing so is needlessly time-consuming, and even requires players to save after conforming item storage and removal. The spacing of save points is a tad bit inconsistent at times, as well, although the game's maps can be fairly useful in deciding where to go next, even if it's a tad bit difficult to discern how different areas are connected. Overall, the developers could've certainly made the game more user-friendly.

   The depth of the weapon system, in addition to the story, is what mainly sets Vagrant Story apart from other RPGs. Granted, the enemy targeting system is reminiscent of that in Parasite Eve (minus the ability to target specific enemy parts), although Vagrant Story, even today, stands out as unique.

Treat civilization with love and peace! The box is civilization!

   The story is decent, although the pacing is fairly sloppy. There are a few good twists, although cutscenes, at times, are hours apart; the player can, in fact, go through many boss fights without officially advancing the plot. The story itself can be difficult to follow if the player misses or forgets the backstory or certain story scenes. All in all, weak pacing hampers what would've likely been an excellent plot.

   Vagrant Story's aural presentation could've used some improvement, as well. Hitoshi Sakimoto, having worked with Masaharu Iwada in Final Fantasy Tactics, goes solo with the game's soundtrack, which has a largely cinematic feel, and includes a few decent, yet many forgettable and somewhat-ambivalent, pieces. Many areas in the game don't have any music at all, moreover, although the sounds of Ashley fighting his enemies help a little to break the silence. Overall, the aurals aren't superb, yet still provide a decent ambience for the game.

   Vagrant Story's visual presentation could've used a bit more polish, too. The game opts for a full 3-D look, with environments and character models containing a pixelated look. Though the colors are a bit dark, they nonetheless enhance the game's atmosphere, and spell animations are reasonably flashy. Generally, while the game isn't entirely pretty, the graphics still serve their purpose.

   Finally, finishing the game can take anywhere from twenty to thirty hours, with a Clear Game added to the mix. Ultimately, Vagrant Story showed strong potential, although a sluggish interface hampers what could've possibly been a solid battle system, and its presentation values leave room for improvement. It certainly doesn't justify the glowing ovation it's received in both Japan and America, and can be fairly tedious even if you "play it right," although it can still be an okay time-killer.

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