Vagrant Story - Review

Buy Vagrant Story, or Vinnie Will Break Your Knees

By: Joshua "Darien" Maciel

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 10
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 7
   Plot 9
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 10
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

20-40 hours


Title Screen
The Vagrant Story Begins...  

   The first thing you do when you get Vagrant Story (note the when, not if), is that you should let the intro roll, the title screen up, and let it sit, because more introduction to the game will come up. The story begins with the Hero, Ashley Riot, a VKP Riskbreaker (an elite troops of the Parliament), rushing off to the Duke's manor after talk of cultists attacking it. The story then unfolds brilliantly in what looks like the most polished Squaresoft game for the Playstation.

   Vagrant Story's battle system is reminiscent of Parasite Eve's. When you press the attack button, you get a little wire circle indicating your range around your character. Select a body part to maim, and your sword/bow/axe/mace/dagger/spear is thrust/slashed/smashed against it. Once you attack, you can keep swinging -- if your timing's right. Chain abilities are abilities that when pressed at the correct time during a swing, give you an additional attack or effect. With good timing, you can continue an attack indefinitely. However, to counter the benefits of being able to swing over and over without the enemy attacking, the Riskbreaker accrues risk -- the more risk you have, the more easy it is to be hit, the more damage you take, and the harder it is to hit the opponent. Therefore, long chains aren't always the best way to go.

   To make combat even more complicated, there are 6 classes of monsters, 7 elements, and 3 types of attacks. Monsters are generally weak against a certain element and a certain type of attack, so it is quite beneficial to carry a full arsenal of weapons with you. Toss in magic, which has the same hit chance as regular attacks (in that it's lowered by high risk), and you have the makings of an incredible battle system. My only qualm with the system is that it sells attack magic short in many occasions because mp is quite limited. Of course, it is more fun to hear the sound of an arm breaking as you swing a two-handed maul into it, so it's a fair trade-off.

   The combat is supplemented with great game mechanics. There are several block puzzles, which are quite difficult. Every time I was getting fed up, and yearned to use a FAQ, I would try one last time, and figure it out. The puzzles are all that great medium difficulty where you won't hurl the psx across the room, but at the same time you have to rack your brain and don't dismiss it as simple busywork. In addition to block puzzles and a little platform jumping, Vagrant Story contains another element of Parasite Eve -- weapon customization. Throughout the game, Ashley Riot, Riskbreaker and Blacksmith extraordinaire, comes across little smithies. Inside, he can combine his weapons to form better ones, and combine the bonuses on the weapons towards certain classes of monsters and/or certain elements.

   All the menus are set up for maximum effectiveness. Your standard menu has a lot of substance to it, but nothing more than 5 button-presses away. However, when you're in combat, and you can't take 5 button presses every couple of seconds, the L2 button brings up a brilliant shortcut menu, which enables you to spend less time in menus, and more time crushing the undead's rotting flesh. Speaking of time-saving, almost all story sequences (all the long ones), can be skipped with a simple press of the start button. Square learned from its GF follies to allow people to play a game instead of watch it.

Ashley Riot - Riskbreaker and Dragonslayer
Ashley Riot - Riskbreaker and Dragonslayer  

   The gothic aspects of the game, both in plotline and speech is beautifully added to by the sounds of the game. The music is generally eerie or downright scary, but always fitting the cave, forest, or city you're in. Oftentimes there is no music, and instead you hear just the sound of breathing beasts, or the clanking of armour as a knight comes charging at you. The combat system runs partially on sound for timing, and so you're constantly aware of everything around you. The music and sound in the game adds another level of gameplay as you look for the approaching lich, or enter a limelit cavern for the first time...

   Had Parasite Eve never come out, this game would be fully original. There are so many aspects of this game that just haven't been seen in any psx rpg. However, some of the major things like the bare bones of the combat system, and the weapon combination system, have already been seen in Parasite Eve. However, the number crunching, and the dozen other unique ideas, as well as the incredible amount of things to do, make this an original game nonetheless.

   The plot of this game is just so dark. The story is not for the weak of heart (or stomach), as it shows many people having quite miserable fates become them. I love the dark. The story is so consistently dark, and Square broke all its rules for this one. For once the plot is not transparent, it's based on mystery and back story, and you watch as your character slowly discovers what's truly going on. The entire story has a detached feel to it, but that detachment is a welcome change as you don't feel forced into a character, but rather get to watch this gothic horror take place.

   Working Designs move over. This game has been localized better than anything I have ever seen. Granted it isn't text-heavy exactly, but the text that is there is done so incredibly well, with different speech patterns, and intentional misspellings. The dialogue bubbles also express emotion far better than a little ! ? or ... above a character's head. Ted Woosley may have been the former high point for Square, but Final Fantasy 2 never read like this game, and with any luck, games to come will.

Sydney Losstarot
Sydney Losstarot in Polygonal Glory  

   Another similarity to Parasite Eve is the New Game+ mode. As soon as you beat the game, you can save your data, and start over with all your weapons, all your armour, all your stored eq, all your gems, pretty-much everything but your misc. items. The first time through the game, you can get at most 85% map completion. That means that your second time through, there's an extra 1/6 of the map to explore. Not only is there more to explore, but there are different titles to obtain. There are over 30 different objectives to obtain, meaning you won't likely run out of things to do anytime soon.

   This game has the best visuals of any rpg for the psx. Save the opening sequence, there is no FMV, but the in-game graphics more than make up for it. No more blocky inhuman-looking characters. Facial features are defined, the monsters are incredibly detailed and look humanoid (when they're supposed to). The spells look absolutely earth-shattering when accompanied by sound. The only regret I have about the visuals is that they were for the psx instead of the N64. The graphics rival Zelda's, but aren't as smooth because of the differences between the two systems. However, it is nice to see Square taking the route of gorgeous in-game graphics without reliance on FMV.

   There was a day in rpg history, when games were not easy to beat. Not all bosses could be slaughtered on the first attempt, and regular enemies could leave your heart racing. This game brings back that feeling. Not only are the bosses difficult, and generally require a couple of attempts to defeat, but you may not be provided with an easy route to the next save point, leaving your mouth dry and your hands a little shakey as you search for an elusive save point. However, the game is not impossible, and a simple strategy change will make a world of difference your second try. However, if anything more difficult than Mystic Quest gives you nightmares, this game's not for you.

Did I forget to mention it was never translated...?
The Intuitive Menu System  

   Back in the day there were rumours flying around about this being a 10 hour game. It's not. In fact, I would estimate the time from two, to four times that (20-40 hours for the mathematically challenged like me). If you are a Vagrant Story wizard, or you have the strategy guide, I could see it doable in 20 hours the first time. If you're like me, and refuse to use a walkthrough, and tough it out the old-fashioned way, it will take you from 30-40 depending on how thorough you are, and how lost you get running around searching for things early on. Each successive time through will take drastically less, as monsters will fall in just one blow for the first chunk of the game.

   There are very few times you pick up a game with little or no expectations, and are truly astounded by it. This was one of those times for me. A coworker suggested that I pick it up, and I haven't put it down since. Xenogears and Final Fantasy Tactics, while seen by many as the "true" old school titles for the psx, pale in comparison to this neo old school game. Vagrant Story incorporates everything that I liked about older games (namely the difficulty), and everything I like about the current games (specifically good polygonal graphics and true 3D games). Don't walk, run to get yourself a copy of this game, and prepare to be enthralled for days.

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