Vagrant Story - Retroview

A Giant Leap for Status Menus

By: Paul Koehler

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 4
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 9
   Plot 10
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

25-35 Hours


Vagrant Story

   Once in a great while a game is released that is heralded by some, and lauded by others. Coming straight off the success of Final Fantasy VIII, 2000 was a good year for Squaresoft - and they decided to take a gamble by releasing Vagrant Story. It is an interesting hybrid: part adventure, RPG, and platform game - and a challenge to conquer. In addition to having one of the most compelling plots of any title to date, it also has one of the most complex interfaces ever in a console RPG. To round it out, the game has an extremely high replay value and the ability to customize weapons and armor to almost no end. Does this combination work? Yes and no - while it is refreshing to see a different twist on the RPG genre, the amount of status windows, relatively slow load times, and (sometimes) insane difficulty may discourage some gamers.

   Much of this difficulty lies within the battle system, which is done in a semi real-time mode. The player controls medieval spy Ashley Riot, who in battle mode may select the area of an enemy's body to strike. Possible damage and the chance to hit a chosen body part are displayed in a status menu. A number of factors go into calculating the damage - weapon type, monster affinity, and elemental affinity all can dramatically affect the amount of damage dealt (or show if any damage can be dealt at all). After executing the attack, Ashley has a chance to "chain" his attacks by using chain abilities that increase the number of hits performed. This system is useful, as it allows for multiple-hit combos that come in handy against Ashley's enemies. In addition, he can learn defense abilities to reflect or absorb damage - as well as learn powerful "Break Arts" that drain his hit points but cause considerable damage to a foe. Ashley's entire arsenal is put to good use, as some random monster encounters can kill him with a single hit. Careful planning is also necessary in some cases for boss battles, as a status spell or fire-enchanted piercing weapon against a dragon may mean the difference between victory and defeat.

   Victory is achieved by analyzing weapons and armor, and this is the most complex part of Vagrant Story's extensive interface. Throughout the game, the status menu is visited quite often - as essential stats are listed here. For example, a weapon often consists of two different parts - the hilt and the blade. Depending on the materials used in each part - the weapons (which can be named by the player) also have elemental and monster affinities that are modified by gems and changed by battling monsters.

It's mighty pixelicious...
It's Mighty Pixelicious...  

   Fighting dragons with a spear causes that weapon's dragon affinity to increase, but also causes some other affinities to decrease, so it will not be as effective against humans, undead, and the like. This often becomes frustrating as weapons that can vanquish zombies have little effect on humans, and vice versa. Despite the immense amount of options in the interface, they often become a hindrance to the progression of the story.

   Vagrant Story has a fascinating plot, as a mystery unfolds in the abandoned city of Lea Monde. Ashley Riot, an elite "Riskbreaker" of the Valendia Knights of Peace, is sent to liberate a baron's mansion from the Mullenkamp religious cult and their leader, Sydney. While attempting to track down Sydney and the baron's son - Ashley also faces the Crimson Blades, who are sent to completely exterminate all members of Mullenkamp and interfere with Valendia's agenda as well. Presented much in the style of another contemporary PlayStation title, Metal Gear Solid (albeit without the voice acting), the plot is one of the finer points of the game - complete with religious intrigue, betrayal, and numerous flashbacks that complement the story extremely well.

   Despite the lack of voice acting, the localization team for Vagrant Story did an excellent job, and went as far to add medieval flair to the character's dialogue, which was done with great accuracy. Shakespearean references are sprinkled throughout the game as well- two of the characters are Jan Rosencrantz and Romeo Guildenstern. It is fortunate that such a great story was brought over with little trouble.

Status menus - a necessary evil
Status menus - a necessary evil  

   The visuals of the game have not aged as well, though they hold their own for the PlayStation's hardware. FMV's are largely ignored (except for the opening of the game), and all of the characters have a pixilated look. However, the spells are still fun to watch - especially the incantations done by Sydney in some of the plot scenes. Music plays a similar background role. The intro tracks are impressive, but the rest of the music has a darker tone, which although drab, is appropriate for the dungeon crawls. As far as sound effects go, some of the spells and break arts are unnecessarily loud, but everything else is entirely appropriate to a platform game.

Taking a cue from Chrono Trigger, Vagrant Story offers the option to replay the game using existing save files - and the world of Lea Monde is set up so that the few and the brave may explore for hidden treasures and secret bosses, if one play through was not challenging enough. For those that only choose to go through the game one time, it is fairly short by RPG standards, and should take no more than 35 hours the first time through.

Bring It!
Bring It!  

Some players would consider one playthrough more than enough. Vagrant Story is a love-hate relationship, for those looking for a considerable challenge in a console RPG - the game provides it and then some. Its complexity, however, is also its downfall, as the interface is a pain to navigate (but a necessity to say the least). Give the game a try - but don't be too surprised if the dungeons of Lea Monde cause the loss of a few hours of gameplay.

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