Title: Vagrant Story
Platform: PSX, PSN
Reviewed on: PSX
Genre: Adventure, Action, Puzzle, JRPG
Players: Single Player
Written by Whistler 29th November 2013
Back in the golden era of Square's history, the devs found themselves releasing a fair few non Final Fantasy titles, now admittedly many were pretty much hit or misses (most being amazing or complete garbage) but many hidden gems can be found during this era. Vagrant Story for one, is a 3D action adventure RPG played from a top down perspective with a full 360ｺ environment, light-
Set in medieval times, players take on the role of special agent Ashley Riot, a Riskbreaker for the Valendia Knights of the Peace (VKP); who is tasked infiltrating the enigmatic city of Le・Monde in pursuit of cult leader Sydney Lossatarot and his captive, the Duke's son. Upon entering the city Ashley will find himself taking on bats, goblins, zombies, corrupt knights, dangerous dragons and all the usual stuff in an JRPG/RPG.
Visually Vagrant story was fantastic for its time, with a full very detailed environment, huge creatures and nicely animated models (not to mention human models that were actually human).
Square actually took on a bit of a gamble with having a fully 3D environment as at the time it seemed pre rendered backgrounds were much easier to manage, were better looking and in most cases the better choice. While not as good looking as most of it's pre rendered cousins, Vagrant Story's environments are a a sight to behold, a bit on the dull side but brilliant in scale.
While environments do tend to look the same in certain parts don't let that fool you as there is plenty of variety from dark mines to sapphire tiled undercitys and bright rural city streets.
As mentioned animations and modelling have been masterfully crafted, with several types of unique enemies; the bosses are all (besides a few re-
What makes Vagrant Story stand out from other RPG's and JRPG's especially of its time, is its almost exclusive battle system (shared only with Parasite Eve I think). Players explore the game much like the top down Zelda titles but with the addition of jumping, turning the camera etc.
Upon unsheathing their equipped weapon the player enters 'battle mode'; the games' fighting mechanic involves a mix of turn based and real time combat. When in 'battle mode' the player taps the attack button which pauses movement and opens a wire frame sphere around Ashley representing range, many limbs of any enemy within the sphere can be targeted in order to strategically gain an advantage by say focusing the legs in order to slow down them down.
While some consider this a negative when combined with the games complex attributes system I love this level of strategy, an added level of depth with the combat is the the attributes each weapon attains through combat; upon using a weapon against a particular type of enemy it gains attribute points against that enemy and in most cases loses attribute points towards another. This can be very perplexing to casuals and even some hardcore gamers but I feel it's a very balanced way of developing a system different to simple experience points where farming/grinding can lead you to being rather overpowered by the half way point of an RPG. Forcing players to rigorously manage weapons to ensure maximum damage against all types of enemies gives Vagrant Story an unpredictable and enjoyable balanced flow, keeping the player guessing and a well scaled difficulty curve (not to mention allows you to play around with the plethora of weaponry at Ashley's disposal).
Along with these is also the RISK gauge, represented as a number bellow your Health bar, the RISK gauge will increase upon every attack and chain you make in combat and reduces once out of battle mode or with the use of items; the higher the RISK gauge is the more damage the player can potentially land on hits but this applies to your enemies too as the higher the RISK the more likely you are to miss attacks and take huge damage (especially from bosses). With RISK battles can go from hopeless to victory assured and vice versa allowing for an incredibly rewarding experience when executed and gives a high amount of excitement as you cling to your chair hoping your sword flies true.
Being in the golden era of Square, Vagrant Story is also an RPG with a truly compelling, well written story on par with even Hideo Kojima's brain child, Metal Gear Solid. Vagrant Story's erm, story, is minimalistic in terms of scale compared to Square's other titles like Final Fantasy 7 and 8, but is steeped in rich tellings.
Truth be told there isn't that much going on, but it's the quality of the substance combined with Shakespearian English dialogue that really bring out the cinematic experience.
While I personally feel there should have been more story, the cutscenes and dialogue are well placed so as to liven up areas of the game where the only characters to keep you company have been several hundred skeletons.
Vagrant Story features no towns nor intractable NPC's like merchants, healers, allies and such;
instead only features enemies and training dummies, while I enjoy this as it means no side missions, no fetch quests, and more focus on the rest of the game, it does however make the game rather depressing at times as you wander around rather empty, dead city streets and foreboding crypts. At the same time while most of the main antagonists have interesting backgrounds, Ashley is fairly two dimensional but given he may have been left blank so to allow players to put themselves in his boots.
Thanks to the brilliant mind of Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Power Ranges: The movie and Bloody Roar), the soundtrack is marvellously done; unlike most of the Square's games where the soundtrack and sounds were synthesized, Vagrant Story has an organic range of medieval background songs along with natural sound effects bringing about a more realistic believable world that enhance many of the battles and cinematic moments.
In the end Vagrant Story is a highly ambitious JRPG that utilizes an amazing range of mechanics, beautiful soundtrack and well done visuals that come together to forge an unforgettable single player journey that shows Square were good for more than just the Final Fantasy series (though sadly it was overshadowed by the release of FFIX and Chrono Cross). While the difficulty curve can be off putting for those not use to such micromanagement in their RPGs, Vagrant Story offers a rich and rewarding experience with plenty of replayabilty; an average playthrough is around 18-
Vagrant Story is a must play for the die hard RPG fans out there who would enjoy a very challenging and unique JPRG from the golden era of Playstation.
Intriguing Story and Characters,
Great balance of risk and reward,
Amazing textures and models,
Complex, rich and rewarding gameplay,
Plenty of replayability.
Difficult to grasp for newcomers,
Average and repetitive block based puzzles,
Bit depressingly empty at times,
Final verdict ,
Vagrant Story gets a 9 out of 10 from me (I really wish it had a sequel).