Vagrant Story
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • PlayStation
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 02/10/2000
    • US 05/15/2000
    • UK 06/21/2000
Score: 80%

This review was published on 12/06/2007.

Released late in the PlayStation's life-span, Vagrant Story was ignored or merely forgotten by most gamers. Its overly complex nature and strange battle system also scared off many who decided to check the game out. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

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We should first examine the unique battle system, that may just be a little too unique. The game plays like an action RPG, so fights are more or less real-time. You walk up to enemies and press the attack button to open up a wireframe sphere that circulates around the main character, Ashley Riot. I'd say Ashley Riot is quite a riot... get it? This wireframe thing is a targeting sphere of sorts; it shows the range of your attack. The game pauses when you open this sphere, so as to let you carefully select which part of a foe's body to strike (it also displays the amount of damage you'll do and the hit percentage, much like Final Fantasy Tactics). If you damage a body part enough, you can momentarily disable or degrade the performance of your foe (major damage on the legs can reduce mobility, for example). Your enemies can use the same strategy against you, as well. As far as this goes, it usually doesn't matter what body part you choose to hit, as you'll rarely hurt it enough to gain any benefit. The situation is different in reverse, though. You need to keep an eye on the condition of your body parts, which is indicated by a diagram on the lower left corner. You can cast spells to heal them up, which brings me to another facet of battle: magic. Magical spells are extremely useful here. Not offensive spells, but rather, spells that give you various bonus effects, such as altering the element of your melee attacks or buffing your stats. They can often change the tide of battle from complete hopelessness to a clear victory.

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Even still, we've yet to go over the real meat of battle, Chain Attacks. Upon hitting a foe with your weapon, you'll see an exclamation point briefly hover over the hero's head. Right at the moment that this occurs, you can press one of three buttons to perform another hit. What sort of attack you do and it's effects are decided by the "Battle Abilities" you set up beforehand. You can assign whatever abilities you please to the three buttons. There's a defensive flavor of these abilities as well, which activate in the exact opposite way; pressing a button when an enemy hits you (think Super Mario RPG). Theoretically, you can chain an unlimited amount of hits without allowing the enemy to retaliate at all. Obviously, it takes great skill to pull that off, and chances are good that you won't be able to do this without some serious practice. That's not to say that you won't be able to chain an enemy to death without having them hit you; as you get stronger, it'll take less hits to kill a given foe, so chaining two-three attacks can be sufficient to down them. Developers saw the potential danger of abuse in this, though, and they put in the "Risk" system. It's an extra meter on your screen that rises for each hit you dish out. The higher this meter is, the more likely you are to miss (you'll also take an increased amount of damage). When the Risk meter is 50% or higher, you'll hardly ever hit. So even if you were some kind of chaining god, there are limits to how much you can get out of it. Luckily, your Risk lowers by simply walking around without attacking. You can also restore it by use of items (as it's unlikely you'll sit around when an enemy is on the offensive).

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As if all that weren't enough, you've got a fairly thorough weapon/armor forging and customization system, plus the biggest thing of all: enemy weaknesses. I'm not kidding when I say that this is important. It's the biggest complaint most people have with Vagrant Story, and is often the very reason that most of them stop playing the game. There are literally over a dozen different statistical categories a weapon or armor can have. Most assume that all of this can be easily ignored, but those who do will quickly befall a terrible fate. If a weapon you're using isn't exploiting any of the enemy's weaknesses, then you'll do about 0 points of damage. You're pretty much boned at that point, especially if you were locked inside a room with an enormous dragon boss who's right about to kick your butt. To counter this, you'll have to "train" a weapon in a particular category. What does that mean? Well, the gist of it is, if you use a sword to kill beast type enemies, it'll gain stat points in that particular category, making it a more effective weapon against those sorts of enemies. The thing is, you can't train a single weapon in all categories, as raising one will automatically lower another. This results in you having to carry around a bunch of weapons that you'll have to constantly switch between. Things will work out for you when you start to comprehend this, however; even the strongest of bosses will quickly be brought to the ground if you're using a weapon that exploits their weaknesses. Despite that, you'll eventually reach points in the game wherein a boss isn't weak to any of the weapons you so lovingly powered up. In such cases, you're boned and must return to the "drawing board," meaning you better go back and make or find a weapon they're weak to.

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When you aren't fighting or forging weapons, you'll be exploring dungeons. A bunch of interconnecting dungeons, with little to no rest in between. It's more like one big dungeon that is divided into several portions, really. Nothing like Zelda, mind you, as the main things you'll do is fight enemies. Rarely, you'll be given a box puzzle to contend with. They can prove to be a challenge at times, but aren't significant enough to mention. Some of the dungeons are a little drab, and if it weren't for the fun battle system, things would get old quickly.

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Vagrant Story excels in its presentation, which isn't too surprising when you consider how late it was released in the PlayStation's life. Characters are all designed realistically and look fairly respectable. The textures can still be a little rough to make out, but all in all, the game looks good. It sounds good, too, as Vagrant Story's musical style is very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. It makes sense, considering the maestros behind that game also worked on this one. The rest are more so sounds to generate eerie atmospheres than actual music. The story is another nice marvel, complete with competent dialogue that is occasionally smart and witty. My only complaint here is that the story doesn't exactly feel integrated enough. They sparingly reward you with cutscenes of events happening elsewhere, with your character always being several steps behind everyone else. For the most part, it's a solitary experience.

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Now for the conclusion: Vagrant Story permeates with the same quality of Square's older works. It also happened to be an experiment on their part; one that brought with it a few kinks. Some gamers may also be put off by the initial scare of complexity, especially with how unforgiving the game can be when it comes to that sort of thing. Yet, the quality outweighs all of this. It may be a little flawed, but it's still a work of art.

Word Count: 1,289

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