RPG Review #70: Vagrant Story

So many thing have been happening as of late. For starters, my birthday is tomorrow, turning 23 means absolutely nothing in my life and I don't want any presents or anything. For awhile I was unable to actually view profiles on TheTopTens, apparently that's fixed after a certain website change occurred (even though it wasn't really that necessary to begin with). And also, I get to review another RPG! Up to 70, woohoo! So Squaresoft's Vagrant Story, a much-revered game for the Playstation, and a game that I heavily debated on whether or not I actually wanted to play it.

Gameplay: So yes, I really didn't want to play this action RPG as much as you might think, because I heard it was very hard to play through. It's another action RPG where you play with only one character, but it's much more different than all the other action RPGs I've seen. The main premises are you've got separate areas you venture to, some puzzles to solve, and a generally linear plot that manages not to be too long. There's even time trials, locked chests, and different weapons to use. And there's magic spells and status effects to acquire, which of course use up MP like it should.

The combat system though, is incredibly unique. For one, you have to actually get into what's known as battle mode (press circle), and of course equip your weapons and armor. Pressing Circle again brings up a range circle, thankfully freezing time, and if someone's in range, target one of their limbs, yes, one of their limbs, then you should attack. This game has a few special abilities, chain and defense, and when attacking, pressing a button (not X) when the "!" appears continues the attack with an added effect. Likewise, when under attack, doing the same thing ends up mitigating how much damage is received. There's also Break Arts, which actually take your HP for attacking. And to get spells, the player must acquire Grimoires, which are one-time use items that have the spell, but give it to you anyways.

Oh yes, I mentioned limbs, well when you take hits it affects your limbs too, and in poor condition you don't fight very well. But what really drives the point home is the RISK system. Your main character is known as a Riskbreaker, and just about anything combat-related increases RISK, from chaining, to getting hit, and all that. The problem is, increasing RISK increases the chances of missing attacks and more damage upon the player, although it does increase critical hit rate. RISK only lowers after a while, mostly when not in battle mode, and the player regenerates it along with lost HP and MP.

There are both elemental affinities for weapons and armor as well as type affinities, so for weapons and armor, they get stronger with two things, either fighting a lot with them or by attaching gems found in the game to them. So you have to have weapons that are good against humans, dragons, or evil monsters among other things. Making matters worse is the complete lack of actual shops, there are however, workshops in which you can combine, repair, and assemble and disassemble weapons and shields. It's an incredibly complicated system that probably requires a guide to figure all of it out. Indeed, here's a game that stretches the Playstation to its limits. Grade: A-

Characters: The main playable character is Ashley Riot, a Riskbreaker hired by the VKP with a very troubled past that will come back to haunt him. Many villainous types of characters appear in the game too, including Sydney, a cult leader, as well as Romeo Guildenstern, a leader of a faction of soldiers known as Crimson Blades.

Plot: So the plot is linear enough, but it's also incredibly dark. There's barely any moments of happiness in the entire game, and the only happiness seen is within flashbacks of Ashley's life, him on a picnic with his wife and kid. And unfortunately, those two do end up dying. It's a total mind screw because flashbacks just show up literally everywhere as the plot goes, and then ghost-like apparitions always end up appearing in-game. There's even plenty of bloody scenes too, and a lot of moral ambiguity among characters.

Ashley's main task is to infiltrate the Duke's mansion in pursuit of Sydney, with a certain Callo Merlose trying to help him, but Ashley refuses ("I AM the reinforcements!") and goes alone. This leads to Callo getting captured later on. Ashley finds Sydney escaping to the dark city known as Leá Monde. This city is incredibly estranged with dark power, and undead creatures roam the depths. We also learn more about Sydney's hostility with Guildenstern and his lover Samantha, and a little about another presumed riskbreaker known as Rosencrantz, who's just as ambiguous.

Both Ashley and Callo have some clairvoyant abilities though, Ashley can see through the eyes of some other people like Samantha, while Callo has a heart-seeking telepathic ability which she uses on Hardin, Sydney's accomplice, and their connection with Joshua, the duke's son who was also kidnapped. Then there's also this powerful magic known as Gran Grimoire, which is what everyone seems to be seeking. Both Ashley and Sydney have their hardships with many characters, particularly Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, the later is cut in half by Sydney's powerful ability to summon dangerous monsters.

Meanwhile, Guildenstern is actually interrogating Hardin about the Blood Sin, which is actually a tattoo on Sydney's back, and mortally wounds him afterwards. Eventually, Sydney comes to and teleports his group away to deal with the Cardinal alone, but loses the tattoo on his back, whereas Guildenstern uses it, sacrificing his lover Samantha for the darkness, and it really is just up to Ashley, the late arrival, to get rid of him. Pretty much everyone escapes out of there, though Hardin is dead afterwards and most everyone's fate is unknown. A very bleak ending to an RPG with a medieval plot, it's quite interesting overall. Grade: B+

Music: It's pretty interesting stuff overall, engaging music for boss encounters while bleak ambience for a lot of other places. I like it for the most part. Grade: A-.

Overall Grade: A-

Believe me or not, I'm still playing this game. I am playing it in the New Game + because there's a few content only available there. But overall, Vagrant Story, above all else, is an engaging game, stretching the Playstation 1 to its limits, while remaining a very difficult action RPG with a somewhat intriguing plot and intriguing characters overall. It might take me awhile to get to the next RPG, depends on how long I decide to continue with the New Game +


Update: Got done with the stuff only available on New Game +. It's just a bunch of optional hard dungeons of course. - NuMetalManiak