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Vagrant Story - Reader Review

Challenge in an action RPG? Look no further!

By: Jimmy Toha


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 8
   Plot 9
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

25 - 40 hours

 
Overall
A well-deserved nine
Criteria

Title Screen
 

    Vagrant Story (VS), one of the finest masterpieces to come from Square this time. Released just a couple of months following the Japanese version, this game was directed and produced by Yasumi Matsuno (of Final Fantasy Tactics fame). For those who like FFT story and plot, then this game is certainly for you, albeit with a different gameplay.

    Throughout the game, you are Ashley Riot, a Riskbreaker and member of Valendia Knights of Peace (VKP). You are commissioned by the upper hand to infiltrate a hijacked mansion belonging to Duke Bardorba and to investigate the existence of a certain cult activity. Revealing more would mean depriving you of the whole story. Play, and unfold.

    Ah, the Battle System. This is one of the most unique features I've ever played in an Action RPG. Parasite Eve's worshippers should feel right at home with the Battle System. A polygonal sphere will emerge when the button is pressed, indicating that you are in the Battle mode. This sphere represents your attack range, and its size depends on the weapon you are currently equipped with. For instance, a lance with an attack range of 5 will provide you with bigger sphere than a sword with an attack range of 3. Enemies within this range are subjected to your attacks, and you will have more choices as to which part of the body you wish to maim. Should you opt to cripple the enemy's legs, his movement will be reduced, and hitting his hands would render him unable to hurt you with maximum damaging force.

    Even the most adrenaline-pumping action movie gets boring if it's monotonous in its daredevil stunt. The same goes to action RPG. To avoid this, Vagrant Story introduces the Chain Abilities system. This gives you opportunities to hit the enemy multiple times, at the correct timing that is. Once you launch your first attack, an exclamation mark appears on top of Ashley and pressing a specific button correctly will grant you additional hit. Do this repeatedly and you would have set up a chain attack, and each attack could have some special effects like gaining partial HP or MP. However, there exists a Risk point to prevent you hitting like crazy. For every attack, the Risk Point accumulates, and higher Risk would lessen Ashley's evading chance, not to mention receiving higher damage from the enemy. How about Magic? After all, this IS an RPG. Magic is equally available by obtaining various items called Grimoires. Still not enough? How about Break Arts ability which add another element to this already difficult battle system?

    The Interface is where Vagrant Story really shines. The game is fast-paced in a sense that you control Ashley's every movement, and you don't have to worry about exhausting him because he'll be running throughout the game anyway :] Aside from that, the complex menu and weapon-customizing aspects of the game are what really makes this game interesting. It shows variety. Unfortunately, even with the in-depth tutorial found inside the game itself, the menu system may drive some gamers into mind-bending frustration. This is the one point which stops me from giving it a perfect score. However, gamers should give themselves a few hours of playing before they're able to fully-utilize the whole menu system. Variety? Good. High complexity? Bad.


Multiple Whacking
Multiple whacking, anyone?  

    The music in Vagrant Story isn't lively (if you want one, go pick up Rhapsody :]), but it fits the ambience perfectly. Bosses' themes are more upbeat, generating a sense of danger and urgency. Dungeon music is of course, scary, with some hair-raising tunes, certainly not recommended for those who just had a bad hair day :D But then again, it fits. And hearing the sound of waterfall in the background while exploring town adds a realistic feeling to it. Not to mention the cracking of bones of the Undeads as well as the blasting sound effects made when you unleash an offensive magic on the enemies. Overall, good music with outstanding sound effects.

    Dungeon-exploring, puzzle-solving adventure isn't really what you call a highly original gameplay. There are a number of great games in times of antiquity that also belong to this genre. But Vagrant Story does not stop there. It uses that concept as the base, and improve and insert additions to provide gamers with a more refined and enjoyable experience in dungeon exploration. Solving a puzzle doesn't just give you a cheesy Elixir, but it may give you a Key that could unlock the one door that you've been employing carpenters and masons to break open, which IMHO is much more rewarding (there are no such professions in the game of course, but you get my point). However, many other aspects of the game such as the aforementioned menu system are considered original. So, there isn't a lack of originality on the whole.

    Starting the game, you have no clue as to what the whole mission is all about. You have the objective, but the story is vague. Later on, more characters which seem to have no relation with the story are brought into the scene, implicating the plot further. As you progress further, the broken scenarios are put together, slowly but surely revealing Ashley's past, and you will then begin to understand who the various characters are as well as their true motives. They aren't just aliens showing up from nowhere, they DO have backgrounds. Interesting :)

    I must say that Vagrant Story is one of the best-localized games ever in the RPG market. It's not that every other game has crappy translations, but this game is not just a direct translation of its Japanese counterpart. It is written to suit the English-speaking audience, complete with medieval-style conversation (which is proper since the game's setting is medieval) without altering the plot in any way. Commendable!


Gorgeous FMV
Gorgeous-looking FMV  

    Yes, Vagrant Story has replay value, and a high one at that. In order to completely 'finish' the game, you need to play through it a couple of times. The real story takes up only around 80% of the whole map, while the remaining 20% lies behind the locked doors you can't get in the first time through. New paths will open up once you finish the game, and although you have to explore every dungeon again, you get to keep all the equipment which you had before beating the game. That also means the enemies will be easy. And how about letting out a maniacal laugh when looking at the bosses that had you gritting your teeth last time beaten to a pulp in under 4 minutes now?

    In addition, the game treats us to an unforgettable visual experience. The camera works are absolutely brilliant. It's very movie-like, with suitable zooming and camera-angle positioning at specific events during the game. No FMV (except the opening), but the in-game cut-scenes clearly explains everything. And some of the Break Arts animations just had to be seen to be believed. And then there's the magic effect, realistic environment, detailed character expression...enough said, 10!!

    Unlike other RPGs, VS offers adequate challenge to many gamers. A little too adequate, in fact. Comparing to other games like, say Illusion of Gaia, VS is a little bit on the difficult side. While IOG offers similar gameplay, the solution to the problem has been provided, it only needs some searching, like specific items. VS, on the other hand, needs plenty of trying, with the most mind-boggling aspects lying in the puzzle-solving and boss-fighting. There are many possibilities.


One of the many impressive magical effects
One of the many impressive magical effects  

    The game is considerably huge. Most people will take around 30-40 hours on their first try, and the second go would most probably take 20 hours. If you complete it in over 50 hours, it probably means you are very thorough, or it could also mean that you left the game running for too long while you prepare lunch :D

    All in all, this game is highly recommended for anyone. While the difficulty might freak out some people, the game itself offers many features which keep drawing the players into it, so that should not be a reason to hold gamers off. Would difficulty in getting a movie ticket prevents you from watching Star Wars Episode 2? :)





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