All over the globe, in Japan as well as the US, Square's Vagrant Story has gotten perfect or near perfect scores. Now, I never account hype for anything, so while I waited to get my hands on VS, I didn't expect it to be as great as everyone made it out to be. Oh how wrong I was to doubt in the power of Square.
But this game does have faults, I assure you, and I will point them out, but the good heavily outweighs the bad. Visuals, battle engine, plot...all are excellent, and are what we expect in the final years of the Playstation's life span. But even with this type of quality expected, there will be moments when you'll be taken aback in the sheer awe of what this game can do.
The graphics in Vagrant Story are outstanding, probably one of the best titles graphically for the PSX. The characters are excellent and have a very edgy-comic book type look to them, breaking out of many cliché designs that populate today's titles. Also, unseen in most other Playstation games, the faces give emotional expression, and the mouths move as well as the eyes. This adds a lot to areas of the game that deal with cut-scenes, and enhances the overall experience greatly. Other subtle touches make the characters seem even more lifelike, such as the main character Ashley Riot's moving hairline, which bounces and sways as he walks, runs, jumps, and fights. Other small details, such as the villain Sydney Losstarot's individual finger movement, adds so much to the overall game.
Ending the note of the amazing graphics, I will mention the bosses in the game for a few sentences. I soiled myself at the first sight of the games' beastly-baddies (True story). You encounter your first boss during the "opening" of the game, where you traverse a small dungeon while the credits flash across the screen dramatically. A dragon is your first enemy, and it looks outstanding. Later on, a minotaur, following that, a monster crab, a golem, and other dragons. They don't really play a part in the games storyline, but the battles are so involving and on the edge, you will use all your resources to defeat the enemy, and salivating at the mouth the whole time over how amazing it looks.
The battle engine is akin to that we saw in Square's sci-fi/horror RPG Parasite Eve. While moving about the dungeons, you will of course encounter enemies, from bats to skeletons to demons. When you are within a close distance, a tap of the circle button will cause a wire-frame sphere to envelop Ashley, stretching however far his weapon can reach. Anything within the sphere can be attacked, but you need to be quick, your opponents are out to get you as well, and they can attack just as fast as you can.
Now, battling is a bit more complicated than that, so rest easy, it gets better. While fighting off various monsters in the dungeons, you will gain points, experience, or what have you. With that, you gain various new chain and defense abilities. Chain abilities are offensive attacks with different effects, such as adding status effects when you hit an enemy. When attacking with Ashley, the moment your hit your opponent, a red exclamation mark will appear over Ashley's head, this is your sign to press either the Square, Circle, or Triangle button depending on what chain attack you wish to use. You may assign three different chain attacks amongst those three buttons, and the same with the defense abilities. Defense abilities work the same as chain abilities, except they are used when the enemy is attacking Ashley, and can reduce damage or reflect damage on enemies.
Long, damaging chains can be dealt with certain combinations of abilities, and there are a good number of both chain and defense abilities to obtain. Of course magic is also available to Ashley in the game, but is obtained in other ways. Throughout the game you will come across books titled Grimore "enter fancy spell name here." They are items at first, and when used will cast a certain spell. After using the item, Ashley will automatically learn the spell and be able to use it at will, with the correct amount of MP of course. Ashley also learns "Break Arts" throughout the game, which are elemental attacks that take a certain number of Ashley's HP to perform. Although not the most devastating of moves, they are useful against certain enemies.
Another factor in battling is the ability to attack specific parts of the enemies body. Most enemies in the game save for the smaller ones such as bats or wolves have more than one area to attack, such as their arms, head, body, and legs. Some parts of the body are weaker against attacks than others, so strategy plays a part in fighting by learning where exactly to attack on the body. And of course, with bosses and larger enemies, elemental attacks play a big part, so coupling your chain abilities and defense abilities with elemental effects and defenses will take a bit of thought if you wish to win the battle.
As mentioned much earlier, the game centers around your character, Ashley Riot. A member of the elite group in the Valendia Knights of Peace, known as the "Riskbreakers," Ashley is in pursuit of a dark magician named Sydney Losstarot, a skinny, pale makeup of a man with metallic hands and a motive to gain the ultimate source of magic, the Gran Grimore. Along the way, the plot thickens with numerous other "agencies" after the same artifact, and an ulterior motive that will lead to many more plot twists. The story is excellent, but my only problem is that it takes so long to develop. Eight hours into the game you known just about as much as you did five hours ago, text based cut scenes that explain the game don't appear as often as I would have liked, but it gets better later in the game.
Speaking of cut scenes, they are all done with the in-game engine, not much FMV at all. And it is a good thing too, the in-game scenes meld perfectly with the action, the camera zooming in and out with excellent precision. Also, there is no loading except for when you start up your game.
The music is mood music, very low, save for the boss battles, which are more dramatic and exuberant. Sometimes there isn't any music at all, save a few background noises like bones crunching, water rushing, etc. It's nice, but a dramatic soundtrack would have sounded good, possibly better.
As for weapons and armor, you equip individual pieces to your head, body, feet, legs, and arms. You'll come across many kinds, as well as weapons, mainly taken from defeated enemies. Weapons range from swords, short swords, spears, and crossbows. Each differs in range and attack, but they will gain strength as you use them more, and have their own stats against certain types of monsters. You can also disassemble weapons, make news ones, and attach gems to existing weapons to increase certain factors, such as adding an elemental factor.
Vagrant Story is huge on a production scale as well as a gameplay scale. Hype has surrounded this game since it's release in Japan and before, and it fills out the hype excellently. If you want a title that will keep you entertained as well as engrossed, you cannot go wrong with Vagrant Story.
-- Jeff Brown