Vagrant Story
"No live burials, thanks." - Ashley Riot

Story: Leader of the Mullenkamp cult, Sydney Losstarot, has occupied Duke Bardorba's manor and taken the occupants hostage, save Duke Bardorba himself. Ashley Riot, Riskbreaker extraordinaire, is sent to investigate the matter and realizes that there's more than meets the eye. In search of Sydney, he goes to Lea Monde, where the whole story takes place.

Vagrant Story got rave reviews from everyone, and Famitsu gave it 40/40. Yet, Vagrant Story didn't sell as well as it was supposed to. Logically, this means that:

1) We, the human populace, are too dumb to understand such a complex and intricate game.
2) We can't accept games that stray far from the norm of RPGs.

Either way, it's all our fault. Yasumi Matsuno and the entire Vagrant Story staff are simply a misunderstood lot.

Story: I LOVE IT. Just when you think you have something figured out, the story makes a 180-degree turn. Maybe even more. And as everyone is aware of, when the FAQs and official homepages state that so-and-so lost his wife to murderers, this story makes sure that the official biodata might not be the correct thing.

Keep in mind I said *MIGHT*. The plot is very ambigous and the ending  (as well as the rest of the plot) has been the subject of debate. A lot of debate. Tons of debate. I think I've made my point. Some might not like the "figure it out and mess your brains up" path that the story takes at almost all times, so don't play this game when you're not in thinking mode. (meaning: don't play at 2 AM)

Alexander O. Smith, the translator for this game is now my new hero. Never have I seen amounts of text which sounded so boring in Japanese sound so good in Ye Olde English. Even if you were to read it out loud, the conversations and expressions don't sound contrived (*coughcoughlegendofdragooncoughcough*) and actually fit with the setting of the story. You don't expect people in medieval Europe to use 'hey bro, whassup man', right? You won't get this in Vagrant Story.

As far as I'm concerned, the translation was pretty accurate (coming from the people who did Final Fantasy Tactics, everyone has reason to fear) except for a single line near the very end of the game which started a few arguments. Still, that line only had TWO WORDS, compared to almost 10-15 hours of text. The english script also has to be the first one in which I put my trusty Webster dictionary right next to me when I play. Call it 'expanding your vocabulary' if you wish, because to me, it is.

My only gripe is that during the middle of the game, you almost get no story. You get a big gap of no story. I like story. No story is bad. Then you reach a bit before the final dungeon, and you get FLOODED with story. The story flow is almost flood-stop-flood that I got frustrated when I got no story and tons of dungeon crawling.

Gameplay: HARD. VERY HARD and COMPLICATED. People who just want to walk through the game with only one weapon are going to have lots of problems (unless you have a gameshark).

You see, Vagrant Story's attacks are based on class affinity, elemental affinity and weapon affinity. Class affinities are divided into humans, beasts, dragons, phantoms, undead and evil. Elemental affinities are like fire, water, dark, light, wind and earth. Weapon affinities comprise of piercing, blunt and edged. Each enemy has a particular class, elemental and weapon affinity. In order to defeat a dragon for example, you should have a weapon that is strong against dragons. Otherwise you're going to do very little damage.

The reason the game is difficult is because it takes a lot of time to build up a weapon with good affinities. You have to walk around with that particular weapon hacking away at other dragons to beat up dragons. If you meet something other than a dragon, you'll have to switch weapons. You can only carry 8 weapons, so it gets a little frustrating.

So they have workshops! You go to these workshops and you can customize your weapon. Let's say you want to make your bronze rapier into a hagane broadsword. So you go to a workshop where you can work the material (there's iron, bronze, hagane, silver and damascus, damascus being the best and hardest to acquire). Then you can remove the blade from its handle and put a new handle, and then combine the blades needed and then you can stick some status-changing accessories on it, so on and so forth. Complicated? Yes. Addictive? To me it was. I spent almost 50% of the game making weapons that WORKED. Seeing a zombie dying in one hit from a good weapon never fails to bring a twisted smile on my face.

With all these commands and menus, the L2 button is your friend. Hold it in battle and you have quick access to everything in seconds!

I haven't even touched on battle and chain abilities, which are fun to use and not-really-simple to master. Eventually. When you hit an enemy, a big exclamation mark pops up on Ashley's head. If you've programmed one of the 3 buttons to a chain ability, pressing any of the buttons at the same time will cause Ashley to deal MORE damage. Of course, this raises your RISK, so it becomes a double-edged sword: high risk means better critical hits but more misses but low risk means more consistency and less damage to you but less critical hits. Battle abilities are just as powerful, but they sap up your HP. So if you can't do chains, you can do battle abilities!

There are also tons of block-pushing puzzles. A little thinking, and you have the solution. Nothing dire. Seeing that there are several types of blocks to push and carry, you tend to get confused. That's why it has an online help manual, guaranteed to teach the basics of Vagrant Story for people like me who don't have a manual!

So you like crossbows; use a crossbow. You like to use broadswords; use a broadsword. You want to use your fists; use your fists. The variety of weapons are there, from the western rapier to the oriental katana to some of the more obscure stuff, Vagrant Story has it.

And all this in ONE DISC!

Graphics: A little pixellated, but beautifully polygonal nevertheless. The rooms are rotatable, the map is actually DECENT and READABLE's just gorgeous, OK? There's no FMV in the game save for the little bit before the opening menu. From then on, everything's done by the in-game engine. The text boxes are in American comic-book form, which looks cool. For this game. Only.

So maybe the dungeons are a little drab-looking with all its browns and earthy tones save for the forests and the exterior shots of Lea Monde (which have some green). One optional dungeon is pitch dark. Then again, Europe didn't turn all colourful until the Renaissance, and this is before the Renaissance. Way before. It's fair.

I *do* want to go to St. Emilion in France now, though.

Usually when the backgrounds are polygonal, this means that any story sequences can be done with good camerawork. You know, the typical cinematography that are often seen in movies. Vagrant Story almost plays out like a movie with all the stunning camera angles. I need to tape up all the story sequences one of these days. In fact, you can see subtle expression changes on the characters, like a little smirk, a pitiful gaze, it's ALL HERE in ONE DISC!

The motion-captures are good. Sydney is bishounen. Ashley looks cool. All's well with the world.

Sound: Never has using a two-handed broadsword sounded so pleasing in my life. The door creaks when you open it, the shuffling of feet on dirt floors, the groans of the beasts and undead that roam the city of Lea Monde echo in the empty hallways, and hearing them die is just as wonderful.

Voice acting? Why on earth would anyone want VOICE ACTING? Why would people want to screw up a beautiful game by giving these polygons VOICES that might not even match the characters? WHY?

That's why Vagrant Story has NO VOICE ACTING! HOORAY!

Sydney sounds wonderful in my mind. Bliss. ^____^

As for the music, let's just say I have the entire CD in mp3 (as soon as I find the OST, I'll delete it, ok?). Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu are good and all, but I dare say that Hitoshi Sakimoto should be in the Composer Wars with them. At least he has the guts not to have any artsy-shmartsy vocal songs for the credits (or anywhere else in the game).

Speaking of the credits, the staff credit song is just about the best I've ever heard. That alone pushed me to complete the game.

Everything else: Like Chrono Cross, you have New Game + after completion. This of course allows you to smash through the game again as an omnipotent being for the first half. There are many things that aren't available on first play, so there's your incentive. You can also press START to skip the cutscenes, but why on earth would you do that?

During the credits, Akihiko Yoshida's sketches are displayed in the background. I wish I could draw like him, really. He makes  people with ugly attitudes look so good it's almost sinful. And everyone in the game has an ugly attitude.

And then we come to character design. <starts giggling uncontrollably>

As Jeremy Parish (of former fame) once said, you won't be able to differentiate between male and female if you follow the conventional stereotypes (big bulky muscular men, yadda yadda yadda). All the characters within the confines of Lea Monde are beautiful, with the men *sometimes* having feminine features (one of them is clad in almost a rubber bondage suit it's creepy and he kicks your butt), and the women are not necessarily helpless and well-endowed (one of them carries a two handed axe and kicks your butt just as well).

And then you have Ashley Riot, the badass protagonist with a girlish name (so says my father), whose last name was probably bestowed following the condition of his hair, his fashion sense and his mind. <giggles uncontrollably>

On the other hand, you have Sydney Losstarot, the somewhat-effeminate male antagonist, targeted object of acquisition <ahem> by almost every man in the game that there's already some....questionable.....fanart out there already. Add to the fact that he flaunts a slender body and a nifty tattoo like nobody's business that he's the reason I don't press START to skip the cutscenes and I have a memory card full of save games. Akihiko Yoshida, this is YOUR FAULT!

...not that it's a bad thing.

Verdict: Those looking for a good story, complicated weapon management and unconventional character design should have bought the game by now, I'll just say that. If reading this *somehow* got you interested in Vagrant Story, then go buy it! Your purchase just might grant us a sequel! With MORE SYDNEY!

...By now you should realize I worship this game. ^^;;

If you like a normal conventional RPG with a simple hero searching to save the world and pithy soliloquies and simple hack-and-slash with pre-determined weapons, then stay away. Just stay away and hold your peace; no need to desecrate this beautiful game by buying it and playing it and opening your big mouth after that.

That is all. Thank you, and good night.

Grade:  Nigh-perfect (Famitsu gave it a perfect score for crying out loud!)

+ Practically everything.

- It might not appeal to everyone, but that's their problem.
- The flood-stop-flood flow of the story sequences.