Saturday, 2 April 2011

Retro-review: Vagrant Story

Vagrant Story was amongst the last and the best of titles to be released for the original Playstation. It’s presently available through PSN, I think, and well worth a look if you never had the pleasure of playing it back in the olden days (2000).

It’s an action RPG featuring Ashley Riot as the protagonist. The player guides Ashley through the abandoned, haunted city of Lea Monde, hunting a prophet thought to be responsible for the death of a nobleman. The prophet, Sydney, captures Ashley’s companion Callo early on, and is also hunted by the Crimson Blades, led by Romeo Guildenstern. The player will also uncover some of Ashley’s history as well as learning more about the main plot.

The music is an excellent feature (one of several) of the game. Numerous tracks are top notch and most are at least enjoyably above average. There is no voice acting. Instead, the characters speak through ye olde speech bubbles. This works well, and is helped by the fantastic translation (by Alexander Smith) which transforms the script into a more archaic form of English. It’s perfectly understandable and has a dash of Shakespearian eloquence which helps immerse the player in the world of Lea Monde. More than that, the game also features a little sprinkling of French, German and Latin which works nicely.

Combat is almost flawless. Excepting the very first few fights, Ashley can execute combo attacks if the player is good enough at timing. But, the more combos the enemy is struck with the higher the Risk gauge rises. Higher Risk lowers the chances of hitting the enemy and increases the damage Ashley takes, introducing an element of strategy to combat.

In addition to this, weapons are highly varied according to material, range and damage type. Materially there are half a dozen different options, from wood to silver. The player has access to a number of workshops in the game, and in these weapons can be combined to create new means of killing enemies. Range can be anything from very, very short to pretty huge (crossbows were always good for killing bats). Players have access to staves, swords, axes, maces, spears and crossbows. Damage type is another intriguing variable which hasn’t been replicated much in subsequent games, I think. Weapons can cause piercing, slashing/slicing and crushing damage. Some enemies are vulnerable to one particular type or resistant to another.

There’s a wide range of enemy archetypes. Many are stereotypical (zombies, bats) but even some of those are excellent (the massive dragons were always fun to kill). There are some slightly creepier and more original foes, such as child-like ghosts or a gigantic iron crab.

Ashley can also learn magic. By acquiring grimoires and using them once he is taught how to perform a certain spell. Elemental resistance/attacks can be very useful in certain fights.

Graphically, the game is clearly dated, but this does not detract from it materially. The only area it slightly annoyed me was in the Snowfly Forest, where the screen is somewhat cluttered and seeing enemies can be tricky. Generally, Lea Monde is enormous, well-designed and fun to play through.

One feature I loved at the time was the award of titles (the ancestor of trophies) for certain deeds. Killing a massive enemy, slaying a certain number of foes with a given weapon or suchlike would yield a title. Vagrant Story also includes a New Game Plus feature, as after the game ends Ashley acquires a key needed to unlock certain doors that cannot be opened in an initial playthrough.

For those wanting a look at it in action, I recommend the excellent review by MetalJesusRocks on Youtube:

So, what score would I give it? 9.5/10. It’s not quite perfect, it’s merely trouser-explodingly fantastic.


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