Around these parts, the vagrant-related stories aren’t all that interesting. That drunk hobo outside Egotastic Towers exposed himself to me again as I came into work this morning. That’s a hairy wang, right there. Y’know, that sort of thing. Just the kind of everyday stuff that isn’t worth mentioning.
Don’t get that kind of BS confused with the real Vagrant Story. This is the real deal, right here. A cult classic as cult-y and classic-ish as they come. Let’s take a look at this vintage weirdness.
Vagrant Story hit the original PlayStation in 2000, an RPG from Square. Genre fans will know, natch, that these clever bastards also brought us the barnstorming Final Fantasy franchise, which this one is worlds away from. But Cloud, Sephiroth et al have nothing on Ashley Riot.
This studly dude is a Riskbreaker, badass agent of some sort or other. He finds himself in Valendia, a kingdom wracked by civil war. The strongest fortress that remains is the town of Lea Mondé, where shady doings are afoot. Cultists have kidnapped Duke Bardoba, which is pretty darn uncool. As… y’know, an important law-dude, our hero sets out in pursuit. Whereupon, as the internet likes to say, things escalate quickly. We’re soon up to our ‘nads in ghastly-ass monsters in the city’s catacombs.
And catacombs, there are a motherfreakin’ lot of. In terms of style, tone and visuals, Vagrant Story is pretty dark stuff. Which is odd, with its storybook, comic-speech-bubbles artstyle. Imagine Final Fantasy IX made by Tim Burton, and you’re kinda sorta there.
The gameplay itself is very different. This is an action RPG, and there’s even a little light puzzling and platforming to be done. A lot of this takes the form of block-pushing shenanigans, tasking you with using the environment to carve yourself a path through the environment. Yup, that last sentence was a bit shit. Let’s hurry on to the next paragraph.
By this point, you’re probably waiting on those ghastly-ass monsters you were promised earlier. Good news, Vagrant Story’s combat is frequent, complex and satisfying. There’s none of that ‘select a magic spell or attack from a menu then feel a little superfluous as your character uses it automatically’ here. Nuts to that.
Instead, you’ll be targeting body parts and ‘killing’ them individually… by selecting them from a tedious menu. Totally different. It is technically real-time combat, what with the combos and counters and such to be done, be there’s a freaking lot of menu faffing in between. Still, there are minotaurs, ogres, wyverns and all manner of dark creatures to beat on. That’s something.
On the subject of menu faffing, holy balls is that a complex upgrade system. Acquiring new weapons, armor and abilities is vital to just about every RPG, and they all approach the process differently. Vagrant Story’s workshop, though, is an asspain indeed. This is one for genre veterans, right here.
Players in the know still regard this one highly for its innovation, complexity and creepy-ass atmosphere. There isn’t another quite like it, and it deserves to be remembered.