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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by SquareSoft

Ups: Great graphics; innovative gameplay; compelling story; those cool dialogue bubbles. 

Downs:  Some of the bosses fight dirty.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation

main_03-01.jpg (3936 bytes)Sometimes, no matter how rare those times are, your girlfriend tells you it’s alright to play a video game and ignore her: this is how Squaresoft’s Vagrant Story started out for me, and, as the disc booted-up, both her and I became more and more impressed with what we were seeing. It’s not too many times you can load a game and have someone who isn’t into many video games really enjoy what they are watching. In our book, this positions Squaresoft at the top of the food chain. Instead of the dull, classical method of either dropping you right into game play as soon as you tap the ‘start’ key or giving you some half-assed FMV which pretends to be a story, Square roles you seamlessly into the story, combining movie, in the more theatrical sense of the word, and action into one, full intro—credits and all. First you have the music, the movies, a quick battle, back to movie, then on into the full blown story after five minutes of build-up. Oh, it was cool.

scrn02-01.jpg (5042 bytes)Let’s just put it out there on the table: if this game were a movie (a business avenue Square seems to be wandering down with the upcoming release of Final Fantasy) it would ring with blockbuster quality; at times, the game’s story rivals and surpasses that of a good Hollywood action-movie. It was fun for me to imagine myself as the main character, Ashley Riot member of the Valendia Knights of Peace, romping through the different scenarios and kicking, overall, major ass—comments are even made to this effect throughout the game by other characters. Ashley has the feel of a medieval Bruce Willis. Although the game revolves around your character’s mysterious background, it is also rich with a variety of other characters who are just as intricate and strikingly dissimilar from each other. Each turn in the story makes this game more and more rewarding; there are so many twists to the game you’re unsure as to what exactly is happening. Square succeeds in suspending my disbelief. Now, you know I’m a bad guy type of person. If the bad guys in the game outright suck, then, well, I feel a little let down. This isn’t the case with Vagrant Story. For me Ashley’s nemesis, Sydney Losstarot leader of the religious cult who takes over Duke Bardorba’s manor at the game’s start, is one of the most intriguing nasties I’ve come across in a long time.

The inability to pin this title to any genre is one of Vagrant Story’s coolest elements; at one point, you can consider it your regular action-adventure title (just with a more engaging story and incredible art work), while, at the same time, the game forces you to continuously rethink your mode of definition. Not only is it an action-adventure (thankfully, there are minimal zombies, only undead skeletons at each turn in the labyrinth of Lea Monde), it also has the flavor of the classic Squaresoft RPG seeded with puzzle-adventure. But it’s more than that. Along with the benefit of a killer story that twists and turns, Vagrant Story also has some incredible graphics.

scrn04-01.jpg (3885 bytes)Of course, it is impossible to rival the resolutions of PC monitors, but Square has done an excellent job overcoming the problems associated with presentation on the television. The whole game has beautiful and rich textures. The character modeling rivals that of Square’s sketches for the game. This is one of the few games you can actually look at the characters on the cover, then realize, once you’ve loaded it, that the computer generated characters look pretty much the same. I didn’t really notice any problems with how objects moved on the screen; rather, everything seemed seamless. Even the architecture of the game is fantastic. I mean, I haven’t really played any other game set in a quasi-medieval world that had such intricate building architecture. It was like they pulled out their old schoolbooks on European civilization and went through them with a scanner. To say the least, there is a lot of eye candy to go around.

scrn05-01.jpg (3474 bytes)For me, this is probably one of the finest titles on the PlayStation to date. I know I said that about a few games already this year, but I really, really mean it this time. For some reason, each time Square releases a new game their overall quality increases, a task with which other game publishers seem to struggle. Again, Square hasn’t let me down. Vagrant Story is like going to the theatre and then having a game pad thrust in front of you to give you control of the action. I had a Bruckheimer moment in this game: the battles are executed in an elegant and exciting style (I even felt my heart race) that immediately draws you in. One thing was for sure, I was never bored. As for the boss characters, well there are plenty of them to go around. Probably one every fifteen minutes or so, which is nice, because it gives the player a nice progression through the difficult level. One thing I didn’t like, though, was how you increased some of your abilities. When you go up a level, you are given some choices as to what you wish to focus in upon (different type of arts and what have you). Along with this is a slot-machine-like portion where you just tap the button and you get additions to your base attributes like strength. My problem was that I kept hitting the same blasted one every damn time. Let’s say I had incredible hit points, not that that’s a true complaint.

scrn06-01.jpg (4460 bytes)Some of the mechanics of Vagrant Story are reminiscent of Sqaure’s Parasite Eve, but with more control and, what I would call, swifter interaction. It seems like the developers took all that was good about Parasite Eve’s combat system and threw it into Vagrant Story. The gamer has the ability to build their strategy based upon the enemy’s exposed limbs (torso, head, right leg, et cetera) and the handy percentile of if you’ll hit them or not. The one problem I encountered, though, is the ability to formulate a decent enough offense or defense. Now, I’m mainly only speaking about the bosses, but it seemed like the moment you try to run around the room to get into a more advantageous position, the bad guys, be them knights, golem, wyvern, are always able to snare you with your back turned. With some nasties, you’re able to tap the attack button and engage them, but your hit-ratio sucks to hell until you’re finally facing them—even then it took a lot for you to defeat the bosses.

OK, so I don’t have too many gripes (at least not about this game). All I can say is that if you don’t own this game you’re seriously hurting your ability to live a balanced life. I mean, Vagrant Story is like Cheerios, without it living is, well, pointless. P.S. If you can find it, buy the soundtrack. It’s kind of spooky, but just as good as what we’ve heard in the Final Fantasy series. I’m excited that Square has finally developed another game which could lead to a franchise, one I daresay could compete with the likes of Final Fantasy. One thing is for sure, go and buy this game. Beat it and play it again, then wait for the other games from Square this year: Chrono Cross, Parasite Eve II, Final Fantasy IX, et cetera. Just thinking about a Vagrant Story II makes me wet myself. Such a cool game…

--Mathew Baldwin