Yasumi Matsuno’s second Square effort, Vagrant Story, deserves every bit of praise it has accrued since it’s initial release in February of 2000. Like Matsuno’s Final Fantasy Tactics before it (and Final Fantasy 12 after), Vagrant Story broke new ground within it’s genre.
with Final Fantasy Tactics, Matsumo added a level of customization and depth of story and character development that was unrivaled in the genre of the console strategy RPG and in Final Fantasy 12, he merged the traditional JRPG with the Western influences and characteristics of the MMORPG.
Vagrant Story, like his previous and latter efforts, was a scrapbook of styles and genre defining creativity. Vagrant Story is part dungeon crawler, part action game, and part strategy RPG.
The underlying strategy aspect of the game may not be readily apparent, excluding the many environmental puzzles peppered through-out the game, but they play an enormous role once you start to peel back the games many layers. The combat system is a marriage of hack and slash action and calculated attack, as where you choose to deal damage (you are given a choice of head, body, left arm etc. depending on your position and proximity to said areas) and the way in which you chain your attacks plays an integral part in your ability to proceed past many of the games battles, both boss and standard.
Custom weapon and item creation, done in workshops scattered through-out the games 3D maps, add an additional element of strategy. Smart and efficient use of this mechanic can often times mean the difference between success and crushing defeat.
Set in the medieval-France inspired world of Ivalice, Vagrant Story’s art design is ambitious and nearly perfect. Everything from the stunning architecture of the city of Lea Monde, to the isometric catacombs has been meticulously detailed and flawlessly executed.
I won’t venture too far into Vagrant Story’s plot, because I personally feel that it is one of the best aspects of the title. Suffice to say, by the time you gain control of Ashley Riot and begin fighting your way through the catacombs en route to Lea Monde, the story will have drawn you in with no signs of letting go. Political infighting, corruption, deranged cult leaders and secret alliances all play their part in unfolding a masterfully crafted story. Much of this is thanks to the outstanding translation and localization efforts of Alexander O. Smith who has been praised for expertly relaying the games dark themes and complex plot.
The game shares many themes and plot devices as Yasumi Matsuno’s other Square Ivalice titles, and in many ways, is part of an unofficial series. In fact, Matsuno himself has mentioned in interviews that Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy 12 take place not only in the same universe, but are relitively close to each other on Ivalice’s map. Final Fantasy 12 even includes numerous references, most obvious of which is the city of Leamonde (the spelling of which was altered in localization).
If you are in the mood for something a little different, I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised. Vagrant Story is a title that deserves to be revisited, or experienced for the first time.