Vagrant Story

aka: Medieval Gear Solid
Moby ID: 3728
PlayStation Specs

Description official descriptions

Valendia is a land that had undergone civil war, the end of which had birthed the parliament and several organizations to control the balance of power. Ashley Riot is a Riskbreaker, an elite agent for the Valendia Knights of Peace (VKP) who is investigating some strange occurrences. A cult of religious fanatics known as Müllenkamp and their leader Sydney Losstarot have seized the manor of Duke Bardorba of Valendia Kingdom. The events at the manor have sent Ashley on a quest to get to the bottom of events, and travel into the catacombs that lead to the destroyed, yet magical city of Leá Monde. However Ashley is not the only person interested in the city, and other factions of the government, including parliament assigned Knights of the Crimson Blade and other VKP agents are pursuing their own agenda.

Vagrant Story is a role-playing game with several distinguishing characteristics. The entire game (including the numerous cutscenes that advance the plot) is rendered in 3D. The game focuses on exploration of large, complex dungeon-like areas and combat; there are no "friendly" areas, NPC interaction, or monetary system. Dungeons contain many optional rooms and environmental puzzles that mostly involve pushing, destroying, and re-arranging different types of crates to access higher areas. Ashley can also jump and grab ledges of higher platforms during exploration.

The game runs in real time, with visible enemies and no separate battle screens. When entering combat and attacking an enemy, the game is paused, allowing the player to choose targets and access the menu for other actions. A wireframe sphere displays the range of the currently selected weapon and detailed statistics on different body parts of the enemies within range.

Ashley does not receive experience points from defeating regular enemies; he randomly gains bonuses to his attributes after defeating bosses, but in general the focus of the customization in the game is on weapons. Ashley can equip a wide variety of weapons and armor made out of different materials. Each weapon possesses, besides detailed damage statistics, parameters in one of the three categories (edged, blunt, and piercing), as well as affinity to any of the six enemy types encountered in the game. Damage in battle is calculated according to the weapon's and the enemy's particular strengths and weaknesses in any of these categories. Weapons used constantly against the same type of enemy improve in power against them. Each weapon can also be disassembled in workshops scattered throughout the game, and new weapons can be forged by combining blades with grips. Gems can be attached to some grips, usually increasing the weapon's affinity with an enemy category.

Ashley can also make use of Magic, Chain Abilities and Break Arts. Magic is broken into four groups, namely defense, combat, healing and status. Chain Abilities allow Ashley to "chain together" consecutive hits against enemies. The player can assign various offensive and defensive effects to buttons that need to be pressed at the right time to execute a chain. These effects include inflicting status ailments on the enemy, reflecting damage, etc. Using chains, however, raises Ashley's Risk Meter, making his attacks less precise and himself more vulnerable. Break Arts are special skills learnt after repetitive use of a weapon type. Sacrificing some of the player's health, Break Arts can perform a high damage attack on an enemy.

Spellings

  • ベイグラントストーリー - Japanese spelling

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Credits (PlayStation version)

229 People (206 developers, 23 thanks) · View all

Executive Producers
Produced & Directed by
Art Direction & Character Model Supervisor
Character Design & Background Supervisor
Background Supervisor
Background Creators
Visual Effects Supervisor
Visual Effects Creator
Character Model Creators
Character Motion Creators
Main Programmer
[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 94% (based on 39 ratings)

Players

Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 75 ratings with 3 reviews)

One of the better console RPGs.

The Good

  • Graphics
  • Combat mechanics (for a real-time game)
  • Customization/crafting
  • Monster selection


The Bad

  • Lack of character customization
  • Too much anime
  • Lack of choices WRT story
  • Asschaps


The Bottom Line
Played it when it came out in Japanese, so I have no idea what the story was about. I thought the graphics were impressive at the time. It had an interesting real-time combat system, in some ways better than the typical mouse-driven RTwP combat of RPGs in the 2000s. Better than a lot of the bastard platformer/FPS hybrid systems as well, too. The crafting/weapon customization was interesting. I think it captured the "dungeon crawl" feeling pretty well. I.e. it felt more like D&D than other (console) RPGs I'd played up until that time. Less "cutesy" feel is a plus. Asschaps are a minus.

PlayStation · by SharkD (424) · 2011

Imaginative and Under-rated game!

The Good
The lush environments, extensive gameplay and battles. I love the battle engine with the countless (literally!) weapons that you can collect and build! The weapon selection is what makes this game a unique experience. You can tear down a weapon to it's basic components and then combine them in other ways to create completely NEW ones! How fun is that! It's a surprise at what you can come up with. Some weapons are better than others depending upon who or what you use it on. And of course the more you use it the better it is, other that repairing it occasionally!

The worlds are huge and there is lots and lots of game here! Each area not only has a vast array of rooms, but levels upon sub levels. 1st floors, 2nd floors, basements, sub-basements, hidden subways to other areas! There are so many variables that this game has excellent replay value as well. There is just simply TOO much to write about here for this game.

The bosses, monsters are all amazing and have various difficulties, an a decent AI that grows with the levels and enemy you face. Fabulous turn based battle engine with multiple forms of attack, and chaining of abilities/spells etc. to give you that extra force! The chain attack feature rewards you’re improving skill in combat, because as you get better at it, the more effective your attacks become! Fun with out being too evil or scary, which makes it somewhat OK for the younger crowd, but the complex battle system and weapon selection make this too difficult for younger gamers. More suited to bright 10 year olds and up.

The Bad
Some camera angles were difficult, but realistic considering the room or situation you are in. VERY easy to get lost in the levels due to similar looking rooms. It's quite easy to get turned around and going the wrong way. When you consider the size of some of the areas, it is something that is very annoying. You really have to stay aware as to were you are/were including directions like N, S, E, and W. (esp. in the forests!).


The Bottom Line
A real gem. A hidden gem and packs a ton of play AND replay value! Good story, if complicated, but that only adds to the depth!
Good movement and action, great battle engine. Not for the hack and slash orgy of violence crowd, but you have to outwit the monster/enemy as much as hit him. There are also some interesting puzzles to make it more challenging.
If you find this on the shelf, grab it. A good one to have in the collection.

PlayStation · by Oblio (97) · 2006

Lo, play this game, lest it be forgotten by naysayers

The Good
Once in a while, established developers release games that take their fans completely by surprise. In some cases, such games are so good yet so dissimilar to the company's previous works that fans who expect them to be similar get confused and disappointed. Vagrant Story is such a game. Only those who are ready to appreciate it for what it is can form an unbiased judgment and enjoy what it has to offer.

Square got us all used to overblown melodramas and gimmicky gameplay in their most famous series. The first thing to bear in mind is that Vagrant Story is not at all similar to Final Fantasy. In fact, it is not similar to any other Japanese RPG, to the point of not belonging to the genre any more. It is a dungeon-crawling RPG relying on predominantly Western templates and its own original system; all that is left from its roots are some unfortunate pseudo-gay implications in character design and not much else.

Vagrant Story is one game that polarizes opinions. It has zealous admirers and merciless critics alike; I myself walked the thorny path from the second to the first. It is hard to criticize this game objectively, however; it is simply so different from anything Square made before it that many people who hate the game fail to see it was never supposed to be a Final Fantasy variant. Common complaint includes lack of NPCs, money, and shops, as well as over-abundance of dungeons; but the game was conceived with the idea of removing these features to emphasize its grim atmosphere of solitude and focus on careful exploration and combat. Naturally, the descent into dark, twisted passages was hard to accept for those who expected any RPG made in Japan to follow one established formula. This hardly diminishes the game's value in my eyes. On the contrary, I applaud Square for daringly going against conventions and popular taste.

The game throws you right into action, and forces you to deal with its outstandingly complicated mechanics. The real-time combat offers a compromise between drawn-out turn-based ordeals and hack-and-slash, much like Baldur's Gate. I normally don't like party-less combat that uses this system (Neverwinter Nights), but the selling point here is that Ashley, the game's only protagonist, can do so many things. He is not subjected to class restrictions and can wield any weapon, cast a variety of spells, and perform special attacks. Unlike so many other games, Vagrant Story requires you to study its gameplay system to overpower your foes. As far as combat systems go, Vagrant Story rises head and shoulders above anything else I have seen in a Japanese RPG.

There is a myriad of features, variables, and attributes in the game. Nearly everything it does is unlike any other game, with unique ideas overwhelming you until you are able to find your path through. I don't think I have seen a heavier weapon management anywhere else. There are weapon types, materials, properties, and affinities for different types of enemies. Words like "piercing" and "edged" are not just descriptions; they impact the gameplay in a drastic way. You can disassemble weapons and combine blades and grips with imbued gems for maximum effect. Equipment management is meticulous and very in-depth.

And then you have the chain abilities, which is another separate realm to master, requiring precision and practice. You can equip Ashley with different abilities, choosing from a wide variety of available ones; often the choice spells the difference between life and death. There is magic learned from grimoires. Plenty of different items. Risk system, which adds a whole layer of complexity to tactical planning. Powerful attacks you gradually learn by using the same type of weapon. And so on, and so on. It is nearly intimidating, but also extremely addictive. Lack of hand-holding, so uncommon for Japanese games, is actually very Western in nature; Vagrant Story is grim and dry, and doesn't agree to be your best friend right away. It is imperative that you take your time and patiently learn. But what immense satisfaction awaits you when you finally overcome these hurdles and master the game's system!

Outside of combat, there is plenty of exploration. Yes, the game is set almost entirely in dungeon-like areas, but they are large, complex, and varied. There are optional rooms, treasure-hunting, and everything you'd expect from a first-rate dungeon crawler. And there are also elegant crate puzzles and some light quasi-platforming that further enhance and deepen the gameplay of Vagrant Story. There is always something to do in the game; whether fumbling through the menu and thinking how to make that ultimate bow for dragon enemies, hacking away at tricky ghosts, stacking boxes to reach a temptingly-looking ledge, or simply bathing in the game's foreboding atmosphere - Vagrant Story keeps you busy.

There is more. Vagrant Story is not only about gameplay; it is also an intensely cinematic, story-driven game. The entire game is made with very impressive 3D graphics, and that also includes all the cutscenes (except the intro). Transition between gameplay and cutscenes is seamless, in a Metal Gear Solid" fashion, only without badly written dialogues and talking heads on radio. The game is set in a somewhat believable, dark medieval fantasy world with more integrity and coherence than in most other RPGs I have played, and cutscenes complement its exploration and drive you forward rather than simply providing a few moments of relief.

An enigmatic story unfolds in this world, almost Shakespeare-like in its sharpness, dramatic presentation, and strong characters. The plot of Vagrant Story has some of the familiar Square trappings, complete with memory loss, confusing agendas, and ambivalent antagonists; but all this is served to you with more care and better taste than you would expect. One of the reasons for that is the excellent translation, which stands in stark contrast to the unfortunate mess we've received in many Final Fantasy localizations.

There is an astounding homogeneity in Vagrant Story. The game alternates between long, challenging exploration and combat segments and fairly short, but frequent and ever-poignant cutscenes, and they come together in one tight package bursting with quality. Clearly every designer responsible for every aspect of the game did everything to make it excel. No matter its flaws and idiosyncrasies, Vagrant Story oozes originality, intelligence, and noble disregard of established routines in everything it does.

The Bad
The difficulty level and the complexity of Vagrant Story was one of the reasons this game never became as mainstream as so many other Japanese RPGs that copied each other's gameplay systems over and over again. Vagrant Story has a very steep learning curve; you can complete large parts of the game and still be clueless about how some of its gameplay aspects really work. The game is not generous with providing good explanations for that, so intense manual-reading or forum-hopping are not uncommon.

If there is anything that can be said against Vagrant Story, it's that it doesn't always put fun above everything else. While I love and respect this game, I think that perhaps it could have been somewhat more relenting. The lack of feedback can become frustrating as you repeatedly try different combinations against a tough boss; there is also lack of reward when you get a measly +2 HP increase after having completed a whole dangerous dungeon with deadly foes. Also, save points are few and far between, and it is very annoying to start over again just because you got decimated by an unknown enemy just in front of the next one.

There are thousands of features that add to the game's extreme complexity, and maybe they went a bit overboard with that. There are simply too many variables in combat, and removing one of them (say, decreasing damage points of weapons) wouldn't really harm the game. Yes, when you master all the tricks you feel you are playing the perfect thing; but until then, prepare to fight this unfriendly game until either you or it gives up.

And then there are Ashley and Sydney. How I wished that this brave, independently-thinking game would throw out the last remnants of absurd anime aesthetics. Ridiculous hair and effeminate men do not half-bother me in a Final Fantasy game as they do in Vagrant Story. Melodramas in colorful fantasy worlds can absorb such characters, but not a dark Shakespearean tale in a believable medieval fantasy environment. I wonder if there is a patch that changes whatever Ashley is wearing to proper men's clothes.

The Bottom Line
We should consider ourselves lucky that a game like Vagrant Story was planned, developed, and released in the first place. It is so non-mainstream, non-commercial, and atypical; and yet it boasts great production values and everything else needed for a triple-A title. It's not for everyone, and I can imagine people passionately hating it for its complexity. But anyone who values depth and originality in their RPGs must understand there is no way to ignore Vagrant Story. It is a rare combination of outstanding gameplay with cinematic presentation and involving storytelling. Also, it feels so remarkably non-Japanese that you can play and enjoy it even if you loathe everything else made by Square.

PlayStation · by Unicorn Lynx (180476) · 2018

Discussion

Subject By Date
That opening cutscene Donatello (453) Aug 31st, 2014
A rare dungeon-crawler with substance AND style Cylentstorm (21) May 19th, 2012

Trivia

The English language used in the US/UK version of this game is close to the one used by Shakespeare, and some characters have names taken from different tragedies by Shakespeare. Romeo Guildenstern, one of the game's main characters, is a combination of Romeo from "Romeo and Juliett", and Guildenstern from "Hamlet". Rosenkrantz is also a character from "Hamlet".

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Macintrash.

PSP, PlayStation 3 added by Charly2.0. PS Vita added by GTramp.

Additional contributors: MAT, Unicorn Lynx, DreinIX, Fred VT, Patrick Bregger.

Game added April 18th, 2001. Last modified November 6th, 2023.