I’ll be honest. I’m being negligent with Vagrant Story, and I’m doing it in two ways. First of all, I play rarely because other things get in the way. Secondly, when I do play, I neglect taking notes, so it’s difficult to write about it. This time, I took some notes.
It’s not a train ride
Well, yeah, I usually play Vagrant Story on a train ride, but the game itself certainly isn’t one. It seemed like a train ride at first, with the game and the story funneling you from one place into another, without much choice on the matter. Sometime after fighting Guildenstern at the Keep, though, and even more so after getting Teleportation, Vagrant Story really opened up.
Suddenly, I get to go wherever I want and do whatever I want, without it even being completely clear where the next part of the story actually is. Vagrant Story actually feels more open than most Final Fantasy games, which contain a world map and far more open than those that don’t.
It does things differently
Back at the start, the bosses felt like a big challenge and the rest of the levels was just routine. Well, technically, you could easily die there as well, but there was a shift in challenge between bosses and regular enemies.
As of lately, though, everything became almost equally difficult. You fight a boss and then fight two of them as regular enemies a few rooms later.
Because of that shift, there’s a very methodical feel to how I play Vagrant Story. I prepare for every room and use all the tools I can to break through. The spells are the biggest part. I cast Heracles and Prostasio on myself and use Degenerate or Leadbones and Tarnish on my enemies, especially when they use Prostasio and Heracles themselves.
The thing about buffs in Vagrant Story is that you can only have one stat and one equipment effect at a time. This means that casting Heracles (increases Strength) on yourself cancels out a Degenerate (reduces Strength) and vice-versa. In the same way, casting Tarnish (reduces equipment) on an enemy cancels out their Prostasio (increases equipment levels). This fact makes the effect of these spells more powerful and makes using them almost critical.
Similarly, the various elemental fusion spells are equally important against some enemies. The weapon fusion spells change the elemental type of your weapon attacks all on their own, so if you’re unlucky and your weapon’s elemental stat is wrong against the current enemy, a proper spell can shift the battle from you dealing 0 damage, to dealing 50 damage per hit.
With armor fusion spells, it’s not as pronounced, but it’s still a very noticeable effect.
This whole approach, even though it’s often very obvious, turns almost every battle which would feel like a chore in other RPGs into something extremely satisfying.
It’s also the story
The same thing happens with the story. I love it how all the supernatural and undead events around Lea Monde aren’t just something the characters accept because it’s „that type of game world“. On the other hand, it’s not like a zombie movie, where the whole thing is so out of the ordinary that everyone is panicking and no one knows what to do.
Instead, the game world has magic and supernatural things, but some of them have been long forgotten and are now reemerging. The characters accept that it’s happening, but they still react to the whole thing. There are also subtle difference between them, with some, like Rosencrantz embracing the whole thing and making use of it, other shunning away from it and others still trying to use it, but failing and getting hurt in the process. Grissom and his brother are good examples.
Also, Ashley often pushes the silent protagonist trope, keeping quiet when he should be talking quite often. It doesn’t really work out for him, though. Very often in the story, there are misunderstandings because of him staying silent, so he gets into trouble and needs to fight his way out.
Of course, it also adds to his character. It makes him look like the silent, but observant type, not acting rashly and taking time to plan things out, which fits very well with how Vagrant Story plays.
I also plan things out
While I wasn’t playing, I did buy myself a nice notebook. Why? Because I hate managing a lot of printed papers on a train ride and a notebook can be used for both planning and taking notes while I play.
I listed all of the items in the game, ordered in quality levels and types, so I have it all on paper now. I also did research on how to combine equipment, though not with all of it yet. I only have the sword and great sword category for now.
With great swords, it looks like the best thing I can get from combining is a bastard sword. The best great sword in the game, holy win, can only be gotten as a drop. The next best one, the rune blade can be gotten by combining a wakizashi and a stiletto. While you can combine a wakizashi, it’s the highest combinable regular sword, so it would take a long time to do so.
The thing is, I think I already had a bastard sword in my possession, so I’m sure I can get another one.
As for regular swords, as I said, I can go all the way up to a wakizashi. For that, I need for falchions and for shamshirs. One of each of these combines into a khora, two khoras combine into a khopesh and two khopesh finally combine into a wakizashi. The strongest one-handed sword, the rhomphaia, can only be gotten as a drop, sadly.
The way the game plays also affected my approach with Vagrant Story. Slowly, but surely, I’m relearning all the things a lot of modern games made me unlearn. I’m thinking things through more often, making plans and reacting to events the way I should.
A recent example:
I got into the Limestone Quarry. The enemies there are phantoms, which are easy to kill, two rooms with two ogres each, which take a while but also aren’t a huge challenge, but most rooms contain gremlins, which are extremely annoying. They do a moderate amount of damage, can silence you had have resistance to physical damage and edged attacks. Since my Light’s Hope is a great sword, that means I do low damage to them, even though they are evil affinity monsters.
I made a circle through the quarry, using Heracles and Prostasio to get through the tedious gremlin fights, but then I realized I took a wrong turn by not solving a puzzle and the level wrapped back around into the starting room. I paused the game here because I didn’t feel like fighting those gremlins again.
Then I thought, why am I not preparing more?
I cast analyze on one of the gremlins and learned they are weakest to water. I looked through my backpack, but couldn’t find a water gem. Then I looked at the stuff I picked up. One of the shields actually had two water gems. I put the strongest one into my last remaining slot on the Light’s Hope and suddenly, I’m doing 80-100 damage per hit, without any buffs on me. I went there from 30 damage per hit, fully buffed. Now the gremlins are no trouble at all.
Additionally, I realized I got a gem which increases physical damage of a weapon, so I put it on my Exorcist dagger, so I can kill phantoms in a single combo.
Limestone Quarry felt tedious at first, but with some planning and preparation, it’s a breeze to get through.
Some minor gear changes
I didn’t do a lot of combining this time, but I did make some changes with my items.
I try to upgrade my armor to the highest possible level as often as I can, so there are some changes there. Also, I renamed my Exorcist axe, to avoid confusion with the Exorcist great sword type. My great axe for fighting humans will be called Beheader from now on.
Outside of that, I’m noticing I have a lot of unused grimoires in my inventory. I guess I still need to learn or relearn that part, because I keep forgetting to use them in fights, even though some of them seem very useful.
Also, I’m still looking for a decent crossbow, to replace the Exorcist dagger, which I’ve been using from the start of the game.
I’m getting my first titles
Titles are sort of like achievements in Vagrant Story. I didn’t realize this, but I actually got three of them already. Two involve hitting things over 500 times with specific weapon classes and one of them is for the Chest key I found last time. As it turns out, the chest key is an option, relatively hard to find item, so it seems I’ve been doing some very optional stuff without even realizing.
I also got two of the sigils for the locked Keep rooms. These rooms are actually time-attack boss battle challenges. One of them was with the Minotaur and the other with a dragon. I beat both in about 3 seconds, so it will be an interesting challenge to beat those times.
How did I do it so fast? It’s easy. Time is only running when you’re between attacks, moving around the map, so as long as in the menus, or executing a move, I have all the time in the world. This is actually how you get to do some of those timed requirements within the regular levels, such as the one I wrote about in the abandoned mines.
As for the story, I didn’t see much of it. I met a guy named Tiger, or Tigger, or something. He was accompanied by the woman whose name I forgot again, but she was seen already around Romeo and his girlfriend. They found Grissom’s body in a place it shouldn’t have been in and, since Ashley was nearby, blamed him for his death and attacked. Sure, it was technically Ashley’s fault, but the body still wasn’t supposed to be there.
Anyway, there was an easy boss battle and after that, Grissom stood up. He heard some voices in his head, went mad as the undead usually do and ran off, as the undead usually don’t. After that, I got to the Limestone Quarry, where I am right now.
On a side note, I’m amazed on how quickly Vagrant Story deals with loading, especially when teleporting across the game world. A lot of the time, there’s no loading at all. I just instantly appear at my destination. I’d be very interested on how the dev team managed to do it on such a limited piece of hardware.