"The body is but a vessel for the soul, a puppet which bends to the soul's tyranny. And lo, the body is not eternal, for it must feed on the flesh of others, lest it return to the dust from whence it came.Therefore must the soul deceive, despise and murder men."
Square Soft's Vagrant Story is a genre-defying, stat-based Playstation One RPG by videogame auteur Yasumi Matsuno. It's a standalone Non-Linear Sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, and as such, is part of the God-Rapingly popular Final Fantasy Series.
The game is easily one of the most complicated Squaresoft RPGs: a combination of 80's dungeon crawling with French graphic novel aesthetics, Shakespearean dialogue, elaborate Item Crafting, Rhythm Game combat and the structure of a Greek drama, with the characters dressed in... well, fairly homoerotic bondage gear. It's a gorgeous but polarizing game, due to being Nintendo Hard, and features very mature themes compared to other Final Fantasy installments.
Vagrant Story is set in the dark ages of Ivalice. The player is Ashley Riot, a knight of the kingdom of Valendia and a Riskbreaker—a medieval James Bond. He is sent to investigate an attack on the manor of Duke Bardorba by Sydney Losstarot, a charismatic cult leader. Our man Ashley does his job, infiltrates the manor and shoots Sydney dead with a bowgun. All in a day's work? Not quite: Sydney calmly pulls out the bolt from his heart, summons a wyvern spoken of only in hushed legend, and leaves the scene, with the Duke's 6-year-old son Joshua Corrinne Bardorba as a hostage.
Pursued by the Knights of the Cross, a Church army lead by the righteous but sinister Romeo Guildenstern, Sydney makes for the lost city of Leá Monde. Ashley, accompanied by intelligence officer Callo Merlose, follows, trying to avoid the Knights of the Cross at all costs while hunting Sydney down. In the style of classic dungeon crawlers, the player takes Ashley through Leá Monde's catacombs and ancient temples, killing vast quantities of equally ancient monsters. The plot unfolds rapidly, and becomes more and more intricate as new parties reveal their own schemes: there's Valendia operative and ex-Riskbreaker Jan Rosencrantz, who wants the city's power for himself; General Grissom, who seeks revenge for the death of his priest brother Duane (at Ashley's hands); and John Hardin, Sydney's gentle accomplice, who slowly realizes that he's being Locked Out of the Loop.
The city itself is a Cosmic Keystone, and everyone is fighting for power it holds. A cat-and-mouse game ensues, as Ashley tails Sydney through the lost city, while Sydney starts to tease Ashley by searching his memories. But does Ashley's backstory add up? Have his memories been altered? As Ashley fights on, the game becomes an exploration of the subjectivity of memory, concluding in what is surprisingly not a Gainax Ending. Oh, and it features what's probably the most celebrated localization in video game history.
The game's difficulty lies in its stat-based and menu-based combat. Vagrant Story's battle system is perhaps closer to Nethack than it is to most games in the Final Fantasy series. Instead of gaining traditional experience points, Ashley -- also a skilled blacksmith -- crafts a collection of weapons and a full set of armor, planning around elements, weapon types, weapon range, creature types and Ashley's own reaction abilities. In practice, this means you may end up switching and re-configuring your equipment for every enemy you encounter. Difficult? Horribly so. Rewarding? Yes. It's Nintendo Hard, with a very steep learning curve, but of the "difficult to learn, easy to master" variety.
In short, it's a complicated, odd, beautiful, maddening game that definitely Needs More Love.
Also, a warning for first time players. There are four opening movies that are very easily skipped by accident. Without seeing these sequences, the game makes very little sense. The scenes are:
- (1) the introduction cutscene, seen by leaving the menu running for a minute or so.
- (2) an optional (spoiler-filled) trailer, seen by leaving the menu running a second time after viewing the first introduction.
- (3) the actual opening sequence, which is too easily skipped by accidentally pressing "start".
- (4) the vital second part of the opening sequence, which probably will make you press "start" and skip it by accident because some of the text takes a long time to disappear.
So, don't press start until after you see the first save point.
Is now up on the Playstation Network.
Character Sheet is here.
- All There in the Manual: To really understand the plot of the game, you need to read the Japanese only Ultimania guide which gives in-depth explanations to many scenes in the game as well as additional information on all of the characters. A translation can be found here.
- Descriptions of the natures of all the monsters you fight can be found on the in-game bestiary and many of the items and accessories that you find even manage to get a brief back-story in the item menu.
- Ambition Is Evil: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exemplify this.
- Anti-Magic: Rosencrantz. To Guildenstern: "Your memory fails you. The Dark holds no power over me." He's immune to the Dark, as he demonstrates in several cut-scenes. Unfortunately, this doesn't save him when the statue Sydney brings to life cuts him in half.
- This becomes less convincing in the manual, where Ashley suspects that Rosencrantz is brainwashed by Valendia's secret service into thinking he is immune to the Dark.
- Anti-Villain: Sydney Losstarot. With White-Haired Pretty Boy looks, manipulative demeanor, penchant for Mind Rape and sophisticated plans, he definitely is Big Bad type. It turns out that all that time, he was making an elaborate Heroic Sacrifice to save the world. He'd be such a Well-Intentioned Extremist if he wasn't basically right about everything.
- Author Appeal: Akihiko Yoshida likes bondage gear. And piercings. And amputation, skin removal, torture... and of course, as he has admitted himself, butts.
- Awesome but Impractical: Break Arts. They have fancy names and cool animations, deal above the average damage and some inflict status effects. However, an average attack chain will still harm the enemy much more. There is also no guarantee that the Break Art will connect (and there really is a lot of hard to hit enemies), which can lead to a flashy attack followed by a much disappointing "MISS".
- Awesome McCoolname: Just about anyone with the full name, but Ashley Riot is the most notable.
- Badass: Ahh, Ashley. "Reinforcements? I am the reinforcements." A total Implacable Man and with a Mysterious Past that makes him even stronger, even the game's characters subtly lampshade how ridiculously strong he is. He also acquires a Badass Longcoat for the final scene of the game.
- Bait and Switch Boss: A cutscene sets up Rosencrantz as the next boss, but Sydney uses his magic to animate a statue which crushes him, and Ashley winds up fighting the statue instead.
- Bash Brothers: Tieger and Neesa, although there are shades of a Battle Couple relationship going on.
- Belated Happy Ending: Various item descriptions mention the Zodiac Brave Story from Final Fantasy Tactics, naming Agrias, Orlandu and several others as well-known heroes. That means the Durai report from Tactics, containing a true account of what happened during the war, was eventually accepted as historical canon.
- BFS: The Great Sword line of weapon types. There's also Great Maces (big freakin' hammers) such as the gigantic Hand of Light.
- Big No: Doubly subverted. Joshua clearly attempts this when Hardin is stabbed by Guildenstern, but not only is there no voice acting in this game, but Joshua himself has been mute since the events of the game began, resulting in a very heartfelt, but ultimately silent NOOOOOOOO!
- Bittersweet Ending: At least for Sydney and Duke Bardorba. As for Ashley, it's a bit more uplifting as he comes to the term with his past or at least accepts that it does not matter what his past really was.
- Blessed with Suck: Sydney, and Ashley in the ending, after inheriting the Rood Inverse.
- Block Puzzle: Virtually every room in the game has a block puzzle to solve. This is the game that inspired the trope page in the first place.
- Boss Rush: A passageway in the heart of Leá Monde leads to doors containing every boss in the game, including, in a New Game+, the Bonus Bosses. Each door must be unlocked with sigils earned through the game to proceed.
- The final dungeon has no respawning enemies, yet has lots of bosses and mini-bosses and only one or two run of the mill encounters.
- Brains and Bondage: It's not quite clear why, but about half of the cast is walking around in BDSM gear. And spouting faux-Shakespearian dialogue.
- Break Arts: Four for each class of weapons, but don't rely on them TOO much.
- Came Back Wrong: The spirits of those murdered in Leá Monde are cursed to wander from corpse to corpse, possessing rotten bodies and never finding peace. Grissom, murdered by Ashley, finds his own corpse by accident, and retains a small amount of control over it as a result. It's... quite horrifying.
- Cherry Tapping: Used often. This is a game where dealing 10 hit points of damage can be a serious accomplishment. Although Ashley's weapon types/affinities go a long way in determining the damage (hitting for 50 or 60 HP isn't uncommon with a proper weapon), many bosses will go down from much smaller hits. Figuring out how to hit them in the first place can... also take a while.
- Chewing the Scenery: Just pick any scene with Ashley, Guildenstern, Rosencrantz and/or Sydney. Sydney, is doing it for the benefit of his 'audience' -- whether this is Callo, Hardin, Ashley, Samantha or us.
- Color Wash: The game likes using two predominant colors for areas: brownish-yellow, or blue.
- Corrupt Church: The St. Iocus church and their Knights of the Cross, no doubt. "Warping the minds of men and shepherding the masses has always been your church's domain. You lure sheep with empty miracles and a dead god." Not to mention that "iocus" is Latin for "joke".
- It's implied, via the Final Fantasy Tactics references that pop up around the game, that this is the Church of St. Ajora of Glabados; Sydney's "mark your savior well, for he is one of the demons you so fear" can easily be read as a hint at Ajora's true nature as the host of Altema.
- Early in the game, a conversation between two knights reveals that magic is considered blasphemous by the church. Later, we see elite knights using all kinds of spells, up to demon summoning (Grissom). Guildenstern uses the dark power and suggests that the cardinal himself can somehow control the Dark, and seeks immortality through this.
- The Corruption: The effect the Dark has on those who die in its thrall, from the corpses of Leá Monde's former inhabitants, to the Crimson Blades and Knights of the Cross that die throughout the course of the game and are raised again as undead.
- Covers Always Lie: Ashley and Callo are a Battle Couple that share a grand total of about 90 seconds in two scenes before the game even starts, without much talking other than business, and do not cross paths again for the rest of the game.
- Creepy Cool Crosses: The Rood of St. Iocus, which resembles a cross with four arms at 45 degree angles and a tiny 'sword crossgard' at the bottom. Ashley's pendant and the motifs on his pants display it, while Sydney's back is tattooed with the blasphemous Rood Inverse. The base form of the Infinity+1 Sword, the Holy Win, is shaped as such (and is wielded, in story, by the first form of the Final Boss). Now guess what his second form looks like. Sorta.
- Curb Stomp Battle All of new game plus with the exception of the bonus content.
- Cute Mute: Joshua.
- Cyborg/ArtificialLimbs: Sydney. The magical variety, of course.
- Dark Messiah: Guildenstern.
- Dead Little Sister: Ashley's wife and child were murdered by bandits. Or were they really...?
- Deadpan Snarker: In the rare moments Ashley is not entirely serious, he's this.
*Earthquake shakes the catacombs*
- And "No live burials today, thanks."
- Demoted Boss: The Elementals.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Rosencrantz. So, so much. Everyone knows he's a traitor to all sides, and yet no one really cares about his hidden plans. Even Ashley dismisses him as an obvious lowlife liar during their first encounter and simply walks away. When it turns out Rosencrantz is (a) immune to the Dark (c.f. Too Cool to Live) and (b) hoping to become the vessel for the Blood Sin, he's very quickly removed from the plot by Sydney.
- Elemental Embodiment: The four classical Greek elements, plus Dark, roam the catacombs of Leá Monde. Worse, the named avatars of these forces, those said to have brought calamity to Leá Monde, guard the Cathedral.
- And by "said", we mean you can find it buried in the back pages of the in-game monster manual, near the end of the final dungeon. If you bother to look. Hey, no one ever said backstory had to be obvious.
- Exact Words: "Fear not, sweet Rosencrantz, I will not kill you."
- Fake Memories: Ashley's wife and son. Or maybe not. Damn it, Sydney!
- Fan Service: Sydney's pants and Ashley's shorts, full stop.
- A Fate Worse Than Death: Grissom, whose wandering soul searches for a body to possess... and finds his own cold corpse. By the end of the game, he's not holding together very well.
- According to the manual, everyone who is affected by the dark will be unable to move on and wander the world forever in unbearable agony once his or her body decays. This includes those who survive the game's events. However, as the bearer of the Dark, Ashley is able to grant these souls reprieve... as their holder.
- For Massive Damage: Basically, the only way to beat quite a few bosses in the game, including the final one, as they'll prove invulnerable to all but a few techniques or elemental alignments.
- Framing Device: The game actually has a frame story which reveals the final ending: Duke Bardorba dies... and you play the game to discover just why, setting the stage for the actual game, which occurs in a single location in roughly a day. Just like a Greek drama should, wink wink.
- Or did he? The final cutscenes never outright state whether or not it's Ashley. It seems to be more a framing device for exactly how Ashley ascended, with some spotlight given to the Bardorba Family Feud.
- Free Rotating Camera
- Functional Magic: Subverted hard. The premise is that magic doesn't exist in the normal world at all... and as a result, all magic is Black Magic. Casting any kind of spell is an unnatural act that sentences your soul to a horrible fate beyond imagination. While spells exist, most magical powers come as special gifts.
- Genius Loci: Leá Monde has a will of its own.
- Giant Enemy Crab: One in the Undercity, another beneath the Cathedral, and yet another, the Damascus Crab as the New Game+ Bonus Boss. Attack their mouth for massive damage.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Guildenstern once he gains the power of the Rood Inverse by sacrificing Samantha.
- Government Conspiracy: It's All There in the Manual, but the earthquake that destroyed the city of Lea Monde and killed off all of its inhabitants were caused on purpose by the Parliament - or perhaps the Cardinal? - in order to feed the souls of the dead to the darkness within the city and seize the control of that power. This is why the Duke Bardorba and Sydney, not wanting the Dark to be misused, enact the plan to transfer its power to Ashley, completely destroying the city in process.
- Groin Attack: Sydney's disturbingly low pants seem to be another case of Squaresoft's trademark Impossibly Cool Clothes... until you consider the possibility that he's sacrificed his genitals along with his arms (the other explanation would be Barbie Doll Anatomy).
- Guide Dang It: The game can be played without a guide, in fact it's not possible to miss anything. That said, the game's weapon crafting system is simply so sophisticated, and the overall game so very difficult, that many players will take any crutch they can get.
- Headless Horseman: There is a Dullahan boss early on that is an empty suit of armour with no head and a large sword.
- Here There Were Dragons: Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy Tactics... they were both set in this same world. What the hell happened?
- Fridge Brilliance: Maybe putting history's reigns back in the hands of Man was NOT such as good thing after all...
- Heroic Sacrifice: Sydney.
- Tieger as well, to a lesser extent.
- How Do I Shot Web?:
Grissom: ...Please, a moment. My body is not... cooperating."
- Impossibly Cool Clothes: It's difficult to say if Vagrant Story is a subversion, aversion or a straight play of this trope. Next to all the guys in appropriate medieval armour, Sydney goes topless, with a buttcape and low-slung pants that only barely hide what all fangirls want to see. Rosencrantz wears red spandex bondage gear. Ashley wears leather chaps that leave most of his ass exposed. Tieger wears a leather bondage harness with an incongruous pair of khaki shorts (probably an afterthought to keep the T rating). Hardin wears normal pants... well, normal except for the built-in chaps.
- Infant Immortality: Very averted with Marco. Averted even more with the Quicksilver and Shrieker enemies since they're possessed by dead children's spirits.
- Informed Ability: Played straight with poor Samantha, who's a Commander in the Crimson Blades, but gets zero chance to shine in battle. Subverted with Callo, whom we see being every bit the epic Inquisitor that Heldricht says she is, in spite of her being taken hostage at the start!
- Instant Runes: Many magic spells create this when cast. There's also a few in cutscenes, such as when a Dullahan boss makes its first appearance and drags its sword across the ground, creating a magic circle around itself.
- Item Crafting: This game has no shops or vendors (it's an abandoned city, of course). If Ashley wants more powerful weaponry and armor, he's got to locate the workshops scattered around the city and forge the equipment himself. The materials he uses in the process determine the basic strength of the weapon and armor, while their original affinities determine their effectiveness against specific foes.
- Knight Templar: The St. Iocus church and their Knights of the Cross. Guildenstern seems like this at first, but turns out to be even worse.
- Lady Not-Appearing-In-This-Game: Müllenkamp, who only appears in the opening sequence.
- Large Ham: Some characters have their moments, but none come close to Sydney. Magnificent Bastard that he is, Sydney dominates every scene he's in.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Ashley. So goddamn much.
- Late to the Party: Leá Monde became a ghost city when an earthquake severed its contact with land. Something happened to all its people, causing them all to succumb to the Dark.
- The Legions of Hell: Most of the enemies.
- Light Is Not Good: Light-aligned enemies aren't especially common, but they include several of the game's liches, and a dragon which is described as one of the most powerful and evil of its kind.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Hardin. Ashley, too.
- Lonely at the Top: Sydney mocks Guildenstern with this trope when Guildenstern demands to know the way to unlock Lea Monde's power.
Sydney: A tyrant always dies alone Guildenstern, surrounded by silver-tongued leeches, he is utterly alone. He sows sorrow and reaps death.
- The Lost Woods: Snowfly Forest. The only way to get around without a map involves reorienting oneself by inspecting the moss growing on trees.
- That little hint about the snowflies they give you? They're not talking about directions, but density. Guide Dang It indeed.
- Mass Super-Empowering Event: Just going to Lea Monde causes you to start to develop magical powers and extra sensory perception. Callo develops the ability to see a person's subconscious, Ashley gets a two-way clairvoyant vision with Guildenstern's girlfriend so he can see what she sees as well as a minor link with Callo, and just about everyone starts tossing magical spells before the day is out.
- Mind Screw: SO, SO MUCH. Most of it is Sydney's fault (and boy, does the man have FUN doing this), but the entire game is fraught with hidden truths and equally-hidden motives. Don't expect any moments of dramatic irony to last or be fruitful for long.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: "Riskbreaker Ashley Riot?" Yeah, not gonna piss him off.
- Naming Conventions: A lot of characters seem to have names derived from Shakespeare...
- Significant ones, too.
- New Game+: It allows you to keep whatever is on your person, as well as any equipment you saved in a Container. Additionally, the Rood Inverse grants Ashley access to Bonus Dungeons and their respective Bonus Bosses, such as the the Iron Maiden B2—home of Death and Asura.
- Nintendo Hard: Unlike most JRPGs, Vagrant Story likes to keep the player on his toes... by kicking him in the balls every half an hour or so. Boss fights consistently cream poor Ashley, and random encounters are even worse. Success depends largely on mastery of the game's near-inscrutable Item Crafting system, and there's even a random enemy with an instant death spell... in a game with only one PC. Rumours tell of gamers that actually enjoy this, but it's possible they have been conditioned to it by experiences too horrible to comprehend.
- Oh Crap: This is probably the expression on Rosencrantz's face as he is about to be cut in half by the Kali statue that Sydney summons.
- One-Man Army: Ashley.
- One-Winged Angel: This game is set in a Final Fantasy universe, after all. Guildenstern is one freaky bloody angel.
- Physical God: Ashley becomes this at the end of the game.
- Power Tattoo: The Rood Inverse on Sydney's back. It's inherited by Ashley during the ending scenes... and during new game plus, it can unlock doors that were originally sealed on the first playthrough. "The Blood Sin on Ashley's back burns!"
- Quickly-Demoted Woman: Callo is on the box and is hinted to be the brains to Ashley's brawn, but Ashley's good intentions (keeping a non-combat agent out of combat) backfire, as Callo meets an abrupt Sydney from nowhere and is taken hostage. She does become a very epic psychic, however. Demoted from sidekick, promoted to seer..
- Randomly Drops: Since there are no shops, it's the only way of getting new equipment most of the time. Item Crafting somewhat makes up for the low drop rates of high-end items; however, the very best weapons in the game can only be dropped by certain enemies. Chances are, of course, abysmal.
- Rare Candy: Elixirs can raise a stat by as much as five points. The various wines Ashley can find also have the same effect. Note that outside of boss fights, this is the only way to raise your stats—there are no experience points.
- Restart At Level One: "Ashley has recovered this skill from repressed memory."
- Roar Before Beating: Wyverns and Dragons.
- Ruins for Ruins Sake: Much of Leá Monde's architecture is like this, at least above the surface. Beneath it, the Undercity is an entire town complete with streets, buildings, and lampposts that is larger than the city above ground.
- The ruins above ground are just whatever streets and buildings were left somewhat untouched after earthquakes submerged large parts of Leá Monde to create the Undercity.
- Sarcastic Clapping: Sydney. Made unnerving by the fact that Sydney has arms and claws made out of enchanted metal. Plink, plink, plink...
- Scenery Porn: Yes.
- Shout-Out: The Eye of Argon is one of the items you have.
- Smug Snake: Rosencrantz, the wannabe Magnificent Bastard who doesn't quite manage, alas! His antics include shifty allegiances, overly elaborate plans and a smarmy personality, and he seems poised to take the game home... until Sydney turns the tables on him, plays him as a fool, and sics a motile Kali statue upon him, whereupon he dies like a crackhead and the player laughs. Also, Pussy-freakin'-foot!
- Splash of Color: Ashley's flashbacks take place on a bright green hill with a dazzling blue sky. This is especially shocking since most of the game is golden brown or murky blue.
- Stripperiffic: Everyone. Male, female, it doesn't matter. The cast is wearing enough clothing to properly cover about half as many characters as there are in the game.
- The seats of their pants at least only cover half of what they should.
- Synchronization: Duke Bardorba and Sydney cannot live if the other dies due to the pact that Duke Bardorba made in order to save Sydney's life in the past. This is also why after killing Sydney, Duke Bardorba dies as well.
- Terminally Dependent Society
- Theme Naming: All assembled weapons found in the game are named after alcoholic cocktails. It is easy to miss the connection due to the inherent randomness of cocktail names, so while some may work as weapon names (Balin’s revenge, death sentence, eviscerator, rib splitter), some are more obviously cocktails (Mojito, rusty nail, shandy gaff) and then some are just plain bizarre (Dog’s nose, fandango, pink squirrel, pussyfoot). The descriptions of these two videos lists most weapons and the main ingredients of such cocktails.
- Fridge Logic extends the theme a little further with the weapon Pussyfoot as it is the only cocktail in the list which is non-alcoholic, and the weapon itself is wielded by the one character immune to magic. While the name may lack the threatening edge, it is appropriate for an alcohol-free cocktail.
- Title Drop: The last line in the game.
- Training Dummy: That allow you to build weapon stats.
- Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Discussed by Sydney, who claims that the trope works because people are willing to forget things that pain them and much prefer to replace them with pleasing lies. If you believe Sydney's version of events, Ashley has invoked this trop against himself, convincing himself that he once lost a wife and son to help himself forget murdering two innocent people.
- The Un-Reveal: Ultimately, you never find out the truth about Ashley's past. And Ashley is able to accept that it really doesn't matter. Damn it, Sydney!
- The Undead: A lot of enemies. Justified as this is your fate if you die in the Lea Monde. And all the inhabitants of the city died or succumbed to the Dark due to the certain event.
- The Unfought: Rosencrantz. The first fight ends with him running away and saying he won't be defeated so easily next time. Unfortunately, when Ashley does meet him again, it's only to see him getting killed like an idiot by Sydney.
- Unwitting Pawn: A very rare inversion. Ashley gets tricked into saving the world.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Guildenstern's motivation for claiming the power of Lea Monde. Sydney calls him out for this when they meet in the Cathedral.
- The Verse: Said to take place in the same baseline universe as Final Fantasy Tactics (and now also Final Fantasy XII!) and has references in the shape of relics and accessories.
- The Watson: Callo is there for revealing the details of the plot that the players in Ashley's perspective would have no way of knowing. It's executed damned well, too.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Dark, the mysterious energy of Leá Monde, prevents peoples' souls from dying. This sounds great, but the same doesn't happen to the bodies... trapping people for all eternity into the cursed city as ghosts. Blessed with Suck indeed.
- Those people lucky enough to avoid THAT form of immortality end up much like Sydney and his father, who are lord knows how old and seem quite tired of all this business.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: What happens to people who try to wield the Rood Inverse powers and the Dark without sufficient Heroic Willpower. Guildenstern finds this out only too late. Not that anyone felt sorry for him or anything.
- Sydney says as much to Ashley regarding Guildenstern: "Those who crave the Dark cannot control the Dark. You must stop him, kill him... ...before the Dark sucks his living soul dry."