"The artistry on display is still absurd to this day"
February 10, 2020 10:22 AM   Subscribe

"Vagrant Story is 20 years old! It is not only in the conversation as the best game Square has ever made, it is a towering achievement of the genre both at an artistic and technical level. Here I will share some details about the game that even Hideo Kojima was jealous of ⬇️⬇️⬇️" [via @dreamboum]
[Non-Twitter link via ThreadReaderApp]
posted by Atom Eyes (20 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
This is my favorite PS1 game, and I’ve probably played it through dozens of times. The inventory system is clunky, it has box puzzles, and some of the jumps are pretty tough, but the story is compelling (how much does fact matter in truth? what kind of person do you want to be? how can you make right the sins of the father?) and it has perhaps the best-written script/translation in gaming history. It’s absolutely not without flaws, including mostly poor women characters, but anyone who enjoys j-RPGs should give this a play at some point.
posted by curious nu at 10:34 AM on February 10, 2020

Fun fact: playing this game required sending our PS1 in for repair, because the game pushed the system hard, it was poorly ventilated, and it melted a solder connection on the board.
posted by curious nu at 10:36 AM on February 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Wish there was a nice way to play this on PC. I always was intrigued by it as a kid, but we never had the right hardware to play it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:20 AM on February 10, 2020

I've never played this game but it looks beautiful. Like the 3d rendering is still so well realized, the aesthetic is so on point!
posted by Fizz at 11:31 AM on February 10, 2020

Wish there was a nice way to play this on PC.

Well, with emulators you can...


Oh... right. True.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:38 AM on February 10, 2020

OpenEmu plays it on Mac just fine with proper sound (other emulators I’ve used in the past would have issue with the bell tolls and some other specifics). Dunno what’s best on a Windows or Linux setup, but all you need for that is the image and the BIOS.
posted by curious nu at 11:44 AM on February 10, 2020

Holy crap, I had no idea Vagrant Story was the first fully 3D game for everybody involved. If that isn't a testament to the (potential) power of a fresh approach to programming challenges I don't know what is.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:17 PM on February 10, 2020

Damn, those are some pretty screengrabs. It looks more like a PS2 game put through a low-res filter than anything on the PS1.
posted by egypturnash at 12:19 PM on February 10, 2020

Also, as far as playing it on modern hardware, if you have a working PS3, PSP or Vita you can get a digital copy of Vagrant Story for six dollars.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:19 PM on February 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

if you have a working PS3, PSP or Vita you can get a digital copy of Vagrant Story for six dollars.

Oh shit, this might be an excuse to pick my Vita back up and give it whirl. I always forget what a tiny powerhouse the Vita is. It's such a good handheld. Thanks for the reminder.
posted by Fizz at 12:44 PM on February 10, 2020

Here's an interesting article about the localisation of Vagrant Story from a couple of years ago.

The work of Alexander O. Smith is interesting even though I have a soft spot for the Wolseyisms of the Wild West era.

posted by ersatz at 3:06 PM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Vagrant Story is possibly the best game I've never played. I mean, the intro cutscene feels more like a movie than even most contemporary games. Sure, you have the PS1-era jagged polygon aesthetic, but the cinematic angles and art direction hold up fine.

Except I've never actually played past the 25 minute mark. There's always been something else I wanted to play more. This is the original and oldest item on my 20-year-old backlog.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 4:54 PM on February 10, 2020

Vagrant Story was and is phenomenal. The weapon crafting system was so good. And the level design was great. It has always felt like part of Dark Souls' source material for Lordran.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:17 PM on February 10, 2020

I saw this tweet this morning and then seeing it again on Metafilter has meant I have spent all day thinking about Vagrant Story.

It came out in 2000, which was a HUGE YEAR for Square. You had:
Legend of Mana
Threads of Fate
Chrono Cross
Vagrant Story
Front Mission 3

..and probably something else I'm forgetting. Legend of Mana, Threads of Fate, and Chrono Cross all came out in the summer (there was a big promotion at the time). VS was in spring, and kind of flew under the radar for a long time. The colors are often muddy, the combat system has rhythm timing, it's not Final Fantasy or Chrono Cross, etc. Front Mission 3 was also super big and took the spring RPG Dollars for being sci-fi, pretty crunchy system-wise, and being the first of its franchise to get release outside of Japan. Valkyrie Profile also came out that summer; not Square, but another super-popular game that grabbed attention.

It's kind of hard to overstate what a revelation the characters were at the time. Everyone's late 20s, early 30s, some a little older. The main character was a husband and a father. Once you're a couple of hours in it's pretty clear there aren't much in the way of easy heroes and villains. The entire game oozes this mix of Renaissance-noir-and-horror tone that's still rare to this day.

As the twitter thread mentions, the cutscene fluidity is wild. There's amazing care taken here; all the transitions and some of the action between beats could be in an animated feature, but there are regular pauses on all of the dialogue with the comic-style text balloons and this could just as easily be drawn as played.

Systems-wise there are definitely some issues -- inventory management is not necessary to win, but it's rewarded, and it's clunky. But you're also never required to grind, which was almost groundbreaking. You can, and again, you can be rewarded for that (there's a specific tactic that makes the last boss much easier if you know what you're doing), but you're never going to hit a wall where you think, shit, I need to level. The in-game map system and teleportation are great, and there are honest-to-goodness achievements built in that reward New Game+ playthroughs.

Part of me wants to enthuse forever, and part of me doesn't want to rob the new players of the exploration, so I'll stop there. Vagrant Story has been this touchstone in my life since it was released twenty years ago, and it's difficult for me to imagine how I would relate to RPGs differently without it. I think the only thing that's come close storytelling-wise is maybe Mass Effect 2 as far as the effect a game has had on me, and the only narrative game I've sunk more hours/playthroughs into is Chrono Trigger. Vagrant Story is a noteworthy work of art - flaws and all - and I hope some of the folks reading this get the chance to play it.
posted by curious nu at 5:26 PM on February 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

That list of everything that came out that year by Square is insane; VS totally got buried. Chrono Cross was THE game everyone was waiting for, and the hype for it as the sequel to Chrono Trigger was out of this world. I still have the pre-order clock and soundtrack sampler CD. I remember also holding some saltiness over feeling robbed from not getting Seiken Densetsu 3 in the US in 1995 (which we at long last finally did *last year*, almost 24 years later) so a new Mana game was also exciting. Both of those were bright and colorful, almost aggressively so; when I picture Vagrant Story the first thing that comes to mind is literally "brown," and lots of it.

I think it made the cover of Game Informer (?) the month before it came out, with good reviews, and early teenage me was definitely intrigued by it because Square was producing hit after hit at the time, but early teenage me also didn't have much money so I had to go with what I knew and thought were safe bets. Despite amazing music, both CC and LoM ended up being minor to moderate let-downs for me, for various reasons.

I have a copy of Vagrant Story now, which I got at a reasonable price from a used shop going out of business a few years ago; I have a sinking feeling it might be hard to find nowadays. I promised I'd give it a spin one day... or who am I kidding I'll probably just watch a Let's Play instead.
posted by jpolorolu at 8:34 PM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have, like many of you, played the hell out of this game. I bought it on a whim at a Toys R Us (it was probably on sale for dirt cheap) and bought a cheat book at the same time, and needed the cheat book, because a lot of things about the game are fiddly and unforgiving, but it is a really amazing experience.
I have long felt that with a few tweaks, the story would make a pretty good movie.
I have ranted at people about what a great game it is, and they’ve never heard of it.

The first Lich fight almost broke me.

I should dig it up and fire up the ol’ ps2 and play again.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:28 PM on February 10, 2020

I was in a focus group for this game at the Square offices in Costa Mesa, CA. It had not been localized yet. I think I was paid $40 (they ran a classified ad in the local paper). IIRC, everyone in the group gave it a thumbs up. Unfortunately once I owned the game, it was very difficult for me to play. Difficulty seemed to ramp up insanely when I got to the first or second boss fight. I was a big PS1 Square fan, but after being disappointed by Parasite Eve, I think I was a bit snobbish about it, and probably should have given it more play time.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:23 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think I only ever met one other person who'd played this, and it's why games like Metal Gear and Final Fantasy were bigger in my life simply because I could actually talk to people about them.

I loved the music, I loved the weapon crafting system (still remember my giant warhammer/mace "Crushinator" that I used on the last boss). I remember getting stuck fighting a giant crab and the ifrit, , and getting lost exploring some of the optional dungeons opened with sigils.

I also remember the enormous sense of relief you got when opening a door to a new area and the safe-room music (forge?) starts to play. Looking forward to finding a way of playing this again in the future because its a game I come back to every few years. Everyone should play it
posted by Chaffinch at 12:40 AM on February 11, 2020

I have an original PSP that i keep around because I managed to get a copy of this and FF 7 and 8 on a memory stick from the PS store before they closed it down. I had originally played it on the PS1 back in the day and it was such a revelation. The world building was so immersive. FF Tactics shares a lot of the world feel although i'm a bit murky about the exact shared world situation there. They both have marvellous stories and the occult/real world feel is on point.

Even though it's a largely linear story experience, the setting and reasoning behind your actions make it feel like a much larger world than it is.

For me, this game was the zenith of Square's creative development.
posted by trif at 7:41 AM on February 11, 2020

To this day, this game remains the industry leader in portrayal of assless cargo shorts.
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:20 AM on February 11, 2020

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