|Vagrant Story (ベイグラントストーリー, Beiguranto Sutōrī?) is a Japanese-developed console role-playing game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix) for the PlayStation video game console. The game was released in 2000, and has been re-released through the PlayStation Network for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable consoles eleven years later. Vagrant Story was primarily developed by the team responsible for Final Fantasy Tactics, with Yasumi Matsuno serving as producer and director.
The game takes place in the fictional kingdom of Valendia and the ruined city of Leá Monde. The story centers on Ashley Riot, an elite agent known as a Riskbreaker, who must travel to Leá Monde to investigate the link between a cult leader and a senior Valendian Parliament member, Duke Bardorba. In the prologue, Ashley is blamed for murdering the duke, and the game discloses the events that happen one week before the murder.
Vagrant Story is unique as a console action/adventure role-playing game in that it features no shops and no player interaction with other characters; instead, the game focuses on weapon creation and modification, as well as elements of puzzle-solving and strategy. Overall, the game received positive reviews from gaming magazines and websites.
Vagrant Story is a solo dungeon crawl, in which the player controls Ashley Riot from a third-person perspective while exploring Leá Monde and the catacombs underneath. The player may also switch into first-person perspective to allow for a 360° view using the L1 and R1 buttons on the game controller. Characters and sprites are proportionate with each other, and the player navigates Ashley on a three-dimensional field map. Navigation is in real-time, and areas accessed by the player are stored in an in-game map menu.
Ashley can run, jump, and push crates and cubes to navigate around obstacles, adding puzzle and platforming elements to gameplay. During the game, the player must sometimes solve block puzzles to advance the story. When the player returns to a completed block puzzle room, a time-attack mode called “Evolve, or Die!!” begins. Players must reach the end of the room in the shortest time possible, after which they are ranked. This stage is optional and can be turned off from the menu.
In the field map, players may engage the enemy as soon as they enter Battle Mode, which uses a pausable real-time combat system, much like Square’s Parasite Eve (1998). In Battle Mode, when the player taps the attack button, a wire frame sphere appears around Ashley. Individual body parts within this sphere can be targeted. The battle system involves the player chaining different attacks known as Chain Abilities to achieve large combos and deal damage to the enemy. This is done by pressing buttons in timely succession, making combat resemble a rhythm game. In addition to Chain Abilities, Defensive Abilities allow Ashley to reduce or reflect damage or avoid status ailments. Ashley also gains Break Arts, which exchange his hit points (HP) for increased damage.
Magic in Vagrant Story is learned later in the game using Grimoires, items dropped by enemies. Once a Grimoire is used, the magic spell associated with the Grimoire will remain in the menu, and players only need to spend magic points (MP) to cast a learned spell. Magic spells can be used to attack, heal, create status effects, and manipulate Ashley’s elemental and enemy affinities. Certain magic spells allow the player to affect multiple targets by using a small sphere positioned within the Battle Mode wire frame. Unlike physical attacks however, magic attacks cannot be chained.
Risk is an essential element in the battle system. A Risk bar is placed below the HP and MP bar, representing the Risk Points the player has accumulated. Risk Points affect Ashley’s concentration; the longer Ashley attacks a target, the more his Risk Point accumulates — lowering his accuracy and defenses. Chain and Defensive Abilities increase Risk faster than regular attacks, while Break Arts do not increase Risk at all. Enemy attacks and spells deal more damage if the player has high Risk. The advantage, however, is the higher chances for the player to score critical hits and restore higher HP.
Vagrant Story’s crafting system allows the player to create and customize weapons and armor in designated “workshop” areas, inputting various ranges, strengths, and statistics. Weapons fall into one of three main damage types: blunt, piercing, and edged. Equipment are influenced by their material and affinity to enemy classes and elements. Affinities influence the effectiveness of weapons and armor; however, equipment might lose one form of affinity when it gains another type. Weapons and armor can be combined, merging their affinities and sometimes creating a new type of blade or armor in the process. Different weapon types have different ranges, such as a bow and arrow having a longer range than melee weapons such as a mace.
Like several Square titles, the New Game Plus option is made available to the player upon first completing the game. In Vagrant Story, selecting “New Game+” enables the player to replay the story using their end-game weapons, items, and statistics instead of the defaults. This option allows players to access a hidden level, which features more intimidating enemies and more powerful equipment. The story does not change, and original enemy statistics will remain at default.
Vagrant Story is set in the fictitious city of Leá Monde, while the kingdom of Valendia is engulfed in civil war. Leá Monde is an old town with a history spanning more than two millennia. Located on an island surrounded by reefs, the walls have been the “witness of many battles” and are “stronger than the mightiest forts of Valendia”. In its golden years, Leá Monde was a thriving community until an earthquake struck the town 25 years before the game, destroying the city and leaving the ground unstable.
The Grand Cathedral and the Temple of Kiltia are at the center of the city. Beneath the ground is an abandoned mineshaft and limestone quarry, the darkened labyrinths of an “Undercity”, and the dark Iron Maiden dungeon. The maze-like Snowfly Forest, named for the so-called snowflies that can be found within, grows around the city. Other locations include the Graylands, the setting for the prologue event; and Valnain, the city where the Valendia Knights of Peace’s Headquarters is located. While Valendia and Leá Monde are fictitious, the game’s scenery is inspired by real-life landscapes of the southwest of France, including the city of Saint-Émilion.
The protagonist is Ashley Riot, a male member of the Valendia Knights of the Peace (VKP) in pursuit of a cult leader named Sydney Losstarot. Sydney, leader of the religious cult Müllenkamp, laid siege to Duke Bardorba’s manor in search of a key and kidnapped Bardorba’s son, Joshua. Ashley’s partner is Callo Merlose, an agent of the VKP Inquisitors. Also attempting to capture Sydney is Romeo Guildenstern of the Crimson Blades, whose mission was undertaken without the approval of the VKP.
Ashley is a Riskbreaker, a militant division of the VKP responsible for upholding state security and law. Although Callo accompanies him, Ashley does not accept her as a combat partner due to her lack of combat experience. Callo ends up being Sydney’s hostage and discovers the truth of Müllenkamp’s activities. Another Riskbreaker, Rosencrantz, appears during Ashley’s battles in Leá Monde, briefing him on the plans of the VKP, Sydney and the Cardinal, and subsequently his take on Ashley’s past. This casts suspicion on Ashley’s behalf, as Riskbreakers always work alone.
The Crimson Blades, under direct orders of Cardinal Batistum, are a group that is part of the Cardinal’s Knights of the Cross, in charge of seeking heretics and quelling cults. Romeo Guildenstern, their leader, is a pious man, deeply faithful to his belief and consequently immune to the Dark’s powers. Under orders of the Cardinal, he pursues Sydney with a small army in his command and his captains: Samantha, Duane, Grissom, Tieger and Neesa.
Müllenkamp is a cult based in Leá Monde. The city suffered a catastrophe when the population was killed in an earthquake. The city, filled with corpses controlled by Darkness, is the cult’s stronghold. Sydney and his accomplice, Hardin, survive the pursuit of the Crimson Blade, though Hardin sometimes doubts Sydney’s intentions.
The plot of Vagrant Story, titled “The Phantom Pain”, is presented as the prelude to the “story of the wanderer”. Beginning in the Graylands, Ashley and Callo are sent by the VKP to Duke Bardorba’s manor to investigate the Duke’s involvement with Müllenkamp and the Cardinal’s interest in Sydney Losstarot. Ashley infiltrates the manor and encounters Sydney, witnessing his powers first hand. Sydney escapes with his accomplice Hardin and the Duke’s son Joshua, leaving Ashley with a clue to his whereabouts. This event was dubbed the “Graylands Incident”.
Ashley and Callo arrive in Leá Monde and a lone Ashley infiltrates the city through the underground wine cellars. Along the way, he learns of objects holding magical power known as Grimoires and the city’s power to spawn the undead and mythological creatures. He encounters Guildenstern and his lover Samantha, and learns of the condition known as incomplete death and the Cardinal’s true intention for his pursuit of Sydney: immortality. The Crimson Blades confront Ashley and reveals his presence to Guildenstern.
Escaping unharmed, Ashley encounters Rosencrantz who intends to join him, though Ashley declines. Rosencrantz tells him of the VKP and the Parliaments’ knowledge of the dark powers of Leá Monde, and that the hidden powers deep within a person can be unleashed with the help of the Dark. In his encounters with Sydney, Ashley is shown visions of his past, where his wife Tia and his son Marco are killed by rogues. Meeting Rosencrantz again, Ashley is told that they were not his family, but mistaken targets he killed during a mission of theirs. Ashley’s guilt over their deaths was manipulated by the VKP to turn Ashley into a loyal Riskbreaker. Ashley recalls his hidden battle skills and experiences “clairvoyance”, seeing the progress of the Crimson Blades, which leads him to the Great Cathedral.
Sydney had captured Callo earlier and brought her with them. Callo learned that Hardin was skeptical of Sydney’s plans. She begins to develop the powers of “heart-seeing”, a form of telepathy, as they continue their escape deeper into Leá Monde. With her powers, she learned of Sydney’s intentions and Hardin’s reason to join Müllenkamp and his closeness to Joshua. Sydney left them to stop the others from advancing; taunting Guildenstern and Samantha, and provoking Ashley to follow him as he intends to bestow his powers upon Ashley. Ashley was not interested in inheriting the powers of Darkness; seeing that Callo had been captured, his only intention is to rescue her.
While discussing the Gran Grimoire, a powerful source of magic, Guildenstern and Samantha discover ancient Kildean letterings carved throughout the city walls. Rosencrantz reveals that the city is the Gran Grimoire and its power lies at the city center: the Grand Cathedral. As Guildenstern leaves for the Grand Cathedral, Rosencrantz searches for Ashley and Sydney. Finding them, Rosencrantz uses his immunity against Darkness and forces Sydney to surrender his powers. Rosencrantz also assaults Ashley to prove that he is not a suitable candidate for the powers of Darkness. Sydney refuses to listen and kills Rosencrantz by using a possessed statue, leaving Ashley to once again prove himself as his chosen successor.
Guildenstern continues on to the Great Cathedral in the center of the city, leading him to Callo, Hardin and Joshua. Interrogating Hardin about a certain “key” known as the Blood-Sin, Guildenstern reveals his intentions in acquiring the Dark’s powers. Sydney arrives to teleport Hardin and the rest away, leaving him to Guildenstern. Guildenstern acquires the “key” from him and murders Samantha as his sacrifice for the powers of darkness. Ashley arrives later and listens as Sydney reveals his true intentions. Ashley then confronts Guildenstern and manages to defeat him.
Upon Guildenstern’s defeat, Ashley, now bearing the “key”, carries Sydney out of the collapsing city. The creatures spawned within the city begin to disappear. Callo, Hardin and Joshua escape the city, though Hardin dies and the fate of Callo and Joshua remains unknown. In the epilogue, Ashley goes to visit the ailing Duke Bardorba in his manor, although once they were alone, it was Sydney who was in the room. Sydney tells the duke that he had found a suitable heir to the Darkness in Ashley, and that their plan to inherit the powers of Darkness was successful. The duke then proceeds to kill Sydney, and he himself died soon after of unknown causes. In a report received by the VKP a week after the Graylands Incident, the duke was believed to be murdered, and Ashley became the prime suspect, though he was never found again.