Friday, January 15, 2010

I Am The Reinforcements.

In the last week I played through Vagrant Story. The last time I did so was in the summer of 2000, but I had held onto my Clear Game save and so was able to start a sort of New Game + with my already powered-up Ashley Riot, though the enemies were no harder than they ever were. It made for a pretty easy playthrough, though lengthy, at about 18 hours, total.

Visually, the game holds up remarkably well for a Playstation 1-era 3D game, even better than Metal Gear Solid. The art style and detailed character modeling go a long way, here. I'd say it actually looks quite a bit better than any 3D I have ever seen on the DS, and that is supposedly at about N64 levels of tech (though N64 games universally looked like shit). The music in Vagrant Story is nice, but the writing is where the real genius is to be found in terms of presentation. Whomever translated the game and wrote the script is very talented.

It's still a very playable game, too; nothing having come along and done exactly what it does in the intervening decade. Vagrant Story is all about weapon types and affinities. There are six families of monsters: Human, Beast, Undead, Phantom, Dragon, and Evil. A weapon will gain strength vs. whatever family it is used against, but lose strength vs the next two families in that list. Since there are six families, one weapon may be strengthened against a specific pair. Thus, one of my swords was used against Humans and Phantoms, but no other types, and I had a greatsword I used against Dragon types and Beasts, and finally a Light-bolstered dagger I used against Undead and Evil enemy types. On top of enemy affinities, there are also elemental ones to take into account, plus the weapon's damage type (piercing, edged, or blunt). You can only carry 8 weapons at a time to swap between, so while you have some room to try out different types (swords, greatswords, daggers, lances, axes, hammers, maces, and crossbows), you do have to have some amount of focus and purpose for each weapon you maintain.

You can disassemble weapons and recombine their component parts (blades and grips), smelt your trained weapons together into more powerful types, and finally socket them with gems that boost various affinities or hit and dodge rates. It's a pretty complex system, and allows for a lot of interesting combinations and a high degree of freedom in what weapons you want to use.

The game plays out as a very long dungeon crawl with a huge number of boss encounters--probably more than any other game I've played aside from MMO's. There is no overworld, but there are outdoor sections, and all the various areas of the game are interconnected like in a Metroidvania game.

Overall, it's a really cool and unique game, a sort of evolutionary dead-end from a time when Square was at the top of their game. Indeed, the director of the game, Yasumi Matsuno, is also the guy behind Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, which are among the company's best titles ever released, in my book. It's a shame he was apparently forced out of the company during FFXII's development, and that we'll never see his unique vision for the world of Ivalice again. It's far and away my favorite little family of titles to come out of Square.


Greg said...

Just want to say that thanks to you guys and your podcast, my interest was piqued and I found a whole bunch of other podcasts to entertain the interim between Call of Podcast episodes, of course.

Count Elmdor said...

Cool, thanks!

There's a ton of good podcasts out there; more than I have to time to listen to even with 90 min. or so in the car each day and a job where I can listen pretty often and even when I go running. Some of my favorites in no particular order:

Giant Bombcast
In Game Chat
A Life Well Wasted
Gamers With Jobs

Astronomy Cast
Dan Carlin's Hardcore History
Radio Lab
Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
The Totally Rad Show (video)

Greg said...

Some of those are the same ones I picked to listen to. Haven't heard in game chat or a life well wasted so I'll have to check those out.

Have you listened to Midlife Gamer Podcast? They have an entertaining show.

Greg said...

Hold on a second there Pal! Does Vagrant Story really count towards your 2010 Pile of Skulls considering it is a title you have played before?

Count Elmdor said...

Yep! And even though it was a new game +, it still took 18 hours!

Hell, I almost counted the 2-3 hour Mass Effect Bring Down the Sky DLC!

I've been playing a lot of COD4 online lately, and while I usually wouldn't count a multi-player only game as "completed," I wouldn't hesitate to if I ever made it to level 55 and Prestige mode.

And to answer your other question, I hadn't heard of Midlife Gamer, but I'll check them out. I just downloaded another new one called Brainy Gamer, too.

Greg said...

Woohoo! New podcast episode!

I also listen to FellowShip of Gamers Podcast which is made up of 3 (I think) good friends who met over xbox live. They seem like really nice guys but they are a little overtly Christian, which isn't too obstructive if you can tolerate it. I personally can't stand religion period....

Anyway, I joined their online Madden League which should be cool.

Greg said...

I had a little "gamer diarrhea" last night, playing ODST, Conan, and Madden 10 in the span of a few hours. This was inspired by a challenge from my buddy who noticed my stagnant gamerscore and said he thought he could double my score by the end of March!! So, I am trying to save face, going back to titles I'm in the midst of to complete them, have some fun, and boost my gamerscore in the process.

I really am not enjoying ODST at all. I find it a chore to play, probably in part because I totally suck. I am playing on normal and am struggling with Kikowani station at the point where you have to get past a whole bunch of brutes (some with camo) on foot in order to open a stuck door. I unfortunately made it to that checkpoint with only a sliver of health, thanks to a grunt who took most of it with a grenade in an earlier section. After multiple deaths I decided to drop it for the night and try again from the previous checkpoint on another day.

Next I moved on to Conan, which is kinda like a God of War type of beat 'em up. I succeeded in making it to the final boss, Graven, but soon learned how true all the posts are on the net about how cheap this boss battle is. Spoiler Warning!!!!

I wasn't able to get past his first form. Once you knock his health down, a quick time button press sequence initiates with little room for error in timing. One wrong or late press and Graven regains about half of his life bar!! On top of that, the button sequence appears to be randomly generated so you can't just memorize it!!

Lastly I played some Madden 10 for achievements and to prepare for my upcoming league.

Right now I am sitting at about 9,500 and my buddy is at 15,750. If I can get to 10,000, which should be easy considering all the games I have yet to touch, he should have his work cut out for him.

Count Elmdor said...

I know exactly the spot in ODST you are talking about. I got there with almost no ammo. I grabbed one of the beam rifles from the Covenant weapon crates at the bottom of the stairs and then backed up to the far wall and tried to snipe as many brutes as possible. The hammer brute is still a problem, though. I think I just backpedaled and emptied everything I had into him and tried not to get hit.

1 VS 100 has some easy gamerscore, btw.