My entrance to the RPG world was not a standard one. No I didn't start in the SNES era, with the Game Boy, with Final Fantasy VII, or even with a traditional turn-based RPG. I did start with Final Fantasy alright, but with the often regarded as the Black Sheep of the Playstation family, Final Fantasy VIII.
After this introduction to the genre, I was introduced to Vagrant Story, a most original and unusual RPG, where traditional turn-based elements were replaced by a hybrid or "turn-based action", and the open-world adventure transformed into a fantasy-horror dungeon-crawler of complex gameplay.
Related: Best Playstation RPG Games - Square EA Masterpieces (that are not Final Fantasy games)
Vagrant Story was released in the later years of the Playstation, in 2000. Its reception was good, in spite of being overshadowed by other Square games like Chrono Cross, the successor to one of their best RPGs of all time, and Final Fantasy IX, part of their legendary franchise.
Being a square game, released in a blessed era for great RPG titles, Vagrant Story provides a superior story. In fact, the narrative is so good, that it is a crime it is in a video game and not on a novel or a big-budget movie. There is nothing quite like it in the video gaming industry. I'm not saying it is the best story ever (it's up there), just that it achieved a level of maturity and quality simply not seen in visual narratives out there.
Vagrant Story was the only Playstation game to have received a perfect score in the Famitsu magazine, ever.
In addition to its unparalleled story line, Vagrant Story presents the player with a unparalleled battle system as well. At heart, Vagrant Story is an action-RPG, where the battle is triggered as soon as the enemy becomes visible, with no battle screen changes. However, a very unique aspect of Vagrant Story is that to attack, the player calls forth a kind of "Sphere System", in which a sphere around the main character appears and time stops. This is the core of the unusual battle system of this game, since from here, as long as it is within the range of the sphere, the player can choose a body part of the enemy to attack. After that, the "action" is non-stop, as both the player and enemies attack with no more interruptions, until the player goes into "Sphere mode" again.
On paper, and even on screen, it really sounds strange, but this works and can even prove addicting when you get into the spirit. There is much more to this battle system, though. One might think that the head or the torso would be the weak points, and while that can be case in some situations, the most damaging attacking points are dependant on many factors. The second part of this "turn-based action" as I like to call it, is the combo system. When you perform an attack on the enemy, the "sphere" disappears and you can continue the attack with combos. As the game progresses, you learn various skills and attacks with different effects that can be applied to combos. These are performed by pressing a certain button with a certain timing, and as long as you are performing a combo, the enemy is at your mercy. When mastered, your combo chain can go unbroken for as long as you can! There is however, a negative side to longer combos called "Risk", a stat that increases with the number of combos, and that will affect the accuracy of your next attack.
Vagrant Story features a very complex weapon system as well. You have an immense amount of equipment available, including all kinds of weapons and body armor. These can be looted from chests or dropped from enemies. Weapons gain proficiency against a certain kind of enemy when used more often against those, so your they have their own stats. You can also find weapon parts through the game to alter your weapons, or even create new ones in workshops, small rooms spread through the map that can be used to repair and create equipment, store items and save.
Magic in Vagrant Story makes its presence through Grimoires, items that you find in the same in the same manner as other items, although to a more limited extent. These include all types of spells, to highlight the status afflicting spells that will be crucial in the later states of the game if you want to be dealing good amounts of damage.
Vagrant Story is also famous for its use of puzzles through the course of the game, where a player may be faced with a room filled with boxes, and will have to move or destroy them in a manner that allows passage to the next room. These are very basic in the beginning, but as you advance in the game, the puzzles do start to get difficult, demanding really thinking on the part of the player.
This game takes the player though a story of pursuit and intrigue. Your character is Ahsley, a skilful Riskbreaker (a kind of law force agent in the ficitonal world of Ivalice). The game starts with a fantastic intro, a trademark of Square, that puts you right in the middle of the action. There is a Civil War going on in Lea Monde, a city full of history in an island surrounded by reefs. Ashley's mission is to find and capture Sydney, a charismatic and preechy cult leader who led siege to Duke Bardorba's manor, searching for a key, and kidnapping his son in the process. As Sydney slipps from Ashely's hands right in the start, you learn of the magical powers of this mysterious man, and that you are in a for a journey of supernatural perils and shadowy characters.
As the plot of Vagrant Story advances, you learn of Grimoires, orbs all around the mysterious and sinister town of Lea Monde, capable of all manner of magical and supernatural feats, including that of raising the dead. More strange figures appear to be after Sydney, a man whose intentions become unclear throughout the game. The city of Lea Monde also holds many secrets in all of its corners and underground catacombs. Even Ashley is a character filled with mystery, as he holds secrets uknown even to himself. All this leads into a web of intrigue and sinister plots, that will see you through a journey of fantasy, mystery and conspiracies. You will meet interesting individuals with very different goals, be faced with unthinkable revelations, and fight for your survival in a war of interests that will defy common sense.