Square Soft's Vagrant Story is a genre-defying, stat-based Playstation One RPG by videogame auteur Yasumi Matsuno. It is available as a downloadable title on the Playstation Network.Vagrant Story is the tale of Ashley Riot, a knight who works for the kingdom of Valendia during the dark ages of Ivalice. But Ashley is no ordinary agent: he is one of the Parliament's elite Riskbreakers, a One-Man Army trained for the most dangerous black-ops and infiltration missions.When a seemingly immortal cult leader named Syndey Losstarot kidnaps the son of the powerful Duke Bardorba, Ashley is sent to infiltrate the lost city of Leá Monde, assassinate Syndey and recover the boy. However, he is not alone: the Priesthood of St. Iocus, a political rival to the Parliament, have also taken a strong interest in the evil powers lurking within Leá Monde, and have dispatched their own private army to capture Sydney. Leading these "Knights of the Cross" is Romeo Guildenstern, a pious but sinister paladin.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 along the way. The plot unfolds rapidly as new parties enter the fray: there's Jan Rosencrantz, an ex-Riskbreaker who is playing all sides to seize the secrets of the city for himself; Callo Merlose, a Parliament agent who is captured by Sydney and (through the power of Clairvoyance) becomes Ashley's eyes and ears on his mark; General Grissom, a Knight of the Cross seeking revenge for the death of his brother (at Ashley's hands); and John Hardin, Sydney's gentle accomplice, who slowly realizes that he's being Locked Out of the Loop.A cat-and-mouse game ensues: as Ashley tails his mark through the catacombs, Sydney probes Ashley's lost memories and teases him with the inconsistencies he finds. Have Ashley's memories been tampered with in order to turn him into the perfect soldier? What is Syndey's final goal, and who will ultimately claim the forbidden power of Leá Monde?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. And its English version has 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 the player may end up switching and re-configuring their equipment for every enemy they 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.The story is connected to the Ivalice Alliance, with numerous references the previous Ivalice game Final Fantasy Tactics, and references back to Vagrant Story in later installments. It could be considered a standalone Non-Linear Sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, and as such, part of the God-punchingly popularFinal Fantasy series. As for its canonicity, though, Matsuno has stated that these references are just meant to be fanservice, and that the game should be treated as a standalone story rather than as part of the Ivalice world.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.
Achievement System: The game was one of the earliest examples of this. You actually had to go through several menus to find it in the "gazette" and many of the titles you got were extremely difficult to achieve. One was for getting through the game without saving, for example.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bait and Switch: The kid in the painting at the beginning of the game is Joshua right? haha, NO! It's actually Sydney, but the player doesn't discover that until the end 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.
Barred from the Afterlife: Anyone who becomes tainted by 'The Dark' is fated to die an incomplete death. For most people this means being reborn as a walking corpse, but some people, such as Sydney, and possibly Duke Bardorba, have studied and manipulated The Dark to such an extent that they've become functionally immortal.
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.
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.
Camp: Both Sydney and Rosencrantz are extraordinarily fruity.
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 Couplethat 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.
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.
Draconic Humanoid: The Lizard Folk count as "dragon" type enemies, and are therefore the only way to grind up your weapon's dragon affinity for killing the rare but powerful dragon boss monsters.
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.
Equipment-Based Progression: Ashley's stats can be permanently boosted by killing bosses or finding rare elixirs and wines, but the game's mechanics and Random Drop rules encourage the player to make Ashley stronger by finding new weapons and armor, or by reforging and improving existing ones in workshops.
Evolving Weapon: Ashley's weapons and armor adapt to the type of enemies he uses them against; if he uses the same weapon to kill all the fire-type enemies he comes across, that weapon will eventually start inflicting water damage, for example.
Exact Words: "Fear not, sweet Rosencrantz, I will not kill you."
Callo, even though - given the setting - her battle gear is relatively conservative.
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.
Foreshadowing: When Guildenstern slaps Samantha to break her Psychic Link with Ashley he shows no concern for her whatsoever afterwards despite drawing blood. This is a good indicator of how he really feels for her when he sacrifices her life for power at the end.
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.
Ashley did not kill the Duke and never even entered the Manor. The figure seen was Sydney disguised as Ashley, the Duke killed Sydney (at his behest) then died himself due to their synchronization. Sydney's body dissolved, leaving no trace, but the Duke's did not. All the while the real Ashley was standing in the streets outside the Manor.
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.
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.
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.
Infinity–1 Sword: In this case, it's a mace. The Hand of Light class of two-handed mace are only used by Minotaur bosses...and Ashley if you manage to take one off of them. They pack a lot of punch, generate just a small amount of risk when attacking and only crossbows can outrange them (and by a small margin only). However, the Hand of Light only goes up to Hagane in terms of material. There are no Damascus Hands of Light to be found or made. Not only that but the Destroyer two-handed mace is far superior in terms of damage (especially Destroyers made from Damascus).
Infinity+1 Sword: There is one for each weapon type. All of them except for the Rhomphaia (one-handed sword) and Holy Win (greatsword) can be forged. Rhomphaia and Holy Win have to be won from certain enemies, and are only obtainable in new game plus.
The most devastating weapons in the game are actually two you build. The Destroyer Two-Handed Mace and the Halbard Two-Handed Axe. Both of these have blades that are actually more powerful than their Holy Win equivalents and they can use the Elephant hilt which has better stats than the best sword hilts. That said building a Destroyer or Halbard is a pain, especially if you're aiming for ones made of Damascus
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.
That little hint about the snowflies they give you? They're not talking about directions, but density.Guide Dang It indeed.
Magic Wand: Staves generally have a poor strength rating, but give Ashley an intelligence boost that makes his spells more powerful.
Mass Superempowering 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.
He can also amass a number of titles during the replays. Such as "Blood Thirsty Conqueror" or "Grand Master Breaker." It only sounds pretentious until you realize how utterly broken Ashley is after one replay. By the time you get Grand Master Breaker, Ashley is the patron saint of Physical Gods.
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.
Poke in the Third Eye: In one cutscene, Guildenstern deduces that Ashley is scrying on Samantha and slaps her so hard that a trail of blood forms around her mouth. Not only does this break Ashley's concentration, but when he recovers from the vision, he has an identical trail of blood flowing from his own mouth.
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.
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...
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.
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 thesetwo videos lists most weapons and the main ingredients of such cocktails.
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 trope against himself, convincing himself that he once lost a wife and son to help himself forget murdering two innocent people.
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.
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.