Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Vagrant Story

Go To

The body is but a vessel for the soul,
A puppet which bends to the soul's tyranny.
And lo, the body is not eternal,
For it must feed on the flesh of others,
Lest it return to the dust whence it came.
Therefore must the soul
Deceive, despise and murder men.

Squaresoft's Vagrant Story is a PlayStation RPG by video game auteur Yasumi Matsuno. It is available as a downloadable PSOne Classic 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. 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 Sydney Losstarot kidnaps the son of the powerful Duke Bardorba, Ashley is sent to infiltrate the lost city of Leá Monde, assassinate Sydney and recover the boy. 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 and 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.

The game is easily one of the most complicated Squaresoft RPGs: a combination of 80s 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 and Nintendo Hard game which 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.

Vagrant Story's battle system is 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 want to re-configure their equipment for every new enemy they encounter.

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 popular Final 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 seen after hitting "New Game". It is too easily skipped by accidentally pressing "start" during the sequence.
  • (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.
So, don't press start until after you see the first save point.

See also Crimson Shroud, a Spiritual Successor that shares some of the same terminology and lore.

Provides Examples Of:

  • 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 (which is only really practical after several playthroughs, as trying to swap equipment in storage around requires saving the game, thus you're better waiting till you already have everything in case the game throws some rare loot your way and you can't accomodate it).
  • 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.
  • Alchemic Elementals: Referenced by the gemstones Ashley can find throughout the game, which include the Gnome Emerald, Sylphid Topaz, Undine Jasper, and Salamander Ruby.
  • 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 every character. A web archive of a translation can be found here.
    • Descriptions of the natures of all the monsters you fight can be found in the in-game bestiary, and many of the items and accessories that you find even have a brief backstory in the item menu.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exemplify this.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Proper use of the Faerie Wing item can allow Ashley to skip some of the more fiendish Block Puzzles that crop up late-game.
  • 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.
  • Anti-Villain: Sydney Losstarot. With Pretty Boy looks, manipulative demeanor, penchant for Mind Rape and sophisticated plans, he definitely is Big Bad type. It turns out that all that time, he was making an elaborate Heroic Sacrifice to save the world. He'd be such a Well-Intentioned Extremist if he wasn't basically right about everything.
  • Arbitrary Weapon Range: The Breath Weapons used by dragons suffer from this, meaning standing under their necks is often an excellent tactic when fighting one.
  • Attack Reflector: Some defensive abilities work like this, reflecting precisely 40% of the enemy attack's damage back to the sender. This makes them much more useful than it sounds, since they don't take in consideration your stats or equipment at all, and can be reliably used to kill monsters, up to and including the Final Boss, that you can only deal Scratch Damage to otherwise.
  • Author Appeal: Akihiko Yoshida likes bondage gear. And piercings. And amputation, skin removal, torture... and of course, as he has admitted himself, butts. He made it no secret that he visited a BDSM club for inspiration.
  • 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". Additionally Break Arts cost health to use.
  • 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.
  • Bash Brothers: Tieger and Neesa, although there are shades of a Battle Couple relationship going on.
  • 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.
  • BFG: It's not shown visually, but some of your later crossbows are implied to be exceedlingly large. For example, the 2nd mightiest crossbow type in the game is a Siege Bow. The game describes it as a crossbow so big and powerful that it uses cannonballs as ammunition.
  • 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!": 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.
  • Boss Rush: A passageway in the heart of Leá Monde leads to doors containing every boss in the game, including, in a New Game Plus, 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.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Your break arts are supernatural weapon skills that can be more effective than your magic, unfortunately each use of a break art uses some of your health.
  • Challenge Run: There's an in-game list of challenges, most of which can only be completed in New Game + mode. These include things like finishing the game in less than 10 hours or playing the whole game without saving.
  • 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.
    • The enemies can't move during an attack, and with good timing you can chain attacks indefinitely, and each attack even gets is a bit stronger than the last. On the other hand, longer combos raise your Risk very quickly, and the higher damage will eventually get offset with the constant misses - not to mention that most bosses have a hidden limit on the combo length made against them, and they start dodging every single chain after, say, the third one.
  • 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.
  • Combos: The biggest and most unique part of combat in Vagrant Story, at the cost of raising risk Ashley can use his Chain Abilities to unload a flurry of hits in a single combo. After a drop-off point where your attacks weaken, each attack trio in a combo does an extra point more damage than the previous trio and this keeps going up until you whiff your combo.
  • 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 Couple that 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.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle All of new game plus with the exception of the bonus content.
  • Cyborg/Artificial Limbs: Sydney. The magical variety, of course.
  • Damage-Increasing Debuff: These and various Status Buff are a major part of mastering combat with Ashley. His attacks can link a large number of different buffs and debuffs to give him an edge against enemies that are often better equipped than he is.
  • Darker and Edgier: One of the darkest games in Squaresoft's history. In terms of tone, it sometimes gets pretty close to horror. And in a case of not all tropes are bad, this was the great for the game as its tone was appropriate and it made the game distinct from many other Squaresoft games.
  • Dark Fantasy: The hero is a rather callous agent of a not-so benevolent government and he's battling a cult and a band of terrorists in the haunted ruins of a city that worshipped Darkness.
  • Deadpan Snarker: In the rare moments Ashley is not entirely serious, he's this.
    *Earthquake shakes the catacombs*
    Ashley: ... I do not feel I'm welcome here.
    • And "No live burials today, thanks."
  • Demoted Boss: The Elementals.
  • 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.
  • Disc-One Nuke: If you are very lucky in your first playthrough you might be able to win the weapons from the first two bosses, the Minotaur and the Dullahan. The Minotaur has an Iron Hand of Light which is an extremely long-ranged two-handed mace which does good damage and has a low risk build-up, while the Dullahan has an Iron Rhomphaia (Rhomphaia is the top blade for a one-handed sword). You fight these two enemies when you're still getting bronze equipment and just edging into the iron age. But these two weapons (especially if you upgraded their hilts) are more damaging than many Hagane or even a number of Damascus weapons despite their material.
  • 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.
  • Dungeon Crawling: Almost all of the game is set in the ruins of Lea Monde, making the game one huge dungeon crawl. Despite this, the story was still very important unlike many other dungeon crawlers.
  • 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.
  • Elemental Immunity: Downplayed. In this game you can roast a fire elemental to death, it's just that it will take more fire magic than torching a goblin.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The game has detailed in-game descriptions of monsters, weapon parts, gems and etc. often relating them to background history and mythology.
  • 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."
  • Evil Doll: Quicksilvers and Shriekers are dolls that have been possessed by evil spirits
  • Fake Memories: Ashley's wife and son. Or maybe not. Damn it, Sydney!
  • Fanservice: Sydney's pants and Ashley's shorts.
    • Callo, even though — given the setting — her battle gear is relatively conservative.
  • Fantasy Metals: There's Bronze, Iron, Silver, Hagane (a type of fine steel) and Damascus (a magical steel whose enchantments were unique to Lea Monde) for weapon materials (armor has the additional material of Leather which is the weakest material in the game, and shields likewise have Wood).
  • 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.
    • "Those who crave the Dark, cannot control the Dark." and "I am the reinforcements." Foreshadows both the reveal of Sydney as a heroic antagonist and of Ashley becoming the Vagrant. Sydney is aiming to be rid of his powers because he no longer wants them and means to pass them on to Ashley, making Ashley the reinforcement for Sydney himself, not the VKP, while Ashley is the only character who comes to Lea Monde having no interest, not even scholastic interest, in the magic of Lea Monde.
  • 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 disguised as Callo.
  • Genius Loci: Leá Monde has a will of its own.
  • Ghost City: Leá Monde is this in both the literal and figurative sense.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: One in the Undercity, another beneath the Cathedral, and yet another, the Damascus Crab as the New Game Plus Bonus Boss in Snowfly Forest East. Attack their mouth for massive damage.
  • 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.
  • Harping on About Harpies: Harpies in this game look like turkeys with a woman's face on the torso. These creatures are extremely dangerous as they can use the Banish spell on you.
  • Headless Horseman: There is a Dullahan boss early on that is an empty suit of armour with no head and a large sword.
  • Tieger as well, to a lesser extent.
  • How Do I Shot Web?:
    Grissom: ... Please, a moment. My body is not... cooperating.
  • I Am the Noun: Ashley doesn't need reinforcements. Ashley is the reinforcements.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: 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.
  • 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 (the final blade of that weapon type and made of Damascus with the best hilts and gems you can get). 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 steel.
  • Informed Ability: Poor Samantha, who's a Commander in the Crimson Blades but gets zero chance to shine in battle, and Callo Merlose, who gets taken hostage immediately and relies on a psychic power newly-awakened by Lea Monde to do her job anyway. That's not to say they're clearly incapable, but since Samantha is never shown using any abilities related to her position and Merlose is forced to Take a Third Option because of her kidnapping, we don't actually see them use any of the skills we're told that they have. Merlose suffers from this especially, since her mind-reading can barely be detected, let alone resisted, without some degree of magical understanding: we don't see her doing any of the mundane inquisition work she's supposed to be famous for because she gets a handy cheat for it right off the bat.
  • 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.
  • Instant Kill: The Banish spell can kill any non-boss enemy. It can also do the same to Ashley which is an instant game over.
  • Item Crafting: This game has no shops or vendors (it's an abandoned city, of course). If Ashley wants more powerful weaponry and armor, he's got to locate the workshops scattered around the city and forge the equipment himself. The materials he uses in the process determine the basic strength of the weapon and armor, while their original affinities determine their effectiveness against specific foes.
  • Knight Templar: The St. Iocus church and their Knights of the Cross. Guildenstern seems like this at first but turns out to be even worse.
  • Lady Not-Appearing-in-This-Game: Müllenkamp, who only appears in the opening sequence.
  • Large Ham: Sydney dominates every scene he's in.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Ashley. So goddamn much.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Leá Monde became a ghost city when an earthquake severed its contact with land. Something happened to all its people, causing them all to succumb to the Dark.
  • Light Is Not Good: Light-aligned enemies aren't especially common, but they include several of the game's liches, and a dragon which is described as one of the most powerful and evil of its kind.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: The entire opening video, interspersed with shots of a Belly Dancer.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Hardin. Ashley, too.
  • Lonely at the Top: Sydney mocks Guildenstern with this trope when Guildenstern demands to know the way to unlock Lea Monde's power.
    Sydney: A tyrant always dies alone Guildenstern, surrounded by silver-tongued leeches, he is utterly alone. He sows sorrow and reaps death.
  • The Lost Woods: Snowfly Forest. The only way to get around without a map involves reorienting oneself by inspecting the moss growing on trees. 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. Part of the drama is that none of the characters really take this well, and some of the characters become Drunk with Power due to it.
  • 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.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Riskbreaker Ashley Riot. 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.
  • Naming Conventions: A lot of characters seem to have names derived from Shakespeare...
  • New Game Plus: It allows you to keep whatever is on your person, as well as any equipment you saved in a Container. Additionally, the Rood Inverse grants Ashley access to Bonus Dungeons and their respective Bonus Bosses, such as the the Iron Maiden B2 — home of Death and Asura.
  • Neutral Female: Callo Merlose gets captured early on and spends the rest of the game being dragged around by the bad guys without resisting at all... because it gives her ample time and opportunity to use her psychic powers to get the truth out of Hardin whether he wants to tell it or not. Keep your enemies closer, as the saying goes.
  • Nintendo Hard: Unlike most JRPGs, Vagrant Story likes to keep the player on their toes... by kicking them where it hurts 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.
  • Non-Human Undead: Zombie Minotaur, Ogre Zombie and Zombie Dragon can all be fought as Bonus Bosses at certain points in the game.
  • Not Playing Fair With Resources: Averted. Every monster has its Health and Mana properly calculated, and when out of the latter, it has to resort to basic attack or some unique Special Abilities. Unfortunately, some of these end up being much worse than any standard magic available to the enemy (as in the case of the Final Boss), so you may exploit this trope by actively feeding your mana potions on the enemy just to let them keep using their less dangerous spells.
  • One-Man Army: Ashley.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: One lone Riskbreaker against the monstrosity of Lea Monde.
  • One-Winged Angel: This game is set in a Final Fantasy universe, after all. Guildenstern is one freaky bloody angel.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: Almost everything in this game is a shade of orange-brown or blue, which makes Ashley's colorful flashbacks all the more shocking.
  • Our Liches Are Different: Liches, Lich Lord and Death are part of the Evil type enemy rather than Undead. The highest level of the lich Evil types is Death and these guys are light-oriented and religious in nature. The Lich and Lich Lord are more standard, being evil wizards in life and aligned with darkness.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: The fact that they exist here is notable, after the early Final Fantasy games Orcs largely disappear from Squaresoft rpgs. These Orcs are of porcine "porc" variety though they are well-muscled rather than running to fat and they're decently equipped with regards to gear. Their leaders can use magic to augment them.
  • Physical God: Ashley becomes this at the end of the game.
  • 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!"
  • Protective Charm: Besides the various accessories in the game, Ashley has the ability Defensive Skills. These are supernatural skills that allows Ashley to reduce damage from enemy attacks or No-Sell status ailments. Defensive Skills are an important part of staying alive in the game's first walkthrough.
  • 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.
  • Regenerating Health and Regenerating Mana: It's really slow, at 1 HP every few seconds.
  • Roar Before Beating: Wyverns and Dragons.
  • 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...
  • Scarred Equipment: Each weapon that you use has two separate scales. One starts at full - it's the weapon's durability. The other is initially empty - it's the weapon's own experience bar. Both directly affect its damage output, and as you keep fighting, the former goes down, while the latter goes up, so it's for you to find the delicate balance between those. Repairing the weapon drops both parameters to the initial positions.
  • Scratch Damage: In the first run, many enemies have better equipment than you and it takes a while before you learn the stronger skills or master magic. So unless you forge new weapons and upgrade their affinities, expect a number of fights where you'll be doing a string of single digit damage attacks. After a couple of New Game+ runs and developing Damascus Dread Armor, enemies will be doing 1 point of damage to you which you regenerate back a few seconds later if you didn't reduce it to nothing with your defence skills. At this point only the spell Banish can kill you (and even then Banish is comparatively inaccurate and Magic Ward will block it if it does connect so long as you keep reapplying it as necessary).
    • In fact, it's usually less about the power of the weapon, but many factors such as its elemental affinity, damage type, and its strength against this particular monster class (also its durability, its Phantom Points, and your damage stat (strength for the physical damage, intelligence for the magical one) when compared with the enemy's one. When counting the damage dealt by an attack, the game considers and multiplies all of these factors, and if at least one is not good enough - say, you're using a phantom-slaying water-affiliated mace against a Fire Elemental who is resistant to the blunt weaponry - prepare to see pathetic single-digit numbers of the damage dealt.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Skill Scores and Perks: Progression is mostly a variation of the Perk variety (though these perks are called skills in-game). As Ashley travels further down Lea Monde and kills more bosses, he'll automatically learn new skills. Justified in the story as he's remembering abilities from his forgotten memories. He does progress in stats after fighting a boss, he gets to roll a roulette table which grants a random stat increase.
  • Smug Snake: Rosencrantz. 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 mobile Kali statue upon him, whereupon he dies like a crackhead.
  • Socketed Equipment: Some shields and weapon grips have sockets which Ashley can insert gemstones into in order to adjust the properties of his gear.
  • Spell Book: Before Ashley can learn a spell, he must read a grimoire. The more grimoires he reads of a particular spell, the better he gets at it. If he reads 4 grimoires of that spell, he'll master it and the spell will be Level 4 giving it the option of a larger area of effect but at the cost of increasing its MP cost.
  • 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.
  • Synchronization: Duke Bardorba and Sydney cannot live if the other dies due to the pact that Duke Bardorba made in order to save Sydney's life in the past. This is also why after killing Sydney, Duke Bardorba dies as well.
  • 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 (Balinís revenge, death sentence, eviscerator, rib splitter), some are more obviously cocktails (Mojito, rusty nail, shandy gaff) and then some are just plain bizarre (Dogís nose, fandango, pink squirrel, pussyfoot). The descriptions of these two videos lists most weapons and the main ingredients of such cocktails.
    • The weapon Pussyfoot is the only cocktail in the list which is non-alcoholic and the weapon itself is wielded by the one character immune to magic. While the name may lack the threatening edge it is appropriate for an alcohol-free cocktail.
  • Three-Stat System: Strength, Intelligence, and Agility are the three main character attributes. Strength and Intelligence are further divided into attack strength and defense vs. physical and magical attacks, respectively.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Ashley starts the game wearing Tia's Rood Necklace.
  • Training Dummy: That allow you to build weapon stats.
  • 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 done this to himself, convincing himself that he once lost a wife and son to help himself forget murdering two innocent people.
  • The Maze: Snowfly Forest and Iron Maiden B2 have Assymetric sections.
  • The Undead: A lot of enemies, 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.
  • Undead Counterpart: There are zombie knights that serve as an undead counterparts to the Crimson Blades as well as zombie minotaurs, zombie ogres and dragon zombies that act as both Bonus Bosses and counterparts to the minotaur, ogre and dragon bosses. Justified by the fact the city the game takes place in is described as a "wellspring" of dark magic, and any soul that dies within its borders is Barred from the Afterlife and fated to eventually be reborn as a walking corpse.
  • Underground City: Parts of Leá Monde have sunk underground in the earthquake.
  • The Unreveal: Ultimately, you never find out the truth about Ashley's past. And Ashley is able to accept that it really doesn't matter. Damn it, Sydney!
  • Unwitting Pawn: Ashley gets tricked into saving the world.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Guildenstern's motivation for claiming the power of Lea Monde. Sydney calls him out for this when they meet in the Cathedral.
  • The 'Verse: Said to take place in the same baseline universe as Final Fantasy Tactics (and now also Final Fantasy XII!) and has references in the shape of relics and accessories.
  • Virtual-Reality Interrogation: Guildenstern disguises himself with a magical illusion, in order to trick Hardin into talking freely about the Gran Grimoire.
  • The Watson: Callo is there for revealing the details of the plot that the players in Ashley's perspective would have no way of knowing. It's executed damned well, too.
  • 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.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity:
    • What happens to people who try to wield the Rood Inverse powers and the Dark without sufficient Heroic Willpower. Guildenstern finds this out only too late. Not that anyone felt sorry for him or anything.
    • Sydney says as much to Ashley regarding Guildenstern: "Those who crave the Dark cannot control the Dark. You must stop him, kill him... before the Dark sucks his living soul dry."