Wednesday, June 22, 2011

VAGRANT STORY



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Vagrant Story
Developer - Square Product Development Division 4
Publisher - Square
Release date – May 15, 2000

Vagrant Story is a Japanese-developed action 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. Vagrant Story was primarily developed by the team responsible for Final Fantasy Tactics, with Yasumi Matsuno serving as producer, writer and director.


Story

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".


Characters

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.


Gameplay

Vagrant Story is a solo action role-playing game, 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 START button or right analog stick 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 spherical gride 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 that are 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 crossbow 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.


Development

Matsuno, the game's producer and director, preferred to create a new game title from scratch and use design ideas from staff collaborations, rather than reusing popular characters and designs that are found in sequels. Vagrant Story is regarded as a mixture of genres, as it contains elements of role-playing in its battles and platform games when in the field map. Matsuno explained that the development team was not eager to place Vagrant Story into a specific genre, preferring to create the game with a genre of its own.


During the design phase, Matsuno was shown photographs from France, particularly Saint-Émilion in the region of Bordeaux. This region was visited by one of Matsuno's colleagues, who was a wine enthusiast and favored Saint-Émilion, one of the largest vineyards of Bordeaux. Captivated by this small town's architecture, the design team went on a trip to France to adopt these styles into the game. A team of five people was formed on September 1998, including Matsuno and the principal persons in charge of graphics and decorations, to realize the game's setting.

Development of the game began in January 1998, spanning two years with manpower that steadily increased from 20 to 50 at peak development phase. The storyline conceived for the game follows Ashley Riot's origins as a dedicated government agent prior to being the titular "vagrant" who is "involved in many incidents" after the events in Leá Monde. Inspiration for the plot is derived from Hollywood "classic and blockbuster" films as well as European and Asian films. The gameplay was conceived to cater to hardcore gamers who do not "ask for hints and read through strategy guides". However, Matsuno revealed that over half of the game's story was cut due to capacity and development time constraints. Memory issues was considered the most challenging aspect of the game development, with the team forced to adjust the game's interface, texture mapping and polygon mesh in maps, as well as removing gaming elements such as AI-controlled supporting non-player characters that would have joined Ashley in the middle of the game.

Vagrant Story was conceived during a time when most games had made the transition into three-dimensional graphics. Games with real-time polygons were the mainstream, and it was decided for Vagrant Story to follow this trend. Murata, the main programmer, expressed his concerns in working towards a large-scale three-dimensional game for the first time. To avoid discrepancies in the frame rate caused by the large number of polygon models, the modeling team had to select an aspect of each character to focus their attention. Art director Minagawa mentioned that painstaking detail were given to each individual model, even to characters that only appear for a few seconds in the game. The same character models were used throughout the game to create a seamless transition between event cutscenes and actual gameplay. The sound effects of Vagrant Story are credited to Minoru Akao, the game's sound programmer; and Tomohiro Yajima, the sound editor and engineer.


Music

The original score for Vagrant Story was composed, arranged, and produced by Hitoshi Sakimoto, whose previous video game works included the soundtracks to Radiant Silvergun and Final Fantasy Tactics, with additional arrangement by Takeharu Ishimoto for Track 2–30 and Hirosato Noda for Track 2–31. A Japanese orchestra ensemble, Shinozuka Group, performed for the orchestral piece of Track 2–29. All synthesizing operations are led by Takeharu Ishimoto with assistance from Hidenori Iwasaki for Track 1–1 and Hirosato Noda for Track 2–18.

Sakimoto noted that during the initial phase, he composed "bright and cheerful" tunes similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but Matsuno emphasized music that was "more deep and heavy". Matsuno also advised him to listen to music from The X-Files for ideas on ambient scores, and Sakimoto pointed out influences of James Horner and Hans Zimmer in his compositions. Sakimoto was impressed with the dedication of the development team to the game, and expressed uneasiness trying to come up with music during the game previews. Sakimoto created themes for each character and monster, and made several changes in their melody to reflect their relationships, feelings as well as antagonistic views. The soundtrack for Vagrant Story remains to be one of Sakimoto's favorite compositions.

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