Feature: Agent of the Crown

Lusipurr.com is pleased to present Agent of the Crown: A Vagrant Story playthrough.

Better than Nomura, isn't it?

Box Art (N.A. Version)

In the last year of the twentieth century, a Japanese developer hight SquareSoft published a game which sought to improve upon the political world-building that had been on display in their acclaimed 1997 release, Final Fantasy Tactics. To all but the most optimistic of observers, such a goal seemed to verge upon the impossible: Tactics had seen the creation of an world entire: not only a mythos, but social, political, cultural, and religious systems had all been constructed along historical lines, displaying divergences, developments, and shifts in cultural memory. The result was a game that not only provided a deep and compelling fantasy world full of knowledge to be uncovered and revealed, but also a setting which seemed to exist in a human reality: where history, and our conceptions of it, are shaped by long dureé structural forces in which we necessarily participate, and through which we are unknowingly shaped.

Nevertheless, in the year 2000, SquareSoft had the confidence to try and improve upon their recently-displayed mastery of realistic political fantasy world-building. Vagrant Story is the result: a game which, for all intents and purposes, plunges even more quickly and more deeply into a world of political factionalism and double-crossing machination, beneath and behind which a far darker menace lies. For, when the malevolence of man is combined with a fearsome power, it threatens the the world itself.

What, no 'genitals' category? Why isn't dickpunch an option?

Battle System

Released to critical acclaim both in Japan and abroad, the consensus is that Vagrant Story is one of the most finely polished exercises in world-building and game design which the industry has yet seen. With a translation by Alexander O. Smith described, at the time, as “unprecedented”, the story is delivered with a literary polish that would still be impressive today, let alone during the PlayStation era. In addition, the soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto (a Final Fantasy Tactics veteran) establishes an atmosphere which is unnervingly chilling. And, the artwork of Hiroshi Minagawa and Akihiko Yoshida also follows on from Final Fantasy Tactics, firmly establishing a mode of artistic representation that would become a staple of SquareSoft–and later, SquareEnix–fantasy productions, seen in Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIV.

Now available on the PlayStation Network as a PSOne Classic, Vagrant Story is an affordable title which every role-playing game enthusiast should experience. We hope that you will join with us in our playthrough over the next four weeks, using this post to discuss and share experiences, frustrations, and observations about your place in the game: whether you have time to complete it, or only play a little, share your thoughts with us. A selection of the best comments from each week will be included in our Podcast.

We look forward to playing, and discussing, Vagrant Story with you!

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.

-A. J. Durai

28 comments on “Feature: Agent of the Crown”

  1. “In the last year of the twentieth century, a Japanese developer hight SquareSoft published a game which sought to improve upon the political world-building that had been on display in their acclaimed 1997 release, Final Fantasy Tactics.”

    Is that a typo or am I just a linguistic heathen? If the later, what does that mean in this context?

    What’s the schedule? Do we have a goal to reach for week 1? I’m very strongly leaning towards participating in this playthrough if I can manage to get some time to play without bothering people. It would be nice to have a goal so that I can attempt to schedule/meter that time more effectively.

  2. @DiceAdmiral: No, it’s not a typo. If you type it into Google, you’ll get an answer even more quickly than if I dig through the OED and paste it here for you. Do the work!

    We’re experimenting with there not being a schedule this time around. There are a couple of reasons for this: the first is that, with the schedule, people often got ‘behind’ the checkpoints and then just stopped playing because they were behind. The second is that I simply don’t know Vagrant Story well enough (I’ve only played through it once, shortly after release) to establish checkpoints at hourly marks.

    The additional reason is that Vagrant Story is not a typical 40-hour JRPG like the other games that we’ve played. Instead, it’s probably somewhere around 15-20 hours, depending on a variety of factors, although it is certainly possible to beat the game (if one knows what one is doing or is following a guide) in around 10 hours.

    With a shorter playthrough, it doesn’t make sense to establish rigid checkpoints to keep people on track for completion, since even a few hours a week (~5) should be enough to see everyone home.

  3. @DA: That’s just Lusi coming back from his highfalutin QEs. *buffs monocle casually*

    Anyway, this playthrough comes nicely right at the end of my first playthrough of Symphony of the Night. Had a lot of fun with that one and was wondering what my next thing would be until I remembered Vagrant Story time is here. Luckily for me I also bought this on PSN some time ago but never really got into it, same with SotN. Will I love this one as much? STAY TUNED!

  4. For future reference, “hight” is Middle English for “named,” much like the German “heißt.” There’s a Vagrant Story-esque linguistic wiht in the post.

  5. Downloaded and standing by to start for the first time tomorrow. I don’t know what to expect.

  6. @Ethos: Of course you know what to expect, I just told you in the post above! Sheesh! :p

  7. *Mel is booting his PS3* Will comment shortly with initial impressions. Hopefully it doesn’t look too shit.

  8. Just finished listening to Philip Glass’ new opera, so I’m firing up my PSVita now. I suppose Mel and I will be going in at the same time.

  9. Gotta admire a game that calls parts of itself “sometimes annoying”.

  10. Some early observations:

    – “Ashely’s armor reduces damage from magic attacks, it also reduces the effects of beneficial healing magic. Unequip Ashley’s armor for best results when using healing magic.
    LOL, sounds like an old game to me.

    – If your head is “dying” you are silenced.

    -The first person camera is inverted. Ok, fine. But so is the Area Map, even on the d-pad…!

    -The O and X confirm/back button commands are swapped like many other PS JRPGs before a certain time, which makes sense since O is the symbol for “correct” and X for “wrong” in Japan, usually. I believe Xenosaga was the same way, so I’m used to it. (it’s also similar to Nintendo’s A and B button placement)

  11. “Ashley’s armor reduces damage from magic attacks, it also reduces the effects of beneficial healing magic. Unequip Ashley’s armor for best results when using healing magic.” LOL, sounds like an old game to me.
    How is this a sign that it is an old game? There are plenty of modern games where this is the case. In even several recent RPGs, including from the Disgaea and Final Fantasy franchises, not only does armour factor in, but also casting spells like Shell reduces the healing done by magical effects, and sometimes even the success rates of such spells. And, of course, there are plenty of ‘old’ games where it *isn’t* the case, as well. I would say the ratio of games where this is the case compared to where it is not hasn’t changed a whole lot.

    If your head is “dying” you are silenced.
    It’s hard to speak clearly when your face is swollen. And spells have precise verbal components.

    The first person camera is inverted. Ok, fine. But so is the Area Map, even on the d-pad…!
    The fact that the d-pad and analogue do the same thing shouldn’t be surprising. Remember that this was early days for analogue/d-pad controls on PS1. In fact, this is the first game made by this team which ever implemented analogue controls–their previous game, a couple years earlier, was d-pad only. Not too long before VS, controls were perforce d-pad only, so the d-pad controls were almost always inverted. This is because, as you should be aware, non-inverted cameras are a much more recent standard, even in the console space. Camera controls on the console derived from existing camera controls on the PC, which had predated the consoles by many years, providing an established ‘mode’ of doing things which consoles sought to adopt. The PC camera arrangement had controls derived from flight simulators, since those were some of the most widespread and earliest examples of dynamic camera reaction to input. Flight simulators use inverted camera controls because that is how flight yokes work in a simulation: up is down.

    The O and X confirm/back button commands are swapped like many other PS JRPGs before a certain time, which makes sense since O is the symbol for “correct” and X for “wrong” in Japan, usually. I believe Xenosaga was the same way, so I’m used to it. (it’s also similar to Nintendo’s A and B button placement)
    They’re not swapped: they’re in their original positions. O and X are confirm and cancel in Japan, respectively. This has always been and is *still* the case there. However, from about 1998 onward, companies began occasionally experimenting with swapping the buttons as part of the localisation process for overseas releases. This became more common over the next two years so that, by late 2000, most games had a swapped O/X arrangement in North America. At the hardware level, this change happened from the PS2 onwards. If you were to import a Japanese PSP, PSVita, PS3, or PS4, you’d find that the O and X buttons are still confirm and cancel, unlike in English-speaking territories where they are reversed as part of localising for sale outside of Japan.

  12. Now that I’ve gotten the to the crux of the battle system I’m looking forward to getting deeper into it. And those old polys do tend to grow on one after some time. It’s quite a beautiful game. Excellent writing, too, but that I already knew to expect that.

  13. Now that I’ve gotten the to the crux of the battle system I’m looking forward to getting deeper into it

    Be careful; once you start breaking weapons down and making new items, there’s no going back. It’s a deep, deep well–a place where HOURS vanish away before you know it.

    And those old polys do tend to grow on one after some time. It’s quite a beautiful game.

    This is the aesthetic of FFXII, only on the PS1 with all the expertise that could be mustered. Team Ivalice were a glorious devteam, and I miss them terribly.

  14. Tell you what I forgot: the boss fights in this game mean business. I just got beaten up whilst fighting the undead armour thing because it was doing around 20-25% of my HP per hit. That’s a nasty fight, too, because the thing is Evil affinity, and there are no evil affinity monsters up to that point, so all of my weapons were at -5 affinity. Ugh! I’d forgotten about that.

  15. Only just started, so I don’t feel prepared to talk writing/gameplay yet, but I will say that I’m surprised by how much I like the look. I was told that the game did not age well and when I saw video I was inclined to agree, but on my Vita screen – while obviously an older title – I think it sets the tone well and develops a consistent and impressive aesthetic.

    This is the aesthetic of FFXII, only on the PS1 with all the expertise that could be mustered. Team Ivalice were a glorious devteam, and I miss them terribly.

    Or this. I could have just quoted this.

  16. I was going to play Vagrant Story today, but I have had surprise! meetings all day long instead.

    Maybe tonight. :(

  17. After playing it for a bit, I actually think some of the language decisions in VS are even more archaic and authentic than those in FFXII, which are highly stylised and sort of a mish-mash of word choices and stylistic decisions. In VS, there’s a decision to select not only a single style, but also a particular vocabulary contemporaenous to the style. It’s not perfect, of course, but it is more ‘successful’ as an authentic enterprise along purely historical lines than, say, FFXII is.

  18. I will begin to play Vagrant story tonight and will write later my impression. I hope the game lives up to my memory of what was great.

  19. Something seems to have happened in the years since I last played through Vagrant Story. I had a really easy time of it before, but now I’m having all sorts of issues getting the timing down for weapon combos. Maybe it’s because I’m using an axe instead of a sword, or maybe it is because I am playing it on Vita. But whatever the case, it is deeply frustrating.

    I may need to switch weapon types, which will result in needing to start rebuilding affinities. Baw!

  20. Thanks for the link, Mel. It’s a good idea to have a resource like that if only because of the weapon-switching and monster affinities (which most people won’t know in advance).

    I mentioned this on the podcast, but the way in which different weapons have different timings is realistic and cool. The PROBLEM is that the animations are designed to fake out the player. There’s no need for that, and it doesn’t add to the realism. It’s just an unnatural impediment that was added to make combos more difficult. Boo.

  21. Finally put a bit more time into it. I’m still in the warming-up stages, so I don’t have a lot to say, but I am enjoying the general feel so far, although I am feeling the age of the controls, especially on the Vita. The rotation of the camera is especially clunky.

  22. I just played to the first save point tonight. I didn’t play 3D RPGs much in the N64/PS1 era so this looks really rough compared to what I’m used to. The story is interesting if still totally baffling. I hope the main character gets a name other than ‘Agent Riot’ because that sounds like a superhero that some 7th grader created. It was interesting to fight a dragon so soon in the game, until I learned that it is was a wyvern. The battle system was kind of neat to figure out for the 2 fights that I got to use it for, and I’m not totally in the loop yet, but I look forward to figuring it out.

  23. Well it’s “Ashley Riot”, I believe. And I’m having a difficult time getting into this game. I think I need to push through a few hours to understand what it’s really about and then I’ll be coasting.

  24. Yeah, I learned that after writing my initial post. I’ve played a little bit more and am having similar issues. I’m almost through the first dungeon (I think) and it’s been fun but not engaging.

  25. It’s a bit of a wearisome experience I think better suited to a younger person’s life that isn’t so full of weary as it is. A highschool summer vacation would probably be the best fit for this game.

  26. We had a LOT to say about Vagrant Story in TSM 297, mostly around the structural issues that attend upon a dungeon crawler of this sort and from this era.

  27. Way late to the party, but I started the game on sunday. I’ve logged about 6 hours or so (just killed the golem). I’m actually having a lot of fun with the game, although being an item hoarder, I’m already starting to feel the crunch of the inventory limitations. That said the combat is fun, the story at least thus far is promising, and the FFT font gives me the warm fuzzies. Going to try and put some more time into it today.

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