Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vagrant Story, Greatest game ever made Part 2

                    I don't have one of these but I kind of wish I did
Demon's Souls is actually quite comparable to Vagrant Story, though there are a variety of design decisions that are actively retarded in Demon's Souls while there are virtually none in VS. I played VS for another 2.5 hours yesterday and rediscovered why chaining is so easy to get into with the first few bosses. Prior to reaching the Bronze and Iron workshop it is quite difficult to produce a weapon that can actually damage a few of the bosses already fought, so chaining seems to be the best way to kill the first Golem and Dragon. As an experiment I ate the Dragon's breath with 100 Risk, and it did 240 damage in one shot (90% of my health). There's no magical rolling or practically invincible shields in VS like there are in Demon's Souls so to avoid damage you have to be in either the right place at the right time or have outstanding timing on enemy attacks. Dragons have several attacks but one only performs in a cone in front of their head so naturally the best idea is to avoid that cone, which isn't too difficult to do but the first foray into fighting them will presumably kill you quite handily.

Following my curious fight with the Dragon I managed to fail to kill the next boss once though mostly due to messing around a bit. There are 6 or 7 roadblock sorts of bosses in this first part of the game that are all beatable by a variety of methods, and I suppose this fight with a Priest and Two Crimson Knights is the second after the Dragon. While there are a variety of ways to dispatch and effectively damage all 3 enemies in the fight you do kind of get bumrushed so you have to be quick. The Priest has a spell that does about 120 damage at low risk and can be cast in rapid succession, but his two allies are much easier to kill. Up to that point in the game you've only fought non-human opponents (almost exclusively) so you may be unlikely to have a weapon that does more than 1/5th of their respective health per swing, it is very easy to die over and over at that point.

There are several more cockblock bosses, many of whom have chain resistance and thus take forever to kill the inexperienced way. However by the time you reach them you should have enough gems to properly deal with the opposition, assuming you pay enough attention to how they work. As previously mentioned there are 6 different types of enemies, 7 elements, and 3 damage types in Vagrant Story, making a huge variety of resistances that each opponent may have. Depending on the body part resistances may vary quite a lot. Contrast that with Demon's Souls, which does have quite a deep combat system, which only has 4 damage types and 2 elements (with type not really creating an issue). The largest difference here is the very intuitive stat screen in Vagrant Story and the cumbersome one for Demon's Souls, one gives you all the information you need (while you will perhaps fail to understand most of it for quite some time) and the other gives this convoluted mess with very little explanation of what it means. In addition the spell Analyze in Vagrant Story gives almost every enemy in the game a whole stat/equipment sheet where you can see what weapons they hold and which gems are attached along with every resistance for every body part. This enables a fully strategic outlook approach to the game (and rest assured you'll still die a shitload) as opposed to a pure trial and error approach that exists in Demon's Souls.

Trial and Error is an example of the poorer sort of difficulty design which exists in most JRPGs. A truly difficult and well designed game will not enable you to succeed unless you discover the particular weaknesses of an opponent, while Trial and Error is a way to do this a good deal of reasoning and experimentation should also be. While the first method works fully through Demon's Souls in Vagrant Story you will eventually fail and fail and fail again if you do not understand the mechanics of the game or improve your capacity to utilize them. Valkyrie Profile 2, while not as difficult as either, will still eventually completely break you if you are not adapting to the style of gameplay. There are 2 very difficult vs. 2 humanoid fights in VS and VP2, and both of them require a good deal of knowledge about the system to defeat (not to mention the final bosses), but this is most assuredly not the case in Demon's Souls. There are also a number of cheaper exits to defeating various bosses in DS, while there are none whatsoever in the other 2 games.

This is simply an element of polish, while I do like Demon's Souls a lot it is still very flawed, it may well be the best RPG on the PS3 and possibly the best exclusive game but it does not compare to the previously mentioned masterpieces. It is important for games to have a consistent difficulty curve regardless of how difficult that is, but simply throwing a 30 minute corpse run through more dangerous things than the actual boss at you does not seem to be a good approach, for instance (while every boss is still fully trial and error). That is not so much a learning curve as it is incredibly tedious. Final Fantasy XIII is maybe the best designed fully trial and error game, because you will also die a shitload in that game but it will reload you at that precise location very quickly so you can try again instantly. Demon's Souls learning curve can be described as "easy shit, spike, easy boss, retarded terrain, spike, easy boss, easy shit, difficult boss, fucking awesome firebreathing dragon, tough fight, easy boss" with a variety of situations thrown in, usually the runback to the boss is harder than the boss itself (or at the very least it's hard to pay attention). Much more on this later, might make the Demon's Souls review 2 parts.

Vagrant Story is all about preparation and intuitive thinking to go with Risk management and positioning experimentation. While you will undoubtedly hit a brick wall at some point (I did at a very strange point), while you can brute force the first few bosses in the game eventually this will fail miserably and you'll have to reassess the situation. Something which occurred to me yesterday which perhaps hadn't before is that elemental damage is actually enhanced depending on the weapon you have equipped. I'm somewhat motivated to try a spellcasting run as a result, since while spells certainly still did a lot of damage you can do even more with proper preparation for each particular situation. Spellcasting is not a common route in Vagrant Story due to the high MP costs but if you figured it out well enough you might be able to 1-2 shot almost every boss. I suppose Break Art spam is the closest thing to spellcasting you might attempt in a straightforward run, which is alright (and still looks great), but a pure spellcaster/staff run seems a rarity.

VS Song of the Day: Ifrit


  1. Dude yes! I'm just now getting into the game and it's certainly a legend of it's time, and still today. Loving the dark souls comparison, I've been saying the same and it's nice to know im not the only one seeing the utter futility of a lack of preparation. Kudos, great opinions, great read.

    1. Not sure if blogspot ate my previous comment but either way. Thank you sir, I definitely think VS is about 25 years ahead of its time, Dark Souls is the closest we've come since as far as matching all the incredibly in depth elements. You might want to try Valkyrie Profile 2, another game with an extremely solid combat system, a good story, and some legitimately interesting non combat gameplay.