Remembering Vagrant Story
The genius game developer, Yasumi Matsuno, announced his departure from Level 5 a couple of days ago. The former Square Enix employee, who developed Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre on the SNES and PS1 joined the company in 2011 where he developed the 3DS RPG Crimson Shroud, and many people believed that he would be working with the celebrated game company on future projects.
His exit from Level 5 has fueled a lot fears that he would go MIA once again like he did when he left the director’s chair during Final Fantasy XII development citing poor health.
Nobody knew where he went and whether he would be making another game. Fortunately, for us, he resurfaced in 2010 for the remake of Tactics Ogre on the PSP. So even though he clarified it on Twitter that he was going on a break to recharge for his next project, I am just a little worried that he may have gone off to a long break.
I guess there isn’t a better time than now to reminiscence about a great Matsuno game which, in my humble opinion, is his coup de grace: Vagrant Story.
As I look back at the time I played Vagrant Story three distinctive features defined the incredible experience: the ruined city of Lea Monde where the game takes place, Alexander O.
Smith brilliant translation and dialogues and the utterly enigmatic occult leader and the antagonist, Sydney Losstarot. The game had the stamp of Yasumi Matsuno all over it and nothing was laid to the way side, rather he put in staggering attention of detail in the story, the plot narratives and the inspired battle mechanics that made Vagrant Story a game of legendary status.
So let’s talk about the city of Lea Monde, the stage for the complex tale of religious cults, ancient evils and a grand conspiracy. A magnificent city ruined and destroyed, as the legends have it, by the gods who were angered by the denizens of Lea Monde. The first thing which I noticed was how eerily quiet the city was.
Not a living soul in sight just dreadful screams and moans of unseen monsters, drifting souls or the undead. I could tell by the surrounding, the buildings and the plentiful archways that Lea Monde was indeed the pride of Ivalice and envy of the gods.
Such majesty, such grace and opulence all put to ruin! The development team at Square Enix traveled to Southern France before developing the game and made notes of the medieval architecture and the hauntingly beautiful countryside, and that has heavily influenced the city of Lea Monde. It’s a rare quality of a town featured in a video game to have such a ‘personality’ about it.
Indeed, in essence, the city itself is the main character of Vagrant Story. The entire city is made up of different sectors: the frightening abandoned mines, the dreary Limestone Quarry or the best part of the city, the beautiful yet dangerous Snowfly Forest, crawling with monsters and demons of the Netherworld, where many enterprising travellers have gotten lost never to be found again.
That section of the game was the most intense as it’s where the plot starts to get really interesting and the monsters start becoming really nasty, especially the boss battles. Such was the magnificence of Lea Monde that even when its streets and temples and cathedrals were littered by ghoulish monsters, it was still a joy to explore every portion of it.
Matsuno always had an eye for anything and everything grand and epic and Lea Monde has got be his most accomplished achievement.
Admittedly, I always used to struggle in school during English Literature class and Shakespeare was not my favorite author, but when I played Vagrant Story and had to contend with Archaic English, I was more thrilled than intimidated.
I loved how the translation of the game was handled. Every dialogue had a pompous grace and flow to it. Yes, it was very Shakespearean in nature, but it didn’t bother me. It definitely made the game more rich, cultured and multi layered.
Although the game was released in 2000, I got to play it in 2007 and by then I had played Final Fantasy XII, which had a similar sort of translation by Alexander O. Smith, but Vagrant Story’s dialogues were more complex and thematically sound, and the entire game benefited from it.
If the dialogues and translation were normal, it would have taken a lot away from the game. Such translation and localization are rarely seen in JRPGs which puts Vagrant Story up there as one of the best localized game ever.
Perhaps the single most defining feature of the entire game was the cunning antagonist, Sydney Losstarot, the menacing and manipulative occult leader of the religious cult Mullenkamp.
Take one look of him and you would shudder in fear and disgust: prosthetics in place of limbs, a chiselled face with long unkempt blonde hair, his naked upper body would show the marks of either self-inflicted mutilation or torture marks and a huge tattoo on his black representing the fictional ancient religion of Kiltia and one of the main reason him being branded as a heretic.
If anyone thinks Final Fantasy VII’s villain was creepy, then they have not played Vagrant Story or come face to face with the evil and conniving Sydney Losstarot!
The moment I had my first encountered with Sydney Losstarot, I was literally smitten by his charisma and his incredible screen presence. I have been playing video games for close to 18 years now and even then I have come across just a handful of characters that demand such unbridled attention from the gamer. Sydney Losstarot has got to be at the top of that list.
Whatever he did on the screen I would have chills run down my spine. Here was a guy, a young leader who commands the legions of the undead, yet those living surrendered their entire being to the servitude of the man. And yet throughout the game we struggle to understand his motives or what drives him even though he is hunted by State’s agents or the Crimson Blade, the lap dogs of those working behind the shadows and as the game slowly unraveled we get a glimpse of the method to his madness.
Yasumi Matsuno should be lauded for creating such a character that even after playing the game a few years ago the disturbing image of Sydney Losstarot and how he controlled the dark arts still haunts me.
It would not be a stretch to declare that Vagrant Story is one of the greatest game of all time. We don’t know when and where Yasumi Matsuno will resurface again, but if he is indeed recharging for his next project, I hope it’s for something as grand, majestic and brilliant as Vagrant Story. All hail Yasumi Matsuno!!