AKA: How dedicated fans can be a game’s worst enemy
Yesterday I finally finished Vagrant Story after fifteen (!!) years of false starts, general frustration, and everyone’s favourite RPG problem, putting it down for a week only to come back hopelessly lost. All the staff who helped bring this game to life should feel very, very, proud of themselves (the UI designer however needs putting over someone’s knee), and everyone else in the industry should take a long hard look at their own work and ask themselves how a relatively low budget Playstation game still has better art direction and shot framing than the vast majority of titles released afterwards. Vagrant Story should be a required reference tool for anyone involved in creating game art, it’s just that good.
Unfortunately I’m not here today to talk about Leá Monde’s crumbling architecture and masterful use of light and colour, what I want to talk about today are fans overcomplicating what is essentially a very simple process.
I was lucky enough to play through my favourite Ivalice-flavoured game, Final Fantasy XII, around its Japanese launch - which meant there were next to no guides or FAQs available anywhere. This meant that so long as I was making progress then I thought I must be doing something right, but in the years since then I’ve often heard “help” coming in the form of detailing specific enemy chains for particular item drops or having a selection of esoteric equipment for bleeding-edge optimal play. Now for certain high-end marks and the Trial Mode in the Japan-only “International” release – sure, go nuts. But for regular I-just-want-to-get-through-the-game play? Not even close to being necessary.
Since completing Vagrant Story I’ve realised that it suffers under the same misconceptions Final Fantasy XII does, and the end result is that rather than helping people understand the mechanics at work new players are instead left struggling to make any progress in a game they might otherwise enjoy.
I’ve looked at many Vagrant Story guides over the years, trying to put the information within to good use or even attempting to rigidly follow walkthroughs to the letter – anything to get the hang of Vagrant Story’s complex battle and crafting systems.
“Use piercing weapons against this boss’ chest”
“Make sure you’ve got a blunt weapon with beast attributes for this area”
“Attach the gem you found in a chest that’s about a million miles away from where you need to be for this next bit.”
It is true to say that in this game buffs, debuffs, and various alignments are all useful tools that can be used to your advantage, but vital to your progression? Not even close. Here’s the sort of deep RPG understanding you actually need to know:
“Use water-based attacks when fighting a fire-based enemy”
“Cast Soil Guard to help defend against the earth boss’ spells”
“Healing undead enemies will damage them”.
That’s it, basic RPG stuff.
Could I have made things a bit easier for myself if I’d learned and understood all these peripheral things? Oh yes, definitely. But the notion that lugging around a selection of specialised gear and constantly switching between it all is necessary for survival is absolutely false.
You might think this is an attempt to brag – “Look how smart I am for managing to complete the game anyway!” - but that’s not the case at all; I just want to do something to help put this beautiful game with its abysmal menu system back in the hands of gamers, which is where it should always be.
So venture down into the wine cellars of Leá Monde and take this advice with you - hit stuff, heal Ashley when his HP gets low, and most importantly - have fun.