Vagrant Story, one of the greatest Japanese role-playing games of all time, turns 20 today.
It first launched in Japan on PSone on 10th February 2000, right at the tailend of the console's lifecycle and just a month before Sony released the PS2.
Vagrant Story was developed by Squaresoft (what would later become Square Enix). More specifically it was developed by Yasumi Matsuno and the team behind Final Fantasy Tactics, and while it never achieved the same level of success as some of the company's other PSone JRPGs, such as Final Fantasy 7, it is considered by some to be the best of the bunch.
Vagrant Story was praised for its stunning visuals, atmosphere, rewarding combat system and engrossing story. You play Ashley Riot, a member of a peacekeeping force hot on the heels of a cult leader named Sydney Losstarot. The setting is Leá Monde, a beautifully-realised French city-inspired 3D world.
Writing in a Vagrant Story retrospective for Eurogamer, Simon Parkin called the game "a daring, ambitious trek then, one that woos the susceptive mind with its riddle and consequence while confounding the impatient. And more than this, proof of what a talented team can uncover when allowed off the leash, given a chance to create away from the shackles of iteration and influence; to create rather than, Losstarot-style, re-conjure".
There's a superb Twitter thread on Vagrant Story by @dreamboum that's well worth checking out, too. It includes loads of tidbits on its development, and how Matsuno and his team were able to get so much out of the PSone.
Vagrant Story is 20 years old! It is not only in the conversation as the best game Square has ever made, it is a towering achievement of the genre both at an artistic and technical level. Here I will share some details about the game that even Hideo Kojima was jealous of ?????? pic.twitter.com/oiOLo6QK2A— Bring Peanut Butter (@dreamboum) February 9, 2020
The Vagrant Story team was the Final Fantasy Tactics team, which was itself an incredible showcase of 2D pixel art. These people tackled 3D with only their experience on 2D under their belt, and yet this skill was enough to create a timeless game that is still impressive today pic.twitter.com/fPnoUuAJlu— Bring Peanut Butter (@dreamboum) February 9, 2020
Despite having less than half of the polygon count of FFVII and FFVIII for characters, you can check for yourself how much more expressive and detailed the 3D models of Vagrant Story can be in comparison. This feat was done by 2D artists using every trick up their sleeve. pic.twitter.com/eJh19E23m7— Bring Peanut Butter (@dreamboum) February 9, 2020
Just look at the difference in quality! The way her mouth animates! The way her head moves alongside her eyes to look at Ashley! The distinct textures of her clothes! To say nothing of the diffused lighting! It still floors me to this day. pic.twitter.com/IZZarSSWJ6— Bring Peanut Butter (@dreamboum) February 9, 2020
As if all of that wasn't enough, they had also simulated lighting displaying on 3D models. How so? By creating a second set of 3D models, brightening them up, and slightly moving them to the direction of the light.— Bring Peanut Butter (@dreamboum) February 9, 2020
Their ingenuity knew no bounds. pic.twitter.com/HhVtjjO93d
The artistry on display is still absurd to this day. They went on a trip to Saint-Emilion in France and used it as a framework for the city of Leá Monde. A magnificent and lush area that hides some of Ivalice's darkest secrets in its underbelly. pic.twitter.com/8HK4xHlfzU— Bring Peanut Butter (@dreamboum) February 9, 2020
So, here's to Vagrant Story, still young at just 20 years old. Cheers!