Released by Squaresoft in 2000 on the Playstation, Vagrant Story would tell a smaller story in the Ivalice universe. Written and directed by Yasumi Matsuno, the game, also called The Phantom Pain, would be retconned to take place ages past Final Fantasy Tactics when monsters and magic have mostly left the world. For story, the game features a warrior named Ashley Riot, as events mostly take place within the same 24 hours in one location. For gameplay, the game is a dungeon crawler RPG, requiring the player to fight, climb, and solve block puzzles to progress through 3D environments and many boss encounters. For combat, a modified combat system from Parasite Eve has been used in which combat is in real time on the map, but still primarily menu-based in execution.
What happened in Vagrant Story
Combat is many composed of striking the enemy to a rhythm as when normal attacks are chained together, a factor called Risk builds up, increases critical hit damage but lowering accuracy and personal defenses. In addition, robust weapon customization returns, as some weapon types and elements are more effective against certain enemy types, requiring various loadouts to be prepared. Ashley can pick up and move boxes to solve puzzles or access deeper parts of the dungeon, a fist person perspective can be used to look around, powerful techniques called Break Arts can be learned, all enemies appear on the field, and New Game Plus exists to carry over equipment and stats into another playthrough.
As the game begins, it’s a little after midnight as we see the Valendia Knights of Peace discuss the internal political strife of the kingdom, as most recently, a rival religious sect named Mullenkamp, has taken the family of their own political patron and kingdom war hero, Duke Bardorba, hostage. It’s been six hours and their leader Sydney Losstarot demands the release of their imprisoned comrades and for the Cardinal the knights serve to step down from office. The cult is already suspected of an earlier assassination attempt on the king, and the knights are also displeased to learn their Cardinal sent in the militant arm known as the Blades in without the knight’s approval. In response, they send in one of their elite agents called Riskbreakers, a man named Ashley Riot, to investigate alongside another agent Inquisitor named Callo Merlose.
Deploying quickly, as Ashley meets up with Callo, he goes straight to business, as she shares about a dozen men hold the manor outside, though Sydney has yet to be spotted and there are more inside holding over 30 hostages.
Incidentally, the Duke himself was away while this happened so he himself has not been captured.
Suddenly, they see unsanctioned conflict break out with the Blades, and Ashley sees this as an opportunity to sneak in himself, confident in his own abilities. The leader of the Blades, Romeo Guildenstern, cuts down the Mullenkamp members inside, eager to find Sydney himself, while Sydney’s second-in-command, John Hardin retaliates by ordering the manor to be burned down and hostages killed. John goes to see Sydney deeper in the manor, telling him they are out of time, and an impatient Sydney orders John to bring one of the hostages along and follow him as they search for something. After John leaves, Ashley confronts Sydney with a bowgun aimed straight for his heart. Sydney tries to reach for weapon, but true to his threat, Ashley fires and strikes down the cult leader. As he leans down to confirm the kill, John interrupts him with a young boy in hand, and distracted, Ashley is caught off guard by Sydney, who was alive after all despite the bolt in his heart. He tells John to go to the ruined city of Lea Monde and John swiftly obeys. Ashley gets up, ready to duel and unclear on what faerie tale nonsense is keeping Sydney alive. However, Sydney pulls out the bolt and urges him to give those faerie tales a bit more respect, calling down a wyvern to deal with the agent as he gets away.
Unfazed, Ashley easily defeats the monster, but sees no sign of Sydney as morning begins to break, thinking of the lead he left with John of Lea Monde. Elsewhere, Duke Bardorba hears of the events within his secondary estate, and is surprised to learn the Cardinal sent his private force of the Blades led by Romeo, instead of utilizing the King’s knights. In response, he orders one of his own men to go to his manor disguised as a knight and burn the place down, including the hostages and his family, as he cannot have witnesses report of the Wyvern Sydney used. The Duke is displeased to hear the knights have sent in their own Riskbreakers to meddle as well, and orders Lea Monde to be locked down as they will deal with Sydney and the Blades there. He’ll handle the politics with parliament, though insists no harm is to come to the young boy Joshua.
A few hours pass as Ashley and Callo make it to Lea Monde, a once grand fortress city unfortunately torn apart by the local earthquakes, and enter through its only available underground passageway. As they move in, they see the fallen bodies of Blades already killed, and Ashley insists on going in alone as Callo is less experienced in combat. She shares what little they know of Sydney, as that’s not his real name, and he claims he is a prophet of the apocalypse. The knights do not believe this, and already know Bardorba is controlling Parliament from behind the scenes as well as this cult is just a front for him. This incident could be a sign of a falling-out between the two, but one thing for sure is that Sydney is different from the other would-be prophets out there. His revelations are not only well crafted lyrically, but so far they have all come true. His mysterious ability to also read hearts on top of his own personal charisma has earned him a large and devoted following. Hearing enough, Asheley moves onward, though as Callo turns to leave, Sydney is there to seize her.
Within the underground tunnels, Ashley observes other Blades investigating about, and are in shock to see live examples of rumored magick to not only be real but functional. Rumor also has it Romeo himself dabbles in similar miracles, as allegedly all it takes is possession of the right grimoire. Suddenly, Ashley is startled by a ghostly young boy, exposing his hiding spot and forcing him to kill the two blades quickly. As it turns out, Sydney has been disguising himself with magic as Romeo and telling the Blades that the knights are the enemy and to be killed. Unlocking a door, Ashley suddenly has a lucid vision of a wide grassy field and a picnic under a tree, where he sees the little boy again who turns to call him papa. Snapping back to reality, he spots a hulking minotaur before him, and clashes with the strange beast, though when he defeats it, it dissolves into darkness, and leaves behind a grimoire Ashley finds he is able to learn magic from. Sydney now steps in, applauding Ashley’s aptitude, and complimenting his detached attitude and independent thinking. He hangs on the suggestion that it’s almost as if Ashley had no soul, and then wonders how the riskbreaker managed to separate his body and soul at all. Reaching out his hand, he uses his strange power to peer into Ashley’s heart to learn more, and Ashley again finds himself at the picnic scene from before. He sees a kinder version of himself enjoying the time with his wife and child, when suddenly some bandits would ambush and kill both of them before he could do anything.
Returning to reality, Ashley confesses they were killed by fallen knights, called jackals, and Sydney taunts him by saying Ashley simply failed to protect them and it’s his fault they died. As the agent lashes back, Sydney leaps away, challenging him to catch him and seek the truth, while pointing to John, who has captured Callo. He also mentions there is a power that lies within Ashley, and urges him to give chase, getting away, as indeed a strange power emerges from Ashley as he recovers more of his suppressed memory.
Continuing through the ruined wine cellar, the dead and dying Blades left behind by Sydney now rise up as zombies and powerful undead, determined to block Ashley’s pursuit. Draconian lizard men also crawl in the depths of the catacombs, as a ghostly visage of John keeps a close eye on the riskbreaker’s progress.
At the same time, Sydney continues his search as he advises Callo not to attempt to escape, as John is indeed using his own magic to spy on Ashley and commenting on his power. Sydney is unsurprised, knowing Ashley is a unique vessel, and is growing as he has foreseen.
Callo continues to question his intent, as Sydney reveals he is preparing something of a feast for Ashley. While he summons another dark servant, Callo sees a ghostly little boy who tells her he wants to help his father, as elsewhere Ashley suddenly senses Callo somehow. Overcoming a mighty golem and an imposing dragon, each strong foe in his way fuels Ashley’s rapid leaps in power. He finds the way out of the underground and into the open air again, observing that within the city itself, the Blades continue their search despite heavy losses. Not far, Romeo, alongside his faithful officers, brothers Duane and Grissom, and his lover Samantha, explain that within Lea Monde, the undead are from souls who have lost their bodies and within their incomplete death, now seek new ones. He tells Samantha there is one who has discovered true undeath, immortality, and that is what he seeks here, as he sends his blades to continue rooting out the Mullenkamp hideout.
Ashley overhears this as well, but is spotted by Duane and his men, and though the knight knows magic of his own, its no match for Ashley as he easily cuts him down. This battle is seen by Romeo, who stares down Ashley, but wordlessly turns and leaves him be. Heading into the mines, more supernaturally powerful foes lie before him, but soon after a strange vision overtakes him again, as he now sees what Callo sees, which is Sydney and John, as John uses a form of divination to observe the actions and status of the Blades, noting their growing weakness, but also gaining of the city. John finds it odd how the Blades can also control their dark servants, and finds the timing of their movement stranger, suspecting a mole in their midst. Sydney tells him not to panic, and instead take Callo ahead, while he goes to visit Romeo personally. Looking on, Callo sees the ghost boy again, who tells her Sydney is looking to die. Coming back to his senses, Ashley moves ahead, unaware of a knight in red observing him close by, and questioning Sydney’s actions aloud.
As Romeo and Samantha continue to comb the city, they find some ancient Kildean writings, from a time long ago when magic was quite ordinary, leading Samantha to fear Sydney already has the Gran Grimoire, the ultimate codex of sorcery, as Sydney himself steps in to ask what they would do with such a power.
He mocks them as blind followers of their faith in the church, especially Samantha, whom he calls even more foolish for thinking she is in love. Romeo startles Sydney with a display of power, showing he is not to be trifled with, and taking the warning, Sydney backs off for now. Spying on it all, Ashley wonders the most about the Gran Grimoire, as he is now hit with a vision but this time from the perspective of Samantha. She is speaking to another Blade, Commander Neesa, and Romeo, sharing how disturbed she is to be battling undead and demons, and how unnatural it all is. Ashley repeats her words, and suddenly Samantha and Romeo sense his presence, as Romeo forcefully slaps Samantha to break the magical connection, and knows the Riskbreaker has been observing them. As he comes to, the damage done to Samantha was felt by Ashley too, as the knight in red now speaks to Ashley, noting his newfound power of Clairvoyance.
He loosely explains how everyone operates on a certain rhythm, and while some seers can sync to a similar rhythm, true seers can harmonize with anyone, but Ashley isn’t quite there yet. He introduces himself as Jan Rosencrantz, a Riskbreaker like Ashley, who was sent into assist him yet Ashley finds that awfully suspicious.
Jan continues that Ashley is the only one here who doesn’t have any intel while the Knights and Parliament have known all this time about the undead and Lea Monde. Jan elaborates that Lea Monde is what they call a wellspring, in that powers grow in those who have touched its dark waters, like Ashley, making them beyond mere mortal men. After all, this is the dark city of the ancient Kildean Priestess Mullenkamp, for whom the cult is named after.
Every corpse added within this city gives the dark more power, including the not-so-natural earthquake that devastated this city, and while this all intrigues Ashley, he is still skeptical of Jan, refusing to work with him and threatens to attack should they meet again.
Jan gives him some direction on learning the truth about the Dark himself, and curiously, Ashley opts to move in that direction.
Jan is now hailed by Grissom, eager to pursue Ashley and avenge the death of his brother Duane. He also tells Jan to stay focused on his deal to join with Sydney and find the key they need, though Jan is concerned about the strange creatures Sydney keeps summoning.
Jan suspects Sydney is increasing the flow of darkness on purpose, but is unclear why, as he points Grissom towards Ashley and goes on his way. Grissom would actually run into Sydney first, while Ashley would stumble onto them, and desperate, Grissom boasts he too can summon, and though it nearly kills him, he succeeds and marvels at the dark power flowing through him. Siccing his monster on the two of them, Ashley and Sydney form an impromptu team-up to strike down the knight and his powerful dark servant. After the fight, Sydney mocks Ashley for believing the Dark exists yet still choosing only to believe what he sees for himself. Ashley defends that he isn’t ready to believe the great earthquake that killed thousands was part of a plot to make this city a wellspring, and Sydney suggests he should ask one of the dead and get their take on it. Either way, he compliments how good a riskbreaker he is, almost as if he was already a trained killer, as he opens Ashley’s heart again to peer into his memories.
Ashley sees the picnic scene again, but this time, sees himself as the bandit who kills the woman, and quickly rejects it all.
Sydney insists it is not only the truth, but also the knights who have planted a false memory into him in the first place. In truth, he was an elite assassin, and murdered that family as a mistaken target. Racked by guilt, the knights would instead use that emotion to shackle him with an altered memory and turn him into an excellent Riskbreaker, though Sydney suggests Ashley may have asked for it in order to run away from the guilt. Confused and finding his confidence shaken, Ashley feels compelled to follow Sydney and learn more. Along the way, he spies Romeo and Samantha figuring out that the ancient Kildean glyphs around the city are not only spellsongs, but the entire city is really a colossal magic circle, the center of which is its grand cathedral.
Jan now steps out, confirming this deduction, but also that Romeo is not the first to figure it out. What more, the Gran Grimoire they seek is not a tome, but the city itself. Offended by Jan’s withholding of knowledge, Romeo attempts to exert dark power on him, but the red knight shrugs it off, stating the Dark has no power over him, and he’s not friends with anyone here, including the Duke. Jan also knows Romeo has been using him, and still needs him, and Romeo shoots back its little wonder Jan was kicked out of the Riskbreakers. Drawing his sword, Romeo now demands the key from him, and Jan warns him not underestimate even a former Riskbreaker. They are interrupted as Samantha now experiences strange sights of her own, and Jan notes Ashley is using his clairvoyance again nearby. Catching him, Jan is actually eager to fight Ashley one on one, revealing he’s actually known Ashley a long time, as it was he who set Ashley up to be the knight’s tool, and Ashley’s fault Jan is no longer a Riskbreaker.
They duel, as Ashley manages a win, and Jan yields revealing more of Ashley’s past. They both were part of the same unit in the past, who dealt with the picnicking family as potential witnesses who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ashley would have a strange mental breakdown over this, as while they were both riskbreakers, they were basically assassins directly working for the state. Ashley was among the best they had, and so to keep him, the knights picked him up, alongside Jan, who was sent to spy on Mullenkamp and learned of Lea Monde that way. While multiple groups are vying for Lea Monde’s power, Sydney is the only one with the key, and its still a mystery why he’s preparing Ashley as a vessel for the dark. Promising a rematch later, Jan heads off, and later Ashley feels a connection to Callo again. He observes her still in captivity by John, who is taking her to the Great Cathedral.
He’s also taking along Joshua, the Duke’s young son, and she notices how he looks just like the ghostly boy she saw earlier. She asks John why his group seized the manor in the first place, and while John refuses to answer, a spirit version of him to the side answers for him, explaining they rebelled against his support after he tried to cut them off from the Wellspring and then bury this city. Surprised to see Callo is also a seer, John tries to cut off her connection, but fails as she continues to learn that only the bearer of the key can receive the power of the Gran Grimoire.
He reveals the Duke is the current key-bearer, but will soon die, and if he dies without a successor, all is lost. She is about to hear how Sydney is going to prevent that when John successfully cuts off her connection again, stating that while he can scry on other locations, her awakened power is that of a heart-seer. He also mentions that everyone has a latent power, its just a matter of awakening it. Trying to take advantage of it, she asks him what their plans for the Gran Grimoire are, but wise to her now, John refuses to answer and closes off his heart so she cannot peer in, though Ashley has also seen it all.
Elsewhere, Ashley would stumble into commanders Neesa and Tieger looking over Grissom’s body, who recognize him and attack, though when the riskbreaker easily handles the 2 versus 1, they opt to pull back for now. The body of Grissom now rises up as an undead though with his personality intact, but even Neesa and Tieger know he cannot be allowed to roam.
Grissom hears voices from the wall cry out to kill everyone, as he leaps away and the blades give chase, leaving Ashley be.
Outside, Romeo, Samantha and Jan arrive at the Cathedral, where inside, John, Callo and Joshua already wait. Callo continues to listen to John’s heart, vexing him with scars of his past like losing his little brother or getting tricked into selling out his friends.
This distracts John as he is shot in the chest by a Blade as Romeo walks in, though Callo doesn’t feel any safer with his arrival. Romeo attempts to compel John, demanding to know where the key is, but John gives up nothing, instead surprised to see Romeo somehow has the same power as Sydney. Romeo sneers, stating that the Dark doesn’t only flow within this city, and the Cardinal is not to be underestimated.
Ensnaring John’s mind in an illusion instead, John reveals the key is something called the Blood-Sin, and any would-be key must sacrifice his soul in order to accept control of the Dark. Romeo notes it sounds familiar, thinking back to an old inquisition in which heretics were branded with a tattoo also called the Blood-sin. He suddenly recalls the strange tattoo Sydney wore in front of them this entire time, and realized he held the key all along.
John is actually just as surprised to learn this, and Romeo points out Sydney played him for a fool too. He continues, thinking it strange Sydney hasn’t claimed the city yet, as the Duke’s final hours draw near, and John wonders the same of why Sydney would help the Duke, looking over to Joshua, right as Romeo stabs him through. Jan then misdirects the group as he slips away and down a magic passageway on his own.
Elsewhere, Sydney senses the loss of John, as Jan now confronts him, sword drawn, and confirming his suspicion that Sydney intends to have Ashley succeed the legacy instead.
Sydney confesses he is tired of an incomplete death, and believes Ashley is the perfect one to rule this city of darkness. Jan questions how such a naive vagrant can be perfect, and Sydney replies its because he is so naive he would not misuse the dark like everyone else. Annoyed, Jan punches him down, and though Sydney tries to use compulsion on Jan, Jan repeats the Dark has no effect on him as he encroaches. At this time, Ashley walks in unaware and Jan quickly moves to knock him down, mocking Sydney for his choice of a weak successor. With John gone and the Duke on death’s door, he insists he is the best candidate.
When Sydney refuses again, Jan cuts off one of his arms, but is surprised to see the arm is fake, as Sydney reattaches it, explaining he already sacrificed his limbs to the gods.
Jan is still confident he is stronger than the Dark, and Sydney smirks, wondering about that, as he shows Jan has already fallen for its trickery. Reminding him he is standing in the seat of power, he animates a giant statue, using it to strike down the mighty Riskbreaker in a single blow. Now proclaiming Ashley the successor, he urges Ashley to accept, but the Riskbreaker refuses, more concerned with rescuing Callo. Sydney continues to taunt him as Ashley triumphs over the statue, but the Riskbreaker soon wades through a gauntlet of large foes, each deadlier than the last.
Sydney is halted as he sees Romeo alongside Callo, Joshua and a dying John. John asks if Sydney knew he had the key all along, and Sydney apologizes for deceiving him, which amuses Romeo. Romeo then asks for clarification on the ritual, showing he has enough power to strike him, and revealing he intends to use this power to cleanse the land of the weak and corrupt, intending to rule by fear.
Sydney laughs at such a foolish and selfish dream, as he stuns Samantha to distract Romeo, and moves to escape with John. John, however, pauses him, asking Sydney if all this time he was the Duke’s son and was trying to help him, and not answering, he warps John, Callo and Joshua away. Romeo would stab him from behind, despite knowing he is immortal, and insists he’ll still get what he wants. As Ashley catches up, he sees a weakened Sydney in a pool of blood, who shares Callo is safe outside, and reveals Romeo carved the skin and tattoo off his back, and catching his attention, Ashley sees the ghostly boy representing Sydney, telling him all he wanted to do was help his father as he helped him when he was born. Sydney notes Ashley can see hearts too, and explains his father wanted the city destroyed even if it meant his own death, as he could not let such power fall into the wrong hands.
He then implores Ashley to stop Romeo, as those who crave the Dark cannot control the Dark, and kill him before the Dark takes his soul. At this time, we see Romeo has attached the tattoo skin patch to his own back, but has no intention of sacrificing his own soul for the ritual, instead stabbing Samantha and sacrificing hers. With this, Dark power now surges into Romeo through the key, as Ashley now arrives a minute too late. Turning around, Romeo is keen to herald his rebirth with the riskbreaker’s death, as he assumes an ascended form. As his memories rush back to him, the combat mastery of his past combined with the awakened powers prepared by the city and Sydney, the Riskbreaker Ashley would overwhelm and destroy the overly ambitious templar Romeo.
As Romeo explodes, Ashley finds himself within his own heart, where he realizes it doesn’t matter which memories of his past are real, whether he killed his wife and child or killed an innocent family. Either way, he cannot bring back the dead, and should let go of the past. Choosing for himself to dispel the darkness and believe in what he chooses, he now remembers his son’s name Marco and wife Tia, as they assure him they lived lives full of love. As they wish him well, he wakes up atop a dark spell circle, now before a a fully demonic version of Romeo. But, this power is nothing before the united form of Ashley confident in both mind and heart. Felling the cursed being once and for all, the effects of their fight is heard by Callo and John as they escape the tunnels of Lea Monde. It’s keystone destroyed, the entire city now begins to collapse unto itself. Within, Teiger holds off a shambling Grissom, urging Neesa to flee and tell the others of what happened here.
At the same time, Ashley struggles to help Sydney away, now the key bearer himself, as all of the servants of darkness fall as well.
As the game ends, the sun begins to rise on a new day, as Callo looks to the city ruins, and Joshua now speaks up for the first time, begging John not to die, but its too late as the warrior passes away with a smile, content he could save this boy unlike his own little brother. A week passes, as Sydney visits Duke Bardorba, and the Duke is content to leave things in the hands of Ashley, supporting Sydney’s choice. Their mission completed, he apologizes to his son, as Sydney leans in and helps his father stab him and finally end his incomplete death. With this, the Duke dies as well, as Ashley observes from outside as the final blood-sin bearer. As he leaves this chapter of the riskbreaker behind, Ashley now wanders forward into a new story as the vagrant.
Vagrant Story has enjoyed the success of selling over 870 thousand copies worldwide.
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