Whenever I start writing anything about Vagrant Story, I have to force myself not to start gushing about the elegant perfection of the weapon system. I mean, it’s simple – six monster families, using a weapon on one builds up bonuses against that monster type, and your goal becomes stacking up that bonus while you reforge that weapon into more potent forms over time. But then you consider that weapons have different damage properties, and you want to try and build a weapon using properties that most monsters of that family will be weak against, and then whoo, I’m down the hole again and I wake up to find I’ve ranted about the system for hours.
It’s a simple, elegant, brilliant design. So much of the game is a simple, elegant, brilliant design. On one hand, it’s almost criminal that the game has never received any kind of sequel, even any sort of larger story resolution beyond getting retroactively thrown into the overall Ivalice continuity (although Yasumi Matsuno has gone back and forth on that one). But on the other thand, it’s kind of a good thing. It somehow makes the game work better that it never became iterative, that all of it is contained solely herein, even if you wish there was more.
One of my favorite things to say about a game is that it has a difficulty curve bordering on a flat line. It’s a remarkably elegant way of pointing out that a game doesn’t really change its difficulty over time, that if you can clear the first level without too much trouble the next dozen won’t give you much more or less challenge. It’s not necessarily something that you want to be the case with a game, but it does happen.
It also presupposes that difficulty in most games is at least roughly a curve, but it can really be in lots of different shapes. If you want to get super technical, the shape can even vary from player to player, but that’s not the road I want to walk down today. No, today I want to take a look at how it works when you start tracking the challenge of a game over time, how the ebb and flow affects the game as a whole. Sure, we’ve played games where the curve resembles a flat line (or a vertical one), but even the idea of a difficulty curve means that there’s a different rate of change over time.
Once you’ve cleared the first of the tales, the game opens up a bit – there are six more tales available right away, each covering a different character who ties back into Final Fantasy IV. Curiously, Ceodore is the only new party member to get billed as having his own tale, as all of the others feature characters from the first game, although Rydia, Palom, and Porom have all grown up quite a bit since their initial appearances.
And yes, there are more than seven altogether, but the point is that these events happen in a similar timeframe and don’t overlap with other characters in the same way that Ceodore’s tale does. But let’s put that to one side for a moment; we’re still going to take these on in the order they’re presented and the order of their release. I did think it was neat that the option for skipping between them existed, though, especially knowing that more unlock as you continue.
If you’re doing anything even remotely creative, you have to first be willing to play for an audience of one.
I’m not saying you’ll have an audience of one. I’m not even saying your audience of one is going to be any good. Maybe you have only one person at your show and they’re hooting and hollering and basically treating you like garbage. Maybe someone’s heckling you the whole time you’re up on stage. Even worse, maybe they’re not even paying attention to you, treating you like you’re part of the scenery.
But none of that matters. If you’re going to put yourself out there, the first thing you have to decide is that you can get up on stage for that one person, and damn it, you’re going to give the best performance you possibly can for that one audience member. You are going to perform your fucking heart out. This is going to be the best performance you can possibly give.
In other words, you have to decide that you don’t give the tiniest shit whether or not you’re popular. You’re going to perform either way.