Category Archives: Vagrant Story

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 4) – No Going Back

After defining and revolutionising RPGs on the original PlayStation, Square went head first into the next generation by beginning work on the tenth instalment in the Final Fantasy series developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2. With much more powerful hardware, Final Fantasy X saw the introduction of voice acting, more realistic facial animations, fully 3D environments (replacing the pre-rendered ones used in Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX) and had three different composers producing the soundtrack including Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy X was a huge success and was seen as a giant leap forward for the series, while still keeping the features fans enjoyed, such as an engrossing narrative, memorable characters, mini-games, turn-based battles and a gigantic world to explore.

Final Fantasy X Tidus Wallpaper

During the early 2000s online gaming was growing in popularity and Square announced the next numbered Final Fantasy game would be a completely online experience. Final Fantasy XI allowed players to created their own online avatars and take on quests to develop their character and progress through the main storyline. Final Fantasy XI became the most profitable entry in series and is still in operation 10 years after it’s release with new developments expanding the game.

Final Fantasy XI Battle

After the critical success in Japan of Vagrant Story and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s pleasure with Yasumi Matsuno’s work as a game director, Sakaguchi decided that he would entrust Matsuno with the next mainline Final Fantasy game. Co-directed by Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito, Final Fantasy XII was a massive change in direction for an offline Final Fantasy game. It featured a seamless battle system with no random battles, free camera control, was based in the world of Ivalice from Final Fantasy Tactics and put heavy emphasis on a political storyline. Due to creating the new battle system completely from scratch, Final Fantasy XII had a very long development cycle of around 6 years and during the time Matsuno fell ill leading to his resignation from Square. Final Fantasy XII was completed after he left and was still meet with huge success.

Final Fantasy XII Boss

Square had partnered with Nintendo many years earlier to create Super Mario RPG, but the world was shocked when they announced they were developing a new RPG with Disney known as Kingdom Hearts. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura made his debut as game director as Kingdom Hearts was released as an action-RPG featuring worlds and characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, mixed with original and Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. What seemed like an odd combination produced one of the best RPGs released on the PlayStation 2 and expanded into its own long running series.

Kingdom Hearts Sora Donald Goofy

With Square still dominating the RPG scene, Sakaguchi believed it was time to broaden the company’s horizons as he created Square Pictures and directed his first feature length movie. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first photorealistic computer animated feature film using the most advanced technology available at the time. Despite some positive reviews, the film didn’t earn enough money to even cover its expensive development and cost the company millions of dollars, Square Pictures was closed down and SquareSoft was in financial strife. Sakaguchi stepped down as vice president of Square and shortly left the company all together when Square merged with their once rival Enix in 2003, creating Square Enix.

Final Fantasy The Spirits Within

During the years either side of the merger with Enix, many talented employees left Square such as  directors and game designers: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasumi Matsuno and Tetsuya Takahashi, script writers: Masato Kato and Kazushige Nojima, as well as composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura. Many other employees joined smaller development companies too. Square Enix still continues to create Final Fantasy games and others in old Square franchises, but the golden age of SquareSoft seems to have long past. Still, we can always look back at some of the greatest video games ever made and remember the unforgettable journeys they gave us…

Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi

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Filed under Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Kingdom Hearts Series, Music, Vagrant Story

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 3) – It’s Hip to Be Square

Following their success on the Super Nintendo, Square had originally planned to continue to develop for Nintendo systems. They even created a tech demo rendering some of the Final Fantasy VI characters in 3D for which many thought would be a preview of what Final Fantasy might look like on the Nintendo 64. These plans would soon change though, when a partnership between Nintendo and Sony fell through which ended with Nintendo staying with cartridges for its new system and Sony deciding to enter the video game market with its CD enabled PlayStation. With Sakaguchi and his team looking to push themselves with the expanded storage space offered by the CD format, Square controversially announced they would develop Final Fantasy VII for the Sony PlayStation.

PlayStation Logo

Yoshinori Kitase was concerned that the franchise would be left behind unless it embraced 3D graphics like other new games at the time and so Square made many advances with the new technology and Final Fantasy VII was the first in the series to feature a 3D world map, 2D pre-rendered backgrounds and character models rendered with polygons. Most famously though was the introduction of higher quality Full Motion Videos (FMV’s) that became a staple of the series.

Final Fantasy VII Cloud Midgar

Square didn’t just focus on graphics though, as the fantastic story of Final Fantasy VII was a joint effort written by Kazushige Nojima, Kitase and Masato Kato, based off an original draft by Sakaguchi. Previous Final Fantasy series artist Yoshitaka Amano was limited during the production due to other commitments and so Tetsuya Nomura, who previously had worked on Final Fantasy V and VI as a monster designer, was promoted to lead character designer. Even composer Nobuo Uematsu utilised the PlayStation’s internal sound chip to create songs with digitized voice tracks.

Final Fantasy VII Aeris Death

Final Fantasy VII was one of the most expensive games of its time and Sony advertised it heavily, especially in North America. It was also the first mainline title in the series to be released in Europe. The game was met with critical and commercial success upon its release and went on to sell 10 million copies worldwide. Final Fantasy VII is often regarded as one of the greatest games ever made and is recognised as the catalyst for popularising RPGs outside of Japan.

Final Fantasy VIII Squall

Final Fantasy VIII followed soon after VII and expanded on its foundations, presenting a more modern and futuristic world, as well as realistic and highly detailed characters again designed by Nomura. With Square’s experience with 3D graphics growing, Final Fantasy VIIIs presentation was much more consistent and it allowed the designers to make more experimental game play mechanics, such as the junction system and the addictive card mini game Triple Triad.

Final Fantasy IX Zidane Moogle

Final Fantasy IX was the last main installment to be developed for the PlayStation and returned the series briefly to its medieval, fantasy roots. Hiroyuki Ito returned as director while the character designs were handled by Hideo Minaba and were made more cartoonish to reflect the older games in the series, it also included black mages, crystals and lots of moogles . Sakaguchi has stated that Final Fantasy IX is his favourite in the series and that it most closely resembles what he initially visioned Final Fantasy to be. The soundtrack is also said to be Uematsu’s favourite composition.

Chrono Cross Kid Artwork

Square seemed to be on roll with the PlayStation and as their popularity grew overseas more of their other games found success as well. Masato Kato was handed directorial duties on Chrono Cross and with returning composer Yasunori Mitsuda they created a bright and wonderful game that dealt with parallel dimensions and featured a cast of 45 different characters to recruit. The action RPG Legend of Mana released with some of the most beautiful art work ever seen in a video game and highlighted the talent of up and coming composer Yoko Shimomura who would go on to score the two Parasite Eve games and many other big name franchises in the years to come. Showing the enormous depth of talent at Square, Tetsuya Takahashi, who had smaller roles on games like Final Fantasy VI directed the amazing Xenogears. It featured one of the most intricate and fascinating stories ever conceived and utilised a battle system that incorporated game play mechanics like combos found in a fighting game. It seemed like Square could do nothing wrong.

Xenogears Combos

Sakaguchi was also a big fan of a small development studio known as Quest who made the Ogre Battle games and he convinced the director Yasumi Matsuno and his team to join Square. Their partnership created more mature and complex games such as the classic strategy RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics and the dark and cinematic Vagrant Story.

Vagrant Story Title

With a whole new legion of fans from around the world, SquareSoft re-released some of their classic games to a new audience and PlayStation ports of Final Fantasy I and II, Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy V and VI were given new life and their quality was appreciated all over again. Square was now a household name and Final Fantasy was one of the biggest video game series ever, could anything stop their seemingly endless supply of talent and creativity…?

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Which Console Had The Best RPGs? (Part 2)

While the Super Nintendo is home to some of the true classics of the genre, the original PlayStation offers a huge variety of RPGs with more mature storylines, deeper mechanics and the introduction of mesmerising FMVs. The PS1 allowed developers more freedom to enhance the way they could present their stories which provided many new features to the genre.

Sony PlayStation (PS1)

With the extra power provided by the PlayStation hardware, RPGs such as the magnificent Final Fantasy VII amazed players with Full Motion Videos (FMVs) that helped depict important moments in the game in a more impressive way. Coming from 2D sprites, to seeing worlds realised in 3D was exciting for players at the time. Watching an emotional scene or intense action in more detail was something to look forward too, rather than a chore as in many modern games.

Stories became more ambitious too, involving more mature and complex plotlines, as well as adding more depth to characters. PS1 RPGs delved into themes unexplored by video games at the time and games such as Xenogears featured memorable characters, dealing with real issues that players could relate to. While Final Fantasy Tactics offered a plot filled with political intrigue, murder and heresy. More detailed character models and environments added to the sense of atmosphere and made the narratives more compelling to the player.

Art design and game mechanics were diverse, resulting in RPGs that provided unique experiences. Valkyrie Profile was willing to innovate on traditional mechanics, while Vagrant Story included a battle system and complexity unlike any other RPG before it. Worlds were bigger and more captivating and with the use of pre-rendered backgrounds they were full of detail and life. Designers explored different settings ranging from futuristic and modern, to medieval and even outer space. Experimentation was at its highest and it rewarded players with some the greatest RPGs ever made.

With the use of CD as storage media, RPG music was of higher quality and even vocal pieces were utilised. With voice acting still not common place, music was imperative to the experience and soundtracks such as Chrono Cross featured some of the best orchestral music ever to grace a video game.

RPGs on the PS1 were philosophical and ambitious, leaving players with stories they would never forget. It has a massive number of titles with the best of the best including: Final Fantasy VII, VII and IX, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, Legend of Mana, Parasite Eve, Valkyrie Profile, Grandia, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, The Legend of Dragoon, Suikoden 1 and 2, Wild Arms, Star Ocean: The Second Story and many more.

The next article will explore the great RPGs developed on the PlayStation 2.

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Top 5 RPG Composers

The musical scores of RPG’s do so much more than just provide some pleasant background tunes. Some tracks give life to the fantasy worlds, while others provide personality to the game’s characters and some of the best pieces leave players with their fondest RPG memories. Many composers are as legendary as the games their soundtracks appear in and here are my top 5 RPG composers:

1. -Nobuo Uematsu –

Uematsu found fame scoring the magical soundtracks of the Final Fantasy Series. Uematsu’s strength lies in his ability to convey emotion, through his music, in a variety of scenes and situations. His most memorable compositions usually include character themes and battle music. He consistently pushed the limits of RPG music throughout the years and has delivered some of the most recognised tracks in video game history.

Best works: Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX

2. -Yasunori Mitsuda-

As a young composer at SquareSoft, Mitsuda was given the responsibility of providing the soundtrack to Chrono Trigger. After producing one of the best RPG scores of its time, he went on to establish himself as one of the greats of the genre. His celtic and jazz inspired music tends to define the world of the game it appears in and makes every location both unique and exciting. Mitsuda’s soundtracks leave a lasting impression both on the game and on the player.

Best works: Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Xenosaga: Episode 1

3. -Yoko Shimomura –

After starting her career with SquareSoft before going freelance, Shimomura has provided lots of different melodies to many RPG series. Her style lends itself perfectly to grandiose main themes and adds a sense of fun and adventure to any RPG her music appears in. Shimomura has provided plenty of diversity in her soundtracks, ranging from traditional compositions such as the Kingdom Hearts series to more experimental ones found in the Parasite Eve series.

Best works: Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, Parasite Eve, Radiant Historia

4. -Hitoshi Sakimoto-

Sakimoto’s style is complex and translates differently to each of his soundtracks. Able to provide great ambiance in his musical compositions, his scores convey mystery and intrigue to perfectly accompany the narrative of the RPG, such as his score for Vagrant Story. His more recent orchestral soundtracks found in the likes of Final Fantasy XII, have taken this style to a grander scale and the outcome has been magnificent.

Best works: Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII, Valkyria Chronicles

5. -Masashi Hamauzu –

Used to working with other composers on many soundtracks Hamauzu developed his own style working on the SaGa series. Hamauzu was the sole composer for Final Fantasy XIII and he produced his finest work. His beautiful soundtracks add enchanting melodies to their respective games, but when the need arises he creates epic musical pieces to compliment the expanding nature of RPG video game development.

Best works: SaGa Frontier 2, Unlimited Saga, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XIII

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Filed under Chrono Series, Final Fantasy Series, Kingdom Hearts Series, Music, Parasite Eve Series, SaGa Series, Top 5 Lists, Vagrant Story, Xenogears

Review: Why You Should Play Vagrant Story

Vagrant Story is an Action RPG released on the PlayStation that resembled the pacing and design of an adventure movie.

Vagrant Story mixes gameplay and cut-scenes together seamlessly and creates a very cinematic experience. All of this is done in real time and you are constantly engaged in the adventure. You will be hooked in by the great sense of atmosphere and suspense that the setting of Leá Monde creates and you will stay for the reward of the intricate gameplay mechanics and intriguing narrative.

The story focuses on the protagonist Ashley Riot, who is accused of a murder and portrays the events leading up to incident. The game follows Ashley’s attempt to investigate a link between a cult leader and the senior Parliament member who is later suspected to be murdered. The story has many twists and turns as each little piece of the plot is revealed to the player and the interactions between the characters are sharp and well written. It is hard not to be constantly anticipating what’s next as you play through the game.

Progress through Vagrant Story consists of traversing dungeons by jumping, interacting with the environment, solving puzzles and fighting battles. While being completely in control of movement and engaging the enemies in combat at will, when attacking the game pauses the action and the player can choose a body part to aim their attack with differing outcomes. With fast reflexes, the player can also chain attacks together by initiating another move just as the first one lands. Ashley also gains access to special techniques and magic spells as the game progresses leading to the ability to encounter enemies with a variety of strategies.

The most in-depth part of gameplay is the weapon crafting system. At workshops you can build and deconstruct weapons ranging from crossbows, maces and double handed swords. Each weapon will be more effective against different enemies and as such you will have to be constantly upgrading and creating the best equipment. These systems in Vagrant Story are dense, but ultimately a rewarding experience as you just can’t go charging into battle without the proper preparation.

The atmosphere of a majority the game’s setting is dark and isolated. Silence is just as important here as the music and Vagrant Story’s soundtrack conveys this well. None of the music will jump out and grab you but you will feel like you are exploring a ruined city with mysteries around every corner.

Vagrant Story is a complex RPG with a mysterious world to explore. If you are looking for something unique and enjoy customisable battle systems, then you should play Vagrant Story.

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