This post originally appeared on Matt Weise's blog Outside Your Heaven.
Vagrant Story (PSX, 2000, 40-50 hrs) - A beautiful, if immensely complicated, late-generation PS1 game that artfully draws from survival horror, turn-based RPGs, platformers, and block-puzzle games. Its gorgeous art style is second-to-none on the platform, with impressive cinematic presentation even though cut-scenes are short and sparse. The story, which involves a whole lot of socio-political-religious intrigue, is difficult but absorbing thanks to its sharply-written characters and morally complex world. Equally baffling at first is the weapon crafting system, which, unlike most RPGs, demands total comprehension from the player in order to make progress. Mastery is daunting but also rewarding, giving the player a deep sense of ownership over what they create. Vagrant Story is recommendable ultimately for the dark spell it casts, for how you lose yourself in the intricacies of both its mechanics and its plot, for how it makes magic seem magical and tempers that whimsy with refreshing political cynicism. It is one of the precious few games where light and darkness don't represent good and evil but, in fact, may represent the opposite. Directed and produced by Yasumi Matsuno, whose Final Fantasy Tactics demonstrates a similarly black view of politics. Art direction by Hiroshi Minagawa. Character and environmental design by Akihiko Yoshida. Main programming by Taku Murata. And music by Hitoshi Sakimoto, at the absolute top of his game.