|Original Release Date
|July 13, 2018
When it comes to 2D action games, I’m always curious as to how developers will take advantage of the openness of this genre. I love seeing the creativity in how they move beyond the standards in order to create an impactful, memorable experience. The sheer potential available lends itself to the opportunity for an incredibly fun and lasting experience. And that’s exactly what The Vagrant achieves. With tons of action, an easily mastered combo-based combat style, and with a few RPG elements and attack skill unlocks thrown in, The Vagrant is a fun, energetic tear across a fantasy world full of danger, yet also possesses an intriguing story of deceit and tragedy.
The Vagrant tells the story of Vivian, a young mercenary who travels the lands of Mythrilia in search of her lost father. Though posing as a simple sellsword, Vivian hides her identity as a Runewarden, a blood trait that allots her unique magic abilities. It is this nature, however, that she believes maddeningly drove her father to leave his family behind, and yet is the only clue and connection to him that she has left. Upon arriving in Mythrilia, she soon finds herself caught up in the wiles of Holborn, a powerful witch of the Academy, who hides her true nature and intentions. Now under Holborn’s thumb and with her father’s research as her only guide, Vivian will slowly unravel the mysteries of the Runewardens and the tragedies of her bloodline.
The story of The Vagrant is a rather straightforward one, however I am impressed with the many glimmers of depth it possesses. Most of the story is delivered through Vivian’s monologues as she pieces together the mysteries surrounding her father, as well as cautiously judging the people who’ve managed to weave their way into her journey. It’s a systematic progression, as every step of her journey has these very direct, almost blunt, moments of inner thought for plot progress. Her dialogue and interactions are equally direct, without much in the way of narrative depth. Despite this, The Vagrant is an intriguing tale, one with plenty of lore and a few twists that easily held my attention. I love the Runewarden backstory and its ties to the main antagonist, as well as how it achieves noteworthy depth in such a concise manner. I also appreciate the hints at a deeper, more woven tale, but this is a double edged sword in that it seems not all of the ideas or facets of the full story were completely realized. I learned that the original Kickstarter campaign never reached its full goal, and so this may be the reason why certain plot points and story elements remain unexplained, or are resolved, yet peculiarly quickly. The ending is an example of this abrupt end and although it does a satisfactory job, I would have preferred a stronger resolution to the story. I’m left wondering if the ending was another victim of the campaign or not. Having said all this, even if the full potential of this story was not achieved, I was still easily immersed and hungry to see how it all concluded.
I am also satisfyingly impressed with our main heroine, Vivian the Vagrant. Vivian has had a tough life and the tragedy that surrounds her past and continues to haunt her into this journey is palpable. You can’t help but feel for her and I quickly found myself rooting for her from nearly the start. Any threat that came her way or any misfortune that befell her got a response from me because of just how tragic this young woman’s life has been and continues to be. From this alone, she is easy to care for and there is a genuine desire instilled by her character to see all of her struggles possibly recompensed at the end. Now although this makes Vivian seem like the typical troupe character that can’t be put down or deterred, her character is not as rigid as the narrative makes her out to be. Yes, much of her voice is used for progressing the plot or, at times, stating the obvious. But, her written lines also lend themselves to showing a bit of raw emotion too. She is a scorned individual who doesn’t take crap lightly and when she’s in an unfavorable position, she lets us know it. She keeps trudging along, but she’s hardly happy about it. Unfortunately though, these few emotional moments are usually short. Those glimmers of personality under her tough surface are great, but a bit more depth beyond her stalwart character could have done so much more for her. Her character makes enough of an emotional connection that I came to care for her, as well as to feel that Vivian’s development deserved more attention.
Moving to gameplay, The Vagrant possesses a simple combat system with additional RPG elements making for a deceivingly deeper experience than I first anticipated. Basic combat consists of a light attack, heavy attack, combinations of light and heavy that are unlocked through Ability purchases with Mana, and Rage Skills that are unlocked via stone tomes that are found along your journey. The hack and slash combat is similar to Muramasa, or perhaps more closely resembling Rain Blood Chronicles given the combos. And with the waves of enemies and the epic battles against oversized bosses that we know and love from this genre, The Vagrant doesn’t disappoint, especially since these encounters are definitely more on the fun side. I’ve seen similar 2D action games take the challenge to obnoxious extremes, but here, the challenge balance is perfect, and so taking down the groups of minor enemies and going all out against a boss are all very satisfying.
Outside of combat, the creative layouts of the different dungeons and maps lend themselves to a bit of Metroid like platforming and with it, plenty of secrets to find with only a touch of frustration. Some enemies and hazards are placed in such a way as to knock you back down from a climb or slow your usual blazing progress. But again, the challenge never truly crosses into annoying territory. And if you endure and are willing to explore these vast maps, you will often be rewarded with excellent gear and plenty of extra Mana and cash. O.T.K Games got the platforming and exploration spot on.
As for the RPG elements of the game, The Vagrant features an ability tree with branches that enhance your attack, defense, Rage, as well as offer additional moves and combos. Unlocking each ability requires Mana, crystalized souls that act like a currency. Many of the attack combos, as well as the double jump, are linked to this, so looking closely at the available abilities before unlocking is vital. This is also one way to power up Vivian, the other being the equipment mechanics. All weapons and armor can be enhanced using Mana, meaning their attack and defense, respectively, can be increased. Enhancing equipment also unlocks up to four slots in which Runes can be placed. The variety of Runes is extensive, so you are free to customize as you like. Along with the basic stat boosting Runes, there are others that increase critical hit rate, Rage regen, or add fire, ice, or thunder elemental effects. In its entirety, the RPG aspects of the game can seem slightly overwhelming at first, fortunately much of this is explained in the Tutorial section of the Main Menu to ease in new players.
As for its overall execution, gameplay is solid. Combat is fun and immersive with a genuine sense of achievement when taking out hordes or toppling one of those oversized monstrous bosses. The RPG elements are well implemented and add significant strategy and variety to play. Exploration is strong, as the rewards are fully worth the effort put in. And on top of all of that, The Vagrant even manages to include a true ending, so keep your eyes peeled. Finally, the challenge level is near perfect as long as you are willing to invest in both the Ability tree and your equipment. Having said this, I can understand if some players find the Mana costs a bit high. Especially in the early parts of the game, some grinding for Mana or cash may be recommended, but I personally didn’t find this issue to be a noteworthy deterrent to my play experience. Another challenge issue may occur late game too, in that if you do achieve the conditions for the true end and collect and power up the best gear, you may end up overpowered for the final enemies. But, on a new game and in New Game Plus, difficulty can be increased to your preference.
My only real complaints regarding gameplay and my experience as a whole would be a number of quality of life issues that could have made said experience that much closer to perfect. For one, when purchasing potions, consumables, and other items, you cannot see how many you already have in stock while in the shop menus. It’s a minor complaint, but one that I noticed late game when I did need to take stock of my supplies for the hidden extra segments that call for them. Another issue I had was the explanation with enhancing gear. Only midway through did I realize that enhancing gear not only boosts the base stats, but unlocks Rune slots and even sometimes unveils already slotted Runes too. I wish the explanation was a bit clearer…or perhaps I should have been willing to experiment more. Minor issues aside, in its entirety, I found gameplay to be impeccable and easily the highlight of the game.
Lastly, I’ll discuss The Vagrant’s aesthetics, which are very much the Vanillaware tribute the developers make it out to be and the results are brilliant. The visuals are fantastic, capturing that painted style that made games like Muramasa shine. I love the cutscene artwork, each one of them is vivid and stunning, capable of bringing persons and stories to life all on their own and adding to the wrenching tragedy of characters and the pure shock of a reveal. The landscapes are also incredible, capturing the beauty of nature, the mysteriousness of magic, and the grotesqueness of death, decay, and the forbidden. The variety of backdrops and the detail that went into them enhance the overall tones and moods of their locales, as well as those of the story and the action onscreen. The spritework is equally impressive, from the enemy and NPC sprites, to the items themselves, everything looks detailed and incredible. I especially like the look of Vivian, not simply due to her sexiness, but how well it pairs with, never overshadowing, her rugged, strong personality. The overall effect of her strength, looks, and demeanor make her a memorable badass. And as impressed as I am with the major visual aesthetics, I also love how every minute element of the game has significant detail. The looks of every piece of equipment, every accessory, and even how the sword sprite changes based on the sword equipped, all make for an impressive, care-filled effort. Even the food looks delicious. Visually, this game is a sight to behold.
And as for the audio, I am again impressed. Gabe Castro has composed an excellent soundtrack for The Vagrant, one that never fails to set the moods of the story and events. The metal and techno inspired tracks get your energy up as you annihilate enemy hordes and the varied, minor toned tracks help to instill that sense of danger when facing a fierce boss battle. Even the songs arranged for the quiet towns and humble forests receive equal attention, adding to the overall immersion. I enjoyed this soundtrack throughout, a perfect pairing to the game as a whole.
The Vagrant is an easy recommendation to any fan of the 2D action genre and with a price tag of about 4USD, there’s zero reason to miss out. Loads of combat, quality exploration and platforming, and the touches of variation and originality in its gameplay all make for a unique, outstanding experience. Add to that an intriguing story and a fantastic aesthetic production and you have the makings of a true hidden gem. The Vagrant is an emotionally tugging, wonderfully tragic, enjoyable journey of one unstoppable badass heroine.