'Vagrant Story' will keep RPG fans busy

Is Squaresoft trying to corner the RPG market?

Already on the shelves this year are the excellent "Legend of Mana" and the delightfully child-oriented "Threads of Fate."

Now comes "Vagrant Story" to further chain you to your PlayStation's already overworked controller.

"Vagrant Story" tells the tale of Ashley Riot, a young warrior from long ago who is charged with evicting a slimy band of religious loonies called the Mullenkamp from the stolen manor of Duke Bardorba of Valendia.

Ashley � Mr. Riot to you � is trying to destroy the evil prophet, Sydney Losstarot, who led the Mullenkamp in their assault on the manor and is now locked safely (he hopes) inside.

"Vagrant Story" has a lot of what makes RPGs (role-playing games) popular: miles and miles of dungeons to explore, spells to weave, traps to discover and avoid, puzzles to solve and weapons to collect and wield to the sorrow of your enemies.

Weapons, by the way, are a huge strong point of this game, with dozens and dozens to choose from.

Combat is what you expect in RPGs. Like most, "Vagrant Story" features a turn-based system, much like a formal duel, in which you take a whack at the enemy and then he takes a whack at you. You can target specific areas of the enemy's body, so chopping off a sword arm cuts down on the damage he can do to you.

I'll leave it to you to decide if the combat system is too complex for the human mind to comprehend, but it sure is complicated. Many monsters require a specific weapon or they can't be defeated, and if you go into battle with the wrong weapon, woe unto you.

Squaresoft thoughtfully included a 360-degree camera, which lets you take a peek at everything around you and see around items in your way.

Everything is well worth seeing. Give the graphics an A; they are lush, beautifully detailed and shaded and a delight to the eye. Sound gets a B; it combines well with the story but doesn't break any new ground.

Control is also an A. I wouldn't say it's a snap to learn, but once you get it down, everything works smoothly and accurately.

This is an A game in every way.

Role-playing games aren't for everyone. They take forever to finish and their stylized combat mode can be tedious. But if you're a fan � a patient fan � "Vagrant Story" is one of the best available.

"Vagrant Story" is rated T, for ages 13 and up.

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