Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vagrant Story: The Graphic Comic Novel Book

Comics based on video games are usually awful for two reasons. Most games have lousy stories to start with, and their comic versions often show artistic standards that even Rob Liefeld would find wanting. Yasumi Matsuno’s games fix the first problem: from Tactics Ogre through Final Fantasy XII, they’re on the relatively short list of game storylines that could become books or movies without completely humiliating themselves.

They could, but they don't. The comics based on Matsuno’s games are still terrible, but that's more the fault of the adaptations. Over in Japan, there’s a bland Tactics Ogre manga and an awful two-volume Final Fantasy XII project, both made with no attempt to enrich the source material. In America, we have only a Vagrant Story comic that’s barely a comic at all.

Vagrant Story is already part comic, anyway. Matsuno’s game is a PlayStation dungeon-crawler, heavy on customization and the darkly political tone that guides most of his stories. The characters are realistically proportioned (in artist Akihiko Yoshida’s strange bondage outfits), and their dialogue’s all told through unvoiced word balloons. So it feels like a comic book, albeit one where medieval-fantasy cult leaders and scheming pontiffs chatter on about sellswords and faerie tales. At the very least, a Vagrant Story comic would attract those who hastily extolled the game as true art upon its release.



Eruptor Entertainment’s Vagrant Story comic is really just a preview issue, given away at E3 in 2000, but its cover promises all sorts of camp wonder. Are main characters Ashley Riot and Callo Merlose now 1990s-style comic heroes? Will they be preposterously built vigilantes with violent, mysterious pasts? Will they pose uncomfortably while hiding their feet or hands or whatever body part the artist can’t draw? Will they scream miles of expository dialogue in mid-air as they leap at enemies? Will they say things like “Kill THIS, ya bastards!” before pulling out handguns large enough to launch short-range aircraft?



Sadly, they don’t do any of that inside the comic. It’s black-and-white, has about twelve pages of story, and consists entirely of Ashley’s internal monologue. While the Ashley of the game is a man of few words, the comic finds him narrating his visit to the city of Lea Monde. Ashley is sent there to bring down a strange cult headed by the metal-armed Sydney Losstarot, but the comic doesn’t explicitly mention this. It just has Ashley making brief references to his “Riskbreaker training” and how he’s fighting “for Valendia!” The reader is never told why Valendia should be fought for, but the game itself is also vague on that point.



The art isn't terrible for what it is. The black-and-white spreads show Ashley crossing swords with Sydney, staring down a minotaur, and dreaming of his nebulous past (and of Mullenkamp, the dancing priestess shown only in the game’s intro). The best piece is a pin-up by Michael Turner, who was then famed for his work on Witchblade and Fathom. The comic knows this and tells us that we can see a colored version of Turner's art "in the Vagrant Story one-shot coming soon!”

That one-shot never happened, as far as I can tell. Only the E3 preview can be found for sale, and there’s no record of a full-length comic being published. The comic’s back page invites us all to see more at eruptor.com, along with a special episode of The Marty Show featuring Ashley Riot himself. Sadly, Eruptor’s site is long gone, and with it the Live Chats, Hot Girls, and Webcams that the ad promises. That fine. I don’t believe any of those things involved Vagrant Story.

This anemic little book’s highlight is an interview with Matsuno. He reveals that “over half” of the game’s scenario was cut, as were computer-controlled partners for Ashley. There's a good reason to let Matsuno and his team turn Vagrant Story into the game it should’ve been, just as they rebuilt Tactics Ogre for the PSP. Square may never allow it, but I suspect we're more likely to see a Vagrant Story remake than another Vagrant Story comic.