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Vay (Sega CD) artwork

Vay (Sega CD) review


"And then, right in the middle of all of that are light-hearted elements such as a horribly flatulent fairy who propels you across an ocean with her gas, a random encounter bull-man called "Retardotaur" and random townspeople who break the fourth wall to remind you that you're playing a video game. Wacky stuff like this works in a game like EarthBound, because most of that game has a somewhat whimsical outlook on things. With Vay, it's just distracting nonsense, like if Hamlet took a pie to the face while staring at Ophelia's body."



Vay is one of "those" RPGs.

You know the sort I mean: a game where the difficulty is measured by how much time you've spent grinding, a title where said grinding is an expectation and not just something to do if you feel like it. Not doing so will contribute to your grisly demise in so many ways. You won't be strong enough to overcome powerful bosses; you won't be wealthy enough to buy expensive new equipment; you won't have access to high-tier offensive and healing magic and, even if somehow you do, you wouldn't have enough magic to cast them enough times to make them worthwhile.

Vay screenshot Vay screenshot


You'll figure out quickly that this is the game’s way. After an animated intro shows some big robotic soldiers working for the Danek Empire smashing the crap out of a castle to abduct the bride of Prince Sandor--killing his dad in the process--the grieving royal heads out to settle the score. After a brief "calm before the storm" moment where Sandor finds an ally and makes his way to the next town, you'll find out about a secret tunnel leading to a fortress overrun by the Danek. Shortly after entering this place, you'll likely be running out as quickly as you can, screaming about unstoppable undead hordes. Just like that, you've encountered your first difficulty spike. While those undead and the eventual boss you'll fight upon surviving the walk to the fortress are much tougher than the early-game overworld foes, though, the shock they provide pales in comparison to the difficulty spikes that will come down the road.

One boss fought reasonably early in the game possesses great defense against any sort of attack you might muster, turning that battle into a lengthy battle of attrition where victory or defeat is determined by how many healing items you have available in your inventory. Monsters with "freeze" or "stone" status ailments are flat-out terrifying, since their attacks nearly always spread those undesirable effects unless you're wearing the appropriate accessory, as opposed to the ones that boost a character's attack, speed or magic. Enemies also will ambush you with disturbing frequency. When those last two factors combine forces, such as a time when I got ambushed by a pair of stone-inflicting Medusas, it's possible to watch your entire party be wiped out before you're allowed to take even one action. Vay is not for the easily frustrated.

At least Working Designs was kind enough to give players a few advantages with this Sega CD offering. You can save at virtually any time, so a smart player will rarely ever suffer too much of a setback after running into a battle too fierce (or cheap with status ailments) to be survived. Whenever a character gains a level, his or her health and magic is completely restored, making it possible to run around exploring indefinitely, as long as you're strong enough to not have to run through all your party's magic before guys start gaining levels. A lot of times, what makes grinding such an ordeal is the way you're so weak that you have to regularly interrupt your work in order to run back to town and visit an inn. In Vay, the only time this really grated on my nerves was late in the game, when I had to spend a lot of time working to buy some super-expensive pieces of equipment and very few enemies in the area would drop much money upon being defeated. Here’s a tip for programmers: if the best staff in the game costs 200,000G, it might be nice to have battles consistently award more than 1000G per fight so that the player doesn't need to endure an eternity’s worth of 550G fights to purchase it. Just sayin'.

There's something I really liked about the way this game progresses, though, as far as strategy goes. For the early portions of Vay, I remember thinking that magic was virtually worthless because it generally cost a lot of points to cast one spell and none of my characters had many to spare. I'd save all my magic to cast heal spells after fights and never touched the attack ones. Late in the game, my best mage was regularly casting all sorts of fire and shock spells. By this point, my party had enough magic for me to let the other two characters with restorative spells handle the healing and, with a few hundred magic points, her offensive spells could be cast a number of times before I'd start worrying she might be running low. By that time, though, she usually was about to gain a level and get a new batch of magic points to run through, so I wouldn't miss a beat!

This wasn't just a help; it was a necessity. While melee attacks are sufficient to carry a player through a huge chunk of the game, things get really dicey if you try to rely on the sword all the way to the very end. A lot of late-game foes are VERY resistant to physical attacks, which means that spells are far more effective. If you decide to be stubborn against those dragons and robotic foes in the final few dungeons, you'll be healing constantly, as they'll have plenty of turns to blast you with very damaging attacks before finally succumbing. I found it pretty neat that my fight strategy did nearly a 180-degree turnaround between the beginning of the adventure and its conclusion, as I can't immediately remember another JRPG where that happened. Sure, I'd gain plenty of new abilities, but would typically just use them to augment my current strategy. I wouldn't find myself playing the game in a completely different way by the time I reached the end.

Maybe that was a work of creative genius, or maybe it's just another indication of how inconsistent Vay is. That’s perhaps the sort of inconsistency that one might expect of a game that's pretty difficult and relies a lot on grinding… but which then offers players the opportunity to save their progress at almost any time they please and completely restores all party members' health and magic before forcing them to face off against the final boss. And then there’s the fact that such a game augments its serious plot with a lot of bizarre humor that typically winds up feeling horribly forced and out of place.

To me, that was Vay’s most confusing aspect. Prince Sandor's wife-to-be is abducted and his father is killed by the Danek Empire. Jeal, the leader of said empire, wants to use forbidden technology to take over the world. His right-hand man, Sadoul, is an enigmatic fellow who might be working towards his own purposes. A pair of tragic events will eventually happen, as well, one involving the death of a party member and another setting up the final conflict between Sandor and the final boss. And then, right in the middle of all of that are light-hearted elements such as a horribly flatulent fairy who propels you across an ocean with her gas, a random encounter bull-man called "Retardotaur" and random townspeople who break the fourth wall to remind you that you're playing a video game. Wacky stuff like this works in a game like EarthBound, because most of that game has a somewhat whimsical outlook on things. With Vay, it's just distracting nonsense, like if Hamlet took a pie to the face while staring at Ophelia's body.

Vay screenshot Vay screenshot


Inconsistent as it may be, though, Vay is still worth playing. One could essentially call it a slightly above-average 16-bit RPG with CD technology driving it. While the crude animated cutscenes and wooden voice acting might be considered quaint (at best) today, they also do offer something different from what you'd get on the SNES or Genesis. Vay might feature its share of frustrations and annoying aspects, and it might be one of "those" RPGs, but there are some pretty neat aspects to it as well. While it’s not one of those special "must-play" games of the era, it does provide a fair amount of fun and even more challenge for true RPG junkies.

Rating: 6/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 11, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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