The gaming experience is satisfying. As much as I love Metroidvania, the sub-genre at this point is risking over-exposure. While this is not the fault of the Vigil dev team specifically, it does make their task harder. To their credit, though, Vigil establishes its own identity in more than one way.
I know I go on a lot about how aesthetically pleasing this game is, but that’s one of the things that sets it apart. This matters especially since most recent Metroidvanias are stylistically developed and unique (HollowKnight, Salt and Sanctuary, Blasphemous).
There are great dungeon-crawling and combat sweet spots in the beginning and middle. After that, things crawl a bit before returning to form and even going further in the concluding chapters.
The story has both hits and misses. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Vigil had a named character and interactions with NPCs that move the plot along with the player. I don’t know if the constraints this imposed on the script were a factor in sequence-breaking not being more fully utilized in new game plus. There are goodies to be had earlier than usual but the absence of alternative story sequencing feels like a missed opportunity.
In spite of that, this may have been a consequence of the narrative, though, the way FFVIIR would have compromised its own narrative experience if it had full open world.
This takes us back to the story. There are three distinct turning points that at least appear to be time jumps. There is also a kind of reversal of the beginning stakes before (after a fashion) returning to them. I think the decision to keep the relationship between Leila and Daisy front and center in the plot was for the best and the feigned reversal actually adds to the stakes of that relationship. The shifts between different “eras” and the detective work needed to connect the dots, though, are an established convention of both Metroidvania and Soulsborne.
So long as they don’t undermine the purpose the narrative serves (however big or small), narrative mysteries can add a lot to a game that uses circumstantial or visual storytelling. Bloodborne being a best-case scenario here. The suggestions of other plot layers make for fun speculation, such as the Porta Avernus gateways all being emanations of a single location (whether it’s the Cubic Crystal door in the Giantwood or somewhere else- such as the location glimpsed during the opening and closing cutscenes).
Another well-implemented mystery is what specifically Leila and Daisy are. There are a variety of possibilities ranging from normal human siblings channeling deities or direct manifestations of those deities. No matter what the metaphysical ruling is, it’s mystery goes well with the emotional simplicity. The literal question of what they are motivates the villainous forces around them, but who they are to each other motivates Leila.
The only actual narrative weakness I could find also goes with that, though. It’s a story structure that we have seen before. In particular, it reminded me of Heather Mason in Silent Hill3. It is a touch unoriginal, but I think the story as a whole is decent. Making the stakes emotionally urgent also goes with the more personal narrative, which sets Vigil: The Longest Night apart from a lot of Metroidvania and Soulsborne entries.
You could probably guess what my answer to the Doctor was. Before I got that far, though, there were some other odds and ends I wanted to explore.
First on the list was playing the Arctic ocarina in the Catacombs and seeing where the Porta Avernus takes us.
Upon arriving in the Frozen Realm there is a stone structure that allows you to exit. Death’s Destination did not have a way out. I triggered the apparent “flash forward” after defeating the Ancient Guard there, though. So maybe it was designed to be a point of no return whereas the gateway conjured by the Arctic ocarina is not.
This turns out not to be the case. I later tried the Crimson ocarina again and Death’s Destination now has an exit. Maybe all ocarina gateways have an exit after the flash forward? Maybe after the flash forward they can no longer have immediate consequences? The fact that you can repeatedly challenge the bosses at the end of each during the current “era” would support that as well (including Death’s Destination).
The ruler of the Frozen Realm, Princess Downaly, drops the Frost Spear projectile spell and the Eternal Gaze. The latter I gave to Janis (after discovering her in the valley) in exchange for the Metallic Ocarina. While I was finishing what side quests I could, I managed to find all of the lost paintings. The painter in Maye rewards you with the Cerulean Ocarina, leaving us with two new places to go through the Porta Avernus.
The Cerulean ocarina takes us to the Shadow Disaster which I thought was a lot of fun. Both Death’s Destination and the Frozen Realm had nice platforming but the Shadow Disaster outdoes them. The Shadow Disaster also has a checkpoint of sorts since the platforming section lasts a little longer.
The resident boss, Uptancos, is a welcome change of pace. Maybe I was over-leveled because I took my sweet time with this game and did a lot of grinding, but the combat started to feel easy after awhile. The difficulty seemed to plateau around Bufonitte Lake so I was hungry for a challenge. I had to experiment with different strategies and spell combinations, which I had not done since Kelpie.
For anyone who is interested, passive damage and fire damage work well, so you’ll want the Raging March spell equipped. You also need to carefully balance range combat and melee combat. I spent a lot of time dodging, so I found projectiles to be a good work-around (also on that note, use the Bouncing Fireball). It is likely possible to go through the entire battle with Uptancos without melee, but the fight speeds up when you take opportunities when they present themselves. Uptancos has an electric screen nuke that he needs to cool down from. That cool-down period, when Uptancos is just sitting on the ground, is a great time to lean in if you have a melee weapon with a fire buff. I had been using my enchantments on stealth “back attack” buffs though, so I just spammed with Bouncing Fireball.
Bumping off Uptancos wins you the mid-air dash. However, I’d like to mention something that I’d been noticing in all of the Porta Avernus worlds so far:
Same jagged, stone ring in those three, all placed similarly. In the Frozen Realm and Death’s Destination, they appear before paths to the bosses open up. In the Shadow Disaster, it is inside the boss arena (check link below for more on this).
Moving on- only one more ocarina to try (not counting whatever I missed) and one more Porta Avernus journey. Upon playing the Metallic ocarina from Janis, the boss fight was almost instant:
To get right to the good part, this is what happens after defeating Dephil. Various item descriptions and lore snippets have referred to Dephil as a founding member of the Vigilant, or perhaps the founding member. And here she is talking about reading stories to Daisy in childhood. If you wanted to go further, you might notice that the names of the sisters borrow different phonemes from the name Dephil (Daisy + Leila).
Earlier, we experienced a jump forward in time that was at least a few generations. But we still do not know the exactlength of the time that passed. When we hear about mythic-sounding events that contributed to the way things are now, we can’t help but wonder how close or distant to them Leila personally is. Dephil’s brief dialogue after defeating her makes it sound like she was a childhood caretaker of the sisters. Perhaps she was their mother.
This confusion over how near or far the sisters were to the distant past soon thickens. Remember the Doctor who wants us to hand over the Cubic Crystals? I of course told him to get bent and he revealed that what he really wants lies within the Giantwood. This does not combine well with the incident with him giving out placebos. And the explanation that he is doing it for the peace of mind of his patients was worn thin anyway.
Hilda agrees, so we then bee-line to the Giantwood, which opens a tonof lore in quick succession. Once inside, we find that there are notes and journal entries strewn about from various authors. They are Steve, York the Arch Priest, the Professor, Joseph (?) and a lay-priest educated by York.
These notes relate the discovery of a mysterious, destructive force that this cohort attempted to magically bind. They state that this seal is rooted in the souls or bodies of those that carried it out and depends on their shared participation. This procedure is modeled (with the guidance of York and the lay-priest) after an ancient religious event involving figures called the Holy Six. Five individuals are specified but there are suggestions of another, unnamed participant:
This guy keeps running off as soon as we find him and always leaves scribbly notes behind.
The dude clearly doesn’t like women and blames the Vigilants for something going wrong here. The author of the sloppily written notes says that women are weak and shrink before true power. We do not know of many ancient(?) female Vigilants but we do know of one. In the final sloppily written note, the names Daisy and Phil are mentioned close together but we don’t actually meet anyone named Phil. But the one bygone Vigilant we’ve met has the letters ‘phil‘ in her name.
So if Dephil was one of the six to seal the mystery danger in the Giantwood, she seems to have been blamed for not following through on something. The short, scrambling figure also said that the only remaining solution were “the sisters” and “one is dark” “one is light”.
So these six set out to the Giantwood to contain the mysterious threat. A magical ritual is implemented that explicitly calls for six participants. Running with the hypothesis that number six was Dephil, she evidently choked on her part.
In spite of that, the seal seems to have held. The notes within the Giantwood describe a long period of being trapped inside and the need to defend the exit from deserters. Since all participated in the ritual and any of them could then break it, a single deserter could ruin the whole thing. The entrance needed to be watched constantly. The seal wouldn’t be worth defending so bitterly if it hadn’t worked.
The notes within the Giantwood also say that a “seige” of “heathens” was happening outside. Relics from other male Vigilants could be found within as well, like the sword of Wallace. It seems possible that Dephil bolted before the ritual was complete and then someone from the battle outside took her place.
Leaving the mystery of the deserting Vigilant aside for now, there is another mystery here we can solve more easily. The final sloppily written note says that the author found the “perfect ratio”, which makes him “supreme” and enables him to “surpass destiny”. Our only frame of reference for ratios of any kind are the mixtures of Crimson earlier in the game. The “pale red” mixtures concocted by the Professor come to mind. Other notes make indirect statements about the ultimate fate of the Professor and the communion he achieved with the Sacred Wood. Which brings us to the boss fight in the Giantwood:
This is not a strategically challenging battle. Remember Raging March and Bouncing Fireball and you’ll be fine. You might also want to wear the Plague Doctor mask, the Crimson armor set and the Raven gloves for maximum poison resistance.
So the Professor evidently pulled off some kind of “uber-containment” that’s not the same as the seal of the Holy Six. If the seal is rooted in the bodies or souls of the participants, maybe the Professor somehow found a way to shift the majority of the containment power to himself.
This appears to hold true after his death, since an even worse plague and monster scourge envelopes Maye after this. So it at least looks like the mystery threat escaped. Relying on implication, it seemed like Hilda wanted us to “get there first” before the Doctor at the asylum who wanted the Cubic Crystals. If the goal of Hilda and Leila was to “kill it with fire” before it falls into the wrong hands, then it might follow that the Doctor wanted to somehow control the mystery threat.
In any case, killing it with fire doesn’t seemed to have made things any better. Here the game appears to take a sharp turn toward linearity, since every NPC tells you to investigate the same place and it turns out to be what I felt was a neat dungeon. After the difficulty plateau after Kelpie, the three sweet spots during this blind play-through were the Shadow Disaster, the Giantwood and the final dungeon.
In addition to a fun dungeon crawl, we also get some big lore bombs.
These dovetail, roughly, with the lore dumps from the Giantwood. There was a final step to the ritual that Dephil (or someone) couldn’t go through with. Meanwhile, a supernatural prodigy child has fallen into the hands of the modern day asylum Doctor.
The seal magic relies on its human summoners for its’ embodiment. The transformation of the Professor, for example. If Dephil’s reluctance complicated things, it may result in some sort of magical embodiment/possession/flesh alchemy that may have created a new being. Way back during the Bruna search, we found a note from the Professor explaining that his experiment with Bruna and Gram was based on a mistranslation. An archaic word he took for “couple” in fact meant “sisters”.
Perhaps my assessment of the names Daisy and Leila being derived from Dephil confused the relationship. Maybe a second experiment happened on the correct subjects, the “sisters” rather than the “couple”. The Goddess, likewise, has a dark counterpart.
Maybe the two sisters were in the Giantwood company, with the necessary six working the spell (that is either summoning or trapping in a body) on number seven. So baby sister has the primordial chaos sealed within her while the holy texts specify a correlating other half. Big sister catches that part.
We started the game catching the aftermath of the failed experiment on Bruna and Gram. Meanwhile we still do not know what happened during the time gap. It may be possible that Leila was present for those years but experienced something she cannot remember, and that we would not see.
Whatever it is, we have two significant canonical statements here. One of them is the ritual at the Giantwood. The other is that Daisy was a vessel for some kind of magic. After killing the Scholar of the Sacred Wood, both the Doctor and Daisy are gone. Sure enough, at the bottom of the final dungeon, the Doctor has Daisy tucked behind a Porta Avernus-like gateway in a somewhat altered state.
On the other side of the gateway, we find ourselves on a large, stone platform with arched portals on two opposite sides. A possession of Daisy’s may be used before a series of pillars but I was missing one. Having biffed that part I instead went to the central pillar to see what would happen.
The last two boss fights were my favorite in the game so far. Both of them make delightful use of platforming within the boss arenas. Something about that, in a sidescroller, really adds both challenge and fun for me. Creative incorporation of boss lairs was one of the big sweet spots of Hollow Knight imo and it was a fun high note for this game to end on.
Vigil: The Longest Night has a new game plus mode which you are immediately offered after the credit’s roll. Interestingly, you are allowed to keep all of your added abilities like the double jump and mid-air dash, which for sure makes the beginning feel different.
I’m not that far into my second run but it already feels like the replay value is gonna be great. The lore contains a few apparent reversals that work better when experienced in retrospect. I am a little disappointed with the inability to sequence break, though. The Metroidvania typically uses unlockable abilities as ways of controlling progress. To retain those abilities and have them before you would normally make use of them seems like a golden opportunity for the development team to implement different progression sequencing.
When we last left off, the plague in Maye Village had two possible origins: the mine and the flooded area. The unexpected time jump after the encounter in Death’s Destination caught me off guard and I didn’t want to miss out on any temporary events or side quests. Not knowing which path would advance the plot to the next beat and close any cool situational opportunities, I decided to start with the one that seemed the longest and most open-ended: the flooded area.
The Metroidvania sub-genre banks on the lure of exploration. There is, however, a way to either create an experience that feels the same but isn’t or to make a linear section more interesting before being truly turned loose. Final Fantasy Peasant nailed it when he said that Final Fantasy VII pulled off one of the greatest open-world fake outs by giving you a navigable world map after a rigidly linear beginning. Simply having the world map at all felt liberating after Midgar, but there are still terrain obstacles that can’t be crossed until later in the story.
Vigil accomplishes the same illusion in a much simpler way. Before I get into that, though, I want to emphasize that there is still enough exploration and hidden paths within the mine and the flooded area to have a lot of fun with. The careful control of the difficulty and it’s consistency with the character-building system frequently kept me engaged and interested in relatively small spaces, though. This often feels like lots of little frustrations that, once overcome, will make you feel like the incoming huge frustration is easily doable and you don’t realize how hard you are actually trying.
Case and point: Kelpie. When this fight was first triggered, I was able to do enough damage with the same melee tactics that work for the random encounters in the area to make it feel potentially easy. More specifically, I’ve been cultivating a “heavy”, axe-weilding build. So axe-melee works for anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of Kelpie’s HP, then Kelpie burrows under the shore and begins a combination of range and heavy blunt-force attacks with limited hit box access. On attempt 2, I experimented with some spells and found that the short-range poison projectile that The Ancient Guard drops in Death’s Destination is very useful during the second half of the fight.
So here I am thinking I have a fool-proof strategy nailed down, but even with that you are never too big to fail. Like last time, I thought this would be easy and got lazy. Before I knew it, hours went by with repeated deaths and each and every time I was thinking it was gonna be easy. It pays to remember the little things: Like Bloodborne, never underestimate the advisability of rolling to the other side of huge monsters and spamming them from behind. Also, do not get so put off by the size and movement of Kelpie to forget that you can still do simple things like crouch and run out of range.
Stock up on negative status curatives and restoratives for stamina while doing all this and you’ll be fine. Upon defeat, Kelpie drops a key item called a Cubic Crystal & you now have access to a new, interconnected area. Almost like a palette cleanser, a bit of exploration beyond this point will bring you to the Gnawing Beast within the sewers, a substantially less challenging boss that drops the Arctic Ocarina. You know, like the Scarlet Ocarina that took you to Death’s Destination.
Sure enough, the guards back in Maye are talking about increased numbers of undead emerging from the cemetery and would like our assistance. Which would once again place us close to the Catacombs and the gateway to the other side, so it’s starting to look like another magical journey with the ocarina is just around the corner. But let’s check out some other leads first- such as the contagion’s possible origin in the mines.
Our old friend Hilda is found some distance beyond where we ran into her last time. She shares some lines from a song describing tree trunks with skulls embedded in them, just like the trees in the area.
From here there is some exploration to find the entrance to the mines, during which you could obtain the Flaming Magpie spell if you grabbed the stone from the hunters’ cabin earlier. Once we get there, though, the mines are a real platforming sweet spot.
Mine levels, like sewer levels, have a generalized reputation for being frustrating. Mystic Caves Zone from Sonic 2 comes to mind or the sewer section from the first Silent Hill game. Vigil, though, along with nearly every recent Metroidvania I’ve played, succeeds in avoiding this. As is typical of mine levels, there is mobile platforming. With enough attentiveness, you can navigate the pattern-memorization without needing to sacrifice health or progress. The mines reward effort but don’t hold you by the hand; like any well-designed game, you are never too big to fail.
The pre-boss combat is also tightly designed; enough small and moderate attackers simultaneously to make you think quickly but never overwhelming. Some of the monsters, like the one seen above, are familiar. The zombies that emerge from the ground and explode upon dying were first seen in the cemetery and the spikey dogs were first seen in the laboratory where Bruna was taken and transformed.
The nod to the cemetery underpins the possibility of revisiting the gateway to the other side, sooner or later. But this association is also blended with a new detail: miners who still look mostly human who also explode upon dying. Possibly a connection between the mining disaster and the antecedents of whatever is now going on in the graveyard? Maybe Dawn and those like her are right about the recent plague emerging from the mines after all. An eventual shortcut leading from Limestone Way to the flooded area also bears this up.
The boss fight, though, is probably the first easy one in Vigil. I appreciated the attempt to make the player exploit the spatial characteristics of the “arena”. The Erupting Flesh Cluster dominates the ceiling and sprays fire, forcing you to both hug the floor and climb platforms to avoid the streams of fire. If you have the Flaming Magpie spell, though, you can camp out at the rooms’ edges and spam arcane damage, since the Cluster’s hit box hardly moves and the Flaming Magpie can cross the whole screen.
After dispatching the Erupting Flesh Cluster and claiming the second Cubic Crystal, you might also elect to rescue some miners you encounter along the way. Soon, though, we rendezvous with Hilda who advances an interesting possibility on the origin of the plague. One begins to wonder if the Doctor in the plague mask back at the asylum is in fact the same person as the Professor from the beginning of the game, who experimented with Crimson on Bruna and Gram.
That the Doctor has contributed to the problem in any way- be it active or passive -appears credible. He cops to giving out placebos to placate the villagers. He also conveniently supplies a new possible origin for the plague at Bufonitte Lake when the flooded area and the mines are ruled out, which could potentially look like evasion.
Bufonitte Lake and the process required to get there continue the upward quality of the platforming that began with the mines and the Ancient Battleground. En route, there are a ton of neat shortcuts and secrets to be discovered, often with the aid of the spell gifted to you by Hilda during her earlier visit. The lake itself has almost immediate access to a boss battle that yields a third Cubic Crystal. During the right-leaning vertical platforming necessary to reach Bufonitte Lake, it is also possible that you encountered this:
Evidently, they are a set of three, and are required to open this gateway. This also has a superficial consistency with an optional lore document at the lake that refers to a seal key divided between the Vigilant, the Shimmer Church and the Guard. When you return to the Doctor to check if the defeat of the scourge of the lake had any effect, though, he has moved onto another potential solution, requiring all three of the Cubic Crystals. Which he needs you to hand over. Because…you know…trust…right…?
This leaves us with three options: hand over the Cubic Crystals to the Doctor, play the Arctic Ocarina at the bottom of the Catacombs, or open the seal in the Giantwood Forest.
Here it might bear mentioning something that I should have done before I defeated the Ancient Guard earlier: utilize multiple save files. This time around, I got the memo before it was too late. What happens after this point should probably get its own blog post.
Some other odds and ends I wanted to mention-
Not knowing how quickly things might move once I dove back into the main quest line, I decided to mop up side quests and do some exploring off the beaten path. After rediscovering a passage I didn’t investigate very thoroughly the first time around, I pushed a little further and found this:
To my surprise, I wandered into the Saltand Sanctuary crossover event without even encountering the specific quest line. Other than the familiar face above, there are a few other monsters that look a lot like S&S creature design:
It’s been awhile since I last played Salt and Sanctuary, but I don’t think these particular creatures appear in that game. I mean…there is a superficial resemblance to the S&S Drop Spiders, but only in that they’re spiders. Beneath Lake Bufonitte, you encounter these beauties, which look like S&S creature design and are a bit closer to the mark:
They occasionally drop from the ceiling but still look distinctly different from Drop Spiders. If Ska Studios made original assets for Vigilduring the collaboration…I can’t help but wonder if there is more to the crossover than the brief monster hunting excursion that lands you the frying pan from S&S? I mean, a quest line, a familiar enemy and a weapon were all that the crossover announcement on Steam promised..but those spider creatures do look distinctly like the work of Ska Studios, right? I may also be wrong, here, but to my eyes the large spider enemies appear to be rendered in a very specific art style that stands out from everything else in the game.
Speaking of Vigil’s art style, I have to gush about how beautiful this game is. Much of the art looks like offbeat, slightly uncanny illustrations from a book of fairy tales. The background scrolling makes this imagery look a little bit like a surreal pop-up book. Situational zooming and lighting adds a subtle touch of realism which also breathes life into the otherworldly touches.
Especially, like the moment shown above, when a quick, transitional movement shows several dynamic textures simultaneously. The bright, early morning moon is visible when Leila emerges from the rock face on her way out of the mines. Then, as the camera moves with Leila on her way down a ladder, the moon disappears behind a structure and the mist-covered forest moves into the frame. Both can only be seen simultaneously as she crouches to begin climbing, and for barely a second. This is just the right amount of realism, like when you see something surprisingly beautiful and then you take another step or your car goes around a bend and it’s gone.
Understated photorealistic textures, like rain, add a lot to the sense of scale created with the situational zooming and lighting. I know this isn’t an option for every gamer but it really, really pays to this game on a machine with a quality graphics card. I’m sure this all pops beautifully on the Switch and will on the PS4 whenever that adaptation is made.
While it has been a few weeks, I still suspect I am in the beginning. I did not resolve every thread of the disappearance of Bruna and the nature of the involvement of Gram and the Professor before those events get “missed” (little x’s appeared next to the quests I didn’t finish).
If I have missed some stuff, it’s because I went straight to the Catacombs after finding Bruna in her transformed state. I did make an effort to find other “dungeon-length” areas but could not find much outside of the cemetery. “Note” discoveries tell us that Daisy, the Professor and others were last seen near there, so it’s simply an obvious thing to check out at that point. Some networking with Maye village residents will connect enough dots for Leila to discover that the arches overhanging the Crimson Ocarina are probably what the Lantern Keeper is referring to when she says Porta Avernus.
The detective work of this part of the story was a welcome balance against the action-packed platforming and combat. I particularly like how Thurber Sungi was involved. He is an outsider and (I think…?) a member of a foreign and marginalized religious group. Unless the royal government that he works for is the same one that Maye and the Vigilant warriors are subjects under. In that case, when Thurber says the word “heretic”, he probably means the same thing that other Goddess-worshipping villagers mean when they say the word. In that case, the villagers Chris and Gram are the only characters so far who do not practice the common religion.
The Professor, meanwhile, discovered a phenomenon called Crimson that is almost always deadly to humans. Tissue-growth can be achieved with Crimson if an appendage from one being is attached to another of a separate species. Lastly, there is a method of introducing Crimson neurologically, which has the most gradual and most mysterious effects. This appeared to have been going on with both Gram and Bruna. Sure enough, I have an item in my inventory called a Crimson Ocarina and a likely location to play it.
At first this reminded me of Blasphemous. Then I noticed the more whimsical qualities, like the kaleidoscope city in the background and floating coffin platforms. Blasphemous is surreal and psychological, but those qualities are designed to accommodate a sense of religious dread. Lots of penance, self-flagellation, glorification of martyrdom, etc.
Blasphemous is set in a world where a scary, inhumane, autocratic religion is made effectively “real” by magic. Death’s Destination in Vigil, though, does not look like the creation of a control-seeker. The cityscapes kaleidoscoping in a spiral on the horizon, floating coffins and piñata fetuses are more chaotic than the dour, medieval, orderly nightmare in Blasphemous. In terms of atmosphere, Blasphemous has a nightmare of order and Vigil has a nightmare of chaos. Really, Death’s Destination looks almost like Earthworm Jim if it decided to go for horror instead of comedy.
The boss fight in this area is not particularly challenging but it does require a modest amount of patience and, for a few levels, always seemed to be just within reach of being beaten. I actually spent a few days on this fight and did a lot of grinding for it without realizing the amount of time and effort I was putting into it. Maybe that’s good design or just a happy coincidence, but either way the Lantern Keeper soon shows up to tell us we have “ended the timeless nightmare”. Is Leila’s trial finished now? What does that mean, exactly?
After some fun banter outdoors with two guards who don’t recognize you, you are taken back to Maye where a disease has taken hold and some time has gone by. Maybe? Leila soon finds her sister Daisy tending the afflicted in an asylum either built into a wrecked building or a wrecked ship.
Here, the game gives you the chance to pick up a smattering of quests, rather like our first glimpse of Maye. The loss of every owl statue checkpoint could also, arguably, support the possibility that a time jump has happened. There is no frank comment on how distant the era we came from really is.
We encounter various friendly faces, such as Daisy and the shopkeepers, who recognize us. Then there is August, at the library near the cemetery, who is clearly an adult (if not middle-aged) man who says he is a descendant of an ancient guard named Duran, whom we know from the start of the game. Both cannot be true and the plot must surely thicken. Maybe Leila could be an unreliable narrator after all?
Speaking of lost time, a new naming convention involving different times of the year has proliferated while we were gone. The waterfalls to the East of Maye also appear to have gone through some kind of seismic or oceanic event, as it is now a vast wasteland of bog and wrecked ships. Whether this is due to a time jump, Leila infiltrating another timeline, Leila’s own mind or something else is not yet clear.
The way this change was expressed in the structure of Maye was also welcome. How to even implement towns in a Metroidvania has suffered some confusion in the past. Hollow Knight makes it so you can add more bugs to Dirtmouth village and shortcuts without by finishing different quests. Salt and Sanctuary simply makes the checkpoints the only place to encounter specialized support NPCs. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia had places you could select on a menu-like world map that consist of static NPCs and non-horizontal doors and alleys you interact with by pressing ‘up’.
The original Castlevania: Simon’s Quest did a decent job by simply adding platforms and a nonstop day-night cycle to it. A town like Maye, with more platforming layers and accessible areas that are added over time, is a very welcome addition. What might be really neat later on is if the gradual downward progress of the town’s construction eventually leads to some important Norfair/Hallownest area.
The creature design continues to be on point. I particularly appreciated the bear near the waterfall cavern where Hilda is found for the second time and the shadow beings found further into the ship’s graveyard. There were also beings at that place that looked a little bit like the shark people from Bloodborne’s Fishing Hamlet but other than some occasional unoriginality, more hits than misses so far.
At long last, Vigil: The Longest Night is now available to the public!
I am still very much in the beginning- I have barely been able to surpass the territory covered in the open beta event from earlier this year. During the open beta, I commented on problems with the collision detection and button response time. While there are some imperfections with where on the ladder or ledge will grab, those issues are largely gone with one conspicuous exception. There is a vertical platforming area between Maye village and the entrance to the first dungeon. At the same time, there is a waterfall in the area which needs to be perpetually animated. The button-response and collision detection with the climbable ledges gets worse when the game needs to animate a large volume of smaller animations. Outside of this area, though, I did not struggle with the platforming.
Something I do not remember from the open beta is automatic zooming in and out depending on location. Other side-scrollers that have implemented it, like Salt and Sanctuary, usually streamline the process so as to not draw any attention to it. Which is perfectly understandable if the perspective-shift is just meant to make navigation easier and has no relationship with the overall style of the game. In Vigil, though, situational zooming is used in a way that makes the world feel bigger and makes the different art styles used for different effects feel much more like a unified whole. The situational zooming really pops when trees are rustling or something close to the foreground moves.
The opening cutscene feels somehow more detailed or longer than it was in the beta. Whether it is or not, though, the specific art style of the cutscene (above and below) also helps all of the different stylistic influences feel like a bigger whole. Consequently, Leila’s sword-swings and other quick movements look way more authentic and natural this time than they did in the beta.
The greater visual continuity really, really came together. And it’s beautiful. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gives Vigil a more distinct identity. Which matters a lot since 2D side-scrolling “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” has now caught on as a recognizable sub-genre, adding to the imperative for newer additions to distinguish themselves.
While I’m talking about “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” as a sub-genre, there is also an optional Salt and Sanctuary and Vigil crossover event. I don’t know how to communicate how exciting that is to me. In my opinion, Salt and Sanctuary was not just one of the first “2D Souls” side-scrollers, but it captured something basic about the format itself. If it was not for S&S, we probably would have saw more typical action-RPG mechanics in Hollow Knight and Blasphemous, like exp, leveling, etc. Aside from all that, though, S&S is simply one of my favorite games and I could not be more stoked to see what Vigil + S&S is like.
One thing that has become fairly common to both “Soulsborne” and games that blend the formula with side-scrolling is ambiguity. This is probably because Hidetaka Miyazaki, the main creative force behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, often uses circumstantial and visual storytelling. Vigil inverts this trope by giving us Leila, a named protagonist, with a family and a hometown (apparently- at least in the very beginning). What’s more is that she is no-nonsense, perceptive and goal-driven. If there is any use of an unreliable narrator at all in this story, it does not look like it would be Leila.
The difficulty was also adjusted since the open beta. The boss of the first dungeon actually required some persistence, experimentation and grinding. Like a lot of “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” games, leveling in Vigil is based on an allocation point system. The threshold for leveling up, in the very beginning, is pretty low, so those first few easily-obtained levels are a satisfying and engaging way of introducing the player to the skill-tree. This is fortunate, since I suspect that throughout the game you will need to be proficient in different combat styles. The accessible introduction to the character-building makes experimentation with different builds more accessible as well.
As soon as Salt and Sanctuary came out I was smitten. That game captured the 50% of my brain that Bloodborne did not take over. It’s still my favorite game available for the PS Vita, and to date it looks like no follow up is planned (nor has there been any new updates from Ska Studios, the developers).
Recently though, while I was putzing around on a Salt and Sanctuary Facebook group, someone uploaded pics of a new game currently in development called Vigil: The Longest Night. The art style immediately grabbed me, and I love side-scrolling Soulsborne \ Metroidvania hybrids even if…they kinda stumbled over each other as soon as it became clear that there was a market for them.
Like, by the time Blasphemous came out, I had already been seriously hooked by both Salt and Sanctuary and Hollow Knight. Blasphemous was a perfectly good game with great level design, platforming and combat, but I just couldn’t get into it since I’d been neck deep in similar things recently.
What caught my attention about Vigil: The Longest Night though was the enthusiasm it seemed to garner among my fellow S&S fans. My appetite was also freshly whetted by a recent Symphony Of The Night play through so I couldn’t have been more stoked when I got wind of a recent open beta event. Best believe I snatched that shit up ^^
This being a demo of the beta version, I wasn’t surprised to run into a few hiccups, some of which may very well have been the fault of my machine. There was some truly aggravating collision detection with climbable/grabable surfaces. The second biggest annoyance was the lagging, which would get worse whenever I loaded a file immediately after a death and the game would get stuck whenever I got killed by the first boss.
Speaking of, the lagging made that fight unplayable for awhile. Luckily, this demo is generous with exp, enabling you to either brute force it or experiment with unlockable combat upgrades. Which isn’t such a different beginning- it reminded me of the Festering Banquet and the Sodden Knight from Salt and Sanctuary, really.
Personally, my breakthrough with boss one came when I lost patience, tried playing it like Bloodborne and got totally confrontational. As in, keep rolling past them and spam from behind. Which makes me wonder if, when Vigil is finally released, it will be the kind of game that rewards aggressiveness the way Bloodborne did, where attempting to play it safe is the quickest way to die.
After that fight, we get our first taste of familiar Meteoidvania level design. We find a locked door that separates two halves of an area we see separately at first. It was also around this point that I found that the lagging almost completely disappeared when I turned off every graphical bell and whistle in the ‘video’ menu. Which was fortunate for my nerves since that’s when the platforming ramps up…and I don’t think my sanity could survive platforming at that pace.
The art style clearly excels at creating an understated sense of relative depth across different textures and layers of the background and foreground. Up to and including facial features and skin.
As the old woman with the lantern shows us, this game also succeeds at fanciful yet uncanny fluctuations of proportion. One minute I’m reminded of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the next I’m thinking that Leila, as she descends a ladder with a full moon behind her, looks like she leapt out of something like Batman: The Animated Series or a Genndy Tartakovsky creation like Samurai Jack.
Not that it doesn’t have its weaknesses here and there. Leila’s face and her faster leg and arm movements and sword-swings often look like PSP graphics. It just messes with my sense of immersion, is all. A single, cohesive art style would be for the best. Imagery with a frank resemblance to CGI should be kept to an absolute minimum except when something is supposed to starkly contrast with everything else.
After turning off all of the graphical options like dynamic trees and saturation and whatnot, the occasional use of CGI-looking imagery meshed a little better but was far from seamless. Leila’s facial profile and cloak still looked a little bit like they came from a PSP, but the tentative steps into 3D made the second boss fight both eerie and gorgeous. The shrieking monstrosity’s girth and arms seem like they’re about to pop through the screen occasionally.
In fact, with all of the graphical enhancements turned off in the pause menu, Vigil: The Longest Night has a very memorable beauty. Faces often have an offbeat look reminiscent of fairly tales. The 2.5D graphics shine the best, though, inside of houses and caverns.
In fact, everything really starts to go uphill very fast near the end of the demo. When you make contact with Maye Village you find that, unlike many other Soulsborne protagonists, Leila is actually well-known in her town and seems to have specific relationships that we get to modestly explore in dialogue. We encounter stories about a young couple and their recent elopement. A suspicious and pedantic professor keeps mentioning the relevance of mythology and then we pass through a small clique of eerie and serious looking women, raving about a “DEITY”. Shortly after that, we’re in an underground cave with this shit going on:
The music that was available on the demo also stood out well. In the menu screen and the opening level area I particularly liked the use of music boxes and oboes. The cemetery music was another highlight. Nice change of pace with the strumming guitar and the keyboard. Both the music and the sound design partake in the general upward swing near the demo’s end.
Other than some glitches that I’m sure will be patched well before the game officially launches, my only real complaint are some awkward English translations that make some of the dialogue in the town of Maye feel a little wooden. And that’s probably gonna see some attention before launch as well. I like how Leila is not a player-insert like protagonists of Dark Souls, S&S and Bloodborne (even the Knight in Hollow Knight is something of a silent enigma that the player can project themselves onto…in spite of having very character-specific lore that stops them from being an “everybug”).
I mean I do appreciate ambiguity in story-telling, especially if it allows other strengths of the given medium to shine through. But we’re all very familiar with Hidetaka Miyazaki’s brand of uncertainty and Leila is just a breath of fresh air. Really, I can’t freaking wait for this game to actually be playable in its entirety.