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 Salt and 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 Vigil during 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.
End of play-through: