Review: The Few, The Proud, The Undead
Before it's release on the PSP, Valkyrie Profile was one of those games that only the rich Playstation owners would play, or to those select few who decided to sell their left eye for one. With prices on eBay soaring to an incredible price of over $100.00, many rpg-fans were left out in the cold wondering what was so amazing about this game. Well, thanks to the generous people at Square Enix, us little folk finally know.
Made by Tri-Ace, the same team responsible for Radiata Stories and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Valkyrie Profile takes the player into a world of based upon Norse mythology, Midgard, where homicide rules and Gods wage a war that could eventually lead to the end of the world. Sounds kind of like familiar, doesn't it? Divided into eight chapters or periods, Valkyrie is sent to the land of Midgard to find people that have died tragic deaths in order to train them into full-bled warriors. Talk about tough requirements.
After recruiting a character, the player is required to train them in dungeons before sending them up to Valhalla to join the fight between the Vanir and Aesir, whose starting levels are based upon your current difficulty settings. While the idea of sending warriors up to fight for Odin seems interesting in theory, its easily one of the games many weak points. After training a warrior, you have to send them up based on a ?hero value' system, where you'll never see them again until the last chapter.
During each period, players have a set number of turns in order find the next tragic death or unlock the game's next dungeon. Unfortunately, despite the interesting short stories that are presented for each character, none of them actually seem connected except for a few. A lot of the characters just seem as though they're just there because they died. Even worse off are the dungeons, which don't seem to play any roles in the game other than sending treasure or training your heroes. This disconnection with everything in the game leaves the player wanting more, but sadly they never get it.
One of the most fascinating things about the game however is the use of multiple endings to get the player to add to the game's replay value. Although you're never really give any hints on how to reach the game's ?best' ending.
Story and characters aside, the gameplay is marred by a redundant use of the same exact battle system fight after fight. The player's party, which consists of four characters, are individually assigned to specific buttons on the PSP's controller. During combat, pressing a corresponding button for a specific character will have them attack allowing for players to link together combos. Fighters typically have three attacks while mages have attacks that fill their CT (charge time) bars. When the ?hit meter' reaches 100% as players combine attacks, players are then allowed to unleash a barrel full of whoop-ass on their opponents. Cramping their hands in the process.
While the gameplay seems very innovative and fresh at first, it quickly becomes redundant and boring after a while. Once the player establishes a party of four in the game, they'll be seeing the same moves over and over again; often multiple times in the same battle. It's quiet sad how the opponent's get the opportunity to attack your entire party with one hit while you feebly attack them individually. Thank god for magic spells, which your be spamming a lot towards the end of the game.
While the level-up system is based upon your basic exp system, there is a bit of customization involved. Each character gets a specific amount of points to allocate into different areas when they level up. If you want a character to be resilient to magic you can, if you want to make a powerhouse even stronger you can. The catch is that you have to use these same points for characters in order to build up their ?hero value' as well. Players will want to plan on spreading these points out carefully as the points aren't unlimited. Though pretty much all of your characters will be maxed out on every possible stat, if you use them consistently towards end-game.
Aside from the fighting however, the dungeon crawling elements in the game are actually quiet fun. Taking a page out of old-school platform games, players are required to make Valkyrie jump, crouch, and build crystallized stairs in order to navigate the levels. Instead of opting to include random battles in the game, players see the enemies on-screen and are required to approach them in order to initiate a battle. As a result, players have the option to not fight an enemy if they choose not to through either freezing them with your ice crystals or just nimbly avoiding them. However, the limited amount of save points available in the dungeons means that you will be using your PSP's sleep feature a lot more than you previously ever did.
Graphically, the game can be divided into two categories. On one hand you have the gorgeous FMVs, which easily rival anything seen on the Playstation 2 today, and on then you have your retro- PS One graphics. The same issues that plagued the original game are still present in Lenneth as the backgrounds suffer from the same exact clipping issue. Although characters often appear sharp and crisp, they immediately become pixilated when the camera zooms in. Though it's hard to blame the game developers for this as the game was designed for the PS One after all.
One of the newest features for Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is the inclusion of all-new character portraits to help narrate the story. Although each of the character portraits is drawn nicely, they contain a minimal set of emotions; leaving the player to imagine a majority of their facial expressions.
Thankfully the voice-acting helps to make up for the lack of emotions for the character portraits; although they haven't changed the cast from the original. Cast by TAJ Productions, the voice actors do an above average job. People familiar with 4Kids Entertainment productions such as Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokemon, will immediately recognize the voices of Ash Ketchum and Mai Valentine when they play the game. Although most of the actors do a great job, some of them still as seems as though they were doing dry readings. The music in the game simply rocks, relying on techno-inspired tunes rather than your traditional Norwegian-folk music. Although it begs the question, did the ancient Norwegians really listen to rock?
Lastly, for Valkyrie Profile veterans is there any reason for them to spend another 39.99 for the same game? Sadly, no. While the game reveals a slight connection with the upcoming Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria, new FMVs, and character portraits, that's about it. There's no new dungeon, no new characters, nothing. However, for people who have yet to try the game, Lenneth provides a fresh change from your traditional turn-based RPG; and for a lot us, that's enough.