Review: It may take place decades before Ragnarok, but there's still plenty of fighting to go around.
The original Valkyrie Profile is completely untouchable. Never before has there been a game with such a unique blend of gameplay, visuals, music, and story in a game. It was truly amazing that Tri-Ace even remembered Valkyrie Profile, let alone made a sequel to it. The game was released just as quietly as it went out of print. And of course, the amount of money it goes for on eBay will tell you just how few prints there are of this amazing RPG. So while the original Valkyrie Profile was groundbreaking and breath taking, does the sequel live up to it's greatness? I think when fans of the original load up the sequel, they will be a little surprised.
Valkyrie Profile 2 takes place some time before the original Valkyrie Profile. In this story, one of the three ?death goddesses?, Silmeria Valkyrie, has been cast out of the god Odin's kingdom, Valhalla, and imprisoned in the mind and body of the young princess Alicia from the human kingdom of Dipan. For motives she keeps to herself, Silmeria wants to protect the world of humans, Midgard, from the impending wrath of the gods. The game starts when Alicia escapes certain doom from Dipan castle after getting a premonition from Silmeria. From there, Alicia meets several fellow travelers, some living and some dead, who will all aid her on her quest to find a powerful relic known as the Dragon Orb. At the same time, the kingdom of Dipan is searching for the same relic to wage war on the gods. There is a lot going on, and this is all just in the first half of the game. The plot certainly is a little confusing at times, and to be honest I found some of the plot twists to be very obvious, but ultimately Valkyrie Profile 2's story is satisfying when compared to the first.
In terms of gameplay, Valkyrie Profile 2 actually takes a few steps back in innovation from the original while only building a few new ideas into the mix. While the game still features a chapter-based system, the game no longer relies on time. Players can enter any town or dungeon as many times as they want with no repercussions. While this may sound great to some, this really takes a big hit on game when it comes to tactics. Also, while the original had random dungeons appear each chapter, creating a different experience each time the game was played, Valkyrie Profile 2 features a completely linear structure with a handful of extra dungeons to explore along the way. This is unfortunate because the unpredictability of the original was part of what made it so good.
Purchases are performed completely differently in Valkyrie Profile 2 as well. In the original, players could only buy items, weapons, and armor from the camp menu while on the map screen. Since Silmeria has severed her connections with the gods, she is now limited only to what items can be bought in the shops in Midgard. This is obviously the reason why time plays no role in the game, and players are allowed to enter and leave areas as many times as they want during a given chapter. Also, because Silmeria no longer has ties to the gods, she does not have to send any of her Einherjar. The keywords there are ?have to?. Silmeria can still choose to reincarnate any of the Einherjar in her party. This usually leads to receiving special stat-boosting items and powerful weapons. If the player finds a reincarnated Einherjar while exploring Midgard, the former warrior will usually offer up some decent goods.
Players will no longer find a difficulty setting for the game. Normal is the default here, and with each progressive playthrough the game becomes harder. Of course, in the original, difficulty settings determined the level of new party members and what areas would appear in a chapter as well as enemy stats. In Valkyrie Profile 2, the difficulty setting only applies to enemy stats.
For better or worse, Valkyrie Profile 2 does have a few new tricks up its sleeve. Each shop will create powerful items for Silmeria and her party in exchange for certain items won in battle. Unfortunately this feature is probably one of the most obnoxious features of Valkyrie Profile 2. While the items are great, the resources needed to create them can be a total pain to collect. Players will often find themselves fighting the same type of enemy over and over just to harvest a particular item which may or may not appear depending on how the enemy is killed and pure luck. Even with all of the items, players aren't guaranteed to find a particular creation for sale. Players must spend a certain amount of money at a given shop in order to have each creation item become available. This leads to even more frustration.
Another new feature is the rune system. In the original Valkyrie Profile, players could allocate special points into a given skill in order to level it up. Valkyrie Profile 2 takes a more Final Fantasy IX approach to learning skills. Each weapon and piece of armor has a rune type and a color affinity and each character has a small grid with nine spaces. When an item is equipped, it's rune and color show up in the grid. Link certain runes and colors with one another and a new skill will be created. When a new skill is created, it isn't usable until its status reaches 100%. The only way to build a rune's status is by participating in battles. After each fight, the party's average level depends on how much of the skill is learned. Ultimately, it works to the player's advantage to keep a few low level characters around for learning these skills. Once a skill reaches 100%, players can equip them, but there is a drawback. Equipping a skill takes a certain amount of CP, so on average players can expect to have only two or three skills equipped at a time. Another drawback to the skill feature is that it is easy to sell off items with important runes without knowing it. Not only that, but it is also easy to completely forget about building skills. Still, some of the skills can really aid in building levels, or making battles more manageable.
Battles have changed for the better. Valkyrie Profile 2's battle system is a great blend of real-time fights in games like Tales of Symphonia and Star Ocean with the unique button mapped battle system from the original Valkyrie Profile. The fights aren't exactly real-time. When an enemy is touched on a dungeon's exploration screen, players will be taken to a battle screen with several enemies laid out across a battlefield. Each battlefield differs depending on the dungeon, and some battlefields even feature special break-away walls and other effects that will present themselves as the fight draws on.
Each group of enemies has one leader. If the leader is defeated first, the entire enemy party will disperse and the party will generally gain more EXP than if they had stuck around to fight off every enemy. Another reason for killing the enemy leader first is that the quicker the leader is defeated, the better the party's chances of getting a special leader item from the battle.
Enemies will not move unless the player is in motion. When the player stands still, he or she can see the enemy's attack area. As long as none of the player's party is standing in this area, no one will be hurt. When the enemy is in range, the player will be able to attack.
Attacks work exactly the same way they did in the original Valkyrie Profile. There are four party members, and each button matches to one of those members. Pressing the button causes them to attack. The strategy comes in timing the attacks to get the best result from the effort. When an enemy is attacked, it will do two things. First, every attack builds a special gauge. When the gauge hits 100, any party member holding a special move allowing weapon will get to perform a gigantic finishing move. More on the finishing moves later. Secondly, every attack takes points away from a special AP bar. When the bar reaches zero, no more moves are possible and the player must either rest by pressing L3, or the player must make the party walk around on the battlefield. Resting causes all enemies on screen to have free movement for a short time, which can be quite risky to the party.
Other things that cost AP are dashing and using items and spells. Whenever a spell or item is used, the menu screen becomes locked for a short time, and no more items can be used until the player has moved, attacked, or been attacked. This usually causes battles to take much longer than they need to, and turns out to add more nuisance than strategy.
Dashing allows players to jump from one point to another without giving the enemy a chance to move all at the cost of about 25 AP. Dashing comes in very helpful when hunting down the enemy leader, because usually the leader will sit in the very back of the playing field, making it impossible to run directly to him without being attacked by every other enemy on the field first. Dashing is also very helpful when the party is pinned down, giving them a good chance to evade an attack. Unfortunately, dashing doesn't always work. I found that quite often when I attempted to dash while standing near an object or enemy, I would only move a very small distance due to the fact that I would be clipping the object. Sometimes my party didn't even move, and yet I'd still lose the 25 AP. This would be alright if it happened only a handful of times, but I found that it happens very often and becomes a big annoyance very quickly.
A new feature to Valkyrie Profile 2's battle system is the ability to attack particular enemy body parts. While these can't directly be targeted, each part of an enemy has a chance to be broken off. When this happens players have a chance to gain a special item. This is how many of the item creation ingredients are gained. Also, whenever a particular part is destroyed there's a very small chance that the party will enter a special mode known as ?Break Mode?. In Break Mode, the entire party is allowed to attack the enemy for a set amount time regardless of their AP.
As mentioned before, when the party attacks an enemy, they build up an attack meter. The meter must hit 100 before the party's last attack, or else it will drop back to 0. When the meter hits 100, the party will enter a special attack mode, where those party members who hold items that allow for special attacks are given the opportunity to perform a devastating (and often very cool looking) finishing move. These finishing moves can be strung together, but there is a drawback. Each time a finisher is performed, the special attack gauge drops by 20 points. Each finisher will build the meter back up, but if one of the special attacks can't get the meter back to 100 before the attack ends, the special attack mode will end.
Of course, Valkyrie Profile 2 isn't just its battle system. Valkyrie Profile 2's dungeon system is very much the same as the original Valkyrie Profile's. Players work their way through a series of rooms, only moving in a 2D space. Silmeria is able to shoot photons which cause enemies to crystallize and freeze. When these frozen enemies are shot with another photon, they switch places with Silmeria. This technique of swapping places with on-screen enemies is necessary for solving some puzzles as well as finding some of the better treasures. It is a very interesting concept, and I can find no fault with it.
When all is said and done in Valkyrie Profile 2, there is still some excitement left in the game. Players will be excited to know that the Seraphic Gate returns in all of it's difficult glory- complete with several Tri-Ace cameos, and plenty of challenging bosses. Also, as mentioned before, Valkyrie Profile 2's main story mode gets progressively harder with each subsequent playthrough, though the game really is hard enough the first time around, I'd hate to see it during the 50th playthrough.
From a graphical standpoint, Valkyrie Profile 2 is amazing. From the PS2 games I've seen so far, Valkyrie Profile 2 is probably one of the best looking games for the system. The game features crisp clean graphics with well detailed character models and highly detailed environments that never appear to suffer from the dreaded repeating surface bitmaps found in most PS2 games. To its credit, the game even features progressive scan and widescreen support- both are a must for anyone who runs their PS2 off of component cables and has a 720p or higher resolution TV. Square Enix really hit one out of the ballpark with the visuals in Valkyrie Profile 2.
As far as audio is concerned, much like the original Valkyrie Profile, the music is a blend of epic scores and rocking guitar riffs. Voices are solid and very well done. Where the original suffered from some cheesy lines here and there, Valkyrie Profile 2's awkward delivery and bad lines are very few and far between. The only real downside is the fact that, while much of the dialogue from Valkyrie Profile 1 was cheesy, it was still really fun to listen to- namely how Lenneth would say, ?To my side my noble Einherjar!? during the beginning of every battle. Lines like this have been completely phased out from Valkyrie Profile 2. The only time any sort of lyrical dialogue is given is during the special moves, and it still holds just as much of an effect as it did before.