Valkyrie Profile Review
Originality is a hard thing to find in an RPG these days. It seems every game wants to be the "next Final Fantasy." Either that, or they lift plot elements from other RPGs, or fall back on cliches that have been around from almost the beginning of the console RPG genre.
However, when Enix and Tri-Ace decided to set out to make Valkyrie Profile, they set out to create an RPG like no one had ever seen before. A beautiful, tragic tale of life and death, which revolved around a war in heaven. Valkyrie Profile is not only a great RPG experience, it's also the most original RPGs to come along in years, and it's highly unlikely we'll ever see anything like it.
The Valkyrie of the title is Lenneth, a female warrior who is summoned one day by Odin, Lord of Valhalla (Heaven). He informs Lenneth that Ragnarok, the end of the world, is fast approaching. Evil forces are attempting to seize control of Valhalla, and Odin needs warriors to fight in his army. He commands Lenneth to descend to earth below, and gather Einherjar, the souls of recently departed mortals who can be used to fight in the war above. Lenneth must search the world over for souls worthy to join Odin's cause, and train them for the upcoming war.
Valkyrie Profile's dramatic, and somewhat depressing, storyline is indeed an interesting angle not often used in RPGs. This game deals very heavily with death, and the things we have left unfulfilled or unfinished in our lives. Before Lenneth recruits a new Einherjar, we are introduced to them, and we learn the tragic tale of the events leading up to their death. Some of these stories can be quite heartbreaking. They allow you to become emotionally attached to your party members in a way that few RPGs do.
Since Valkyrie Profile is almost an entirely new RPG experience, it's recommended you read the manual first before you play the game. This is a complex game, and although the first hour or so is devoted to helping you learn, it's still recommended that you seriously look through the manual to get the full enjoyment out of the game.
As Lenneth, you fly above the earth. With a push of the start button, Lenneth will perform her "spiritual concentration," which will either reveal a new dungeon on the map, or reveal a new town or location where an Einherjar can be found. The game's areas are represented similar to a 2D side scroller. You move Lenneth through the areas, jumping over bottomless pits, or exploring treacherous locations. Battles are not random in this game. You can see the enemies lurking about in the dungeons. However, how you approach an enemy determines how the battle opens. Slashing an enemy with your sword with a push of the X button will give you a better advantage than just running right into them. Lenneth also has the power to summon ice crystals that can either freeze enemies on the map, or help her climb up to higher platforms that she can't jump to.
The game's battle system is also something truly new. Lenneth and her Einherjar soldiers are each represented by a button on the Playstation controller (X, Triangle, Square, O). You push the corresponding button that matches with a character to make him or her attack. The trick usually is to get combos, having a character joining in as soon as one character's round of attack is over. It's up to you to decide the order of the characters you want to fight, since some are faster or slower than others, in order to ensure the most damage done to enemies. Enemies can also drop valuable items when defeated. However, the most important thing to remember in battle is to keep Lenneth the Valkyrie alive. If she dies, you only have a limited amount of time to revive her. If you don't do it in that amount of time, you're forced to return to the world map.
Of course, the goal of Lenneth's mission is to train these Einherjar, and send them to Odin. Therefore, you can't keep these characters forever. Lenneth can only keep three Einherjar in her party at once. She must build their levels in combat, and build them in certain skills and areas, because sometimes Lenneth will receive a message that Odin wants a certain kind of soldier with certain attributes. Lenneth must then choose one of her soldiers, and raise that character in the attributes needed, in order to please Odin. And yes, there are different endings you can get, and Lord Odin's evaluation of your work is one of the factors that determines the ending you will see.
However, the war above is raging while Lenneth is in the land of the mortals, so she does not have forever. The game is divided into chapters, and each chapter is divided into "periods." She has a limited amount of time to complete the tasks needed in each chapter. You start out with a certain number of period points at the beginning of each chapter. Each time Lenneth visits an area, whether it be a town or dungeon, you spend a certain number of period points. The object of each chapter is to complete all of the objectives required of you before the period points reach zero, and the chapter automatically ends. At the end of each chapter, Freya, Odin's loyal assistant, will give you a report on how well you are doing, and how the war above is going. You can even check in and see how the Einherjar you've already sent to Odin are doing in battle. Continue to fulfill Odin's requirements within the given number of periods in each chapter, and you should have a good report from Freya each time.
Another new feature in Valkyrie Profile's gameplay is the "Materialize Point" system. You earn these points by recruiting Einherjar, or if you plan an active role in victories in the "Sacred War" above. With these points, you can use them to create items, weapons, or armor for your characters. Each item costs a certain amount of points, and there are always new equipment and items being introduced in each chapter, so it's often wise to check the list frequently. You can also convert items you don't need or want into extra Materialize Points.
As you can see, Valkyrie Profile is full of new and innovative ideas. It's an interesting mixture of side scrolling platforming, traditional RPGs, and character-raising gameplay. These features, and the original storyline, make Valkyrie Profile a memorable experience. Best of all, it's never the same game twice. Each time you play the game, you get different scenarios. You may recruit some Einherjar that you didn't recruit last time you played it, or you'll recruit them in a different order. This keeps the game fresh, guaranteeing that you'll never play this game the same way twice. Not only that, the level of difficulty you choose of the game affects your quest. You can choose from Easy, Normal, or Hard every time you start a new game. The higher the difficulty you choose, the more of the game you get to see. (More areas and characters are opened up on the higher difficulty levels.)
The graphics in this game add an appropriate feel to the game's somber storyline. The game is entirely hand-drawn 2D, except for the 3D world map as Lenneth flies over the mortal realm. The character sprites are pretty large, and very detailed. The backgrounds are imaginative, and give the right feel to the area you visit. Each town, and even the dungeons, you encounter have their own unique feel, giving a feel of diversity to the land. However, the real graphic highlight are the stunningly beautiful character portraits that appear next to the text box when a main character is speaking. They are some of the largest character portraits I've seen for a game, and they almost look like they were taken out of an oil painting. The character designs in this game are some of the most beautiful I've seen in any video game, and I highly commend the artist.
The sound is equally strong, though the music has one main fault. The game's soundtrack was composed by the same guy who did the music for Star Ocean: The Second Story, and it shows, because a lot of tracks sound almost exactly like the tracks of that previous game! The music's never bad, and it always fits the mood of the situation, but still, it sometimes sound like I heard the exact same soundtrack in 1999, when Star Ocean 2 came out. If you never played that game, it won't be a problem, and you'll probably like the soundtrack more than I did.
In other areas of sound, the game is also of the highest quality. The sound effects of your weapons and magic spells are forceful and powerful, but the real highlight is the voice acting. There's a lot of acting in this game, as every major character speaks. (And this game has one of the largest casts of any RPG ever made, since you're constantly recruiting Einherjar.) Fortunately, Enix realized that since there's so much acting in the game, they should find some semi-decent voice actors, so players aren't tortured too badly. Although some of the voices can come off as sounding a bit cheesy at times, the acting is all around top-notch stuff. Enix hired some professional American voice actors for this game, including a few actors from the Pokemon TV dub. (Don't worry, their voices are nowhere near as annoying in this game as they are on that show.) The game also has some really cool quotes from your characters during battle. (I'll never get tired of the cool way Lenneth's actress will sometimes say, "Come to me, Dark Warriors! Battle awaits us!" at the beginning of certain battles.) The voices help flesh out the characters even more.
I truly love this game. It's such a radical departure from most RPG fare we get these days. Instead of playing a young boy in a quiet town who gets wrapped up in a great adventure, like 90% of the RPGs out there, you play a servant to a god on a quest for human souls to fight a war in heaven. How cool is that?? There's just a cool feeling you get, playing the role of an eternal battle-maiden, rather than some dorky kid who winds up defying an evil empire almost single-handedly. The freshness of the concept, and the many new innovations featured in the gameplay make Valkyrie Profile an unforgettable experience. I guess if there's fault to be found, it's in the fact that the game is a bit complex, and might seem intimidating to some RPG players. Those who see it through, however, will be rewarded with a game like none other.
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