Valkyrie Profile


   One can't help but feel sorry for developer tri-Ace. Blessed with some of the better ideas and gameplay concepts in the industry, the company all-too-often stumbles in the actual implementation of said ideas. In the end, gamers are left with a flashy exterior that belies a poorly-executed hodgepodge of gameplay on the interior. It's happened before with Star Ocean: The Second Story, and now it's happened again with Valkyrie Profile.

Valkyrie kicks enough ass to take names AND souls

   Valkyrie Profile simply screams originality from the outset: Rather than spurring protagonists into action via the obliteration of their long-established way of life, Valkyrie Profile instead begins with each main character's death. You are not a spunky, spiky-haired youth, but the noble Norse God Valkyrie Lenneth. Lenneth has been tasked by head deity Odin to gather the souls of worthy recently-deceased -- or, more often than not, about to be deceased -- warriors to fight for the Aesir in the upcoming end-of-the-world war, Ragnarok. As Valkyrie, you'll need to train your Einherjar warriors in the specific skills needed by the war effort before sending them up to Valhalla. The entire game is loosely based on Norse mythology; interested scholars can visit Enix's homepage or your local library for more background info. In a genre saturated with tired cliches and overused plot devices, the unique plot premise behind Valkyrie Profile is a veritable breath of fresh air.

   With Ragnarok quickly approaching, gameplay is broken up into 8 chapters, each consisting of 24 periods. During this time, Valkyrie has free reign over the world's geography to search for potential Einherjar souls, reform them to meet specific military needs established by Valhalla at the start of each chapter (say, a sorcerer, or a warrior skilled in reconaissance), and visit towns and dungeons. Beginning each of these events will consume a set number of periods, and dawdling even a little will rule out discovering all the events and characters only available in a given chapter. By raising levels in dungeons, characters earn Capacity Points used to enhance required skills, or improve positive and negative personality traits that calculate one's Hero Rating -- Valhalla has no use for foolhardy warriors. Once the required Hero Rating has been met, a character may be permanently transfered up to Valhalla to aid in the war effort; you receive reports of their progress at the end of each chapter. Then the process begins anew with Valkyrie's "soul concentration" -- by consuming two periods, you'll uncover the next dungeon or character to find in the chapter.

Arngrim nobly offs himself

   It's within this cycle of gameplay that Valkyrie Profile stumbles. Gameplay becomes a monotonous exercise in character discovery, dungeon battling, and spending time tweaking stats in an awkward menu layout. Precious few events interject to provide variety to the cycle, and with the large number of characters (and accompanying stories) which appear throughout the game, there's little time to establish character development beyond the initial pathos-laden tale of their death. While Enix has excellently translated the text, only a few characters are developed beyond superficial depth; once a warrior has been sent to Valhalla, character development generally consists of intra-chapter reports where Thor is "astonished" by their exploits. Free exploration, a staple of role-playing games, becomes a luxury with even simple town visits consuming valuable time periods. Valkyrie's soul concentration is the only way to progress further, and dungeons are uncovered solely for the purpose of level-building -- the game never provides an explanation for their visits. It's hard to find motivation to continue through eight chapters when each is simply more of the same. Tragic character introductions are the endless norm, and any feelings of sympathy or sadness are dispelled after the third or fourth noble suicide.

   Dungeons in Valkyrie Profile are more reminiscent of an action platformer than an RPG. Evoking memories of Alucard in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the armored Valkyrie fluidly jumps, slides, slashes in all directions, fires ice projectiles, and even leaves a trail of silhouettes behind her as she flies through the air. The range of action is certainly enjoyable, but soon loses its creative edge; slashing is essentially a novelty, and few areas require the kind of controller skill implied by a system rooted in the action genre. Movement is, as expected, limited to a side-scrolling plane, but is muddled by multiple depths of 2D planes as Valkyrie walks in and out of doors or other paths. Complex, multi-plane dungeon layouts become unintuitive, even with the aid of an awkward map system. Overall, Valkyrie Profile's dungeon exploration is another great idea in concept, but flawed in execution.

Simultaneous attacks in battle

   Battles begin when Valkyrie slashes a dungeon foe with her sword; touch the enemy, and they'll attack first. Of the many ideas and systems introduced in Valkyrie Profile, the battle system is the one that truly succeeds. Each character in your four-person party corresponds to the four primary buttons on the PlayStation controller. When you push a button, the corresponding character begins a pre-established attack on the selected enemy; push several buttons, and characters attack simultaneously. Button mashing seems the obvious path to winning battles, but not so: Enemies can block, and often only by attacking together in quick combo successions can you break through defenses. Each of your party members take variable amounts of time to attack, too, so precise timing becomes imperative. Particularly effective combos are rewarded with the option to "Purify Weird Soul!" and unleash a devastating finishing move. At first deceptively simple, Valkyrie Profile's combat system only expands in depth as you progress, though there's a steep learning curve to watch out for.

Spectacular visuals

   There's no doubting the game's spectacular visuals. Beautifully detailed and vidid backdrops adorn the world's locations, maintaining the fantastic visual distinctiveness found in tri-Ace's games. Copious character sprite designs give characters an incredible range of expression -- they'll clutch a limb in pain, embrace, or flail their arms in anger without the sharp edges of small polygons. Such dialogue scenes are also enhanced by some of the best character artwork created in any video game, period. The visual flair extends to battles, which employ a great number of impressive special effects, particularly the extravagant finishing moves.

   While of minor importance, Valkyrie Profile implements two features which should be made mandatory in all text-heavy role-playing titles: conversation logs and message skipping. By hitting L1, one can rapidly scroll through recent lines of dialogue. Final Fantasy Tactics features a complete scene reenactment system, but Valkyrie Profile's conversation log is a far quicker alternative when all you need to do is review an inadvertently skipped screen of text -- a more common need for many button-mashing speed readers. Or, if you intentionally desire to skip through pages of dialog, another button combo will grant your wish -- another feature invaluable for impatient gamers who accidentally converse again with a bothersome townsperson who won't stop blabbing.

Arngrim, master of comebacks

   Aurally, Valkyrie Profile reaches both ends of the quality spectrum. A handful of music tracks capture the epic, tragic mood of the plotline perfectly, adding a swelling depth of emotion to several key scenes; meanwhile, too many other pieces are simply tedious exercises in musical monotony. Similarly, the game's voice acting is a mixed bag. While many voices are well matched in tone and expression to their character's personality (indeed, much of the voice talent has done work in cartoons and movies), the dramatic impact of several important scenes, such as the prologue, is completely destroyed by terribly hokey vocal deliveries. Additionally, since each line of vocal dialogue is usually tied down to the game's sequential progression of text boxes, unnaturally long dramatic gaps emerge in the delivery of speech; only rarely does the audio approach the timing of natural (or even theatrical) human speech.

   A few niggling little flaws additionally distract from the overall experience. Graphical slowdown is a repeated, crippling problem in many sprite-heavy areas of the game, particularly the final dungeon. Game difficulty is also poorly balanced -- while there are three levels of difficulty available in the game, Hard mode is mandatory to get a challenge from the game; the Normal setting will bore any player not new to RPGs. The excessive ease of progressing through the game only serves to exacerbate the monotonous cycle of gameplay mentioned previously.

   Valkyrie Profile is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. Three endings await at the close of Ragnarok, decided upon by your performance in the game. A bevy of secrets are available to be uncovered, and require multiple playthroughs in Hard mode to find them all. However, tolerating the poor execution of Valkyrie Profile's gameplay is a requirement to enjoying the entire package, and is something too many gamers will find difficult to accomplish.

Review by Brian Glick, GIA.
Valkyrie Profile
Developer tri-Ace
Publisher Enix
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium CD-ROM (2)
Platform Sony PlayStation
Release Date  12.22.99
US Release Date Announced
145 English screenshots
E3: 3 high-resolution character designs
US Box Art