Game Review no image

Published on June 1st, 2003 | by Matt Haberfeld


Valkyrie Profile

Developer: Tri-Ace
Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 8/29/2000

What is Valkyrie Profile?

Valkyrie Profile is definitely a unique experience. Based loosely on Norse mythology, you are the goddess Valkyrie. You have the power to find heroes at the moment of their death and take their souls into your party. You then train them before they are sent to Valhalla to fight for the gods in Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods of Aesir and Vanir.

This game blends a lot of different game styles together in a unique way. The majority of the game is a 2D side scroller, like Prince of Persia. You can run and jump and shoot ice crystals that freeze enemies and create temporary platforms for you to boost yourself up. When you find a monster you can enter combat by swinging your sword at it. In combat, each of your characters is mapped to a button, and pressing it makes that character perform their attack. You can make your character’s attack simultaneously and perform combos that earn you more experience and more treasure.

What does this game do well?

The graphics in this game are excellent. The backgrounds are hand drawn and the combat is full of eye candy. The characters are very lifelike in their movement and facial expressions and there are many different towns and dungeons to visit.

Valkyrie Profile also features a great deal of voice acting. Rather than wading through masses of text, much of the dialogue is also spoken to you, which is a nice touch. Here is where the Japanese version really shines. In Japan, there are professional voice actors called seiyuu. They make a living just doing voices for commercials and games, etc. In the United States, those same jobs are usually done by budding actors looking for some extra money. Some of the voice samples are really excellent, but then again some of them are pretty awful. If you are fluent in Japanese I would highly recommend that you get the Japanese version to take advantage of this feature.

Oddly enough, the combat is turn based. Each of your four characters is mapped to a single button and pressing that button makes them attack. You need to make your characters attack in combination in order to break through your opponent’s defenses. If you can knock your opponent off his feet and hit him in the air, there is a chance that he will give more experience or drop treasure. It is in your best interest to figure out the timing so that you can maximize your treasure and experience.

Originally I didn’t like the combat because it is susceptible to button mashing. If you just press all four buttons, you can kill just about anything. But the second time I played through I really experimented with the character combinations, and some require significantly more skill to use. For instance, if you use the “easy” characters like Angrim and Belenus, or Grey and Jayle, it really makes no difference what you do. You just mash the buttons and the enemy falls down. But if you use the “hard” characters like Jun, Aelia, and Suo, there’s much more timing involved, and you get more experience and treasure for the battles. So it’s really up to the player to decide what works. The first time I played Valkyrie Profile I was a very shallow player and just mashed buttons, and I didn’t realize the depth of the combat. This works, but it’s not very fun and unfortunately I missed the point on my first time through.

There are two possible endings depending on how you perform in your task. This adds a little bit of replayability if you want to get the “A” ending. You have to jump through a lot of hoops in chapters 4 through 6 to do it, but you are rewarded with more content at the end of the game. There are also certain sacrifices that you will have to make which include sending up one of your best characters.

What new and innovative ideas are implemented in this game?

One of the things that makes this game really interesting is that although you get lots of different characters to join you, eventually you have to send most of them to Valhalla. There are only a few characters that you keep permanently, so unlike most RPGs you don’t always find your favorite three guys and keep them forever. It is important to level up everyone, even if you are only leveling them in order to send them away. Since there is a limited amount of experience to be had in each chapter, you will have to use all the characters at least long enough to turn them into heroes. If you’re really dead set against using a character you have an experience orb that collects event experience for doing certain things. You can bestow this canned XP onto characters without having to use them if you want, but I find a perverse pleasure in taking a level 1 character into a level 25 dungeon and gaining 9 levels in one fight.

The chapter and period system is also very nice. Unlike most RPGs, in Valkyrie Profile there is only a limited amount of time before the game ends. There are 8 chapters, and each chapter has 24-28 periods. You use those periods to recruit heroes and explore dungeons. When you run out of periods, the game advances by one chapter, and your progress is evaluated. If you do not send some of your heroes to Valhalla, you will get a bad review, or if you perform poorly enough, Freya will kill you and the game is over.

What could this game have done better?

The first time I played this game, I did not enjoy it. But there’s something about my character that doesn’t allow me to leave a game unfinished. I even play games I don’t like just to finish them and make sure that there is no redeeming value for myself. In some cases this is extremely masochistic, but in the case of Legend of Mana and Valkyrie Profile a second chance was just what I needed to recognize the quality of the game. There are two major differences in playing it the second time. First, I wasn’t playing it just to review it, and second I was playing it on an emulator instead of the PS. This means save states and unlimited memory card access. I’ll get to why that’s important in a second.

There are a lot of factors to think about when you play this game. Playing it for the first time, I did not understand everything that was going on, and had no idea what most of the items did. Ignorance is dangerous in this game because you have a limited number of actions before the chapter advances and you are evaluated. Although technically this game is not linear and you can do whatever you want, if you want to actually survive long enough to get to the later chapters you are forced to recruit every character you can and explore every dungeon. You can’t waste periods to go and just look around (and even if you do there’s nothing to see) and if you go to the wrong place by accident even for a moment, you lose the time forever. This game forces you to save often and reload.

There are 3 difficulty levels in Valkyrie Profile. In hard mode you can get all the characters and the most difficult dungeons, and in the lesser modes your characters have much more experience but some game opportunities are closed to you. Be very sure to choose your difficulty setting carefully! If you aren’t sure, you should probably pick hard, because the game really isn’t very hard at all. Once you choose your difficulty setting, get ready to play…40 minutes later. That’s right, the introduction to the game is forty minutes long. When you first play the game, it is worth seeing, but if you are like me and like to play the game once to learn it and then start over once you have a better idea of what to do, it becomes very tiresome. What’s worse is that you cannot skip the intro, but you also cannot just let it play through. Every 5 minutes or so you are required to move a character to left three steps to advance the story or press the button to get through the text. I don’t know what the designers were thinking, but this is just about the worst thing I’ve ever encountered in a game.

And yet somehow it’s not! Every time you recruit a character, you get to watch a 10 minute scene about how they died. When you consider that there are over 20 characters in the game, you are looking at several hours of non-interactive story. I realize that this is the point of the game, but god forbid you recruit a person and forget to save or your game freezes and you have to sit through it again. I cannot stress enough that you should save the game often on different save slots so you don’t have to to just sit through this stuff over and over again.

There are also many problems with the items. The item system itself is actually very nice. There are lots of items, and you can use “materialize points” to make more. (materialize points are basically just gold pieces) You can also transmute items into something new for a marginal cost, all of which make for a fun and interesting system. However there are several problems that keep the item system from being great.

First of all, when you kill a boss and get artifacts, you cannot see what they do before you choose to keep them or send them to Odin. This forces you to either take or reject the items based on their name, or reload the game after taking them all. This is just plain stupid. No game should force you to reload because of design defects. They could have just showed you the item’s stats when you found them and then allow you to make your decision.

Another bad design in the items are instant kill weapons. There are certain weapons that automatically kill certain monsters. For instance, the dragonslayer sword will kill dragons in a single hit as long as the attack is not blocked. This allows you to kill monsters that are way above your level. I would always take a party of level 1 characters into the cave of oblivion and kill a dragon zombie with the dragonslayer sword. My characters would all gain 4 levels, and instantly have enough points to become heroes worthy of Valhalla. Although not technically a bug, it is still quite unbalancing that your fresh souls can become divine heroes by exploiting the attributes of an item like that.

Another frustrating aspect of the game is that weapons that are not divine in origin have a chance to break. Sometimes the chance to break is as low as 3%, but that is deceiving. Basically if your item has a chance to break, you can consider it destroyed as soon as you use it once. I’m not sure when the game calculates the chance to break, but I know that your items can break in the middle of combat or at the end, so the chance to break is calculated more than once in a single combat, possibly every time you make an attack. Therefore the chance to break is deceiving and even a weapon with a 3% chance to break will break far more often because the numbers are calculated more than once in a single fight. Basically the only time that you can use weapons like the dragonslayer are when you can save immediately before and after combat. (You can’t possibly let your dragonslayer break, how will your level 1 characters kill dragon zombies?)

And finally, the biggest problem with the item system is that you don’t know what some of the items do. Many items explain their purpose, but not all. Some of them exist purely to transmute into other items, while others seemingly have no purpose whatsoever. It’s also impossible to tell which characters can wear certain types of armor, so you can waste your points conjuring up four sets of armor that only 1 character can wear. To get the full benefit of the game, you really need a walkthrough. Without a walkthrough you’ll never see the “A” ending, you won’t know what artifacts do before you take them, you’ll have a hell of a time getting through the clockwork mansion, and you’ll never know that the Angel Lips is the only way to grant the negotiator skill required for one of the sacred phases. This is where the emulator really shines, because the internet is literally one click away and you have lots of extra options for saving the game (because trust me, you’re going to reload a lot).

Should I buy this game?

My first impression was a poor one, largely due to the extremely long non-interactive scenes and my complete misunderstanding of the game. However, I have been converted and must now insist that if you own this game you should play it again with a walkthrough to hold your hand. As a testament to its greatness, the game is very hard to find and if you do find it, it usually costs more than the original retail price. The graphics, music, and sound are great, and concept is great, and the game is really fun if you can stick with it long enough to figure out what the items do and which characters you like. I don’t think I can suffer through the unskippable story more than once every 4 years or so, but maybe I’ll give it another go in 2011.

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