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The Terror of Indifferent Gods
By: Michael Beckett
Based primarily on the Norse myth of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, Valkyrie Profile offers something all RPGs should aspire to – a mature, entertaining experience. Valkyrie Profile features a unique, engaging combat system, a thought-provoking story, and a large and surprisingly well developed cast.
Some mythological background; In Norse myth, Valkyries were angelic figures who turned up on battlefields after the bloodshed was finished and took the souls of the warriors who had died what was considered a ‘warrior’s death’ to Asgard. In Asgard, they would serve as Lord Odin’s undead fighters – the Einherjar. The story of Valkyrie Profile focuses on Lenneth, a Valkyrie, who collects souls of dead warriors for the apocalyptic battle, Ragnarok. VP is truly a dark game - themes such as forced reincarnation and the terror of truly impartial gods lend this game a tragic air, which is enhanced by the translation which takes great pains to sound archaic and melodramatic. Odin and Freya, and indeed, the rest of the Aesir, have little or no sympathy for humans – people are tools, automatons created by the machine called Midgard. Due to the non-linear way the game unfolds, only the actions of the player can make things right. This is an exceptionally difficult task.
Combat is an unusual combination of Turn-Based and Real-Time combat. Fights are split up into two sections – your turn and your foe’s – and inside these turns your characters can make their moves one at a time or string them together to form combos. The sheer intensity of some of the fights is amazing, and yet there is still a great deal of strategy involved. For instance, to get every hit of a combo to connect, the player must think simultaneously about what height each one of each character’s three possible hits connects at, plus what height they will end up at when the move is finished, and what move should therefore be executed next. The frantic feel of the battle system can make it a little difficult to have an overall battle plan, but for the most part, any collection of the characters acquired during the game should do well.
The voice acting for Valkyrie Profile fits very well with the rest of the game – very melodramatic. The voice actors know their jobs and turn out first-rate performances, something of a rarity on the PSOne. The soundtrack was done by Motoi Sakuraba (Star Ocean, Tales of Phantasia), but his music is out of place here. Mr. Sakuraba's work is, almost without exclusion, heavily electronic. In such an archaic setting, perhaps a more classical score might have worked to better convey the feeling of darkness and despair.
Valkyrie Profile would have gotten a better score in Originality if so many other games didn’t borrow from Norse myth. As it stands, VP’s use of such a non-linear design on a console, plus its unique combat system gives this game a highly original feel. In a field crowded with so many copies and knock-offs, Valkyrie Profile feels like a breath of fresh air in a methane factory.
In Valkyrie Profile, characters were translated into a fairly archaic mode of speech – apparently, the original Japanese version used an archaic dialect similar in cultural significance to Old English. The end result is a localization that makes the game feel somewhat older than it actually is, and makes the characters far more melodramatic. In general, there are no errors that stand out, and no phrases so badly formed that they take one out of the action.
Valkyrie Profile has a very strong 2D platformer feel to it – all of the fields are 2D with pre-rendered backgrounds, and character models are sprites. Animation is very smooth and character design is well done, even for foes, and while there is a bit of graininess on the in-battle Great Magic FMVs, the visuals overall are very nice. The only problem, then, lies in the integration between the game’s various graphic elements – character portraits are done in a semi-classical hand-painted format, while sprites are as anime as they come. The game mixes fully polygonal CG in-game FMVs with cell animated opening and ending sequences, the result being a fractured, incomplete feeling to the visuals.
In a game that relies so heavily on a 2D platformer set up, it’s nice to see control done well for once. Timing and jumps are easily executed, for the most part, but it must be said that the one thing the control did not need was a reversal of the normal dash – in Valkyrie Profile, tap forward twice to walk. It takes some getting used to, but the rest of the interface is solid and easy to understand.
A large cast of unique characters, three difficulty levels, multiple endings (practically multiple mainline quests), a large optional dungeon available after the credits, and a large degree of freedom give VP a high replay value and considerably non-linear feeling. Most RPGamers will probably find Valkyrie Profile fairly easy on any setting, and be able to finish the game in 30 to 40 hours.
Valkyrie Profile has a rare combination of aspects which makes it worthy of most any gamer’s collection. An energetic combat system, a uniquely adult story, and a highly open-ended game engine means that VP would be best for gamers who like to take a more hands-on approach with their plots, and who don’t mind replaying a game more than once in order to see everything. If you can pull it off, the game’s story and final battles are more than worth the effort it will take to get them.
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