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This Game Is a Tragedy... In More Ways Than One
Valkyrie Profile is truly a disappointment. While it possesses the framework that could make a truly great RPG, lack of a definite gameplay structure and otherwise general incompleteness cause it to fall short of its goal as a boring, unfinished game, a very unfortunate outcome as it had great potential.
There's certainly a few things to like in this game. The graphics are excellent - the sprite characters clear, well drawn and beautifully animated, pre-rendered 2D parallax backdrops look great and spell effects in battle are stunning, with the most powerful spells having animations done in nice-looking but unfortunately grainy FMV. The music, composed by Motoi Sakaruba, is mostly very good - battle themes and some town music is excellent in particular. Some of the dungeon music, however, isn't overly suited to dungeons (a complaint I've had with most games Sakaruba has composed for) and becomes grating and annoying to listen to after spending some time in the dungeons it is used for. On the whole, however, the music is a pleasing effort.
Sound effects are good and voice acting, while better than that in most PSX RPGs, could still be better. The VA team behind the US Pokemon did the VA for Valkyrie Profile, and while it's not immediately apparent in most characters, several definitely show it (one NPC boy in a scene sounds so much like Ash that I burst out laughing, and one of the playable characters sounds very similar to Jesse) however, since other characters by their voice actors do not sound like them at all, I am assuming it was intentional. While some quotes, especially those for the Greater Magics, are well done a lot are excessively dramatised - Valkyrie yells "To my side, my noble Einherjar" at the start of each and every non-boss battle and one gets *very* sick of it after a while. Also, the voice of Platina in the game's prologue sequence stands out as being one of the worst in any game I have *ever* heard.. the prologue voices will make you wince, but the quality fortunately improves somewhat during the game.
The battle system in VP is original, innovative and a lot of fun to play, as is usually the case with tri-Ace games. While being turn-based, it still manages to implement a real-time element in that each of the four "symbol" buttons on your controller corresponds to a party member, and that they can be made to attack the enemy together with whatever order and timing you like. It's possible to knock the enemy into the air with one character, hit it back with the second, and have the third and fourth attack it simultaneously afterwards, to give a brief example. I usually prefer to evaluate rather than explain in reviews, so I won't go into the gameplay mechanics in much further detail. A complaint, however, is that as each character only has one finisher to use and they have long animations, in battles where you need to use them you will be very sick of watching the finishers by the end of the game. This could have been lessened by a variety of finishers and/or the option to skip the finisher animation, although the latter would admittedly cause problems with viewing the damage of multi-hit finishers. However, at least one finisher in the game finishes with a bright flash that makes the damage indicator difficult to see anyway, which was a fairly poor design decision. On the whole, however, the battles are the game's high point.
The storyline, what there is of it, is good - however, it is important to note that unless you make a conscious attempt to unlock the game's "A ending", you will not see any of the game's best storyline elements. This is a fairly perplexing decision. Why take all the high points of the storyline and lock them away so that only people who know what they are doing (you're not really very likely to stumble upon the A ending by accident) can view them? Without getting the A ending, the storyline is pretty awful and the ending is absolutely terrible... although even the A ending isn't very good, it's the other scenes you get while trying to unlock it that makes it more worth the trouble. Still, the storyline is only present in several key scenes throughout the game. Everything else you do, does not actually have any relevance to the main storyline and could be completely skipped (and you CAN completely skip it, too) barely affecting the plot or the game as a whole - a very bad sign, as the bulk of an RPG should not be "filler".
This brings me to the key problem with VP - incompleteness. Sure, the dungeons are all there, but a lot are pretty boring and they lack the common framework of the plot to make them worthwhile. There's no point to the dungeons in VP other than gaining experience. Except one or two, they don't have any relation at all to the game's plot. You've got no reason to go to them. After beating the first dungeon, you're dumped to the world map where you can fly around and go to all the towns already - and there's no point in going to most of them then because you can "buy" items anywhere you can save and all you'll find in nearly any town is a few rendered screens populated by an entire 4 or 5 NPCs each of which says something irrelevant and unimportant. In addition, going to a town or dungeon uses up "periods", of which you get 24 per chapter - an unnecessary encumbrance which only serves to force you through the game at the pace desired by the designers. Dungeons as I have said are pointless except for the experience and artifact rewards you get for beating them, and it's possible to go straight to the final dungeon and be there within a couple of hours of playing (most of which is the looooong opening sequence, although I won't complain about it as it and the endgame are practically the only "normal" parts of VP).
So, you'll generally only be going to a town when you press the Start button and it tells you to go there. Then, you'll see a scene and get a character. And in most cases, that's ALL the character development (or indeed DIALOGUE) you'll see for that character, for the rest of the game. Even if you add them to your party (which, by the way, simply isn't feasible by the later game since they start far, far below your other party members in level and leveling them up to the same level as your others is difficult) you'll likely never hear anything about them again, with the exception of a few "main" characters. But again, you don't even get any dialogue of any kind with most of them after the recruitment scene. They won't show up in future character recruitment scenes, they won't say anything in dungeons (you'll usually get a small amount of pointless dialogue between Valkyrie and the dungeon boss who, of course, has nothing to do with the storyline but that's it) and when you "transfer" them to Asgard, you don't get any kind of scene at all (with one exception), just a "Are you sure?" message as if you were selling an item or something.
So, in essence, this is a four-hour RPG with about 20 hours of "filler", be it short, unrelated and unfinished character recruitment scenes, or boring and pointless dungeons. 90% of what happens between the intro and endgame could be removed to leave a *better* RPG. It's a pity, because if this game had been finished (by adding a common plot framework to bring the dungeons and characters together and give you motivation to actually play them) it could be one of the best RPGs on the PSX. However as is, this is an insultingly incomplete RPG that never should have been released in the state it is now and which is best avoided.
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