Valkyrie Profile - Staff Retroview  

What's Opera, Doc?
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Interesting, well-realized setting and story
+ Quick and addictive combat
+ Gorgeous sprite and background visuals
+ Unusual and effective equipment crafting
- Platforming mechanics are a little stiff
- A few abrupt rises in difficulty
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   Valkyrie Profile was one of the last games to be published by Enix before it merged with Squaresoft. As a late-period PS1 RPG, tri-Ace was able to use the console's abilities to their fullest, resulting in a title that has aged much better than some of the other well known games on Sony's machine. Valkyrie Profile is not without its flaws, but overall stands as a testament to what tri-Ace is capable of when it fires on all cylinders.

   Valkyrie Profile's tale begins with the summoning of its eponymous death maiden to her master Odin. Ragnarok will arrive in the very near future, and Lenneth the Valkyrie is sent to the mortal world in search of humans worthy of transit to Asgard, with some assistance from the goddess Freya in the very beginning. This mission takes her through some morbid dealings, since only those who are dead can become Einherjar to serve the gods.

   The stories of those who will become Einherjar comprise the bulk of the game's narrative, and the fact that these characters have all died in order to accept Lenneth's leadership is a fascinating break from the typically sunny JRPG convention. Some of the characters receive more development than others, but all of them have a bleak story to illustrate how they came to die. Though the majority of the time these sad souls take the spotlight, Valkyrie Lenneth's story also is accorded some screen time, and it proves fascinating to experience. Some small nitpicks are present, but the tale told by tri-Ace herein is never less than completely engaging.

   Valkyrie and three other characters engage in what are superficially standard turn-based battles against enemies that visibly wander the world, but the usual formula has been tweaked quite a bit. Each character's standard attack is mapped to one of the controller's face buttons, and instead of leisurely attacking the enemy one at a time, it is quite possible to have all four characters simultaneously converge on an opponent with their strikes. The resulting melee is hardly a model of finesse, but breaking down enemy defenses with a flurry of blows is often necessary, and the game offers rewards for well-timed combination attacks. Stringing together enough strikes in combination is also the only way to access the most powerful attacks of the characters, resulting in battles that reward entering commands as fast as possible. This style of combat is not flawless, but it remains fluid and entertaining throughout the game.

It It's a bird - it's a plane - it's a frog?! No, it's Super Valkyrie!

   The experience gained from killing enemies is certainly beneficial in the cause of gaining levels, but for most of the game's length, another sort of points prove even more useful. Characters have access to a wide swathe of techniques for use in battle: some of these adjust statistics, some automatically activate as enemies attack, and others are simply extra means of assaulting the foes. Developing these skills properly is key to fighting well, as they make a big difference in battle.

   Simply recruiting Einherjar is not enough: Valkyrie must also send some of them to Asgard, where they are monitored by Freya. As the game progresses, the requirements for acceptable transfers increase, which could have been a problem if players had to constantly switch the battle party around in order to gain the necessary experience. tri-Ace thoughtfully included a feature called Event experience that removes the issue, by which a pool of unused experience points may be drawn from at any time to aid underused characters in their progression. Relying on Event experience to replace that gained through constant battle exposure is impossible, but for quickly helping characters to become useful, it's excellent.

   Freya aids Valkyrie not just by giving reports on the Einherjar in Asgard, but also by awarding Materialize Points for good progress. Materialize Points take the place of money, since there are no shops in Valkyrie Profile. The options for new items increase as the game progresses, but this system of being able to craft fresh equipment whenever the player wishes is quite refreshing, especially since old materials can be recycled into Materialize Points at any time.

   Navigating the environs of Valkyrie Profile is accomplished like many 2D platformers, and it is here that the game could have been better. Valkyrie's jumping mechanics are a bit odd, and dodging enemies is often harder than it should be. Since Valkyrie Profile is not a side-scrolling action game, this is not a major issue, but it does exist.

Dragon Zombies are notoriously insatiable in their quest for brains.  This is really a mercy killing. Dragon Zombies are notoriously insatiable in their quest for brains. This is really a mercy killing.

   The challenge of Valkyrie Profile is a bit inconstant, which can be galling. A few dungeons in the middle of the game represent substantial rises in difficulty, and the best ending requires going through a very nasty boss gauntlet that is much harder than anything else in the game. The impending Ragnarok means that Valkyrie operates under a time constraint, but this is a non-issue since the game provides plenty of spare periods to use for additional exploration.

   Valkyrie Profile's graphics demonstrate how well 2D can age. Instead of the polygonal exhibitions Sony demanded for much of the PS1's lifespan, well-animated sprites move through beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds. Each location is distinct from the others, and despite the PS1's well-known tendency to stutter in the presence of 2D, almost no slowdown occurs. The result is a standout for the PlayStation's visual prowess when used by a committed developer.

   Motoi Sakuraba's compositions borrow a bit from his other work of the same period, but the overall strength of his Valkyrie Profile tunes makes that easy to forgive, since the music nicely complements the visuals to cement the memorability of the locales. The voice acting throughout the game is more of a mixed bag. A few actors give lackluster performances, a few others are fairly good, and overall the results achieve adequacy.

   The last years of a console's life often play host to some of its best games, and Valkyrie Profile certainly qualifies as one of the PlayStation's standout successes. The reception recent tri-Ace games have received makes it clear that the company was at the pinnacle of its powers years ago, and Valkyrie Profile is a game that any developer would be happy to tout. Rich in replay options, resplendent in visuals, and regaling with a sumptuous story, this is something special.

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