Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria - Staff Retroview  

Midgard is Full of Gelflings
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
40-60 Hours
+ Just as eye-catching as the original game
+ Combat has a few hiccups, but is entertaining
+ The narrative's good parts make it worthwhile
- Story has many pacing problems
- Skill system is annoying and time-consuming
- Difficulty jumps are frequent and unpleasant
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   Let it not be said that tri-Ace rushed into making Valkyrie Profile's sequel. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria didn't happen until a full six years after the original game, and it certainly wasn't a cookie-cutter copy of its predecessor. Quite a bit was changed by tri-Ace in making Silmeria, and the result is a very interesting game that doesn't live up to the greatness its predecessor achieved. It nevertheless has enough elements that work to make it worth playing, but frustration from time to time is likely going to afflict those who do.

   Several centuries prior to the events depicted in the original game, Silmeria's tale focuses on the story of Dipan's princess Alicia. Even by the standards of princesses, Alicia's upbringing has been unusual, since her father has kept her exiled in an isolated tower while informing the public that she died. The king did this because the spirit of Silmeria, one of the three Valkyries serving Odin, has been lodged inside Alicia since she was a baby, taking control sometimes and serving to thoroughly disturb everyone around the princess. The game begins as Alicia, now free, is guided by Silmeria to reenter Dipan, a task that proves somewhat challenging. Several familiar characters from the first game appear in Silmeria, though not all of these appearances are easily explained because of divine immortality.

   Valkyrie Profile 2's plot is a mix of good and bad. Its pacing is sometimes horrible, with one enormous stretch of the game that is little more than an item hunt through multiple locations. Alicia is a very weak-willed protagonist, making her character hard to enjoy, though there is a payoff to this late in the game. Indeed, the events from the game's climax contain most of the best moments in the plot, but the happenings in the majority of the story are a mixed bag. The tale tri-Ace tells is successful as a whole, but with a lot of down time on the way.

   When the story subsides and exploration follows, Valkyrie Profile 2 looks remarkably like its predecessor — until combat begins. The protagonists appear on a 3D field also inhabited by their opponents, and must move around while initiating attack chains when in range, striking the adversary until all available Action Points have been expended, after which the AP regenerate over time. The attack chains themselves are quite similar to those in the first game, except that the direction of the strike matters now since the action is in 3D. Not only are enemies more likely to block strikes from the front, but they often come with multiple parts that absorb damage from certain angles until destroyed. The action may involve running around a 3D battlefield, but everything is still technically turn-based, since enemies do not act until the protagonists have started moving. To make things a lot faster, almost every enemy group has a Leader, and the death of that enemy will finish the fight with the experience from all other enemies obtained as a bonus.

Making a weapon-wielding fire lizard drop marbles while levitating in the air can now be checked off the bucket list. Making a weapon-wielding fire lizard drop marbles while levitating in the air can now be checked off the bucket list.

   Getting around the battlefields is accomplished either by walking, or by using a chunk of the available Action Points to dash. Dashing is an incredibly useful maneuver for circumventing enemy attack ranges, but in narrow environments it is dogged by the tendency of some characters to be caught on impediments and thus unable to join the intended assault. One means of attempting to prevent this is dividing the party into two groups, thus reducing the total area through which each group must pass. The game makes doing this fairly easy, but keeping track of two groups is much more cumbersome, since the movement of enemies is likely to place them out of range from one of the parties. Dashing into a group of enemies is also problematic, since the characters automatically target the enemy closest to them, and the only way to change enemies is to move around while hoping the opponents don't hit back too hard.

   Dashing and dividing into two groups are at least easily understandable. Valkyrie Profile 2's biggest battle problem comes from its sudden difficulty spikes, which compel either mastery of its minutiae, or bouts of level grinding to compensate for the power of new enemies. Certain bosses in later parts of the game are ridiculously powerful, and quite capable of destroying the entire party because of tri-Ace's strange decision to make the menu inaccessible for a short time after being used, which makes it impossible to heal multiple times in a row.

   The sealstone system, by which the player can amplify party abilities and negatively affect those of the enemy, is a possible counterbalance to the oft-outlandish enemy power. Sealstones are often placed in ways that cause the protagonists great headaches, but they can be released for use at the player's guidance to make things easier. Silmeria's emphasis on speed in combat is unquestionably a good thing, as the above issues are rendered unimportant when the protagonists manage to kill the leader of an enemy group quickly. The good and bad blend together to create a fascinating mix unlike anything else and for that at least tri-Ace deserves credit.

   Valkyrie Profile's skill system was simple and effective, pooling points that could be used to learn abilities in combat. Valkyrie Profile 2's skill system ditches simplicity and forces players to play a little minigame that matches colors and symbols. Each piece of equipment has both an element and a rune attribute, and skills can only be learned by equipping the right combination of them. This becomes extremely tedious, since the party's inventory becomes enormous as the game progresses, and there is no option to have the game automatically equip the applicable items. The obnoxiousness of this skill system continues with its requirement that long-outmoded equipment still be equipped in order to teach skills late in the game, rendering new characters at a severe disadvantage for awhile.

This is just a small section of the accessories that must be navigated.  Have fun! This is just a small section of the accessories that must be navigated. Have fun!

   A means of circumventing the difficulty is the game's item crafting system, but using it requires either a FAQ or enough killing of enemies to become stronger by that means. The crafting system features shopkeepers willing to create strong equipment if the player has certain items in stock. Finding the right items requires killing enemies, and hoping they drop the right material. This is where the FAQ aspect comes into play, since the equipment that can be created is usually not even displayed unless the proper items are already in the party's possession, which can lead to quite a bit of time spent killing things for a lousy reward.

   One thing Valkyrie Profile 2 does superbly is in the visual realm. The locations are now 3D instead of hand-drawn watercolor paintings, but tri-Ace has managed to make everything look gorgeous anyway. Every environment is distinct, and battle animation is fluid and eye-catching, keeping the feel of the original game intact even in the new graphical style.

   Motoi Sakuraba's score, on the other hand, is something quite different from the prolific composer. His use of real musicians instead of the usual synthesizer-driven style immediately distinguishes Valkyrie Profile 2's music from other Sakuraba efforts, but most of the tracks function more as mood music than material designed to take the forefront. There are some catchy pieces, but most of the time the music just fades into the background without being memorable. Most of the voice acting is similarly unremarkable, as the actors do pretty good, but not excellent, jobs.

   Valkyrie Profile 2 demonstrates quite a few interesting concepts that needed refinement, something that is reputedly a common complaint among tri-Ace's output. Its plot treads water frequently, but compensates with genuinely interesting sequences. Its combat is fast, breezy fun, until the enemies take a sudden difficulty jump. The many interesting concepts displayed outside of combat deserve to be applied somewhere else, since tri-Ace didn't refine them adequately. Silmeria is an interesting experience with quite a few aspects that make it worth playing, but the frustration that will accompany the experience is frequent.

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