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Valkyrie Profile - Review

By: Jouni Harjunmaa


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Gameplay 9
   Music 9
   Originality 10
   Plot 8
   Replay Value 9
   Sound 9
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Easy to Hard
   Time to Complete

10-60 hours

 
Overall
9
Criteria

Logo

   Tri-Ace. The creators of Tales of Phantasia. The makers of Star Ocean: the Second Story. Yes, they have released a new game called Valkyrie Profile. Take a moment to think about their previous games, and then try to picture what their newest one is like.

   Now, whatever expectations you have about this game, you can forget about them. Let's say it out straight: Valkyrie Profile is completely different from anything else you have ever seen or even been able to imagine. A mere review cannot begin to give you a good idea of what this game is like. So, essentially, this review is useless, but try to bear with me.

   Let us start with the graphics. Valkyrie Profile does not feature pre-rendered pseudo-3D backdrops. Instead, Valkyrie Profile sports a multitude of gorgeous 2D backdrops, around which you walk in a sidescroller fashion. The quality of graphics is the same as in Star Ocean : the second story. Locations are all beautifully rendered. A special commendation will also have to go to the character art of Valkyrie Profile. Each and every character has his/her own very well-drawn portrait, and multiple facial expressions to go along. One downside in the graphical department is the world map - it is quite plain and devoid of detail. However, since you will spend very little time on the world map, it is not a major drawback.


Beautiful Pre-Rendered Bakgrounds
Beautiful Pre-Rendered Bakgrounds  

   The storyline of Valkyrie Profile is very unique. The setting is based (loosely) on Norse mythology, as can easily be guessed from Valkyrie being your main character. What makes it different from other games is not the setting or the main plot itself, but the way the plot is revealed. Though there is one major plotline in Valkyrie Profile, it is not strongly present until the very end of the game. For the most part of the game, the plotline consists of several short stories. Some of these short stories relate to each other, some to the main plot, and some are just interesting in their own right. Not once will you encounter a plot point that requires you to go to a dungeon to retrieve a rare item, or save a village from monsters. What's more, the plot is yours to follow as you wish. If for some reason you do not want to go to a dungeon, or recruit a character, you can simply skip those events. Except for the very beginning and end, EVERYTHING in Valkyrie Profile is optional!
This means that it is possible to skip to the end of the story and the last boss almost right away. This would not be a wise course of action, of course, since it will almost certainly lead to a quick death. You do need to power up to survive - the difference is that the game does not explicitly force you to do so. The stories themselves are very gripping and emotional. Many of the scenes in Valkyrie Profile are amongst the most tragic ever seen in a video game. Valkyrie Profile is not a happy or light-hearted game. Stories of war, honor, friendship and death are all told in a way to shed some tears from the more sensitive players.

   If the stories of Valkyrie Profile evoke strong emotions in the player, it is in no small measure due to the auditory excellence of the game. Motoi Sakuraba, who has composed music for Star Ocean : the Second Story (and others), has been able to put together a very strong soundtrack for Valkyrie Profile. Tragic scenes truly come to life when accompanied by Sakuraba's musics. Other musics - most of them dungeon and battle musics, are melodic and catchy. The soundtrack of Valkyrie Profile is not merely excellent in its own right, but it also fits into the game itself perfectly. Voice acting is another strong aspect - Japanese actors have truly done a great job bringing the characters to life. Let us all hope that the English version can retain some of the strong voice acting found in Valkyrie Profile.

   Gameplay - reviewing this fully would require far more space than can be allocated for this review, so I will have to shorten it considerably. Progressing in the game itself is quite non-linear. A linear path is set for those who want to follow it, but nothing stops you from doing quests in any order you want, or completely refraining from some. Most of the game, you will be walking around dungeons, beating up monsters and collecting treasures, making you stronger in the process. Walking around dungeons is done in a sidescroller fashion. Though it may remind some people of the Mario brothers, Valkyrie Profile is fortunately not a platform jumper, at least no more than Xenogears is a 3D platform jumper. There are no random encounters - you can see monsters in dungeons and decide if you want to fight them or not. Avoiding fights is easy, you can avoid just about all of them if you want. Monsters do not regenerate as long as you remain in the dungeon.


Unique Battle System
Unique Battle System  

   The battle system in Valkyrie Profile is something truly unique. Unfortunately, it is very hard to describe. In short, it is a combination of both turn-based and action-based combat. Using items and casting spells is done without hurry, turn by turn. Attacking, however, is almost like in fighting games. Your party (which consists of 4 characters) will attack all at once, but timing their attacks so they connect nicely with each other is what requires skill, and which also distinguishes Valkyrie Profile's battle system from all the others. The fun is in building up multi-hit combos resulting in insane damage. Pulling off a 70-hit combo is something that leaves a satisfying feeling in the player's mind (not to mention a big drop in the enemies' health bar).

   Anything else worth mentioning? Quite a lot, actually. Valkyrie Profile has plenty of extras and secrets to add to the replay value. What gives Valkyrie Profile a high replay value, though, is the varying difficulty levels. Yes, you can select a difficulty level at the start of the game (no Voice Colletion needed). Once a game has been completed on the Normal difficulty level, it's easy to start it again on the Hard difficulty level. This is because many dungeons are completely new and different Hard mode. An insane bonus dungeon is also included, in the spirit of the Cave of Trials from Star Ocean : the Second Story - a few more hours for hardcore gamers to chew on. A music test is also available from the start, again no need to fill up the Voice Collection. There is a Voice Collection similar to Star Ocean : the second story, but the rewards are different. What are they? Couldn't tell you, since I don't have enough Voices.

   Then, the ugly sides of the game. Valkyrie Profile is a wonderful, polished game, but no game can be without its flaws. First, Valkyrie Profile is completely different from the typical console RPG. This in itself is not a bad thing, but be warned: if you consider yourself a diehard purist, you may have trouble accepting Valkyrie Profile's completely unorthodox approach to.... just about everything. Second, the bugs. Yes, the bugs that tri-ace is known for. While not as numerous or bad as in Star Ocean : the Second Story, Valkyrie Profile still has a few bugs that will annoy the user. I myself saw the game crash 2 times while playing it through. A few lesser bugs also exist. It is a shame that an otherwise carefully prepared title ships with bugs.


Look forward to a North American release!
Look forward to a North American release!  
   Final word - what is the verdict? If you haven't figured out by now, Valkyrie Profile is nothing short of amazing. Nearly every aspect of the game is nothing less than perfect. Until the USA version arrives, we can only hope that the translation will do justice to this work of art. Even if the translation were to turn out horrible, this game would still be a must-buy. Valkyrie Profile is definitely among the best console RPGs ever created.

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