Valkyrie Profile

Ragnarok, the apocalypse, is drawing near. Odin, King of the Gods, sends Lenneth Valkyrie to Midgard to gather the souls of deceased warrior, Einherjar, to train and send to Asgard to turn the tides of the apocalyptic war in the Aesir’s favor. Valkyrie Profile, a Playstation RPG developed by tri-Ace and published by Enix in Japan in 1999 and America the next year, is a solid title for the system, in spite of a few shortcomings such as a light story, mediocre voicework, and somewhat repetitive use of music.

VP, for starters, has three different modes of difficulty, Easy, Normal, and Hard. Difficulty, though, seems to only influence the number of different item types, characters acquirable, number of dungeons, and which endings the player can possibly get, and playing on Hard mode, in my opinion, will give players the most out of the game, and actually isn’t terribly difficult as long as you tool your party effectively.

VP’s gameplay, in and out of battle, is fairly deep. The game is divided into eight chapters, each with twenty-four Periods, before Ragnarok occurs. Each chapter begins with Lenneth floating above the game’s world, where she can meditate and determine which dungeon to visit next or a town to visit so she can acquire an Einherjar. Meditating (unless all towns and dungeons for a chapter have been uncovered), as well as entering dungeons and towns, consumes Periods, so players must use them wisely (although if players do successfully complete all quests in a chapter, they’ll usually have Periods left over to use however they please).

Dungeons and towns in VP are 2-D side-scrollers, with Lenneth able to jump in either, though in dungeons, she can fire a freezing beam to create ice crystals on the ground, walls, and ceiling, which is sometimes necessary to acquire treasure and advance through certain parts of dungeons. Lenneth can also freeze enemies wandering the dungeons with her beams to avoid fighting them, or slash them with her sword to give her party the first strike in combat.

In battle, Lenneth summons up to three Einherjar to fight alongside her. Combat in VP is turn-based, albeit with some real-time elements. Lenneth and her Einherjar are each assigned to one of the face buttons, and pressing one of them causes a character to attack a selected enemy; depending on the kind of weapon Lenneth or an Einherjar has equipped, they can possibly strike enemies more than once. In fact, your characters can gang up on a particular enemy by pressing all the face buttons to chain combos, and building up combos is in fact a critical element of the battle system. Your party and the enemy, by the way, have separate turn sessions.

If a combo reaches up to a hundred hits, and one of the characters participating in the combo has no red marks in his or her Charge Turn meter, one of the characters who were part of the combo can perform a Purify Weird Soul attack. Yes, I know it’s a silly name, although PWS attacks are fairly powerful and build up hits as well, and if players reach a hundred hits with a PWS, they can have another character who participated in the combo perform another PWS until all characters have performed at least one or fail to reach a hundred hits while performing one.

Using Purify Weird Soul attacks, in addition to using magic spells, fills up a character’s Charge Turn meter with a few red marks, which disables them from using PWS moves or magic until all red marks are gone. Still, melee characters can still physically attack enemies (and magicians can acquire a personal skill that allows them to do the same), and sometimes when chaining combos, enemies will drop red orbs that help eliminate Charge Turn marks. It’s somewhat difficult to tell how the CT system works and what determines how greatly the CT gauge fills after performing PWS moves and magic, although it is a decent alternative to a traditional MP system.

Characters can use items during their turns as well, although magicians can’t use them if their CT gauges have red marks in them. You can change weapons, as well, though doing so consumes a character’s turn, and you can try and escape, though as with most other RPGs, the presence of a big open space behind your party doesn’t always guarantee escape, for some weird reason. Moreover, when a character levels up, he or she gains a number of skill points they can invest into various personal skills that include battle skills (a few of which, such as Auto-Item, can be *very* useful against the toughest bosses), stat increases, human traits, and so forth.

Rather than having shops like most other RPGs, VP instead features a system where the player receives a certain amount of Materialize Points between chapters that they can use to create consumable items and equipment for characters. Players can also convert excess items and equipment to Materialize Points. Materialize Points, I should mention, are not gained from battles, so players must use them wisely. Moreover, after certain events within dungeons, players gain Event Experience that they can freely distribute among their characters to level them up.

In many cases, it’s usually a good idea to conserve Event Experience, since Asgard requests Einherjar with specific traits and personal skills during Sacred Phases between chapters after players have used all their Periods. During chapters, players can transfer Einherjar to Asgard to help fight Ragnarok and gain the favor of the gods, with the awards between chapters usually being decent, and including various items and maybe additional Materialize Points.

At the end of each dungeon, moreover, are treasures such as items, weapons, and armor, that are property of Lord Odin, and which the player can either keep, thus reducing the Valkyrie’s evaluation level, or send up to Asgard to slightly raise it. Combat, overall, plays a significant part in the game in and out of battle, and is one of the main draws to the game, despite a few minor flaws such as the ambiguity of the Charge Turn system, and that the game just dumps you back to the world map if you die in a battle is far better than a Game Over screen, even if it can lead to wasted Periods at times.

Given these complexities, interaction can be somewhat cumbersome at times, with the menu system, for one, taking a bit of getting used to. There’s also a bit of an annoying feature where, if you want to create more powerful equipment for your character, you need to memorize the stats of a character’s equipment before doing so since the game doesn’t show you directly in the item creation interface by how much equipment will raise or lower a particular character’s stats. Some dungeons, moreover, force players to travel for a while without being able to save, though that the game is nice to players when they die somewhat compensates for this, and some of the jumping and ice crystal puzzles can be a bit irritating. The translation does have a few errors here and there, and overall, interaction is passable yet certainly could’ve been cleaner.

VP, even today, is very one-of-a-kind, with its gameplay in and out of battle standing out the most, though it does, of course, have roots in Norse mythology and partially derives its personal skill system from the Star Ocean games.

The story, though, is somewhat disappointing. It is interesting, albeit morbid, to see how the many characters die before they become Einherjar, although once Lenneth acquires them, they’re basically forgotten unless players send them up to Asgard, with the player, during Sacred Phases, being able to view the accomplishments of the Einherjar transferred. Granted, this does add some replayability to the game since players can of course send up different Einherjar during different playthroughs. The pacing is somewhat rancid, as well, since dungeons can be fairly lengthy, with the cutscenes at the end of many sometimes not adding all that well to the overall plot. Granted, there is a way to reveal the Valkyrie’s past, though doing so sort of requires a guide, and there are three different endings. Overall, the story is good, but could’ve easily been better-paced and better-developed.

VP’s aural presentation could’ve used some improvement, as well, though this again is one of the main draws to the game. Composer Motoi Sakuraba provided a nice soundtrack, though the normal battle theme, given the degree of fighting, can eventually become annoying, and part of the battle theme itself actually sounds eerily similar to the Alvin and the Chipmunks theme. I mean, since battles are so central to RPGs, would it kill composers to have at least more than one normal battle theme or at the very least not change the music at all when going into battle? Well, it probably would, but there is voice acting, as well, which too can be fairly annoying in battle (Would it kill, for instance, to have battle dialogue that didn’t contain the words “Finishing strike!”?), and is recited in the most melodramatic manner during most cutscenes. Still, a fairly decent-sounding game despite these shortcomings.

The visuals, though, actually border on perfection. VP uses sprites and pre-rendered photorealistic scenery in dungeons and towns, though the sprites at times can be somewhat inconsistent with the character designs. The scenery and sprites in and out of battle, too, can appear somewhat pixelated at times as the camera shifts around, although the world map, despite its own slight pixelation, actually looks okay for a Playstation One RPG. There is an anime cutscene at the beginning, too, and some FMVs, albeit without any characters in them. Still, a superb-looking game.

Finally, Valkyrie Profile’s playing time can range anywhere from fifteen to seventy-five hours, depending on which ending the player wishes to acquire and how they spend their Periods before Ragnarok; there’s an extra dungeon unlockable on Hard mode, as well. Overall, Valkyrie Profile is a great Playstation RPG that has many nice things going for it, even if there are some flaws here and there. Even today it stands out as a unique, enjoyable experience, and those who don’t want to shell out $100+ over eBay for the Playstation version can check out the recently-released and slightly-enhanced Playstation Portable port.

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