Valkyrie Profile is just the type of game that is typical of the many hidden gems in the PS1 library. Experimental in every way, both trying to expand the genres before it and forge its own path, it ends up becoming an entirely unique game.
Not all of those experimental games succeeded, but Valkyrie Profile pulls it off extremely well. It's a game with unique and engaging gameplay, brilliant graphics and music, and a pretty good story and characters. Rarely putting a foot wrong, it fully justifies its reputation as a cult-favorite title.
#42: Valkyrie Profile:-
Year: 1999, 2000.
Genre: Action RPG.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10-point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. The recommendation for a game scoring a 7 largely depends on your personal taste.
"Lenneth the Valkyrie. I would not summon you, the greatest of the three Goddesses who govern destiny, without good cause. The head of Mimir told me that Ragnarok, the end of the world is drawing near"
As you may guess from the game's name, the story of Valkyrie Profile is heavily inspired by Norse mythology, with the Valkyrie, Lenneth, being your main character. At the start of the game, Lenneth is informed by the leader of the Aesir Gods, Odin, of the impending war of Ragnarok. She is then tasked by him to visit the human realm and collect the souls of dead warriors to recruit for the war.
Collecting these warriors, called Einherjars, and then training them in dungeons is the crux of this game. Each Einherjar starts with their own story, which naturally involves their tragic death, and then they join your crew as playable characters. There are about 24 characters to recruit, each with a widely different personality and story that is terrific on its own.
Some personalities are too bombastic
Unfortunately, these characters are then rarely involved with the bigger narrative, and in fact, have little to say after their initial reveal. I feel that there should have been more story sequences that involved more characters, which could have been sacrificed thanks to the sheer number of characters.
Thankfully, thanks to the excellent sprite work, character design, and voice work, each character perfectly showcases their personality in battle. For example, Kashel's arrogance is perfectly captured by his battle pose and quotes, while Jayle is clearly a more elegant knight than most, fitting her personality.
Initially, these micro-stories, both of the characters and the dungeons you go through, may seem like the only story the game has to offer, a fact that may feel more substantial if you didn't watch the optional prologue on the title screen (seriously). In that prologue, you learn of Lenneth's origin, which comes into play in optional story segments that are needed to unlock the true ending.
The True Ending is worth getting
Only in the last two chapters does the story resolve into a cohesive whole, but I didn't feel disappointed by that. Actually, I found the central theme of the end-game to have been ever-present throughout the game, with how much care and compassion Lenneth started to show to the souls she recruited.
Still, it would have been great if the many interesting characters had more to say.
"That is your power. The power to hear the sorrow, anger, and hopes of humans near death. The power to hear their souls cry out"
In line with her job in the human world, Lenneth's task is very clear. Find the souls of dead and worthy warriors to recruit, train them in battle, and then send them to Valhalla in preparation for Ragnarok. The game is divided into eight chapters, each with 20-28 time periods to do what you need.
Typically, you start the chapter uncovering the locations of dungeons and recruitable characters (spending periods) before heading off to recruit and then train. The game has multiple difficulty levels, with more periods but harder conditions for the higher difficulty settings. I think that you should go for Normal at least since you otherwise don't have access to some characters and the true ending.
Anyways, at this stage, all you are doing is advancing text boxes, and maybe fiddling with menus. The true gameplay starts once you enter a dungeon. Here, you will notice one of the game's most defining features.
It's all in a 2D plane.
Even story scenes are set in a 2D plane
Yes, the dungeon design, and indeed the entire game's presentation, are laid out like an action platformer. You can fully control Lenneth as if in a particularly stiff Castlevania game, except that you go into another screen for a fight when attacking enemies, which I will expand on later. Everything besides battle is handled like a basic platforming game.
You have access to crystal mechanics, which can create platforms as well as do various other things (like freeze objects). Using this one skill, as well as a generous jump distance, you will traverse dungeons of increasing complexity.
From a purely technical perspective, the game's platforming is merely passable, but the dungeon designs are varied and quite fun if a bit confusing. It's a unique take for any RPG, but it works well thanks to the beautiful sprite work and background art.
However, one egregious mistake is that in most dungeons, you are required to track back to the entrance once you defeat the final boss and in effect complete the dungeon.
"In this line of work, I know there are times when you have to just grit your teeth and face death! But, that doesn't mean you should throw your life away"
While its unique take on dungeon traversal is refreshing, Valkyrie Profile only truly stretches its wings once you get into battles, which are a unique mosh of Action RPG and fighting game ideas. You control a party of four, with each character assigned to a different face button. By pressing the face buttons, you are ordering the corresponding characters to attacks, and your timing is the difference between whiffing your attacks or building a combo that obliterates your foes.
Characters come into two flavors: mages that are almost all interchangeable, and melee/ranged characters that each have a unique way of attacking and building a combo. For instance, Arngrim, one of the first characters you get, has a large sword that hits hard but does little to build a combo or launch an enemy to the air. In contrast, Jayle hits multiple times with her rapier and has a nice launching maneuver.
Battles rarely get boring
Doing an effective combo not only increases your damage potential but also knocks out crystals that can increase your energy or exp. Also, it builds up a meter to unleash Super Attacks. These attacks, called Purify Wierd Soul attacks (?) are flashy spectacles that do a lot of damage and can be chained to each other.
However, no matter how good you are at combos, you won't do much damage if you are party is not leveled up or equipped properly. Here, you must look at what is honestly a little bit overwhelming menu management. With hundreds of items, dozens of skills, and multiple characters, it is a bit difficult to figure out how to best upgrade your characters.
Later, it becomes obvious that you get more skill points than you can effectively use, and you will know which skills to prioritize. Also, you should be able to find good weapons to use in dungeons, and will soon learn to buy the equipment you need. It's intimidating at first, but you should eventually get the hang of it even if you don't fully grasp it.
If you don't grasp it by the mid-game, you will be in for a hard time
Once you level up characters, including improving their best traits and increasing their heroism value, you are expected to transfer at least some characters back to Valhalla. This decision will ensure your party keeps getting refreshed (since it forces you to train other characters) and is not honestly as hard as I thought it would be.
"To my side my noble Einherjar"
Valkyria Profile has some of the best sprite work and 2D background art on the PS1. That should be enough qualifier to suggest that it is still one of the best-looking PS1 games, one that didn't age one bit.
The playable characters are the highlight of the bunch, and I already described how their animations, stances, and overall design suggest much more character than they ever convey in-game. This is doubly true when you consider the absolutely gorgeous portraits for each character, which both have a unique style that I didn't find anywhere else, and conveys so much about each character.
Initially, it seemed like the world's design is similarly rich. However, the greyish color palette starts becoming more obvious, and other than some brilliant locations everywhere else blends a little bit too much. The same can be said about the relative scarcity of enemy designs.
Another aspect that provides as much personality as the graphics is the voice acting (when it's there), which is surprisingly good. In a way, it also helps convey the personality of the Einherjar in the absence of much story dialogue.
The game has several moments of pure beauty
What's never absent is Motoi Sakuraba's great soundtrack, which surely ranks among his best. Mysterious and haunting tunes such as "Requiem to a Predicament" and "Night to the Twilight of Everything" provides a prevailing mood that is specific to the game.
It is then doubly amazing when Sakuraba brings in one of his rapidly changing battle tracks to the mix, with both the main battle and boss battle tracks being absolute winners. Many people discount Sakuraba's work due to the similarities between his Tales albums, but his talents can't be ignored here.
As far as cult favorites go, I doubt many games would give as convincing and strong an argument for the title as Valkyria Profile. This is one of the most unique and ambitious JRPGs on the PS1, and it frankly deserves much more attention than it initially got.
With excellent graphics and great sound, a bloody good and unique battle system as well as a unique mature story and setting, it is just a damn good game. It's a testament to how good this game is that I powered through without getting much bored even when I started feeling that it was a little longer than it should. Only now, at the end of the review, do I remember a feeling of impatience as the game extended for a chapter or two more than it should have.
Regardless, I am extremely glad that I finally played this game, and I hope we continue to see more of the series as I hope the latest releases succeed in some way.
1- Choose normal difficulty at least, don't choose easy or you unlock yourself from the true ending and many interesting dungeons and characters.
2- At the end of each dungeon, there are artifacts that you can either take or donate to Odin. Taking too many artifacts can lose you the game, so be careful.
3- Unlike regular breakable weapons, breakable magic staffs only break if you use their Super Attack.
4- To avoid weapons breaking (which sounds like a bigger issue than it really is), defeat enemies in one turn (easier said than done).
5- Status altering magic, such as Sap Guard and Reinforce Might are extremely useful in the end game. You can easily change your mage's spells at the end if you need to.
6- Some types of weapons instantly kill some type of enemies, which is incredibly useful.
7- Combos not only build the special meter, they also knock out experience crystals and items.
8- Learning to use the properties of your ice crystal spell in platforming is essential in some later dungeons. For example, you can shoot a crystal twice to break it, which creates a small slowly falling platform that you can actually use for a short while.
9- Equipe status boosting items, such as Bracelet of Zoe, when leveling up for tremendous benefits.
10- Just check the internet for the best strategy to get the true ending.
It shall be engraved upon your soul! Divine Assault — Nibelung Valesti!
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now reviewing Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
In a way, this is what you will be doing for the entire game to find your path
I expected to like Valkyrie Profile, after all, it's known as a solid PS1 RPG with excellent sprite work, but I didn't expect to like it as much as I did now. However, in the end, I think I docked it a point due to how long it felt to finish. This is probably going to be the highest 8 I give in the PS1.
Next on the list is a game that shouldn't take as much to beat, at least not if you don't count all three games as one. I am talking about the incredibly iconic Tomb Raider. If you check the Retro Sanctuary list, you will actually see Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation at #41. However, the Dreamcast version of that game is known to be vastly superior, so I am just going to play the first three PS1 Tomb Raider games instead.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: