Greetings, all! Last week took us on a madcap journey to be the #1 assassin in the world.
Today we'll check out an RPG that, while perhaps not as popular as, say, Final Fantasy, certainly isn't any worse (though it's significantly different).
Valkyrie Profile came out in 2000 in North America for Playstation. Published by Enix (just Enix here) and developed by JRPG stalwarts tri-Ace, you play as Lenneth, a valkyrie (in this story, a valkyrie is something of a warrior-Lenneth's full name is Lenneth Valkyrie, in fact) who must gather the souls of deceased warriors and train them for the impending doomsday, or Ragnarok.
If you're at least partly familiar with Norse mythology, you'll feel right at home here. You'll meet all sorts of einherjar (deceased souls) and major players such as Odin and Freya. Words like Asgard, Midgard, and Ragnarok are thrown around with abandon, but the game does a good job of keeping you up to speed.
But the real stars here are Lenneth and her einherjar.
See, as Lenneth, you'll fly around Midgard (essentially Earth) seeking out the souls of departed warriors. Lenneth is charged by Odin to find said warriors and train them for a final confrontation at Ragnarok. To do this, you'll have to navigate around a 3D world map, seeking out these characters by "attuning" yourself to their locations. A dungeon or boss sequence typically plays out then, and between visiting towns, you'll have a somewhat natural RPG flow.
What isn't so natural is the exploration itself. VP has you literally flying over the world map. So no Chocobo breeding here. Upon descending to a town or dungeon, however, the game then transforms into a side-scroller.
It's certainly different from what you'd see in Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, or really any JRPG. But it works, and in some ways it's even better than those games. For one, keeping it 2D feels incredibly streamlined, as you typically won't be stuck in a town that's bigger than crap, like, say, those you would find in Final Fantasy XII (which I actually like; I'm not badmouthing it here). Further, dungeon exploration is relatively painless here; most of them really aren't that long, and Lenneth runs at high speed.
VP continues its trend with an unusual, but great battle system. Whenever Lenneth touches an enemy (or slashes at them, Persona-style), the game does the typical woosh to a battle screen. What follows is still turn-based, but different in that Lenneth, Arngrim, and any other einherjar you have in your four-person party all have a face button assigned to them. Simply put, they attack when you hit that button. Sounds simple enough, but the idea is to hit the buttons in the right order and timing to land the biggest combo you can.
Represented by the semicircle meter to the left of the Enemy HP bar, a strong enough combo will fill up the Hit Gauge. When this happens, your characters can launch a devastating special attack ("Purify Weird Soul"-I don't really know what it means, either). So there's a surprising amount of strategy involved in a battle system that at first seems simple. But don't worry, it's easy to learn. Just hard to master.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the time limit. See, every action you take, like visiting towns or exploring dungeons, consumes time. Lenneth only has so long to recruit enough einherjar for Ragnarok. There are eight chapters in VP. Each chapter is then divided into periods; exactly how many depends on the difficulty. Going to a dungeon or town takes a predetermined amount of periods. Therefore, you must budget your time throughout the game, and there will come many a time when you'll be at a crossroads, time wise, and you'll have to decide what's more important. If you miss a character or an event in that chapter, too bad.
VP has a beautiful art style, with most dialogue conveyed through "talking head" images common of the era. The character art has a distinctive Japanese style, of course, but not an overt anime style, which wouldn't really fit here. It's more like the older Final Fantasy character art, pre-FF7. The side scrolling, 2D nature of the game simply means it still looks good today. And the game bursts with color. It doesn't go overboard, but there's a nice color palette here.
And the soundtrack is just perfect. Talk to any VP fan, and they'll likely mention the music at some point. The music was arranged by Motoi Sakuraba, who's had a hand in several JRPG's. If you played Star Ocean or any of Namco's Tales games, you've heard his work. And he doesn't disappoint here. Much of VP's music is more or less what you'd hear in a JRPG, with town, dungeon, and combat themes throughout. But they're so fitting. Like Final Fantasy's soundtrack, most of the songs are exactly where they belong, and the battle music gets you significantly pumped.
The only criticism most have about the soundtrack, is that some of the songs can be a little repetitive. But I feel like that's typical of most games of the day.
In short, Valkyrie Profile should definitely be checked out if you've missed it. And you can if you have a PSP, as it's been ported under the name Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. Aside from some beautiful CG cutscenes, it's the same game. Also, there's Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria on PS2. It's something of an under-the-radar game these days, but worth a try. Last but not least is Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of The Plume, for DS, which changes things radically by playing as a turn based strategy RPG. Check it out, it's great.
Hope you enjoyed this week's game, and as always, hit the comment section for questions, comments, or future Game of The Week recommendations!
Thanks to Wikipedia and IGN for the images, and Operation Rainfall for the cover image.
Next week, Japanese paintings come to life on your TV screen. (Probably not the one you're thinking of.)