A long time ago, I had a particular gaming magazine. I don’t remember if it was recent or old, but probably the latter. Within this magazine was an ad for a game named Valkyrie Profile. I was instantly interested. The game promised sidescrolling platforming action in an RPG. I didn’t know much beyond that, but I began searching the web with a newly created interest in Norse Mythology, and for any information I could find on this game.
What I found were raving reviews and forums where fans were sharing information, one expressing excitement that Valkyrie Profile was set to become a franchise.
Now, if you’re thinking that I hunted down this game with everything I had and got into the series that way… you’d be wrong. Like Darkstalkers before it, I was sort of an outside fan. I knew nothing of it, but I liked the concept of it so much. My initiation into the series didn’t actually happen until I played Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. My best friend had gotten the game for me on my birthday. He knew I wanted it. I returned the favour later, if my memory serves me right.
What I’m talking about now, however, is Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, the port of the original game for PSP released by Square-Enix. I didn’t manage to get this game either until fairly recently. This review was actually planned to be reviewed from emulator, but after replaying it for my journal, I couldn’t STAND not to have it anymore and found a second hand copy. My second and third playthroughs on the journal actually covers my time on the legitimate copy of the game I now own.
For those wondering, Valkyrie Profile is a fantasy RPG made by Enix based on Norse Mythology and, to this day, I consider to be the one true Valkyrie game. Now, what do I mean by that? This isn’t exactly the first game where you play a Valkyrie in some way or form.
Well, this is the one game where you actually play a literal Valkyrie and do what Valkyrie do. Valkyries are the Choosers of the Slain, who choose worthy warriors who die in battle to eat and drink in Valhalla until the time of Ragnarok.
This, my dear readers, is the basic plot of the entire game. Odin has summoned the main character, Lenneth Valkyrie, one of the three goddesses of fate, to collect human souls to join the Einherjar and fight in Ragnarok. You collect warriors and send them to Asgard to participate in the war, all the while experiencing their stories and cleansing the world of undead. However, this is no simple task as you have a limited time to accomplish this, and your every action is being watched by Odin.
The game is seperated into chapters and every action you do cost periods, with a certain amount of periods per chapter. Inbetween chapters, you will be given a report on the progress of the war and be graded on your own actions. Doing what you need to gives you Evaluation. Maintaining Evaluation is crucial to your success. However, that’s not the only thing you need to worry about as you also need to balance your Evaluation with the main characters Seal Value for the best ending possible.
Unlike traditional RPGs, your characters don’t each get a turn to attack. Instead, each character is mapped to a button depending on how you configured your party, with other actions you can take by opening a menu things like using items or certain magic spells.
The world map has you flying above the mortal realm of Midgard, able to go to any town you please. However, it’s important to use Lenneth’s power of Spiritual Concentration to locate recuitable characters and dungeons for you to grind in and advance the plot.
Once in a dungeon, the game turns into a somewhat of a side-scrolling platformer, where getting around is something akin to a Mario level. There are no random encounters, as you will find enemies roaming about in some form or another. You can touch enemies to initiate battle, but you’re capable of brandishing your sword to always ensure a first attack. These enemies, with a few exceptions, are finite and will only respawn upon re-entering a dungeon, so knowing how to use your time is crucial to getting the most out of your dungeon crawling experience. Every dungeon is laid out on a layered map to give certain degree of 3D movement.
In towns, Lenneth will take on a civilian form, and will have no access to any of her normal abilities. Most of the time, this will only result in flavour text. Learning about what’s happening in the world during that specific chapter, but if you have a particular Einherjar with you (They need not be in the party), you can gain a special item related to them. This may not apply to all of them, but there’s a good chance I may not have found them all.
Now we get to the real bread and butter of the game, the Einherjar. When you go to a specific location upon that will normally be pointed out to you in Spiritual Concentration, you will experience a piece of the story surrounding that a character, and often Lenneth’s interactions with them. The scene will end in them dying and joining you as Einherjar. While their portion of the story will end there, you will learn more about them as you gain other characters often related to them.
This is easily one of the best parts of the game. While you COULD get Einherjar in Silmeria, they felt very… lack-luster.. Sure, they had histories and were varied in class, but that’s kinda where it ends. They talked virtually the same, attacked virtually the same and even shared special attacks. They felt more like fillers than actual characters. In Valkyrie Profile 1, however, they ARE your characters. There’s a great deal of characters in this game, and they all were different, with the most similar being the mages, and even then, they FELT like characters. Even after their impact in the story is virtually over, they don’t really stop being characters. They even have traits which greatly determines how well they do in Asgard.
I would also like to note, that Lenneth is easily one of the best protagonists in RPGs, and the game doesn’t try to sell her by sexualizing her in any way. Despite the love story going on in the game, it doesn’t come with a set up for a damsel in distress and doesn’t tell itself by relying on adult elements or jokes. While there ARE some nude-ish scenes within the game… you see them when you KNOW the context and there’s something wrong with you if you get off on it..
Speaking of that, let’s move another amazing thing this game does. The customizability. Each character is capable of learning skills through books. While some skills will be only useful for being send to Valhalla, most of them will either increase a character’s stats, or give them various options in battle, such as a healing your party at the beginning of the turn or inflicting a status ailment while attacking. The more active skills can be equipped once learned. However, that’s not where it ends. When a character has more than one attack in their combo, you have reasonable control over the order of their attacks in said combo. Many character types can also use different weapon types. Lenneth herself is the best example of this as she can use a sword or a bow, changing up, not only her sprite, but her attacks and the skills she can equip. Any mage can learn any spell in the game and given an active spell that they will always cast upon their combo. This is key to finding synergy with your party. Personally, I find the best balance is to have an Archer, a Mage, a Warrior and a Heavy Knight, one from each character class.
Skills can can be activated and upgraded by using CP or Capacity, which is gained by levelling up or by using an item called the Quartz Gem. The amount of CP gained can be increased by equiping certain pieces of equipment.
Furthermore, while your characters attack, every successful attack on an enemy will increase an Energy meter. Once the meter reaches 100, every character who participated in the attack that turn can use their Special Attack, a unique skill that can deal a large amount of damage. If you continue to bring your Energy gauge to 100, you can use multiple Special Attacks by pressing the button of the appropriate character, with the successive attack being stronger as a result, but the gauge dropping by 20 each time.
Another cost to doing this is your character gains a red mark of CT or Charge Turn. Using Special Attacks or casting spells will raise your CT a certain amount depending on the attack or spell. CT decreased by one mark per turn, or by one mark for every Purple Gem gained from attacking an enemy. While they have CT, however, they can’t use Special Attacks or cast magic. This brings me to my next point.
The game’s unique combat style offers three styles of combat. Combat to defeat enemies, to gain experience, or to refresh characters. Unless you’re aiming to defeat certain enemies that’ll be a pain in the neck during the battle, you almost never want to go for the first option.
Attacking with the right combo order can cause them to drop Magic or Purple Gems. As I stated before, Purple Gems are used to decrease CT so a character by use a Special Attack or Spell sooner. Magic Gems are modifiers that give you bonus experience for defeating enemies, and can allow you to earn as much as three times the original experience value of the fight. This is the key to getting characters to level up during the limited time you have. This turns into button mashing into something that needs to be done strategically in order to have the best results, keeping it from being a braindead experience. Some combos may also cause an enemy to drop a chest, which is essentially an item drop.
There is no traditional shop in this game. Instead, your character gains a salary of MP (Materialize Points) after each chapter depending on your performance and how well you fulfilled the need for a specific unit. MP may also be gained by converting items depending on its value, or by using the item Lapus Lazuli. It’s in this shop where you’ll be able to buy armour, weapons and other things. Most of your weapons will come from here if not gained by Odin between chapters, as most weapon you’ll find in dungeons will have a chance of breaking and are best kept for more important fights.
There’s also three specific areas which give you story scenes and are important for getting the best ending. These are generally obvious and take some exploring, but best done at the right times in order to ensure success.
There are three endings to the game, labelled A, B and C. A is the best ending of the game, while B is normal, and C is a glorified game over screen. I won’t mince words, the B ending sucks something fierce, with the only thing of it having any worth is the boss fight that precedes it. It’s so bad and unsatisfying that the game itself outright TELLS you it’s bad and that there IS a better ending waiting for you. The C ending is only better by a margine as it presents some intrigue to the plot, with the A being the most satisfying ending of all. The first time I saw the normal ending, I felt unsatisfied and supremely unfulfilled, and it was intended to be that way. The true ending gave me untold satisfaction, and it was at that point myself, I KNEW I had to have a legitimate copy of this game. Yes, I bought a game I ALREADY had finished multiple times. It happens often.
Now, the game delves even deeper than that. There are three difficulty settings. Easy, Normal and Hard. There is no difference to the difficulty of battle in each of these modes, save for more involved fights in Hard Mode, but content of the game changes. Easy Mode is very short, offering the least content and only giving you access to the bad and true endings. Normal Mode is the regular length of the game, giving you the normal amount of content and length, and granting you the ability to see the true ending. Hard Mode has you earn the least amount of experience and starts all characters you obtain at Level 1, but gives you the most time to level up per chapter. Furthermore, Hard Mode offers one extra optional character and special dungeons offer the most challenging puzzles and fights of the game. Most of these dungeons will also have not only some of the best items after beating the boss, but they also have a particular item that is necessary for making the most of a special optional dungeon.
While the game tells you that Hard Mode should only be taken up for the challenge, I personally found this the best way to play the game. I would only suggest playing Easy Mode once to get a taste and to properly learn the game’s controls and mechanics. Normal Mode is good enough, but I personally felt Hard Mode was the truest experience of what the game has to offer, giving you the best puzzles and the most challenging and memorable boss fights.
Once you near the end of the game, you will be granted the option to enter the Seraphic Gate, a special dungeon that’s full of the toughest enemies in the game, normally those found in the Hard Mode dungeons, and some of the toughest boss fights the game has to offer. Furthermore, if you manage to collect at least one of the aforementioned special items, you will be able to open one of eight doors allowing you access to the best equipment and even extra characters. However, I will note this dungeon is only really worth exploring with a Hard Mode save file, as otherwise, the experience is a little more dry than it should be.
Despite how good this game is, I DID run into some problems while playing. Sometimes when doing a Special Attack, one character will just no longer have the option to use it despite having the ability to do so before. Sometimes when I’ve knocked Purple Gems out of an enemy, they either will just disappear or miss the characters that were absorbing them, greatly affecting the CT decrease. While I didn’t experience this one myself, apparently there’s a glitch where if you send the special Hard Mode character to Asgard, she will be unusable in the Seraphic Gate. However, this doesn’t dampen the experience of the game too much. Not enough for me to feel the game is subpar or unfinished.
This is by far one of the most beautiful games ever made, with visuals that have aged well even today, a game that originally came out during the PS1’s life cycle. The visuals remain stunning, scores so memorable that you’ll be open the game up JUST to listen to the soundtracks, and voice acting, while awkard at some points, REALLY hit the mark where it works. This game could stand amoung the likes of Okami or Shadow of the Colossus as a game that counts as artwork.
While the story may seem all over the place and mismatched, it takes a little consideration to understand how it all fits together. It’s a story where many small stories feed into a larger one, with all the trimmings of the mythic tale. I started to realize that while most of these stories tended to end and have no final resolution, or resolution you may not find, it’s about how these characters and their experiences affect Lenneth and her character, how she progresses as they grow close to her. It’s by no means perfect, but it does its narrative well, even if you don’t see all of it.
Furthermore, in the PSP version, these are backed up by new CG scenes which add story elements to the game. While some of them may seem akward and out of place, I personally don’t feel they’re unwelcome. However, I AM saying this never having played the original PS1 version. I’m currently watching a Let’s Play I found on YouTube to make comparisons. However, this is all the PSP version added as the game was fantastic on its own. This was a case where Square-Enix understood the concept of ‘Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke’.
So, despite all this praise I’ve given the game, why did it take me so long to a copy of this game? Well, the Green Scorpion did a list on this. Games that are underrated. Well recieved in the eyes of critics and consumers, but for some reason didn’t sell. His main theory is that marketting was the issue. Like I said at the beginning of this review, I got interested in this game because I HAPPENED to glance at an ad for it in what was VERY likely a VERY old gaming magazine at the time. Furthermore, this game was a PS1 exclusive title that behaved VERY differently to what RPGs did at the time. People aren’t exactly going to buy a whole new system on a game that was a gamble. Top add to the fact, Valkyrie Profile 2 was released and ENTIRE generation of console after and, even then, AFTER Enix had been merged with Squaresoft and I have not even seen the PSP remake on PSN. Despite this, this game is SO impactful, that Lenneth not only made appearances in the Star Ocean series and Lord of Arcana (which I will get to next week), but a 3DS title ‘Covenant of the Plume’ was released even later but there’s even a mobile game marked with Final Fantasy (Which I’ll also get to in due time).
The impact of this game is also seen in the upcoming indie title Indivisible, a game from one of the developers that worked on the smash hit fighting game Skullgirls. Their battle system and world building takes much influence from the title.
This game is rare to find nowadays, but if you can find it and have a passion for any of these sorts of games. I highly recommend this game for RPG fans, especially those who love mythological stories like I do. It’s an experience that I have no doubt you’ll enjoy.