Friday, August 11, 2006
Good: Deep Character Customization, Combat System
Bad: L-O-N-G, Repetitive
Another: Mediocre port of a decent console game
Feel sorry for Lenneth, the title character of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth for the PSP. As the Gods of Asgard prepare for a battle to end all creation, she must act as a one-woman draft board, recruiting the spirits of the recently deceased, training them and finally sending them to join the ranks in Sacred War. Death is her livelihood, and she's extremely successful.
If that's not heavy enough, Lenneth is also on a pretty tight deadline. The game unfolds in a series of Chapters. Each Chapter is made up of a certain number of Periods depending on the difficulty. Whenever Lenneth does anything in the game like visit a dungeon, rest or recruit a new soldier it consumes a certain number of Periods. When all the Periods for a Chapter are gone she must report to Asgard. When all the Chapters are exhausted it's the end of the world, Ragnarok.
The game has two central gameplay elements: recruiting and combat.
When Lenneth encounters a warrior worthy of recruitment, we are given a small segment of back-story and get to witness their untimely death. At the last minute Lenneth appears and offers the character an opportunity to join her cause. The character always accepts and we return to the world map.
Once this has happened select three party members and then enter a dungeon. Dungeons are the only source of combat in the game and are necessary in order to level-up characters. The combat in Valkyrie Profile is unique and engaging and is easily the best part of the game.
Each party member is assigned to one of the PSP's four face buttons (circle, square, X and triangle, in case you forgot) and attacking with the desired character is as simple as pressing the button that corresponds to them.
Instead of each character attacking individually the focus of Valkyrie Profile's combat is on teamwork. The opportunity to attack is given to the entire party at the same time. The key to success is combining the various skills of the party members to cause maximum damage and if the party inflicts enough damage they are given the opportunity to perform special attacks similar to the Limit Breaks or Overdrive commands of the Final Fantasy series.
It's an incredibly easy system to learn, but it still leaves plenty of room for experimentation. In most RPGs the combat is usually the first thing to go stale, but 100 Periods in I was still entertained.
Experience earned during combat can be put a variety of uses. When a character levels up they're given a certain amount of Capacity Points. These points can be spent on learning new skills, improving character stats and even improving a character's personality traits so that they are worthy to fight in the Sacred War.
It's a deep, flexible system that, like the combat, lends itself to plenty of experimentation. At times it can be overly complicated, but once Lenneth begins to receive hero requirements from Asgard, it becomes easier to build heroes to the specifications of Odin.
Unfortunately, the poor pacing of the game and almost complete lack of a story derail any momentum built up by the combat and character customization systems.
Even with the established conclusion in place Valkyrie Profile does not move at a brisk pace. Chapters take a ridiculous amount of time to complete (more than halfway through the game I had already clocked over 40 hours) and they all follow the same structure: Lenneth is given a list of traits her heroes need to have, she searches the world for them, trains them and sends them to Asgard. Repeat that twice per Chapter, nine Chapters per game.
The mission-heavy structure makes a story almost non-existent as well. Each character is given a small amount of backstory, but once they join Lenneth they're not allowed to interact in the human world so their stories go nowhere. At times characters from previous backstories make return appearances, but this happens so infrequently it's hard to keep track of which story arch they belong.
The graphics are a decent blend of CG backgrounds with sprite-drawn characters. The animation of the characters and the spell effects are both extremely well done, but in small environments the characters appear pixilated and blurry. In a nice touch (and probably in an effort to better connect the game to upcoming PS2 sequel), Square added several CG cutscenes to the game.
Lately, the PSP has been host to several RPGs that play like lesser versions of their console big brothers. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is no different. The elements that made the original Valkyrie Profile for PS1 standout like the combat and character customization systems are still intact, but so is the repetitive gameplay and lackluster story. If you're a fan of deep combat and tons of character options you'll be pleased, but if you like a little substance with your Role Players, look elsewhere.
First Play: 6.0
Replay Value: 5.0