I’m going to start with this one, because I feel like I may have made the most negative case for this franchise out of the four that I discussed the other day, and realistically it’s the hardest sell. Valhalla Knights is an action rpg made by Marvelous AQL that is all but exclusive to Sony systems. The first game came out on the PSP, as did VK2 and Battle Stance with the only departure from this formula being Eldar Saga. I’m assuming Marvelous thought the game might sell better on a system that was in more people’s hands, saw that it sold considerably worse except for in America, and decided that they should maybe go back to Sony in the end.
I would say that it is a considerably ambitious and unambitious series that is always just a hair away from greatness. I get the feeling that the artist and the guy (or gal) who comes up with the game mechanics is generally routinely frustrated with the person who handles level design, story and pacing, because there’s a lot of really interesting ideas that are hampered by the navigation engine.
In the Valhalla games you play as a mute adventurer who has to rally a guild together to either…do…something involving a dragon in the first game, something involving some monsters in the second game, or something for a foppish prince in the Wii game. I…don’t really understand the story much despite the pretty visuals because A) the story tends to be sparse with more of a focus on adventuring, and B) it’s really, really, really hard to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing in the first game.
I’m of the frame of mind that there are two types of RPG’s; there’s the kind that you play for the story, and the rare few that you play for the gameplay. For me, for instance, I suffered awful gameplay to play through Mimana Iyar Chronicles, and it is pretty much my favorite game that I can’t recommend to anyone because despite a touching story it’s pretty bloody terrible to play. On the other hand, I kinda want to throw up in my mouth when I think about Final Fantasy 8’s story, but the gameplay made me play at least till the last disc. Then I got really bored and gave it to some girl I knew who loved it a lot. Looking back at it, I really should’ve gotten a date out of that, but, high school hindsight is twenty twenty!
Valhalla falls in the gameplay over story area, though there are some areas of the gameplay that are at odds with each other so it’s more combat versus traversal. I feel bad as I’m writing this, because I know I’m not making this game sound very appealing, but let me break real quick here and explain a little philosophy to you. Don’t worry, I promise this won’t take long.
Some of my favorite games are Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, Mimana Iyar Chronicles, Crimson Gem Saga and Popolocrois. Of these games I’d argue that save for the frequency of battle, Popolocrois is a freaking gemstone by comparison to most of the games out today. My thing is, I’ll take a flawed and ambitious game over polished rehashes any day. I’d much rather play a game that didn’t get it right and fell flat, but at least tried something new over Call of Duty, Halo or even Gears of War (and my goodness I love me some gears of war) any day. As a result, I’m willing to forgive a lot of things in smaller house games that I refuse to give an inch or a quarter to larger games. It’s not because I’m biased, it’s because companies like Bioware and Microsoft have no bloody excuse! They’ve got the teams, they’ve got the money, they’ve got the manpower.
With that said, let’s look at things that make the franchise great, things that make it not so much, and things that we can realistically expect to change in Valhalla Knight’s Vita outing.
Things I Really Love
So, there’s the races for one thing. I mean, the dwarves are brawling tall muscular awesome caricatures of their Tolkien selves, the hobbits are all on the Bilbo Baggins level of “If you cuss with me I will make you wish you were back in Smog’s keep!” awesomeness, and there’s robots! ROBOTS IN A FANTASY RPG! The different takes on things even like elves were super great and a lot of fun.
The leveling system is pretty boss. Basically you pick your race and your class, and then you level up. After a certain point, pretty early on, leveling becomes exceedingly hard. The amount of experience you get is in relation to the level you are, so the higher level you are the less experience you get for fighting weaker opponents, but you need more to level up. Sound like any other RPG? Let me put it like this:
In a typical RPG, you get stronger, and the enemies yield the same amount of experience no matter what, say, ten for killing a slime, but now you need three hundred instead of a hundred to level so it takes longer. In Valhalla Knights you need three hundred to level up again, but now slimes only give you one even if you fight like four of them at once. However, you’re not strong enough to go to a new dungeon. What’s the solution? CROSS CLASS!
Your class level reverts, but your stats stay the same and you can keep your memorized skills. This way you can level up another class, increase your stats, learn a more diverse skillset and keep on training. By the time you go to the next dungeon, you’re suddenly a mage with a broadsword who can steal stuff while setting people on fire 😀
If you’re a machine, this is further changed up because you can give yourself tune ups which augment your robot body with new weapons, skills and abilities.
Next is the combat. Enemies will find you on the overworld as opposed to random battles. Once you touch them, you engage in battle in a big circular arena of darkness, kinda like Psychic Force without all the flying. Battle takes place real time, and you can swing away if you want to, but if you wait a little bit a la Secret of Mana you’ll do more damage. As you continue to attack, you build up a short meter for a powerful burst move unique to your weapon and class, and of course you’ve got a wide away of skills, artes and super moves. All six of your party members engage in battle at the same time, and you can either give them orders or swap who you control on the fly. Also, the game is co-op 😀
The environments are fun and are more than just six different shades of mud, and it’s always a joy to find a new weapon or master a new skill. Especially when you replace your robot arms with chainsaws 😀
So, what’s the downside?
What I Hate
Really there’s only two things. The first is that the story is so few and far between and incomprehensible that despite the fact that it’s clearly supposed to be a really big deal, I have no idea what it’s about. Which, I mean, I might know more if I could get anywhere. In the first game you pretty much need to have a gamefaqs tab open on your browser; like I mentioned before you pretty much wander aimlessly mashing the X button until you trigger something. The quest stuff you’re after doesn’t shimmer, doesn’t shine and doesn’t trigger events automatically. Thankfully Battle Stance and Eldar Saga fixed that.
One nice thing about the incomprehensible quest system, is that unlike every other guild based rpg, this one has guild crap separate from saving the world crap. Guild missions are pretty much just busy work. Someone needs herbs, someone wants some monsters dead, someone lost a ring, some big bad demon is plaguing town, and while it’s really super of you to handle this stuff it’s completely separate from the story. Battle Stance incorporated the guild a bit more, which is fine, but I loved that I wasn’t stuck doing twelve variations of “find five herbs” until something story related happened to pop up at the guild. I’ve…never honestly understood that.
What sucks about how nice this is however, is that the guild missions are gonna be where you make your money, get some nice rewards and some nice items and armor and stuff. You can pretty much just fight and become strong and move through the dungeons and worlds to do the story, but you really kind of need to do the quests. The quests that don’t tell you where to bloody go and make you manually walk across five dungeons to get to the one dungeon that you need to find in order to complete the mission that they don’t really tell you how to do (although Battle Stance added way points, thankfully)…
Things That Will Likely Change
I expect that the terrible way that missions are handled will be fixed in this game. Marvelous has literally no excuse not to fix it. I mean, they had no excuse before, but they had numbers on their side back then. When Valhalla Knights debuted its only competition was Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light and, though this is a considerable stretch, Monster Hunter Portable/Freedom. The only other multiplayer dungeon crawler games were, well, terrible. There was Dungeon Explorer and that was about it. Alien Syndrome was bloody amazing but nobody gave it a chance because they were all “A shooter RPG? Lame!”
Yeah…somehow Mass Effect got a pass, but whatever… I think people were winy about Aileen being a woman also, and all of the clever “Look, her armor is like Samus’ but different enough so we don’t get sued” marketing tactics couldn’t save this amazing four player wii and psp RPG from obscurity…
Aside from that there was Untold Legends, which again wasn’t really the same beast at all. As a result, until games like Lord of Arcana (which was terrible, though Apocalypse fixed everything but Square won’t give us PSP/Vita games in America…) and Gods Eater Burst (which was AMAZING) came out, Marvelous didn’t have a real reason to fix their junk.
Now however? Now they’ve got to compete against Ragnarok Odyssey and Lord of Apocalypse, as well as a new Gods Eater on the horizon and even Soul Sacrifice, which I still don’t completely know how to feel about. The fact of the matter is that on the Vita Marvelous has to compete against four games that show a ridiculous amount of polish and depth, so something as simple as telling you where the crap to go to do your missions should be a no brainer.
The character interactions will be better too, which is to say they’ll actually exist, what with the heavy emphasis on romancing NPC’s and taking your boyfriend or girlfriend into battle with you. Ever wanted to take the blacksmith or the sassy girl from the speakeasy who has all those guns into a dungeon with you? Well, get em’ to like you enough and they will!
The story I imagine is going to, well, exist. And honestly it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t; raid games have pretty terrible stories to begin with. Aside from Gods Eater. I think that and Phantasy Star Online are the only ones I’ve played that actually have a plot…
The combat will likely be better because it’s the freaking Vita and it has games like Ragnarok Odyssey and Lord of Apocalypse that play like Advent Children on steroids; you pretty much can’t release a raid/dungeon crawler without good combat. The only way you can get away with this is if you make it isometric like Dungeon Hunter or Book of Memories, and even those were polished in their own way.
Also, considering Lord of Apocalypse, Soul Sacrifice, Gods Eater and Ragnarok Odyssey, character creation will likely let you be something beyond white and asian.
So there you have it, everything that Valhalla Knights and by extension VK3 has to offer. With the first four games, I’d say only play Battle Stance and Eldar Saga. Both are a handful of dollars now, and if you can overlook some admittedly large-ish design flaws there’s a ton of fun to be had there, especially if you can wrangle your friends to pick them up also. Realistically speaking, I’m fan boyishly excited that Valhalla Knights 3 is coming to America, and cautiously optimistic that they’re going to fix some of the more glaring issues that have kept the game from taking a seat among the kings and queens of raid and dungeon crawler games.
Questions? Comments? Leave em’ below! Xeawn, out!