Brad and I couldnt agree more on Valkyrie Profile. Unlike so many of the role-playing games that are out now, here is one that is wonderfully fresh and endlessly interesting (in other words, the complete opposite of The Legend Of Dragoon). I love how the game creatively wraps itself in Norse mythology, and how it infuses the battles with such action and excitement. It has truly been a while since Ive played such an imaginative and energetic piece of work. However, I just cant justify giving Valkyrie Profile a higher score because the game goes a little overboard in the scope of both its gameplay and its epic story.
About midway through, I found the game hard to manage. I became overwhelmed by its complexity, and I had a hard time adjusting to the abrupt shift in difficulty and the constant juggling of the individual storylines for the games many characters. This doesnt mean that I ever felt like giving up on Valkyrie Profile. Even through the games trying parts, I couldnt put it down. However, theres A LOT of game here, and I feel Valkyrie Profiles basic structure could have been simplified a bit. While I had a good time playing it, I never felt like I had a good grasp or a complete understanding of what was expected of me in this game.
Valkyrie Profile contains so many good things; unfortunately most of them come with a negative flip side attached. I agree with Brad that the story can seem disjointed at times—which makes it easy to lose interest—but I really like how the game goes about telling its story. The first 20 minutes of the game had a little too much story and not enough playing for my tastes, but Valkyrie Profile does make effective use of the in-game graphics and the generous amounts of spoken dialogue to provide some of the best storytelling Ive ever seen in an RPG. If only the actual writing had been better. The separate short stories that chronicle each characters death were right on the cusp of striking a strong emotional cord with me, especially in the instances in which we see how the loss of a life affects those left behind. Valkyrie Profiles English translation was handled by Jeremy Blaustein and his IMAGIC team, so I was expecting to read and hear some really nice words. (For those of you who dont know, Jeremy Blaustein is guy responsible for the great localization work on the Konami masterpieces, Snatcher and Metal Gear Solid.) Surprisingly, I found the writing and dialogue in Valkyrie Profile to be a bit heavy-handed and unimpressive in several places. Had the writing been treated with a little more care, Valkyrie Profile could have really accomplished something special. As it stands, most of the writing is the stuff bad fantasy novels are made of, although the voice talent good enough to sell it anyway. I think the game contains enough dramatic imagery and strong voice work to get its point across, but stronger writing would have made a more lasting impression.
Like Brad, I also appreciated the free-flowing gameplay in Valkyrie Profile. There is a certain structure to the game, but its nowhere near as linear as in most RPGs. The game illustrates this pretty clearly by allowing you to control the lead character Lenneth as she flies above Midgard totally free of any restrictions. She is a god after all—she can pretty much do what she wants as long as she heeds Lord Odin. Appropriately enough, Lenneth doesnt have to buy weapons, armor or items—she can make them herself. Now, the game implements this idea in a fashion that will be familiar to RPG fans, but its still a good example of how Valkyrie Profile makes its own rules, and how it follows through on its ideas pretty successfully.
If theres one problem I have with Valkyrie Profiles gameplay, its that I dont believe the game does a good enough job of informing the player of its expectations. I love the idea of training recently deceased warriors (the Einherjar) so they can fight with the gods in Asgard, but I was never sure if I was sending the right ones, and even if I was, I wasnt sure if I was sending them at the right time. I also found the whole process of managing party members, weapons and items frustrating, and its sometimes unclear as to what youre supposed to do next. Its almost as if the game expects you to figure everything out for yourself. That would normally be all right with me—I enjoy discovery and nonlinear play as much as the next guy—but for a game that contains such deep gameplay possibilities in practically every facet of its design, more explanation and guidance is needed so the player doesnt get lost.
However, I dont want to dwell too much on my gripes with the game. The positives far outweigh the negatives in Valkyrie Profile. When all is said and done, its a game filled with great ideas, beautiful graphics and music, and engaging gameplay. The action-packed battle system is easily the best and most fun that Ive ever played. To all those RPG Nazis who continue to email me telling me how stupid I am for bashing the "additions" system in The Legend Of Dragoon—you dont know what player interaction is in a battle until youve played Valkyrie Profile. And I would be remiss in my duties as a game critic if I didnt mention the coolest and most memorable aspects of the battles—the character voice clips. I never got tired of—nor I will ever forget—hearing the heroine Lenneth begin every battle by exclaiming, "To my side, my noble Einherjar!" and then finishing off a battle by dispatching of the last monster while shouting "Divine assault Nibelung Valesti!" Totally awesome—thats what RPGs are all about.