|Holy crap, it's a female lead character in a|
video game! And she's fully dressed!
Normally, I'm not a fan of RPGs... I just don't have the attention span for them. However, on rare occasions, something will come along that reaches beyond the boundaries of the genre and grabs me by the throat for a couple of weeks. Something like Panzer Dragoon Saga, or Suikoden and its sequel, or, well, Valkyrie Profile.
|Here comes the pain!|
See, each character in your party- from swarthy swordsmen to demure mystics to designate leader Lenneth- is assigned one of the face buttons on the Playstation controller. Each hero springs into action with a tap of a key, limiting the need for boring menus and ending fights almost as quickly as they started. Beyond that, the members of your party can attack a single enemy en masse, breaking their guard and opening the door to devastating combos.
String enough attacks together and you'll be able to perform a coup de grace which brings down all but the hardiest foes. You can even chain together each of your characters' Purify Weird Souls attacks, turning an already defeated monster into a thoroughly beaten dead horse. There's not much point in going Shazzang on the easily dispatched creatures early in the game, but in later chapters, you'll need every ounce of power you can squeeze out of your characters to defeat the harpies, dark knights, and Iori Yagami-ish vampires that stand in their way.
And how will you recruit these heroes? The same way you usually do in these games... by finding them. After they die. Okay, that part's new! Lenneth's a Valkyrie, and only picks allies who are past their expiration dates. She scours the countryside, listening for the dying gasps of worthy warriors, then invites them to fight alongside her in the afterlife. The best of these soldiers will even get a free trip to Valhalla to clash with Loki and the Vanir army. Choose wisely... the fate of the world depends on it!
Unlike the Suikoden games, new party members are handed to you on a silver platter. You just have to meditate to find them, then fly across a beautifully rendered landscape to their current location. Since most of the work is done for you, you can sit back and enjoy each character's dramatic and surprisingly detailed introduction. These stories don't always have as much impact as they should thanks to shaky scripts and miscast voice actors, but they nevertheless go a long way toward humanizing the cast and fleshing out the storyline.
|Sharpen your blades... the enemies|
just get more vicious as you progress.
There are just two problems with Valkyrie Profile. The first is that the game engine feels slightly wonky, with running and especially jumping lacking the fluid grace you'd expect from a Nordic goddess. The second is that the game is complex, even obtuse at times. You'll play for hours before you understand how some of the mechanics work, and it's entirely too easy to leave your fighters unprepared for battle because you forgot to switch on their skills, or boost their personality traits, or equip them with an important item they'll need to win fights in Valhalla. Even the seemingly simple combat system can leave you overwhelmed because the infinite combinations of weapons and characters can bring a lot of guesswork to the Purify Weird Souls attacks. Expect some initial frustration and a few paper cuts from leafing through the official strategy guide.
It may be as dense as a lead brick, but it's hard to ignore the defiant creativity of Valkyrie Profile. You won't find a single Japanese RPG that plays like it... and after a quarter century of games stubbornly stuck to the Dragon Quest template, that's a huge relief.
(images culled from multiple online sources)