An MMO Without the M or O.
Valhalla Knights 3 from XSeed games can best be described as “really wanting to be an MMO.” Don’t be fooled—it’s not an MMO. It is, in fact, a single-player JRPG, but everything about it feels like it was designed for a massive multiplayer affair. Unfortunately, this ends up hurting the game in the long run as MMOs get a certain amount of leeway in story and playability that single-player RPGs don’t. As a result, Valhalla Knights 3 takes an interesting premise and deep character advancement system and waters it down to the same-old, repetitive grind that we have seen in MMOs time and time again.
Warning sirens first went off in my brain when I was introduced to Valhalla Knights’ character creation system. You can choose from several interesting races, like beast or nightmare, except only the most boring ones—human, elf, halfling, and dwarf—are available at the game’s start. There are a lot of stats in this game, which is kind of cool for anyone who is fond of crunchy pencil and paper RPGs. The second warning siren went off, however, when I got to choose my character’s sex and realized that choosing a female character reduced points in strength…. uuuuugh. I don’t want to call this sexist, but… really, Vallhalla Knights 3? The final warning siren went off when the single option that was available for changing a female character's body type was “bust size.” Okay, I am going to call that sexist.
So after I made a dark-skinned, face-tattooed, pink-haired halfling named Toast, I was dropped into the game’s world which is actually quite interesting. Valhalla Knights 3 takes place in a prison that has become so big, it has transformed into its own city run by convicts. Cool. You are sent there as spies for the empire in order to dig up info in preparation for an important mission. Cool. That mission? To find a secret, vague, yet magical treasure that can grant your every wish that was left behind by a legendary spy. Not so cool. Yes, the entire game is a multi-part fetch quest and the story never gets more compelling than that.
However, it isn’t a stretch to say that story in Valhalla Knights 3 is secondary to the act of creating your perfect character. With seven races, over twenty classes, the ability to multi-class twice, personality traits that change the way your character behaves, and tons and tons and tons of gear to hunt down and equip, Valhalla Knights 3 is a grind that can last you for some time. The game supports online multiplayer, allowing you to bring your character along with a squad of prisoners at his side to the arena and battle it out against other Valhalla Knights players all over the world. This will likely be where you spend most of your time and it’s about as addictive as any MMO’s PvP.
However, the rest of the game is filled with everything that is bad about MMOs. It’s a quest-based game, but your quests are never all that interesting. It’s always “go to location A to talk to person B, kill enemy C, get enough of item D, and bring it to person E.” It’s the same fetch-questy formula that every MMO has used in the past. You never feel like you are getting close to the bottom of this treasure mystery. You just feel like you are doing busy work for the sake of padding out the game.
The combat has its ups and downs. It tries to be something of an action game-styled system, but it really misses its mark. Sure, you can combo weak and strong attacks together, earning XP bonuses along the way, and yes, you have to manage your special abilities and “boost meter” in order to maximize damage output, but after that, the system falls back on tired MMO conventions. Every battle ends up with you standing next to an enemy and trying to kill it before it kills you. Whether or not you die will largely depend on how well you built your character. You never really feel threatened and when you lose, it feels like you never had a chance in the first place.
Then there is the presentation, which really leaves something to be desired. Games like Uncharted for Vita or even God of War for PSP have shown us how smooth graphics can be on this powerful portable system. But Valhalla Knights 3’s graphics aren’t smooth. Character animations are janky and awkward, facial expressions look like they are made of stone, and weapons simply appear and disappear from characters’ hands. Heck, the character creation mode doesn’t even let you choose to smile if you want! Couple this with locales that look far too much like each other and short voice clips made up of some serious Resident Evil 1-quality voice acting, and it starts to feel there wasn’t much effort put into the games aesthetic design.
To be honest, Valhalla Knights 3 is the perfect concept for a portable game. Since the game is so based around grinding and raising your character, it’s easy to pick up your Vita, do a quest or two, and put it down just as easily. You're always making progress no matter how short your spurts of play are. Unfortunately, this good idea is muddied by poor presentation and mediocre mechanics. It would be cool to see my prisoner eventually grow up to be an unstoppable force of slaughter, but the game wasn’t compelling enough to keep me playing that long.