Not her best side.
Most look at crazy people with pitying eyes, quietly saying to themselves, "Dear me, look at that poor thing…coating himself in butter." Others believe they should be studied, cared for, or otherwise handled with some level of political correctness. But we believe crazies exist for one, sole purpose - entertainment. Just look at this, this here, or that over there then say you're not waiting for sequels.
Well, after the first Valkyrie Profile
(recently rehashed as Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
) we've been looking forward to one, largely due to some weird liberties it took that separated it from the norm. What's wacky is that, this time around, the designers decided that many of the original's quirky-yet-cool traits should be repressed for, we assume, bigger market appeal. The result is Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
, a more conventional RPG highlighted by fewer noteworthy features or, in other words, a game that's entertaining, but not as good as it could have been.
At least you're playing
a crazy person, or so it would seem. In this prequel to the original, the Valkyrie Silmeria is exiled from Valhalla and flees to the mortal realm of Midgar to inhabit the body of Alicia, princess of the kingdom of Dipan - a high civilization searching for independence from Odin and the gods. In this tag team, Alicia is led by Silmeria's domineering spirit from one land to the next, reviving great heroes of wars past to strengthen Dipan's mortal forces for the upcoming war against Valhalla. It's an interesting plotline that carries itself well through some interesting lore and character interaction – but only from the few main players.
A large part of what made the original so engaging was that whenever a new party member joined you, the designers made sure to give them a backstory. This involvement helped carry you through much of the repetitive experience-point grinding you had to endure to level them up. Then after time passed, you would be rewarded further with status updates about them, as well as cash bonuses. But in Silmeria, only a handful of characters have any storyline presence, so the experience of leveling the rest suffers. Once you revive a hero and interact with him while he's alive the items you get are much more potent, but still we miss the updates.
This sets up that familiar dichotomy: dull grinding versus great rewards. It works for the first few random characters you get, mostly because you're curious to see what will happen after you revive them, but once the battles get harder, dimming the light at the end of this nasty tunnel, you'll just keep fighting with the characters that have voices. That’s a real shame, because the battle system is great.
Each of your party mates is once again mapped to a face button, keeping the fights brisk and fun. If you run into an enemy icon to start a battle, you'll enter a 3D arena with every enemy having their own line of sight. Any of your characters that enter this area are subject to whatever nasty attack is in queue for that enemy, so it becomes a fun game of positioning rather then menu surfing.
Being that enemies move whenever you do, you can walk slowly, gauge the motion patterns of your enemies, and skillfully evade their lines of sight. To tip the balance of action-strategy over to action, you also have a dash you can use to vault your party through an enemy's line of sight unscathed. It'll take some time to master this maneuvering without running into walls or leaving a soldier behind to get wailed on, but since you can easily divvy up your party into subgroups during battle, you can take control of that errant soldier and bring him up to speed. By the same method, you could take control of one of your stronger characters, move him into an enemy's line of sight, and leave him there to absorb the damage while the rest of your party attacks from other angles.
Beating on different sides of most enemies will break reagents off them to use in making special, unique weapons in town; so there's a fair amount of reason to try the same battles differently. But when you're rewarded with more experience points for ending fights in ten seconds flat by going straight for the enemy pack's leader, collecting can feel like a waste of time, especially since you can progress just fine without being a hardcore grinder. And there're dungeons to be crawled, by the gods!
The odd yet effective 2D dungeon navigation system returns, and thankfully the map is much more informative with icons marking points of interest in areas you haven't even gotten to yet. Keeping the now useless grinding at bay, you can still freeze enemies if you'd rather save time and get on with the exploration. This time, though, if you shoot any frozen object in a dungeon, you'll teleport to its position. This new touch adds a welcome element of light puzzle-solving to help you progress, get to distant chests, or collect "sealstones", which are scattered around dungeons.
These stones have certain effects when not in your possession. For example, one could give every enemy in a dungeon a 20% attack power boost. If you get to it and pick it up, that boon transfers to your party. You can also pay crystals, a second form of currency you get from battle, to send a sealstone back to a global reservoir so that you can pick it up at another dungeon in the world. The advantages they grant you or your foes aren’t overpowered, either, so it's not crucial to go exploring for them if you don’t want to.
"Exploring" is being used in its lightest sense here, since Silmeria
is a totally linear game. With no omnipresent countdown to the end of the world powering your progression, it’s not as exciting as its predecessor, and aside from sealstones, there isn’t anything to draw you from the main path. At least the menu system is much cleaner. I know that doesn’t sound exciting, but it makes a huge difference in a game where you have so many items and commands to manage.
Though it isn’t as crazy as before, Silmeria got a solid current-gen facelift. Towns have a faux 3D look, rotating as you move from left to right. The in-engine cutscenes look good and load quickly while the battle arenas look fantastic. Every enemy model is highly detailed, and this helps you discern what parts might be breakable for reagents. Many of the effects, like sand particles drifting over dunes look superb. Silmeria also supports both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, so you can play it on your fancy-pants widescreen TV.
Most of the voice acting is surprisingly well done, too, which is crucial since every new area you enter and every tenth corridor in dungeons will have a voiced cutscene to remind you that, yes, this RPG has a plot.
Valkyrie Profile is turning out to be a decent franchise, although this iteration is a few IQ points short of genius. Taking a cult hit and squeezing it into a more conventional mold was a bad choice, but still, Valkyrie Profile 2: SIlmeria is worthy of a third entry, which will hopefully be something along the lines of Valkyie Profile 3: Lenneth 2, call me crazy.