3’s a company, 4’s a small party.
So about ten years ago, the Enix company (before it helped form the two-headed remake dragon: Square Enix) published a game called Valkyrie Profile. This was back when the Nintendo 64 was on the scene and nobody cared about it (unlike now, when everyone and everyone’s mom has or wants a Wii).
[image1]This was also a golden age for JRPGs, Final Fantasy VII having just recently made them acceptable in North America. This was just before the PS2 and Playstation graphics had plateaued, meaning developers could focus more on gameplay and story. This was also before bullshit media hype and pre-order bonuses, so most stores didn’t order Valkyrie Profile, possibly out of a crippling fear of a lack of money and success. Then in 2006, Square Enix re-released Valkyrie Profile in the form of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth.
The series combined 2-D puzzle platforming with turn-based combat and quick-time events. Despite how awful that sounds, they were great games that a lot of people missed out on. That brings us to the latest game in the series: Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume – Square Enix’s attempt to make a handheld title that isn’t a remake.
In the first two VP titles, you played as a Valkyrie (hence the name) sent down to Midgard to gather warriors called Einharjar for the battle Ragnarok. They had dark and tragic stories that followed a number of compelling characters through a series of unfortunate events that ultimately led to their demise. Conversely, in VP: CotP you play not as the valiant champion of Asgard, but as Wylford, a raging pussy with two ponytails and a bone to pick with the Valkyrie.
Despite its effeminately angsty protagonist, CotP has a rather intriguing story. Instead of recruiting teammates shortly after their tragic demise, you gather them alive and kicking, fight alongside them for a while, and then send them off to Hell. I’m sorry, I mean "Hel". The aforementioned bone Wylford has to pick with the Valkyrie is over her “taking” his father too soon (his father, mind you, died in battle; and since he was a soldier, I can’t imagine that no one saw that coming). So like a dunce, Wyl joins the army, and like the minge that he is, dies almost straight off and while he’s lying there, dying, he makes a pact with the Devil. Turns out the dark side doesn’t care for Asgard’s hero, either.
[image2]As a testament to the roll-your-eyes story, I’m five paragraphs into the review and I haven’t touched on the gameplay. The first two games implemented 2-D platforming that rewarded thorough and clever players with items and side quests. CotP is a turn-based SRPG that plays out more like a book than a game. You move your guys, the computer moves its guys, and you swat each other with swords until one of you loses. This is where the titular “Plume” comes in. To keep up your end of the deal, you need to provide Hel with sin (seems a bit backwards, eh?).
Each stage has a requisite amount of sin you have to gather before you can… I don’t know…advance or something. Gathering sin is embarrassingly simple. “Sin” in this world is measured by how much you beat someone once they’re dead; meaning, you beat someone within an inch of their miserable life, stop, and on your next turn, beat the ever-loving shit out of them beyond death, and voila…sin. Gathering (?) sin is simple – in the first few stages, I’d gathered triple what was required, earning me a bunch of items I could just as easily have bought at a shop with the mountains of gold the game throws at you.
With any new RPG comes either a new gamplay system or a revamped version of a pre-existing one. CotP takes two great fighting systems (one action-y and one more strategic) and forces them together in the gaming equivalent of putting monster-truck tires on a golf cart. Moving across the map as you would in any SRPG feels fine in CotP, and the combat feels fine, but everything just feels sticky and awkward.
Only being able to bring four party members into battle is too limited and makes battles too simple. You can also combine attacks easily – anyone within range of a target can attack. Assuming all four teammates are within range, gathering copious amounts of sin can be done in no time. In that sense, I guess it’s best that you have such a small party.
[image3]Another problem players might have with CotP is that you can’t use the touch screen. At all. Not even at the title screen when it tells you to press start. What the Hel? (buh-dunt-cha!) Why wouldn’t you use the most prominent feature on the DS, especially for a SRTS that requires a lot of units?
CotP compares to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and by “compares to” I mean “blatantly rips off”. The music, the maps, the sprites – it all reeks so much of FFTA that the dev team must have all ground up copies of it and snorted big rails of it every morning before going to work. However, anyone who’s seen Fight Club knows that sticking feathers up your ass does not make you a chicken. It may look like FFTA and sound like FFTA, and hell, it may even play a bit like FFTA, but it most assuredly is not even in the same league as FFTA. It lacks both the mind-spltting depth of team building and customization, and the simplicity of one ending.
Remember the good old days when the only two endings games had were the ending you go for winning and the ending you got for not winning? While the VP series isn’t the first to feature multiple endings, it was one of the first to feature one good ending and multiple shitty ones. The problem with this is that you’re at the mercy of the story – you’d think they’d offer anyone with the perseverance to trudge through 40+ hours of spreadsheet fighting a proper sense of closure.
CotP isn’t a bad game; it’s just too much of a departure from what made the series great, and some fans will be put-off by all the changes. Trying to combine two tried-and-true gameplay types just feels forced and unpleasant like staying with that girl you can’t stand because you have “history”.
And come on, Square Enix, I know you want to re-release more of Square‘s back catalogue, but trying to sneak an FFTA remake past us with another title on the box is just bad form. Try VP: CotP if you like, but don’t be shocked if you end up ditching Wylford and his stupid hair for Marche and his.