RETROGRADING 06.04.04

#1. Valkyrie Profile
Developed by: Tri-Ace
Published by: Enix
Release Date 08/29/2000
Systems Released On: Sony Playstation

Probably not a surprise to long time readers. Although I have a feeling a lot of you haven’t played it and some probably haven’t heard of it although it was released Stateside.

Now I only know two people that would put this as their #1 RPG of all time besides me. But hey, this list is MY top 30, and has never claimed to be what SHOULD be the Top 30 RPGs of all time, or god forbid, labeled as what ARE. Remember it’s one man’s opinion.

So why Valkyrie Profile? What makes it appeal to me in a way that it actually got a perfect score on the vaunted Kliq rating scale of DOOM that sees most games get a five or a six? Well, let’s see. And as we go, I think you’ll see just why it seems to be made specifically to all my tastes and quirks as a gamer.

1. Let’s Review

Story

Hopefully you all know my background as a folklorist. It is what I wrote about before switching gears to talk about video games. And Valkyrie Profile is a game heavily based in folklore, specifically that of the Norse Gods. This too is one of the reasons I love Persona 2 so much, because it they are so steeped in mythology and beliefs, rituals, and taboo from the past brought into present day.

The story centers around Lenneth Valkyrie, a being from Asgard, land of the Norse gods. The time is near Ragnarok, the end of all, and Valkyrie seeks mortals souls of great warrior from Midgard (earth). These Einherjar will then become minor gods, where they will fight alongside Odin and his Aesir (gods) against the Vanir.

Now here is my only minor quibble with the game. The Vanir are bestial and fertility gods and were aligned with the Aesir. The correct word that should have been used was Jotuns (Giants), for that was the correct enemy you were fighting, like Surt for example. But hey, there was an oops in the translation and only people like myself or Scandinavians will catch that, and so it’s only worthy of mentioning in case you have it on a test somewhere.

The game takes place over 8 chapters. And in each chapter Valkyrie does battle with evil, and discovers worthy Einherjar to aid her. What’s wonderful is each character you discover has a massive backstory. There’s more story for each character in Valkyrie Profile that most rpgs give to all their characters throughout the course of the game. How can you not love that? Valkyrie Profile puts so much into the story, it’s like watching a playable movie at times with the incredible graphics, wonderful voice acting, and the best turn-based battle engine ever.

As the game comes on, you can happen across a divergent story. One you almost absolutely need a strategy or FAQ to discover because it is so obscure and hard to achieve, you’d never know it was possible otherwise. You know that cinematic at the beginning of the game with Lucien and it seems to make no sense whatsoever? Well, it will if you play your cards right. And trust me the hidden ending is amazing. If only because, it holds so very, very true to the Nordic tales of old.

No game has ever captivated me with a story like this one. A mix of characters so well designed and thought out it’s as if they live and breathe along with you while you play. Each one has a distinct and wonderful (if tragic) story to tell you.

And most innovative of all, is that the game changes every time you play it. There are six different paths that can happen for each of the three difficulty levels. Each path sets up what order events happen in, which characters you will get when, and even what items you can get.

And if that’s not enough there’s one more thing: After you beat the game, you unlock the Seraphic Gate. A gigantic dungeon full of even harder enemies to encounter. You can run around all you want killing things, getting more experience and enjoying a true test of your gameplay abilities. However, you can’t unleash the true potential of the Seraphic Dungeon without eight gems only obtainable in the Hardest Mode. And then after you finally encounter the last boss and defeat her…you get one final secret. Or ten, depending on how stubborn you are.

No game can even remotely match the depth of Valkyrie Profile in terms of story. No game even comes close. Not even if you put all three Personas together and added any one random Megaten game would you have the complexity of characters and deluge of back story you get with Valkyrie Profile. For this aspect of the game alone, it is worth getting and devouring. Folklore is your friend people.

Story Rating: 10/10

2. Graphics

Oh my god, is this game beautiful. The character design art is the best I’ve ever seen on the PSX. I hear people crowing about Final Fantasy graphics, and they have every right to. But wow, does Valkyrie profile match it pound for pound. The cinematics are every bit as good as a Squaresoft FMV. The backgrounds are equal to those in the Mana series, appearing to be digital paintings. The monsters are amazing and every movement is fluid. But most important of all are the special attacks. Wonderous to behold and yet quick to view, these are the bread and butter of Valkyrie Profile graphically. The spells, especially the High Magic spells are jaw dropping due to the detail put into it. My personal favorite of them all is of course the Nibelung Valesti. Pure gaming bliss.
I never really touch on graphics that much, but it’s amazing to watch this game push the poor wittle PSX to its maximum ability, and it also shows that the PS2 can pull off 2D gaming a lot better than most of us gamers give it credit poor.

Watch the game. And enjoy.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

Incredible soundtrack, amazing effects noises, from the clang of swords to the fiery breath of dragons. Everything about the sound in this game is again, the best you will find on the PSX.

But the voice acting. Holy crap the voice acting. This is by far the best voice acting team ever assembled for a video game. Don’t give me that crap about Metal Gear Solid, Valkyrie Profile blows it out of the water with the pedigree of the cast they have assembled.

Eric Stuart, Veronica Taylor, Megan Hollingshead, Addie Blaustein, Racheal Lillis, Tara Jayne, Jimmi Zoppi, and Scotty Ray. And that’s only part of the cast. These voice actors among the best in their field and I’m sure Lee Baxley is marking out just from the cast mentioned as well. Even the actors that do more than one character ensure their characters are as distinct from each other vocally as the stories behind each of them.

Now a few astute of you may recognize the names for the same reason Lee does: Various cartoons these actors have done in addition to this game. For me the cast stands out for two Japanese series brought over to the US to achieve a huge level of popularity. The first is the Slayers series. Joy! Literally, as Valkyrie’s voice plays a character by that same name in the other big anime the majority of this cast has been in: POKEMON.

Yeah, well, do either of these revelations help to so why I’m such a fanboy to the VP acting cast? Not to mention that both Slayers and Pokemon video games have been on the list as well.

And then there’s an added bonus. YES. ANOTHER added bonus to this game. A sound gallery so that you can hear a ton of voice acting for character as you unlock it. The voice collection is astounding and it’s literally impossible to get the whole thing without beating the game on hard and the Seraphic Gate as well. But the reward is totally worth it: 35 characters and their in battle speaking bits. Everything from their swaggering after battle bravado comments to their death cries. The only thing missing is the massive amount of voice acting this game has for each character while their individual stories are unfolding. But that’s just more reason to play the game again and again and again.

Sound Rating:10/10

4. Controls

As I said earlier, the best turn based RPG ever. The controls are both intuitive and simple, yet they take forever to truly master. Each of the shape buttons on a PSX controller controls one of your four playable characters. You press the button to make them attack, and each character can attack 1-3 times, with one of three different moves. It all depends on what weapon you give the character.

You can also take as long as you want for your turn. It isn’t timed. So if you want a character to wait minutes after an attack, it’s fine. It allows you to do that. If you want all four characters to attack the same target at once for a massive overkill, that’s your option too.

There is also a charge time counter for spell and item casting. This works a little bit differently because casting a spell can possibly cause your character to wait and rest up before casting or attack again. Tis the price of magic afterall.

The computer can guard, so be sure to learn how to create the best combo possible. On the flip side, so monsters can’t be hit by a combo thanks to their combo guard. So you have to learn how to crush their guard with a proper attack.

The end result is an incredible fusion of turn based fighting, action RPG fighting, and a little Street Fighter esque gameplay thrown into one awesome engine. And if you max out your hit meter you can use each characters special move until the meter is deleted.

BTW, for cheesy goodness, my personal favorite team is Valkyrie, Janus, Lawfer, and Mystina.

It’s incredible to see how many options you have with just a four person team. And believe me when I say the controls are simple to learn but take you forever to master. By the time you get to Blood Bane, you will need to know what is best for your team. Blood Bane makes Borgan from Lunar 2 on the Sega CD look like a cakewalk

Control Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

To get everything possible in the game you will need to play it at least once on each of the three difficultly levels. And then at least ten time through the Seraphic Gate after beating it on hard and collecting the 8 fire jewels. This game might as well be filled as an occupation on your next tax return if you have to get 100% of everything in it.

And you will love every moment of it.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

Lordy lordy, can this game be hard. The Seraphic gate is eeeeevil and tough as nails. Of course you have to beat the game to access it so it’s a bonus, not something you have to go through. But the funny thing is, even with the two last ultra powerful bosses in that dungeon, they’re still nowhere near as annoying as Blood Bane.

Blood Bane is the hardest boss out of any video game on the PSX. And the funny thing is he’s not even the last boss in the game. Oh, I hate that dragon. I hate it so so much, but beating Blood Bane is one of most rewarding moments I’ve had in gaming.

The game always poses a slight challenge with the normal monsters and the bosses are fiendish…just the way bosses should be. It’s a great test of your hand to eye co-ordination. In the end you can go so many different routes, from button mashing and hoping to route memorization of every attack height and length each character has to formulate the best possible combo. Hopefully it’s not one of those extremes though.

Valkyrie profile is a great game as you play through it and a cast iron bitch in the seraphic gate.

Balance Rating: 10/10

7. Originality

An engine unlike any other? A story deeper than any RPG to come before or after it? The best designed ensemble of characters in any electronic RPG? It’s all in Valkyrie Profile. Tri-Ace’s creation was so far ahead of its time in 2000 and is still impressive compared to anything being put out today. It holds its own against next-gen games and puts most to shame.

Valkyrie Profile covers everything; from being the first game to embrace itself totally in Nordic Myth and legend, to providing you a level of story no one thought possible or that gamers had the intellect and attention span to sit through. Kudos to Tri-Ace for giving us something that show truly original gaming can still occur even in the 21st century. Not everything has to be a rehash or a sequel.

Originality Rating: 10/10

8. Appeal Factor

Come on people. It’s an Enix game. As in SQUARE-ENIX. Square fanboys have to eat this up. And finally get a chance to see excellent graphics mixed with excellent gameplay and plot, a rarity amongst that company’s creations. It’s an RPG that caters to all styles and tastes by blending them all together. It’s for anime fans who love particular voice actors. It’s for anyone who wants a good RPG. It’s even for NON-rpg gamers.

You need to experience this game, because to play Valkyrie Profile is to play something that transcends the RPG stereotype. Breaking the mold is a good thing, and Valkyrie Profile does it enough that it will be appeal to long time RPG addicts, but also to people who generally dislike them. Pick this game up if you ever see it. You won’t regret it.

Appeal Factor: 8/10

9. Addictiveness

Well I’ll make this part of the review short and sweet. It’s my favorite RPG of all time and I’ve been crazy enough to 100% it and then delete my save just to start over from scratch and enjoy it as if never playing it before. What does THAT tell you?

Addictiveness Rating: 10/10

Miscellaneous

I covered all the extra bonuses and unlockables already. And damn are there a lot of them crammed into one PSX CD. It’s hard to believe how much care and love Tri-Ace put into this game, and to be honest I’m glad they didn’t make it into a franchise or even a follow up to this, because even if it was just as goods as the first, it would still tarnish the greatness of this game. Plus how do you do a sequel for the end of existence?

Play the game, see what all there is, and decide if you truly want to unlock everything from both endings to all 10 items at the end of the Seraphic Gate. It’s up to you, but even playing the game gives you a chance to experience how amazing a game truly can be.

The 411: My favorite RPG ever. What more needs to be said.

Final Score: 10.0

And that’s it. Six pages on why I love this game so damned much. No RPG has ever come to catching my imagination and heart the way Valkyrie Profile did. It had everything I was always looking for in a game and although I can totally understand if it’s not your cup of tea, I urge you to try it, because even if you don’t think it’s the best game ever, you’ll still walk away being impressed by it…or at the very least be appreciative of how unique the game is.

And that’s it. Hard to believe this was originally going to be just a top ten list to supplement my original Franchise RPG list, but thanks to Kliq members and reader input it became a thirty piece countdown. It began on February 4th and ends on June 4th. That’s four months of nothing but talking about RPGs in addition to doing reviews and mailbags. Can we say burn-out boys and girls? But in the end, everything I wanted to do happened. I introduced my readers to a lot of games they have never heard of and hopefully have picked up. I’m now officially at least a month behind in answering emails because my Inbox is so clogged with your letters stating how much you enjoyed the countdown…and hate mail from Final Fantasy 7 fans who couldn’t take a joke.;-)

But that’s it for the countdown, that’s it for Retrograding, and that’s it for me. Consider RG on hiatus, because after a countdown like this I need a break, and quite honestly, can’t think of what else to talk about. Don’t worry, I still have reviews that will be posted here…EVENTUALLY. Like River City Ransom and Metal Slug 3 and Psi-Ops and more. And I have a lot of mailbags to do too. ;-) It’s just I don’t have much more to say right now about video games and I’d hate to give my readers anything less than quality. I mean is there any more for me to say about Shining Force? Or Ikaruga? Or Pokemon? Or Persona? Right now, I can say no firmly. I’ve probably even bored hardcore fans of those games by now. Heck, after the ultimate fake #1 swerve, can I even bash FF7 any more? It’s not like I’ve lost my smile or anything. Just I need time to think about something other than hit points, levels, tactical grids, and J-pop.

Ironic though that I picked up Valkyrie Profile and rekindled my love of gaming about
The time I was burning out on writing the VC, and now that I’m burning out on Video Games…well, don’t be surprised if you see me going full circle the next time I contribute a column to 411.

But we’ll end this column now with hyperlinks to the countdown in full to save you guys time in regards to combing 411games Archives.

RG 02.04.04: The Preamble

RG 02.07.04: Games 30-28: Slayers Royal, Sword of Vermillion, Dragon Warrior

RG 02.14.04: Games 27-25: Super Hydlide, Bard’s Tale, Disgaea

RG 02.21.04:Games 24-22: Phantasy Star 2, Thousand Arms, Rhapsody

RG 02.28.04: Games 21-19: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2, Grandia, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

RG 03.06.04: Games 18-16: Sakura Wars 3, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Segagaga

RG 04.10.04 (a bit long than the fortnight break I planned): Games 15-13: Legend of Mana, Eye of the Beholder, Dark Wizard

RG 04.17.04: Games 12-10: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Revelations Persona: Be Your True Mind, Pokemon RGBY

RG 04.24.04: Games 9-7: Koudelka, Dragon Force, Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention

RG 05.10.04: Game #6: Shadowrun

RG 05.13.04: Game #5: Pokemon G/S/C

RG 05.19.04 Game #4: Sakura Taisen

RG 05.20.04Game #3: Shining Force 2

RG 05.26.04Game #2: Persona 2: Innocent Sin/Eternal Punishement

RG 05.28.04 Game #1: FINAL FANTASY 7 (PARODY)

16 columns in 4 months, not including reviews or mailbags. All on RPG’s. Yeesh.

Right. I’m out. You know my IM, my email, and I’m occasionally on the forums here at 411. You need to find me, you know how.

And no conspiracy theories about how I just happen to be taking off the same time a certain Mr. Hickenbottom is taking off for his wife’s pregnancy or how Bebito left at exactly the same time Big Kev left the WWE. Or anything like that. Because there’s absolutely no way either of us have been working the IWC for about two years now under fake names because it was the only way for either of us to interact with our fan base. No way at all that could be true…