Review: Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume (Nintendo DS)

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Tri-Ace
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 03/16/2009


It’s no surprise to long time readers that I adore the original Valkyrie Profile. It’s my favorite RPG of all time (But not my favorite game – that’s Guardian Heroes) and it’s the recipient of the highest score I’ve ever given a game (back when we did numerical scores…). Sadly the sequel released seven years later was a huge drop in quality and many VP purists considered it an insult to the original game.

Now here we are two and a half years later and the THIRD Valkyrie Profile title has come out. Unlike the previous two, Covenant of the Plume has gone from an odd mix of action and turn based RPG’s to an even odder mix of TACTICAL and Action RPG’s. In fact, you can definitely tell that members of Quest (The development team that gave us Ogre Battle and Ogre Tactics) had some input into this game as there are some very obvious nods to Let Us Cling Together and Knight of Lodis in both story, gameplay and most of all, graphical styling.

On paper, a game that promises to be a mix ofValkyrie Profile and Ogre Tactics would appear to be a shoo-in for a Game Of The Year candidacy. What about the reality? Does Covenant of the Plume mark a return to unparalleled greatness ala the first Valkyrie Profile or has Tri-Ace once again failed to recapture the magic of its greatest creation?

Let’s Review

1. Story

should warn you up front that Covenant of the Plume is a bit pants in regards to the story. There is nowhere near the level of character development one saw in the first Valkyrie Profile, but then no game has ever matched that level of characterization before or since.

Your main character is Wylfred who is a VERY angry emo kid who hates the world and everything in it. In a case of typical “teenager blaming the world for all his problems” Wylfred decides that the root of all his misery is Lenneth (the main character from the first VP) as she is the Valkyrie, who takes dead soldiers to Valhalla to serve as Einherjar in the coming Ragnarok. Wylfred is mad that his father died in battle and that Lenneth took his soul to Valhalla. This is a bit odd as this is a reward, not a punishment and you would think someone raised with NORSE MYTHOLOGY would get that. Then his little sister starves to death…and he blames the Battle Maiden for that as well. This is a bit of a stretch but it furthers the main point of the prologue which is that Wylfred becomes a warrior so he can be strong enough to kill Lenneth. Eventually he and his friend Ancel get in over their heads in terms of violence and Wylfred’s anger and hatred for Lenneth causes Hel, Norse Goddess of the dead to offer Wylfred an EEEEEVIL covenant. Wylfred is given a plume (feather) of the Valkyrie. If he can stain this pure weather black with the sins of his friends and loved ones, along with the blood of his enemies, he will be given the power to fight and destroy Lenneth. Now, again, if you were born and raised where Norse Mythology was real, you would have to be the stupidest person alive to accept this offer. Revenge worth more than the lives of the people you care about that are still breathing? That’s just about at stupid as stupid can get.

So of course Wylfred accepts without hesitation.

The rest of the game is Wylfred and the allies he gathers throughout the course of the game dealing with mortal and immortal intrigue and power plays. None of your allies go beyond two-dimensional caricatures and the villains are even less developed. Wylfred is easily the worst protagonist I’ve ever encountered in a video game and regardless which story path or any of the three endings you receive, he remains utterly irredeemable and a total schmuck. You pretty much want him to fail or die. There is nothing likeable about him whatsoever.

I’m also very disappointed in the plot progression and the three endings. None of the endings are satisfying, nor do any of them feel like a proper end to the adventure. You kind of find yourself sitting there at the end of the game thinking, “Man PLAYING the game was awesome, but the plot sure wasn’t.”

Another aspect of the game that made this the worst story out of all three VP’s was the translation. For some reason, the story was translated with grammatical structure and styling that would be more appropriate in a British Restoration Period poetry/prose class rather than a video game. The game is so laughably bad with the scripted dialogue that you keep hoping that it is this cheesy on purpose. Sadly it’s not. It’s just leaves you groaning or laughing at how dismally written it is.

Yes, the story is nonsensical, poorly translated, and features some of the worst characters in this generation of gaming, but there are a few bright points. First is Hirst. Odin bless her, if she isn’t your favorite character by the end of this game with her fourth wall breaking and sarcastic commentary, then you have no soul. The other is the Seraphic Gate. Yes, this Tri-Ace trademark is back but in a brand new way. If you want to access this awesome option that allows you to play as an actual Valkyrie (As Hirst points out, VP3’s main game might as well have been called MORTAL Profile) and is a return of several familiar faces and enemies. In order to access it though, you’ll need to achieve all three endings. Thankfully Covenant of the Plume is pretty short compared to other tactical RPG’s.

Thankfully, the only truly bad things I can say about Covenant of the Plume are about the story. This is one of the few videos games where I can safely tell you to skip the plot and the game will be better for just having stuck to mindless directionless hack and slash.

Story Rating: Bad

2. Graphics

Covenant of the Plume isn’t the prettiest game on the DS. Heck, it’s not even the prettiest SRPG and that genre of gaming is generally known for not being pretty. A lot of the management screens and battle maps look as if they were ripped from Let Us Cling Together which was originally a SNES game. Yeah, it looks that out of date most of the time.

Thankfully, that is MOST and not ALL. The background and portraits that you see during cut scenes are amazing and look almost as good as those in the original Valkyrie Profile. I was really happy to see the game stick to the same art style .

The other place where the game shines was with the Finishing Strikes. Finishing Strikes are a trademark of the VP franchise and again, although these look nowhere as impressive as the original PSX game, these special blows are a huge jump in graphical quality, even while the enemies receiving them are still looking more than a decade old.

If you’re looking for a tactical RPG that is pretty in both battles and story scenes, you may want to go with Disgaea DS. Covenant of the Plume is a pretty game only during story moments, which is a bit ironic because the story bits are so bad you’ll want to speed through them, thus depriving yourself of gorgeous character art.

At least the game looks like the Ogre Tactics titles but to be honest the GBA Ogre Tactics, The Knight of Lodis was a prettier game than this and that’s both a generation and nearly a decade older. OUCH.

Graphics Rating: Poor

Sound

Sure the story is B-Movie awful and the graphics are several generations behind what the GBA can handle, but you know what? The voice acting and musical score are superb. The soundtrack is befitting for an epic RPG adventure, but it also manages to be a little bit eerie and oft-kilter, which fits the game’s strange theme of, “Selling your soul and killing your friends for cash and prizes.” There aren’t a lot of tracks to VP3, but each one is memorable and it would be great to have a soundtrack for this game.

The voice acting is where this game really shines. The DS rarely has a chance to shine in this category, simply because of the software and hardware limitations. Still, Covenant of the Plume offers a nice range of characters and best of all, accents, to keep your interest in the story going even when the script would otherwise put you off. My favorite character, at least vocally, is only obtainable is Gewndal. Gwendal is given a surly Scottish brogue and it is PERFECT for the character. He makes the Hroethe Walk path worth playing through just to hear his commentary and Finishing Strike, even if it is the “easiest” playthrough of the game.

Sound effects and weapon noises are commonplace and exactly what you would expect. Weapons clank, flames crackle, and crossbows let out a whoosing noise. The sound effects are definitely overshadowed by the vocal ensemble and the excellent soundtrack, but that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked completely.

As great as the audio aspects of VP3 are, they do pale a bit compared to the original PSX game. Of course, that game is widely considered to have one of the best voice acting casts ever, featuring a ton of famous anime actors from series like The Slayers and Pokemon. Yes kids, Lenneth is Nurse Joy. Wrap your heads around that one.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

Covenant of the Plume is a wonderful mix of turn based, action based, and tactical gameplay styles. I never thought all three could be merged into one engine this nicely, but it is in fact so.

The flow goes like this: Story Scene —>Battle–>Shopping/Gossip Opportunity–>Story Scene—>Repeat.

We’ll only be focusing on battle system. Gameplay is done in a tactical manner, meaning that your characters move a certain amount of squares on a grid based playing field. However, unlike most tactical games where turns are based by agility or movement speed or some other quantifier, Covenant of the Plume is Turn Based in that your side goes first and then computer goes. Once the computer has finished its turn a new round starts.

Combat occurs when a character moves close enough to an opposing character and chooses to attack. This is when the game shifts into as close to classic Valkyrie Profile as it gets. Each character that you control (up to four) is assigned a face button for the entire battle. You can press this button between one and three times per combat sequence, depending on how many attacks said character has. If there are other characters close enough to attack with the aggressor, they can join in as well. So if you have one character who is assigned to button A and has three attacks and you have a character assigned to the X button who has one attack, your button sequence might look something like this: AAXA. The nice thing is that once the aggressor’s turn is done, the characters who assisted them still get their turn to attack. If they attack on their turn, any character within range can join in their combat sequence as well, including those who have already used their turns. Use this to your benefit as the computer sure doesn’t.

Each attack adds to the hit meter. If you can max out the meter (at 100) during a combat sequence, any of your characters with a Finishing Strike now get a chance to use it. A Finishing Strike is a stylistic over powered last attack. If the enemy is still alive after this combat sequence, the opponent can get a counter attack. If you get the meter full enough for a Finishing Strike though, the only way it will survive is if it is the boss for that stage…and even then that’s a rarity.

Although the game has lost the level exploration aspects of the previous two games, it has replaced it with a new bonus system called “The Wages of Sin.” Sin is collected by doing more damage than is needed to kill an opponent. The more damage you do, the more sin you collect. If you reach a certain number of Sin Points (The goal varies by level), you get a ton of items at the end of the battle that are usually rare and powerful. Sometimes though, it’s just healing items. The more you exceed your goal, the more items you get.

VP3 has also jettisoned two of my favorite aspects of the original game: The experience chart system and the need to sacrifice certain characters to Valhalla where they can join in the battle of Ragnarok instead of being on your team. This has been replaced with the Destiny Plume. By using the Plume, you permanent remove a character from the game. However, in their last battle their stats are magnified to an amazing degree allowing them to cakewalk through the battle. As well, Wyl then gets a new special ability based on whose soul he offered up to Hel. Also remember that the amount of times you use the Plume affects which storyline you receive, along with the eventual ending.

Although the game has very little to do with the original Valkyrie Profile in story, gameplay and style, the engine and gameplay featured in VP3 is amongst the best I have ever encountered in a Tactical RPG. I would have loved for a few other elements from the original to carry on to CotP, as it feels like the game is just milking the franchise name, but it’s still a fun game in its own right and I love how intricate the battle system is. I’d recommend the game just for the experience of the engine alone.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled

5. Replayability

There are three difficulty settings (Although the game won’t tell you which is which. You have to choose a path and things go from there. This means complete newbies to SRPG’s can get nailed with the Hard setting without knowing it until it is too late. I love this.) and multiple endings (Three “true” endings and a few “game over” options and a set of branching paths that the Japanese had to make a flow chart through just to navigate all the options. How awesome is that?

Although you can only have four characters on your team at one time, you get between one and three new characters per section of the game. You can choose to keep using the same four constantly so that you have a quartet of super powered bad asses, or you can spread the experience and see who is the best of all your possible teammates.

Then after you’ve beaten the game and seen all the endings, you still have to deal with the Seraphic Gate. There is an amazing amount of content and replay value here, even if the main game if quite short for a SRPG. The fact you can replay the game three times in a row without encountering anything being the same save for the first chapter is pretty intense. SRPG and longtime VP fans will be quite happy with what their forty dollars nets them.

Replayability Rating: Great

6. Balance

Covenant of the Plume is wonderfully balanced game. Of course, the kicker is that you have no idea which difficulty level you chose until after the fact, but trust me, the Easy/Normal/Hard is more about the quality of your characters and the amount of enemies you encounter than anything else.

The more you use the Plume, the more you are in for a harder game. The use of the Plume gives you the darker/more depressing storylines and it also eats up your allies which can leave you at a tactical disadvantage, especially if you happen to encounter Lenneth and you have no allies left. Whoops.

For the most part though, the game provides a decent challenge, but nothing frustrating. The key to steamrolling the computer controlled characters is to remember that positioning is key as it nets your characters multiple attacks and to figure out the easiest way to fill the hit count so you can get a Finishing Strike. In fact, the easiest way to get your FS is with Wyl and the first two characters you pick up. Start off with a Fire Storm from the mage, then attack with both of Wyl’s strikes while the opponent is falling back down to earth and finish it off with the archer’s arrow volleys and BAM! You can use Wyl’s finisher. Gewndal can also use a Finishing Strike early on in the game, so make sure he’s in range and you can get both of their FS in, netting you an easy 100 Sin to boot. Considering these are your first four characters, even a beginner to tactical combat can use this pattern to slaughter enemies left and right and get good at VP…on the easiest storyline at least.

Then there’s that Seraphic Gate, which like all versions of the SG in Tri-Ace games, is a cast iron bitch. I love the thing, but it’s really going to test your mettle as a tactical gamer.

In all, Covenant of the Plume offers a nice range of challenges, but once you figure out some key Finishing Strike triggers and how to really (and I mean REALLY) abuse the combat system, you should be able to walk through most of this game without any problems.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

I can honestly say I’ve never played a game like this. At times it feels like Ogre Tactics. At times it feels like Valkyrie Profile, but the entire experience is unlike anything I’ve played before. It’s not as wacky a fusion as say, Sigma Star Saga but it’s still an amazing RPG Hybrid.

I love the button mashing strategic combat that harkens back to the original Valkyrie Profile and anything that reminds me of Knight of Lodis cannot possibly be a bad thing. The story, although hilariously bad and full of logic gaps and plot holes big enough to drive a starship through, is quite unique as well. When the protagonist works for the Norse equivalent of Hades, it’s kind of like a serious version of some Disgaea variant.

Covenant of the Plume is one of those rare games that you have to experience to truly get what an amazing mash-up of styles it is. Yes, some of these characters have been seen before and aspects of the gameplay have been used in other titles, but this is the first game that’s ever combined all these aspects before. Surprisingly it also does an excellent job. A huge step up in originality and innovation from VP2.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

Although the game is quite short for a SRPG, when you first beat the game you think it just FELT like the time flew by because you were sucked into the battles and planning your strategy for say, killing that Lizardman and his pet Fire Bat in chapter three.

This is one of those things where the gameplay and battle system makes you want to keep playing, but the story is so emo that that aspect makes you want to STOP. “Oh no. I killed this poor innocent woman because I HAD to obey orders. Now I’m going to kill myself, or at least try to and fail miserably.” “Oh no, everyone in my family is dead and I’m going to blame a goddess instead of the fact every human in this game is corrupt and severely screwed up. Boo hoo.” Ick.

The gameplay, though. WOW is the gameplay awesome. I love the fact that I have to time my attacks just right to fill up the hit meter. I never get sick of the finishing strikes. The Seraphic gate is just the tactical challenge I’ve been craving for years, and it gives you likeable characters to boot.

If you love SRPG’s, this game will make everything old feel new again. If you’re an action RPG fan, this is going to be yhour best bet on a gateway into this sub-genre.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Tactical RPG’s are generally the least popular sub-genre of electronic role playing games. However, thanks to the name value of the first VP, gamers that would normally eschew this type of gameplay might be tempted to pick this up. Unless of course, they experienced the second, which was not that good.

As VP3 is short, it’s one of those rare RPG’s that works as a portable game that you can play on the metro or on a bus ride. There’s also a built in quicksave that you would think MOST RPG’s for the DS would have, but for some reason don’t. The only downside to this as a portable game is that combat can require precise timing and that if your taxi gets to your destination or recess right during a boss fight, you’re kind of screwed.

I definitely think the average gamer could have a lot of fun with this, especially compared to a normal SRPG or a Real Time Strategy game. Covenant of the Plume is so unique that even if you don’t enjoy the game, you can at least respect the game for its innovation and creativity.

Appeal Factor: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

At forty dollars, Square-Enix is REALLY pushing it in terms of what is acceptable pricing for a new DS game. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed this game, I wouldn’t have paid that much for a DS cart. I’d have waited for the price to drop (After all, it’s not like I don’t have a plethora of other titles to play and review…). The game is quite short, the story is horrible and the game looks like it belongs on the SNES. At the same time the gameplay is wonderful, it features the best Seraphic Gate out of any Tri-Ace game since the first VP, and the audio aspects are some of the best I’ve heard on the DS. At the end of the day I think there are more positives than negatives in Covenant of the Plume but that price tag being five dollars over even premium DS titles like first party Nintendo games and ten dollars over the average DS game is really pushing it, especially with the lack of any extras.

Covenant of the Plume is certainly worth experiencing and owning, but buying it at it currently price will only encourage other publishers to engage in price-gouging as well.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is both an enjoyable Tactical RPG and a worthy successor to the original Valkyrie Profile. Although the game is flawed in both story and visuals and it lacks a lot of what made the original game for the PSX so critically acclaimed, it’s s huge step up fromValkyrie Profile: Silmeria and it boasts one of the most inventive tactical/action rpg engine hybrid’s I’ve ever encountered. In the end, if the engine is more important than the plot, this is a must buy, but if like a lot of RPG fans you are the other way around, then you might want to avoid this.

2 Comments
    • Alex Lucard

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