Review: Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga (Nintendo Wii)

Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: K2
Genre Action RPG
Release Date: 10/01/2009

Since the release date of the Nintendo Wii, I’ve hungered for a quality RPG. So far we’ve had mediocre experiences like Baroque and Dragon Quest Swords but nothing truly great. The best the system has to offer are Pokemon Battle Revolution, which is just Pokemon battling and no actual role-playing per say, but you get neat stuff for your DS games, and Phantom Brave: We Meet Again, which while good, is a re-make of an old PS2 game from five years ago. If you needed another RPG to complete the triad, I suppose you could go with Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World.

So of course when Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga was announced I jumped on it. Now I knew that the first two games in the series, which were PSP games were critically panned, but obviously XSEED sold enough of them to localize the third one. Due to my ever-growing need for a solid RPG on Nintendo’s breeding ground for mini-games and exercise snake oil, I picked this up and spent an abnormal amount of time with it hoping that this would finally be the quality RPG that both I and the Wii needed.

Was it?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The great thing about Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is that it’s actually two games in one. You can pick either episode from the very beginning, but you really should play them in order. Doing this not only gives you a complete story, but it will let you play as demihumans (Dwarves, Elves, Halflings) in Episode II. If you try playing Episode II first, you’ll only be able to make Human characters. Demihumans get more stat points, so you’ll have an easier go of it by playing the episodes chronologically.

Both games make you play as the prototypical silent protagonist of the 8 and 16 bit eras. In fact, VK:ES is very much a throwback to the olden days of JRPG’s. There is no real character development, especially for your protagonists, NPC’s are static and will always be in the same spot in the same village. They will always say the same one or two sentences each time (although this can change as you progress through the plot) and the overall plot for each episode is amazingly shallow. If you’re looking for a gripping well told fantasy tale, this certainly isn’t the game for you. If you’re looking for just enough plot to give you your reason d’etre for hacking your way through a game, then this will as least give you that bare minimum to persevere.

The first episode’s tale is that you are a run of the mill guy in a small town that occasionally goes on adventures (even though you’re only level one…). You’ll will be approached by the butler of a rich mage who lives outside of town to assist him with a quest. This quest is to recover five pieces of concentrated evil known as star fragments. This powerful young mage believes these fragments are what cause war and strife in the world (along with monsters) and he wants you to go out and get them. If you’re wondering why the mage doesn’t do it himself, it’s because he’s a paraplegic in a wheelchair being all emo because no one will want to make babies with him now. No really, that’s why.

So you set out on your quest to retrieve the fragments and along the way, you’ll have to enter Demihuman Kingdoms that are currently very anti-human. You’ll retrieve fragments and form alliances between the human kingdom and the demihumans while making new friends and whooing one of four potential love interests, giving this game a bit of a Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom feel. Once you pick the woman you’ll marry, the child of this union becomes the star of Episode II. Personally, I went with the Elf girl as the human was vapid and annoying and who wants to get it on with a Dwarf or Halfling? Ew.

The plot is pretty shallow and predictable and you’ll see the would-be shocker coming by the time you have collected the second star fragment. The second episode is a little better in terms of character development and overall story progression, but not by much. Both games feature plots that are extremely generic and feel like they were written via Dungeons and Dragons Mad Libs. What’s here is certainly livable, especially because you’re getting two games for the price of one, but both would have been considered merely average tales even back in the days when consoles used cartridges. A little more substance could have really helped here. Some better localization and sdialogue scripting could have achieved the same effect. Instead what you get is one disc with two slightly dull but long plots.

Story Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

My god, is this one of the ugliest games to ever grace my Wii. I say that having experienced a lot of horrible shovelware Wii titles ranging from Escape From Bug Island on down. There is little to no detail with any of the backgrounds. It’s generally amorphous blobs with very little if any texturing or even variation. Everything is rendered in muddled dull colours and often times things blend into one another. A great example of how ugly this game comes when night falls on your little adventure. The entire background becomes one black blob save for what is directly in front of you. Even then, there are times when you’ll be surrounded by jaggie blackness. A similar example comes when it rains in this game. This is one of the worst effects I have seen in a next-gen game, and this wouldn’t even pass in a PS2 or even a PS1 game. The game’s visuals get comically bad when it’s night and raining at the same time. Things like these issues wouldn’t pass muster on an early PS2 title or even a PSX game. I’m shocked K2 actually let this thing go out like this because I can think of Zoo titles that provide better backgrounds and more detailed environments than this thing.

Enemies are a little better, but not by much. There isn’t a lot of variety to the enemies you’ll encounter in either episode and they all lack any real detail. Many of them are the same two (or three if you’re lucky) hues of colours unless they are a boss, and as they respawn in a never-ending manner similar to Evil Dead: Hail To The King, you will quickly get sick of having to kill the same exact creatures without a respite. It’d be one thing if the enemies were imaginative or had any sort of real design to them, but again, we’re talking visual that would have been considered outdated nearly a decade ago in a game selling at full price.

Character designs are about as good as the game gets, but again I could pull out something like Koudelka for the PSX that came out in the Summer of 2000 and they look better than what’s here. Many of the NPC’s you’ll see in town have some variation to them, but not much. Even weirder, none of them move out of their assigned spot which really breaks the suspension of disbelief. Those that are animated (which is rare) do the same back and forth movement over again. Again, I can think of 8 and 16 bit games where random (or at least random looking) movements occurred in villagers. Not so here. You’ll be able to talk to characters, but when you get close ups of the facial features you’ll definitely feel that the poorly rendered visuals you see before you were a Computer Science Major’s final project rather than a professionally made product.

In all, everything about the visuals in Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga are, at best, underwhelming. Backgrounds, enemies and character designs are ghastly and at times it’s impossible to make out the visuals on your screen due to shoddy rendering. When I have to fight three oddly animated things that look like cockroach men superimposed on a solid greyish-black screen and I know it’s supposed to be three human robbers fighting me in the mountains at night during a rainstorm, there’s something that has gone horribly, horribly awry.

Graphics Rating: Worthless

3. Sound

I really enjoyed the full high fantasy soundtrack to Eldar Saga. None of the tracks stuck in my head or are ones I’d download to listen to outside of the game, but they were all nicely done and fit the theme of the game. The music is actually one of the best things in the game, such as that left handed compliment is…

Then there’s voice acting, which is on the exact opposite side of the spectrum. See, the voice acting is generally just screams. This holds true for every character in the game. For your main character you get to choose from a set of grunts, groans and shrieks that you will hear endlessly whenever your character swings a weapon or gets hit by an attack. Enemies only have one specific set of noises per type, and because there aren’t a lot of enemy types in the game, you will hear these noises almost as often as your own. These will grate on you before you’re even to the first demihuman village in the game (Dwarves) and it will steadily go down from there.

Sound effects are merely average. There’s a lot of repetition and way too many things sound alike, but none of it sounds as bad as the “voice acting.”

It’s too bad VK:ES couldn’t keep up the same level of quality in this category as they had with the score as the horrible character/monster noises really dragged this down.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

Like most Wii games where there are an overabundance of commands, you are given two control scheme options. The first involves a Wiimote and nunchuk combo, while the other uses the Classic Controller. I’m going to warn you right now to use the Classic Controller ONLY as it’s thoroughly annoying to use the D-Pad in the Wiimote with this game. Besides, the only action that actually takes advantage of the Wiimote’s motion sensing is your special attack which is triggered by swinging the Wiimote. The Classic Controller feels better in your hands and when you’re being gang raped by a collection of enemies, you’ll find this allows for faster and more precise attacks.

That being said, every single button or direction of the D-Pad is mapped out in someway and you need to memorize all 14 different commands immediately or you will die horribly. This is a bad thing as when you die, you lose your money and a portion of the items you have collected. Because areas in the outer world are VAST and save spaces are rare, this means you’re going to have to do a lot of grinding in order to survive. Of course, with the game being dull and ugly already, the fact the game practically forces you to grind makes it all the worse.

Combat is fairly easy. You have a button for quick attacks, a button for slow but powerful attacks and, once your meter is filled, a super power combo attack can be triggered by using either two buttons on the classic controller pressed simultaneously or by wagging the wiimote. However, the slow but powerful attack is often as fast or only a fraction slower than the slow attack so you’ll tend to use that more often than not.

It can be REALLY hard to aim in this game (especially with a bow which requires slow and precise manual aiming each time you use it instead of the hack n’ slashery of all the other weapons in the game), but thankfully there’s is a lock on button that allows you to home in on your opponent. The downside to this is that when you use it, your movement speed drops to a fifth what it normally is, which wasn’t very fast in the first place, and you are stuck with a very specific camera angle which is generally detrimental, especially when there are multiple monsters attacking you from the sky. Of course it also doesn’t help when monsters are the same colour as the background and both are a grey blur, meaning you have to use the badly rendered map in the upper right hand corner to find them or else just wait for them to run at you or fire a distance attack.

Another issue is that for all the skills one can learn in the game, you can only have two active skills used at once. These are controlled by the + and – signs on your controller. These skills, which either use Magic Points or Tech Points depending on your class are generally pretty powerful though, but it’s a shame you couldn’t use four or so at a time considering how many options there are.

Now, although the controls are a bit wonky compared to numerous other action RPG’s, the customization of this game is amazing. I haven’t seen a game this intense with customization since Koudelka for the PSX. At the beginning of the game you pick your class and then you have a select number of points to distribute to your stats. My main character in Episode I was a human cleric, so you would assume I would spend a lot of points into those that reflect magical attack and defense? Well, I did max out the first level possibility for Magical attack (Intelligence) but then I decided to also max out my Strength for physical attacks and physical defense. This is because you don’t encounter magic until much later on in the game and as my Cleric couldn’t even use magic until level two, I wanted to survive having to be a melee character for a few levels. I also started off with a fire rod which used magical attack instead of physical, so now I had both of those maxed out (for a level one character) and equipped one in each hand, letting me do double damage – half in melee and half in magic. That’s pretty sweet.

As you go up in level you gain more skills points. At first it’s only one per level, but then it increases to two per level and so on. Again, using my Cleric as the example, I would generally enhance my Strength and Intelligence on one level and then my speed and accuracy the next. Occasionally I would up my physical and magical defenses and never once did I bother with luck. Luck is primarily to prevent status ailments but as a Cleric I didn’t need to worry about those since well, I could heal those. Eventually what I had made was a fast brawler that could beat down enemies in melee combat but that could also heal itself for an amazing amount of damage with little magic points expended due to my high intelligence. Being a Cleric gave me healing spells so I didn’t have to worry about expending as many stat points into being defensive. This let my character dominate for much of the game as I didn’t make the mistake of trying to balance stats out. In a heavily customizable game like this, Koudelka or Devil Survivor, one of the big mistakes gamers make is the attempt to balance your stats so everything is pretty equal. Doing that leads to you being sub-par in all abilities instead of overpowered in one to three areas. With a fighter in this game, you already get a lot of hit points and can do a lot of damage as you have access to the best weapons and armour. You also don’t need intelligence since you’re not using magic. With this in mind, don’t devote points to it (or luck. It’s fairly worthless) and just concentrate on magical defense, melee defense, accuracy, strength, and speed. In fact, because you have access to such powerful items, you might even be able to concentrate less on strength and melee defense because you have that in your favour due to class type! Build up your magical defense (the class’s usual weakness) to remove your Achilles Heel and accuracy to ensure your blows always hit.

Skills are the same way. You’ll start off with one to three skills that you can access from level two on. Again, using my Cleric as an example I could devote points to my blunt weapon skill, to my healing spell, and to a spell that raises all my physical stats. Again, if you try to disperse these equally, you won’t get anywhere. Pumping a skill full of points inevitably leads to opening up a new skill for your character. With three points into healing (Aid), I unlocked Parallel Aid which heals both you and your partner. Two points further in I unlocked Ray, which is a powerful Void based magic attack. Now if I had spread my points out equally between those three basic attacks, I wouldn’t have had Ray until level nine or so, and Parallel Aiduntil level fifteen! Trust me when I say that you have to be a really good stats fiend to truly maximize your character’s potential in this game. Although this is an action RPG, long time SRPG games will actually get the most out of this when it comes to character building. This especially holds true for Disgaea veterans. This game was made for them!

Although I really do feel the overall control scheme could have used some tweaking, it is a pretty solid game in that respect. The character customization process is what will make or break the game for you and also determine how much of a cakewalk or nightmare getting through everything will be.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability

With two different episodes contained on this one disc, you’re getting a pretty good value for your buck. This just keeps growing with the ability to choose four different classes that you can customize however you want. This means even though the game is really linear, that by picking a different class, or choosing the same class and just picking different skills or attributes to raise can make the game feel quite differently. In Episode One you can also marry one of four different girls, giving you a bit of a difference with your end game, but also drastically affecting Episode Two.

In Episode Two, you will have access to three other races if you played Episode One first, which gives you drastically different stats. You can also choose to play as a girl instead of a guy and even find and unlock new super special classes to play as.

In short, Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga offers a lot of replayability. It just depends on if you can stomach the slow progress and the exceptionally dull storyline.

Replayability Rating: Classic

6. Balance

Balance is a tricky topic with this particular game. After all, how you build your character determines how hard it will be. If you make the mistake of constantly switching classes or pumping the wrong abilities and skills, you’re in for a game that is grueling as it is boring. What class you pick actually determines a lot too. A well made fighter or cleric will coast through the game while a thief or mage will still have a bit of a time getting through the game. It gets tricker with some of the extra classes you find in Episode Two. The Archer requires a good deal of skill so it’s probably not for everyone.

When it comes to your computer controlled opponents, there’s really not much there. A.I. is almost non-existent. They don’t even acknowledge your existence unless you come within a certain range of them and then they just make a beeline for you with the same one or two attacks. Sneaking isn’t an option either as even if you try hiding or moving slowly, if you’re within that assigned radius, they will know you are there. Battles require little to no strategy and the only real time you’ll have a problem is if you are attacked by a lot of enemies at once, or if you are plagued by the respawning issues that can come with being lost. Again, this is why I suggest a beefy cleric to everyone. That way you can heal in an emergency.

Besides the computer being fairly dim, it’s very easy to recharge yourself. Just standing around will bring your characters back to full health and magic. It can be a bit on the slow side, but you can do this after every battle. Just fight and go to the bathroom or check your Facebook and when you get back, your character will be healed up. It’s kind of sad it’s that easy and it’s partly why I stopped putting points into healing after I had unlocked all the skills that came from that. With a Cleric, you can just heal after a big battle and then you’ll only be waiting on your Magic Points to recharge. This is simplicity itself and again, this shows you how wildly unbalanced the game can be for (or against) you, depending on how you build a character.

Overall, this gets a thumb in the middle. The computer’s just too easy and the battles are as dull as the rest of the game. Even with a poorly made character, the only real challenge comes when you get too stupid to remember you can regenerate.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

There’s nothing really original here. In fact, everything here reeks of a lack of imagination. Your character has no personality and neither do 75-85% of the NPC’s you’ll encounter. Enemies are lackluster and have little to them. Nearly everything in the game is just there for you to kill. The scripting is painfully at times and everything is so telegraphed there are no surprises or character development. Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is the very epitome of a generic JRPG with nothing that really makes it stand out at all. Even the customization process, which I loved, can be found in dozens of other games, all of which are a better overall experience.

This is generic as all get out, and that’s being kind.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

8. Addictiveness

The only thing that kept me playing was my desire to fool around with the customization process and develop a skill/stats chart for the best possible character for each class. Yeah, I play a lot of SRPG’s and tactical games. Can you tell?

I was really bored with this game otherwise. The dialogue/script for this game was badly translated so every character comes across wooden or slightly retarded. The vast majority of the game is wandering around large areas to get an item or kill a number of enemies and then go back. That’s not all of the quests. Several of them, especially in Episode Two can be really fun, but I’m pretty JRPG friendly and I had to force myself to play through this game mainly because I wanted to believe it would get better!

This is a game for the RPG starved due to the outright lack of them on the Wii. It’s not that the game is bad. It’s just so generic that those of you with any other system besides the Wii can do better and will find this boring by comparison.

Addictiveness Rating: Poor

9. Appeal Factor

Well, as we’ve noted several times in this review, the Wii really doesn’t give you a lot of options for quality RPG’ing unless you count the awesome selection on the Virtual Console. I can safely say that out of all the RPG’s I’ve played on the Wii, this has easily been my least favourite. Again, it’s not that the game is truly awful, but it really is an exercise in mediocrity.

If you’re looking for a straight up JRPG, Tales of Symphonia will you give you a far better story and it’s still along the same action RPG lines as this game. Phantom Brave gives you more strategy and tactics and the list goes on.

Again, this is really for the RPG starved, which sadly, most Wii owners fall under. If you can live with an amazing amount of repetition, some god awful visuals and a pretty poorly written set of episodes, than you’ll be able to stomach this experience. Otherwise, look elsewhere. Tales of Symphonia is currently under $30 on Amazon for example…

Appeal Factor: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

I’m really glad XSEED released this at a budget price. If this had been $50, I’d have been a lot meaner.

What Eldar Saga lacks in visuals, sound, and originality, it does make up for with a staggering amount of customization and character building. Again, it’s too bad such a wonderful system is dragged down by some truly horrible ideas, dialogue and visuals. I will give it props for implementing a way to play with a friend online, but really, did it need to involve friends codes? I know of two other people with this game and one of which hated this game where I’m merely annoyed by it. This is more a Wii issue than a K2 issue though.

At the end of the day, Eldar Saga is only going to be worth buying if you’re a fan of the first two games on the series or you’re desperate for an RPG. God knows I fell into the later category and I still walked away unimpressed though.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story: Decent
Graphics: Worthless
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is definitely not a game for most people. It easily sports the worst graphics of this console generation and the game is the personification of generic. The dialogue and plots of both adventures are horrible and everything is telegraphed from several miles away. The only really rewarding experience is the awesome character customization option that allows for a great deal of replayability if you can stomach a second (or more) playthrough through either episode. The game gets a thumbs in the middle because it’s not truly offensive; it’s simply dull and forgettable. It also doesn’t hurt that you get the equivalent of two games for a budget price. Still, even with the all too limited RPG selection for the Wii, there are far better options for your gaming dollar to be spent on than this one.

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