Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: September 26, 2006
For years, the original Valkyrie Profile was a forgotten gem. The PlayStation release saw an extremely limited print run at the end of the console's original life cycle. By the time word spread, the game was already incredibly rare, and its value among collectors was matched only by Konami's equally rare (and equally excellent) Suikoden 2. Prices on eBay reached well over $150 for a sealed copy, and as a result, very few people had a chance to play the game. Luckily for fans of rare games, Tri-Ace and Square Enix revived this almost-forgotten series from the grave for a new generation with Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria.
Set in the world of Norse Mythology, Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria tells the story of Princess Alicia of the city of Dipan and the renegade Valkyrie, Silmeria. After defying Odin, lord of the gods, Silmeria was banished to the mortal realm, to be sealed in the body of a human for her transgressions. A flaw in the sealing process, however, meant that Silmeria awoke inside the human body, that of Alicia, the princess of Dipan. Because of Silmeria's presence inside of her mind, Alicia was judged insane by her father and sent away from Dipan in disgrace. When Odin discovered that Silmeria was awake inside of Alicia, he sent Silmeria's sister Valkyrie, Hrist, to eliminate Alicia and bring Silmeria back to Valhalla. In order to survive the attacks of god and mortal, Silmeria and Alicia must work together to find a way to save both of their lives.
Before I get deeper into the review, a warning: Although Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria is technically a prequel, set hundreds of years before the story of the original, it nonetheless assumes familiarity with the world setting established in Valkyrie Profile. Returning elements from Valkyrie Profile receive only the barest of introductions, and those who never played the previous title will find the plot difficult to follow at times. Thankfully, since the original Valkyrie Profile is so rare, Square Enix and Tri-Ace have released an upgraded port for the PSP under the name Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. Anyone who hasn't played the original Valkyrie Profile is advised to pick this up. It isn't required, but it will make the game experience quite a bit sweeter.
Fans of Lenneth may be disappointed to find out that Silmeria's plot is more straightforward. Rather then the time-based, free-roaming atmosphere of Lenneth, Silmeria follows a more classic RPG format, traveling from town to town as the storyline advances. The Divine Materialization and Rest features have been replaced by the more familiar shops and inns. While this may disappoint some die-hard fans, it makes the process a bit friendlier for more casual gamers and allows for new concepts.
While the inns in Silmeria are the classic type found in RPGs everywhere, shops and equipment are a bit different. A good number of items can be normally purchased in stores, but most must be created through the Valued Customer system. By collecting items and selling them to a shop, the player can then buy new rare equipment. While you can get through the game without buying even one of these Valued Customer items, their power can make a lot of the rougher segments go by a lot smoother, and certain runes can only be found on these pieces of equipment.
Most equipment in the game has a rune and a color. Equipping items of the same color increases their abilities, and certain combinations of colors and runes give the bearer the ability to learn skills. As long as that character has that specific combination equipped, they gain experience towards that skill. When it maxes out, the character learns that skill and can equip it, granting them many kinds of new abilities. Skills can vary from a simple increase in attacking power to the ability to a force field that stops damage. More powerful skills require rarer runes, and many can't be found outside of the game's hidden dungeons. Be warned that unequipping the skill combination before the skill is learned causes it to be destroyed, so players must decide if learning a skill is worth keeping weaker equipment.
The Einherjar from Lenneth make a return as well, although significantly changed from the previous iteration. Einherjar are heroes who died and were taken by a Valkyrie to become warriors of the gods. While Lenneth's game revolved around taking the souls of the dying, Silmeria already has these departed warriors inside of her. In order to free them from their confinement, she must find a weapon they used in life. Every time the player finds one of these weapons, Silmeria releases another Einherjar from inside her. Unfortunately, since these Einherjar died long ago, you don't get to see their story as you did in Lenneth; they just join you with a simple quote. While you can read their backstory in the status screen, it's a poor substitution for the tragic scenes from Lenneth and as a result, the Einherjar feel bland when compared to the living characters involved in the plot.
Once an Einherjar has joined your party, they can aid Alicia in combat. Each Einherjar has its own unique starting attacks and abilities, and some are more combat-capable than others, but using every Einherjar is to your advantage. Once an Einherjar has reached a certain level, Silmeria can release them, returning the Einherjar to life. As a reward, the Einherjar gifts the player with incredibly powerful items and large cash rewards. However, releasing all your Einherjar can hurt you later on, when capable warriors are few and far between. The game gives little warning about this, which means a player can be left with only Alicia for a few rough battles. It's unlikely to happen due to the pure effort needed to power-level that many Einherjar, but it's an unfortunate possibility, and players should be cautious.
Dungeons in Silmeria are quite unlike those found in any other RPG, resembling a 2-D platforming game more than anything else. Alicia is capable of jumping across gaps and using her sword to break down walls or start combat with enemies who wander the map. The most unique power she has is the ability to shoot photons. Powerful blasts of spiritual light that are capable of bouncing off walls and ceilings, photons have the ability to temporarily freeze enemies in a golden crystal. Hitting a frozen enemy with a second photon causes Alicia and the enemy to switch places, and setting up these teleports is the solution to most of the game's puzzles. While it can be annoying to set up teleports sometimes, most of the puzzles are fun and interesting enough to prevent the player from getting angry.
Another aspect that makes Silmeria's dungeons more interesting than its predecessor's is the introduction of Sealstones, which are magical stones that grant a unique abnormal status to whoever holds them. By placing them on the dais inside dungeons, that effect can be transferred to all enemies within a certain area. The Sealstone effects range from the simple, such as Attack +20% or "No Guarding" to the more unique, like "Photon Reflect x20" or "Extra Mass." Each Sealstone is linked to the dungeon in which it is found, but by paying a cost of Crystals, the player can take favorite stones to other dungeons.
As mentioned above, enemies wander the dungeon as indistinct shadows, and striking one of them with Alicia's sword bring you into battle. Silmeria's combat system is incredibly fun and unexpectedly deep. Once you've entered a battle, the game switches from side-scrolling to full 3-D movement, and the player's characters move across the large battlefields at will. Fortunately, while your party moves in real-time, Silmeria's enemies only move when your characters move, so combat almost feels turn-based, giving you more time to plan out your next movement than true action-based combat systems like those found in Star Ocean or Radiata Stories. Almost every action in combat is governed by your party's Action Points, or AP bar. Starting at 100 points, it drops when you do anything but move and replenishes as you move, kill an enemy, or get attacked. Since you can't do anything without AP, careful conservation is the only way to avoid being crushed by some of the later enemies.
Once you've moved in range of an enemy, you can start to attack. Like the original Valkyrie Profile's battle system, each character is mapped to a specific face button. Pressing a button causes the respective character to attack and careful timing lets you combo the attacks together. Strong combos can both break the enemy's guard and allow your characters to unleash special Soul Crush attacks for massive damage. Each attack has a different cost and attribute; some are better at pure damage, while others can cause status effects, knock enemies into the air, or break specific enemy body parts.
That's right, the enemies in Silmeria are made up of specific body parts. Different attacks hit different body parts, and repeated attacks can actually sever those body parts. For example, cutting off a giant crab's claws can eliminate some of his stronger attacks and lower his defense. Each body part also holds a specific item, and many of those items can be used to craft powerful new armor and weapons at shops. On top of that, one enemy in every battle is designated as the "leader," and defeating that foe wins the battle automatically. Defeat the leader fast enough and you even get a special item, but at the cost of losing whatever items the other enemies would drop. This can actually be a bit frustrating in the early stages, as destroying specific enemy body parts can be difficult without specific attacks, but as the game advances and your party learns new and more powerful skills, it becomes a great deal easier.
While your characters have a set circular attack radius, enemies' attack range varies heavily. Some attacks hit only in front of the enemy, while others can hit your party from across the map, or in an area around the enemy. Since many of these attacks are very powerful, avoiding them is the only way to prevent your party from meeting a grisly fate, especially in the boss battles. Besides regular movement, your party can dash, which allows them to jump a short distance forward, avoiding enemy attacks and preventing the enemy from moving, but at a hefty AP cost. All these elements combine to give Silmeria a surprisingly intense combat system, where even random battles can be unexpectedly challenging, and thus preventing Silmeria's frequent fighting from growing dull.
For a PlayStation 2 title, Silmeria looks incredible. From the simple lakeside town of Solde to the hallowed halls of Asgard, every area has its own unique look and design. The backgrounds are full of detail and depth, making the 2-D world feel so much bigger. The character models are beautifully animated and meticulous, with flowing hair and clothes adding a great sense of realism. The only aspect of character animation that is off is the lip sync, which doesn't match the voices at all and is quite distracting during close-up scenes. It's overall a minor complaint, only made more noticeable by the high quality of the rest of the graphics.
The game's audio is of a similarly high quality. While a few of the Einherjar share voice clips, all of the important characters have distinct and well-acted voices. The music is memorable and excellent, dramatic and beautiful, every song matching its location or scene wonderfully. Even better, once you've beaten the game, you can unlock new battle songs for a replay, including the original Valkyrie Profile's battle music. It's a game for which I'm actually looking forward to the soundtrack.
Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria is a long title. The main story will probably take you 30 hours or so the first time, and it features a lot of hidden dungeons, including the return of the Seraphic Gate, a post-game dungeon that is many times harder than anything else in Silmeria. Defeating it and starting a New Game + starts you back at level 1, but all the enemies have gotten a stat boost, and this difficulty increase stacks each time you beat the game. Since it's already reasonable tough the first time through, fans of difficult games will look forward to this escalating difficulty, giving the title a solid amount of replay value. For those who are just interested in the plot, the Seraphic Gate includes a bunch of amusing in-jokes and hidden characters as well.
It's been a long time since I enjoyed an RPG as much as Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria. The unique battle system, exciting dungeons and interesting plot keep the game moving along at a quick clip, and 30 hours will almost seem too short. The beautiful graphics are a great sendoff for the aging PlayStation 2, and should have players drooling over the possibility what Tri-Ace will be able to do on their first next-generation title, Infinite Undiscovery for the Xbox 360. The only thing holding back this game from being a must-own for everyone is the confusing plot, but even then, players should be able to enjoy this title for its fantastic gameplay and amazing music. Silmeria should be a welcome addition to any RPG gamer's collection.