Publisher: XSeed Games
Developer: K2 LLC
Release Date: April 17, 2007
Have you ever played a game, and even though it is of a completely different genre and on a completely different system, it feels all too similar? Now, have you felt the same phenomenon, only the only the similar parts are the most frustrating aspects of the game? Anyone here who played (and hopefully enjoyed) Izuna for DS, prepare for all the annoyances of that title, only made far worse. Also prepare for a complete lack of everything that made that game fun, and some fatal flaws at the design level. For another comparison, imagine Baldur's Gate with most of the joy sucked out and replaced with an utter lack of play balance, a pathetic control scheme, and a story of lower quality than that of, I dunno, Lumines. "But Lumines has no story," you respond. No story would be an improvement for Valhalla Knights.
At its core, Valhalla Knights is a role-playing game in the classic vein — clear one dungeon, go to the next. The towns are simple and easy to go between, and ultimately, the game is purely linear by design, in spite of the addition of a large number of side-quests. Monsters show up on the map, and combat starts when you bump into one. (The fact that they can chase you if, and only if, they see you ends up feeling eerily similar to a discount Metal Gear.) Combat itself is a real-time scheme that seems designed to balance traditional party-based schemes and more modern real-time methods, as seen in most massively multiplayer online games.
The first problem with Valhalla Knights comes in the combat system's controls, easily among the least intuitive I have ever attempted to figure out. Even with the chart on the screen at all times while in combat, the controls are difficult to comprehend (and made worse by the fact that functions change if you're using other functions). You can partially override the settings; however, doing so only minimally assists in making combat playable, as your motions will not be enough to actually avoid attacks or be of significant use. Field controls, for reference, are mostly fine, but the single camera control button, combined with some rather spotty camera handling outside of combat, may frustrate players not used to Sonic games.
Things get far worse once you've figured out the controls because at this point, you'll quickly figure out that this game's balance is fatally lacking. If your hero is not a Priest, you will be lucky to clear the first run-through of the first dungeon. Fighters and Thieves, on the other hand, are mostly unnecessary if you have a Priest to keep everyone healed (the regular restoration of your MP ensures this). Regardless, monsters will always be far more difficult than they should be. Worse yet, many of the more difficult monsters are worth less EXP than the generic slimes, and other rewards are spotty and unfulfilling. The end result is a play balance that actively seems to hate the player and force him to play along certain courses of action — contrary to the low-storyline, "free" stylation that the game seeks to present.
At least when you die, you only lose half of your gold, but given how preciously rare gold is, this is actually a much larger and more annoying slap than it should be. It can easily force you into a vicious spiral of getting killed trying to recover the lost gold, which is needed to purchase equipment upgrades, which are, in turn, required to progress in the game.
So the gameplay's flawed. How about the story, though? I did, after all, say, "No story would be an improvement for Valhalla Knights", right? Well, the thing is, the story isn't necessarily terrible. It's just boring, with wooden characters and a group of player-characters who are marginally more expressive than Gordon Freeman. The real problem comes from the way the story keeps you going in a linear direction — namely, by locking doors with an "unknown force" that then inexplicably disappears when the creators want you to go through that door. To call this an annoying remnant of the worst old game designs is to give the game credit because even the worst old game designs usually had better ways of handling locks than this. In other words, K2 let the story come before the gameplay. This would be mostly fine if the plot were as compelling to its target audience as, say, .hack or Xenosaga, but as it isn't, this is incredibly aggravating.
If anything positive is to be said about Valhalla Knights, it is the fact that it was, clearly and from the ground up, made for the PSP. The graphics neatly set the PSP to its fullest stride, and while they are certainly not going to best some of the top material on the PS2, let alone the likes of Enchanted Arms, they are legitimately beautiful without using too much processor power. This, in turn, has two excellent benefits. Not only is the game surprisingly light on the PSP's batteries, but the load times are virtually non-existent; only when the game has to generate new models for the PCs will the disc be whirring for more than a second. Character models are neat and change with equipment (though inexplicably, putting on a pair of boots will change the color of your pants), and the sound is perfectly functional with well-crafted, if somewhat generic, music. Graphics fans should find the game surprisingly impressive for its minimalist decor.
In short, Valhalla Knights fails in most significant areas, except for looking pretty and actually being well-coded. If even half of the PSP's games had coding half as optimized for the system as this game, the infamous load time complaints would never be echoed. Sadly, this title lacks the quality of vision and playability of most PSP offerings, and it shows when you try to give the game any serious amount of play. I honestly hope that K2 tries their hands at a PSP RPG like this again, but for now, I cannot recommend Valhalla Knights to anyone except for graphics fanatics looking for some PSP prettiness.
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