Developer: Marvelous Entertainment / K2
Release Date: October 1, 2008
Oftentimes when it comes to gaming, you have to be careful what you wish for, lest you get it and then realize just how wrong you are about what makes a great game. For a while, I've lamented the fact that most RPGs seem to be getting so easy that there's no incentive for old-fashioned level grinding anymore. I've also found that as much as modern games tout the ability to customize characters, this customization is often limited to little more than assigning skill points and divvying up equipment to already established character archetypes. I thought I wanted a game that left me free to create a party in whatever way I saw fit and forced me to work hard for progress, but then I played Valhalla Knights 2 and discovered just how wrong I was.
The game's premise revolves around a goddess who descended to the planet a thousand years ago. Instead of bringing blessings and peace, however, she wrought destruction across the land and turned people and animals into hostiae, malicious creatures who exist only to hunt and kill. The Witch of the Crystal did battle with the goddess, and while she was unable to kill the immortal being, the goddess was injured in the battle and forced to ascend once again and leave the people in relative peace. In the interceding millennium, a group of soldiers known as the Royal Order of the Lactroni has sprung up with the stated purpose of destroying the goddess and ending the hostiae infestation once and for all. It is that royal order of knights that players join in order to set out on their mission.
All this is explained in Valhalla Knights 2's opening moments, setting the stage for what should be an exciting adventure. Things immediately fall apart as the story stalls and players are left with little motivation to continue along the path set out by the game. Apparently, while the Royal Lactroni are the sworn enemies of the goddess, they are also the imperial errand boys, tackling any request from the public, no matter how trivial. You would expect missions to consist of things like trying to discover the goddess' location, as well as what weapons or items would be necessary to defeat her. Instead, players are tasked with finding lost watches or tracking down puppies that have wandered away. Sadly, nearly the entire game is composed of that most hated of RPG clichés, the fetch quest.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Valhalla Knights 2 is essentially one long dungeon, with no way to quickly travel from point to point. That means that every time you accept a mission at the local guild, you must slog through every screen thereafter in order to reach your objective. Every. Single. Time. Need to get to a dungeon 30 screens away in order to tackle an objective? Well in that case, you'll be wading through the same sea of enemies you've had to traverse every other time you went through just to finally arrive at your destination, let alone complete your quest.
Even better, there are no save points at all in the dungeons, so if you die, you're transported back to the inn … at the very beginning of the game. Yep, if you should die in Valhalla Knights 2, you're sent right back to the start, stripped of half your gold and forced to take the long march back to whatever area it was that killed you. Once you've finished your task, you'll have to get back to the guild in order to report your progress, forcing you to trudge back through all the respawned enemies as you limp home. Honestly, in most cases, it's better to just die and let yourself be instantly teleported back and take the gold hit just so you don't have to suffer the boredom of retracing your steps yet again. How this utterly stupid level design ever made it through into the finished product, I can't even begin to understand, but it makes me really wonder about the viability of the QA process.
While the exploration aspect of Valhalla Knights 2 is slow and arduous, the combat side of things is fast, frantic and oftentimes frustrating. All fights are conducted in real time, and most are over so quickly that you might not even have time to input a single command. Starting out, the game is mercilessly difficult, throwing your one character against hordes of enemies in maliciously one-sided battles. Thankfully, you can easily even the score by hiring your own party members and crafting your team in any way you see fit.
When you start the game, you are given the opportunity to select one of several races, each with specific strengths, as well as a job class for that character. These are fairly typical RPG fare, with players being able to stick with the orthodoxy and create Dwarf warriors or Elvin priests, but you can also mix things up and create an Elvin monk or a Halfling knight.
The interesting thing is that this creation system becomes available every time you recruit a new ally, so you can essentially build your own dream team. If you want six strong dwarves to be able to swarm all over enemies and kill them before they can attack, then that's possible. If you prefer a team of all mages doing magical damage, that's fine too. Furthermore, you can change job classes at any time, so if you don't like how your team is fighting or if you want them to learn some new skills, you can jump over to another class whenever you feel like it.
The biggest downsides to this system are that it can be very hard to bring in new characters late in the game, and it kills any excitement you may feel about gaining a new ally during the course of your adventure. Since stats are tied to job classes, anytime a new party member enters (or an existing member changes jobs), you are set back to level 1, meaning that the character is woefully unprepared to take on late-stage baddies. In this event, you'll have to spend more time traipsing through the lower-level dungeons in order to get your slacker character up to snuff. Also, since each job class levels up independently, trying to create a well-rounded character is next to impossible, considering the time commitment necessary. While there's something to be said for giving gamers the freedom to create a party of characters they can use in any way they see fit, there is such a thing as too much choice, and refusing to provide players with any direction whatsoever backfires pretty badly.
The graphics don't do the game any favors either, as Valhalla Knights 2 isn't very visually appealing. Everything is done in brown and gray, and character animations are laughably bad. For instance, each character is given one "idle" animation and absolutely zero ability to represent any kind of emotional response to a situation. While my dwarf character will stand around, scratch his butt and then sniff his hand when he's bored and I'm not moving him around, he'll do the same thing during very serious conversations about the danger facing the people of this world. I'll admit I don't know much about Dwarven culture, but I must assume that scratching one's rump isn't exactly their way of saying, "I am hanging on your every word and taking this in as vital information to my continued survival."
There are a lot of other little things that just make Valhalla Knights 2 an overall miserable experience. Nearly every item you find on the game map has to be brought back to the guild and appraised (at a cost of 100 gold a pop) before it can be used, and there's no reliable way to revive dead party members in the field, so you have to drag their carcasses all the way back to the church at the beginning of the game to revive them (that also costs gold, of course). This is the type of game that will only appeal to RPG gamers who absolutely love level grinding and keeping track of dozens of stats, most of which mean next to nothing when it comes to gameplay. With a story that is horribly paced, combat that is over so quickly that spells are rendered nearly worthless and visual quality that is woefully out of date for this day and age, Valhalla Knights 2 is easily one of the most skippable games of the year.
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