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December 2022

Valkyrie Elysium

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Soleil Ltd.
Release Date: Sept. 29, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Valkyrie Elysium'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 30, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Valkyrie Elysium is an action/RPG that draws on the richness of Norse mythology to present an original story set in a world on the brink of destruction, full of danger and fast-paced combat.

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Valkyrie Elysium opens during Ragnarök. Odin and Fenrir have had their fateful battle, but rather then ending in death, it left both combatants seriously injured. Odin has retreated to Asgard to recover. His only ally is the Valkyrie, a newly born god who Odin commands to go to Earth and purify the souls of the restless undead, allowing him the chance to heal and regain his power. Valkyrie sets out on her quest, but she quickly realizes that everything isn't quite what it seems.

Valkyrie Elysium's plot is effectively the same story as the original Valkyrie Profile if you remove every single element of the game except its bare-bones Wikipedia description. There are only a handful of characters, and most have little to no personality. It even has almost the same ending as the original game! It's impossible to not compare them, and Elysium is the same title but less interesting in every way.

Since it is set in an effectively dead world, there's no real life, either. One of the most appealing aspects of the first three games was that they involve gods and the mortal worlds crossing over, but each was distinct. Here, you get some vague text descriptions of things that occurred. There are no memorable foils like Lezard or Brahms. The closest you get to a memorable personality is Hilde the evil Valkyrie, and she is mostly defined by refusing to say a single clarifying thing.

It's difficult for me to judge the plot on its own merits, but those who aren't fond of Valkyrie Profile will find the plot to be rather thin. The cast being trimmed down to the bare minimum makes it feel like it is missing something. The Einherjar have interesting backstories, but by the time you get to them, they're already long past their story.

In a departure for the franchise, Valkyrie Elysium is an action-RPG rather than a standard RPG. Combat uses a lot of the now-familiar tropes of the genre: fast attacks, slow attacks, combos, dodges, blocks and the like. If you've played an action game in recent memory, you have a pretty good idea of the rough mechanics. It leans more heavily on the action side of action-RPG, with stats only having a relatively minor impact on the overall gameplay.

There's a variety of different weapons in the game, each with distinct move sets. One sword is a fast-slashing rapier with lots of thrust attacks. Another is a slower sword with a charge mechanic that shoots large waves of energy. A third is a combination mace/magic staff that augments powerful physical hits with elemental energy. Enemies are vulnerable to specific weapons, rather than types of weapons, which encourages swapping weapons. It isn't necessary, but against a boss or enemy type that's giving you trouble, the bonus damage can be a big deal.

More fun is the Soul Chain, which is like Nero's Devil Bringer in Devil May Cry and allows you to latch on to enemies and instantly zoom toward them. This keeps combat feeling fast and intense, as you should always be moving. As the game progresses, you can launch into powerful combos directly from the chain. You eventually unlock the ability to perform a Ninja Gaiden-style charge that sucks in nearby defeated souls to power up an attack, and the chain gets the ability to knock souls out of an enemy.

Magic is an important part of the game and where most of the customization lies. The art gauge serves as your MP bar, with each spell using one or more arts crystals. Divine Arts are tied to elements, and each element has at least two associated spells. For example, Fire Lance is a fast, single-target attack spell while Ifrit Caress is a slower but powerful AoE attack. Each spell also has multiple levels (1-3), with higher levels taking more art crystals. You regain art crystals by attacking, so magic isn't limited, and you can reliably swap from physical damage to magical and back again without pausing.

While Valkyrie is the only playable character, you're not alone in the fight. You gain four Einherjar over the course of the game, each of which can be summoned with the tap of a button. Once summoned, they'll perform an attack and remain to fight for you, but only two Einherjar can be summoned at a time. While an Einherjar is out, Valkyrie's weapon also gets infused with the respective element of the Einherjar (fire, holy, ice or lightning). This causes all of her attacks to deal that element's damage, and it increases the power of your Divine Art of the same element.

Elemental damage is very important because every enemy in the game is associated with one of a handful of elements: dark, fire, holy, ice, or lightning. (There's also an Earth-type element that is only used for one or two spells.) Hitting an enemy with elemental damage gradually fills up their crush bar. When it is full, they are "crushed," or stunned and more vulnerable to damage. After they are crushed, large enemies can also be immobilized if hit with a spell of the correct element.

You can also render enemies vulnerable to damage by nullifying their attacks. Valkyrie has a bunch of ways to do this. The now-standard perfect dodge/perfect block mechanics are joined by a parrying mechanic, which can let you turn an enemy's rapid attacks against them or a counterattack mechanic; if timed correctly, you can interrupt an enemy's attack with your own. Succeed, and you get a brief period of slowed-down time, and the enemy is vulnerable to your combos.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Elysium is that dodge-canceling isn't really a thing. Once you commit to an attack, you commit to an attack. This can feel odd and almost stiff, but once you get the hang of it, it is clear that it's deliberate. Combat becomes less about attacking and more about breaking enemies, so you can perform long combo strings to make them drop precious gems and resources. You have a ton of ways to do this. In one-on-one boss fights, you're rewarded more for turning a foe's attack back on them rather than attacking wildly.

It takes some getting used to, but I enjoyed Elysium quite a bit. Once you get acclimated, you're effectively a whirling dervish of deadly techniques, constantly spewing different magical spells, lengthy combos, counters and moves in a way that makes you feel almost invincible. The highlight of the game is its one-on-one boss fights, where a lot of the non-elemental mechanics get a chance to shine. My first fight against the dark Valkyrie Hilde was a narrow victory, but in my last fight, I absolutely destroy her in a few moments without taking any damage.

Except for one other issue I'll mention later, my only real complaint about the combat system was some quality-of-life stuff. You only have four spell slots, but there are five common attack spell elements and several utility spells. Having to constantly fiddle with the menu to change spells is breaks the flow, so I usually kept the four main elements of my Einherjar on my bar and nothing else. The same goes for weapons; you can only have two on your bar at a time, so you'll probably pick one favorite and one that the most formidable enemy is weak to. Neither ruins the game, but it would keep the combat flowing more smoothly if there were a few more options that didn't involve pausing the game. There are even two slots dedicated to item use that are effectively pointless because you can use items from the pause menu, and you're penalized for using them anyway.

There isn't much to the game outside of combat. You'll explore a few areas, with each area lasting about two hours, plus some bonus revisits to smaller segments to complete side-quests (where you fight more enemies). Each Einherjar gets an ability that can unlock new areas in previously explored areas, but this is almost never used and ends up feeling like an underbaked gameplay mechanic. The level design is conventional, with large, dungeon-like areas and a few hidden paths and secrets. It's a disappointment coming from the more complex puzzle dungeons of the first two Valkyrie games, but it's serviceable for an action-RPG.

I mention the original game a lot, but it's difficult to avoid it. Valkyrie Elysium attempts to honor the original franchise, but a lot of those moments comprise some of the game's weirdest areas. For example, in four specific areas, the Spiritual Concentration, which was used to find Einherjar, creates guide butterflies that lead you to a collectible item. You have a CP limit on equippable skills, but you won't come close to the limit even if you get every skill in the game; the CP limit only exists as a half-hearted reference to the previous games in the series.

Perhaps weirdest of all is the iconic Nibelung Valesti skill. It isn't unlocked until just before the end of the game, it gets instantly upgraded in an optional mission, and it's absurdly overpowered. Rather than building up combos to earn it, the skill is just a screen-clearing spell that also buffs your damage output; it's strong enough to take out half of a health bar per use on the last bosses. It's such a strange tool to give so late in the game and without any buildup requirements.

It makes me think that Valkyrie Elysium probably would've been better off being something besides a Valkyrie Profile spin-off/reboot. Rather than improving the game, it often feels like the Valkyrie elements are a constraint, and I wonder if the same game with an original protagonist and plot would've been better. It tries very hard to please VP fans, but the result is something that isn't quite accessible to new players and isn't what longtime fans want. The gameplay holds up on its own merits, but it's no Metroid Prime when it comes to taking a franchise in a new direction.

Visually, Valkyrie Elysium isn't very impressive. The combat looks very cool but suffers from notable frame rate drops even on the PS5, and the cut scenes are incredibly stiff and awkward, with character models often looking like they're staring off into space. The entire game has a weird half-cel-shaded look that I think is trying to evoke the look of Valkyrie Profile Silmeria but ends up looking awkward and a bit blurry. Fortunately, the audio does the heavy lifting. The voice acting is largely excellent and does a good job of conveying characters and tones, and the soundtrack is top-notch.

With all that said, Valkyrie Elysium is rather fun. Divorced from its heritage, it's a solid, if unexceptional, action-RPG. The combat system could use more polish, but what it does, it does quite well, and I enjoyed the combat until the end of the game. I'd love the team to have a chance to revisit the gameplay with some more confidence under its belt, as it's easy to see how it could go from good to great. This isn't the Valkyrie Profile 3 I was hoping for, but Elysium should satisfy someone looking for a solid action-RPG.

Score: 7.5/10

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