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Valkyrie Profile is the single game that epitomizes the term 'sleeper hit.' Released by Enix in North America two short months before the release of the PlayStation 2, the title sold less than 100,000 copies on this side of the Pacific, yet now commands astronomical prices on eBay. Now, several years later, Enix and Square are now the same company, and Valkyrie Profile is getting its chance to live again on the PlayStation Portable. While the game isn't simply a port of the original, it has new CG cinematics to tie it in with Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria and has been reworked for the 16:9 screen, chances are hardcore RPGFans played this game for the PSOne. Regardless, this is the first RPG for the PSP in North America that actually stands out as being worth its weight in salt.
Graphically, Lenneth very similar to its PSOne counterpart. The sprites are lively and vibrant, the environments look good, and the 3D effects for super attacks look great. While some importers complained about the sprites seeming blurry, I really didn't notice any particular issue with the sprites. Of course, I never had a chance to snag a copy of the original for the PSOne, either. So, while it looks great for a 2D game for the PSOne, and even a 2D game for the PSP, it's still not fantastic compared to what the PSP can do. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is much like Nippon Ichi's games for the PS2; we know that it looks great for a 2D game, but it pales in comparison to titles like Final Fantasy X. Upcoming titles like Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core look more like PlayStation 2 titles than anything else, and in that sense, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is a step behind the curve. Despite the aforementioned behind-the-curve issue, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth still manages to stay ahead of other 2D titles on the console, like Generation of Chaos and the Legend of Heroes titles.
Valkyrie Profile's sound has been remastered for the release on the PSP, and the music and VA sound extremely clear with the new codec. Your enjoyment of Lenneth's soundtrack is entirely hinged on one single factor, however: how much you like Motoi Sakuraba. Fans of Sakuraba's style will love Lenneth's soundtrack, but, unlike the Baten Kaitos OST, Sakuraba-haters won't find any different styles here. The voice acting is a mixed bag; the overall voices seem to fit the characters well, but there are lines where there is obvious over-acting. There's also an incredible amount of repetition; I got extremely tired of hearing "To my side, my noble Einherjar" at the beginning of every battle. Still, unless you're one of the people who would like to take a hit out on Motoi Sakuraba, you'll be at least content with VP's aural component.
Lenneth eschews the standard "ragtag band saves the world" story we've seen time and time again and takes on a very interesting premise. You are a goddess, sent to earth to harvest the souls of heroes to fight in a war in Asgard for Odin. Lenneth Valkyrie, the Goddess of Destiny, is also out to figure out why she's really there and what her true purpose is. Valkyrie Profile's story mainly unfolds through a series of sequences with her Einherjar, the souls of heroes that she's been sent to collect, and the events leading up to their death. The dialogue is actually quite good, and while it's the same script from the PSOne version of the game, it's a more than passable translation. Additionally, when more important characters speak, a large portrait displays their emotions, though occassionally loading from the UMD may cause the pictures and dialogue to become de-synched. Each story for the Einherjar is about five minutes long, and while some might find the story approach fragmented, it comes together extraordinarily well.
What separates Lenneth from the bulk of RPGs out there is its gameplay, and not simply the battle system. Valkyrie Profile's war rages about as you move around, as the game is separated into both periods and chapters. Entering a dungeon, a town, or resting will take up a pre-determined number of periods. After a number of periods, that chapter will end and the end of the world has come that much closer. This structure is significantly different than the average game, where even though your love interest is hanging from the cliff at the mountain of doom, you have time to go breed some chocobos and find that extra weapon. On top of this, Lenneth is training her Einherjar for war in Asgard, and may send those who find themselves ready at the end of the chapter. Players will receive statistics on how the war fares, so a balance must be struck between the war in Asgard and the search on Midgard.
Dungeons are another unique aspect in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. Instead of taking place on either a three-dimensional or an isometric field, Lenneth Valkyrie waltzes about in a 2D side-scrolling dungeon: much like what you would see in a fighting game. All of Lenneth's enemies are shown on the dungeon floors, and she can either engage them by slashing them with a sword, or by using an ice crystal to freeze them. The ice crystals aren't only used to freeze enemies before combat, however, as Lenneth can use them as stepping stones to get up higher, throw multiple crystals at the same location to explode and send her flying in another direction, or find other random usages for the frozen enemy. It can be a bit tedious to go about the dungeons, especially with the PSP's analog stick. I fell off more than my fair share of ladders and missed quite a few jumps. The dungeon design is interesting as well; the game takes place on multiple 2D planes, so Lenneth can walk through a doorway onto another plane and continue. This makes the dungeon map screen look a bit odd, but it ends up working marvelously with the excellent design.
Once engaged with an enemy, the battle screen doesn't look quite like what you would expect from your average RPG. There's no menu system out in the open, but instead there is a hit point meter for each character and four icons in the upper right hand corner, corresponding to the characters in each of those positions. When a face button is pressed, that character begins their attack, and all four characters may attack at once. When comboed correctly, the hit meter that appears in place of the hit point meters may hit 100, allowing the player to make super attacks with the characters, dealing massive damage. Players who are worried that it's nothing but a hack-and-slash have no need to worry, though, as not only is there strategy involved with the timing, but you can bring up a menu to use magic, items, or skills during battle. The hybrid system really is fantastic, and has yet to be mimicked by another RPG, except for its upcoming sequel.
After combat, players are assigned experience as well as materialize points. Experience is just that, experience to level up the characters and gain them increased stats. Materialize points are similar to gold in other games; they're used to craft items from the menu screen. Characters don't simply gain experience from combat, however; they also gain event experience by completing predetermined actions in the dungeon. The event experience doesn't have to be assigned right at once, and it can be appropriated to characters who didn't participate in the event. Characters also have personal skill points, which can be assigned to personal traits, reducing their selfishness or making them more brave, or by increasing their skill in combat. While skill in combat obviously helps you in your fight on Midgard, the hero traits help out the fight in Asgard, forcing you to walk the line between the two that much more.
Unfortunately, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth isn't flaw-free in its port. Aside from the slight blurring we've already discussed, there is more loading than in the PSOne version of the title. While it didn't end up bothering me at all, it might grind the gears of someone who religiously played the PSOne version of the title. For any person who has played PSP titles for a time, the loading in Lenneth is minimal, especially compared to say, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim. Unfortunately, Square Enix did not add a quicksave option to its title, a must for any portable title now. The save point system is inferior to systems like Tales of Eternia's load point system for portable platforms, and developers need to learn to give us a quicksave option or change their save structure completely.
Even with its port flaws, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is easily the best domestic RPG on the PSP to date. The game itself is incredibly unique and fun to play. The portability is both a blessing and a curse, allowing one of the PSOne classics to be played on the go, but limiting you to a four inch screen. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth might not spark the interest of those few who own the PSOne version of the title, but for everyone else, it's a no-brainer. Go snag yourself a copy today.