Editor’s Note: This review is specifically for a major update to Valdis Story that released after the initial game.
Valdis Story was an instant classic to me. A metroidvania with a malleable three button combo system that hit me right in the sweet spot. It did have some glaring flaws, but nothing I couldn’t forgive as I dashed through the map and built monstrous combos for fun and XP boosts. It’s been quite a while since release now, and developers Endless Fluff have ironed out a number of wrinkles along the way. Character skill trees were balanced, the edge cling system was tweaked, a village-saving sidequest came around, and even a (misguided) new final boss was added, but all the while, half of the selectable character portraits remained greyed out, teasing what was to come. Now that a solid year and a half has passed, Endless Fluff has finally shone some light on those portraits, and they were even thoughtful enough to expand the playground for your new toys.
Hardcore Castlevania fans probably have some mixed feelings on alternate characters. While moving through the living castle with a new set of verbs was often unique and enjoyable, the complete lack of exposition, dialogue, and character building was a little off-putting. Who didn’t want Richter Mode to lead to the beginning of Alucard’s narrative? Endless Fluff is only guilty of this in terms of route progression. Wyatt, Reina, and now Gilda all take the same route through the various areas of the game: they collect key items, magic souls, and defeat bosses in the same order, but fortunately they all have their own dialogue, motivations, and playstyles.
Vladyn’s route, by comparison, is incredibly interesting. Starting off with the fourth area that the others encounter, everything you do feels a bit like sequence breaking. Starting off closer to the middle of the game also offers more branching paths at one time than any of the other characters are presented with, so the impetus for the player to explore and score hot loot is stronger than ever. He’s even provided with a skill cancel via his skill trees, so there’s no immediate rush to go and find a master scroll like Reina or Wyatt would have to if they wanted to explore freely.
Starting the game with a handgun/shotgun combo and, uh, an arm possessed by 100 demons, old Vlady’s playstyle is immediately distinct. Aside from being an effective melee weapon and an awesome name for a metal band, the 100 Demon Arm gives you access to three familiars that can be upgraded via the magic branch of the skill tree. As a massive fan of Ark System Works, I was initially disappointed to discover that the familiars aren’t directly controlled as independent entities in the way that Zato-1’s shadow and Carl Clover’s robo-sister are, but as I progressed through the game, I grew to appreciate the AI guided demons floating around the screen, sometimes killing trash mobs before I even saw them. This simplified transit a great deal, and I found myself with many more material drops than I’d normally obtain. Adding to that convenience are Vladyn’s handguns, which automatically shoot towards the closest target. This is especially handy for any enemies that cling to the ceiling or float, and it was always satisfying to pop off a few rounds while my demons fought on the front line.
While all of that feels fun and unique, Vlad’s unlockable weapons are a bit of a snore: a sniper rifle that replaces your shotgun blast with a full screen, piercing projectile, and a chakram that mimics the Castlevania boomerang cross. Both are handy and effective, but neither does much to alter Vladyn’s verbage or to make the player feel particularly empowered.
Going in, I wasn’t nearly as excited about Gilda as I was about Vladyn. I figured that after Reina, I’d seen all the unarmed combat there was to see from Endless Fluff, but only a few minutes in, I started to suspect that this half-dragon all-yandere lass would become my favorite character. Gilda changes the magic system in Valdis Story entirely. The magic button now charges your MP, the guard button now does a AOE magic burst, your strong attack button now casts spells, and your weak attacks are always accompanied with an elemental buff at the cost of a small amount of MP per attack. She also starts the game with a double jump. All this stuff was already blowing my mind.
Starting the game with only magic, punching, and magic punching available to her, I did worry that I might yearn for some more variety. That concern quickly subsided as I began to experiment with extensive air combos and mid-air skill cancels. More often than not, my enemy’s HP would determine the length of my combos rather than my character’s limitations. This became even more prevalent as I unlocked Gilda’s triple and quadruple (!) jumps.
As she progresses, you can unlock a scepter, which changes your normal attack into a homing, elemental projectile; a holy relic, which makes the projectile larger and slower moving; and a scythe which gives you longer range, more crit damage, and life leech, at the cost of a little more MP per hit and reduced spell potency.
Now that you’ve been inundated with information about the new characters, let’s talk a little about the other toys Endless Fluff has brought to the playground with this new, free update to the game. Even more ease-of-use considerations have been made, usually in the form of improved level design. Namely, giving you floor where there used to be drops that would easily set your play back 5-10 minutes and providing shortcuts, usually with the use of one of the two new areas. Many other areas were expanded as well, making the entire map feel much more cohesive. Four new bosses have been added (not counting the two added before this particular patch), including what I found to be the most challenging fight in the game. If you manage to clear all the new content in one playthrough, you’ll likely find a way to unlock the “Golden” weapons for each character, which are new to this patch as well.
Unfortunately the two new areas, The Tainted Laboratory and The Hall of the Fallen, are a bit of a mixed bag. While the latter has loads of unique enemies and environmental storytelling, the former is full of poison mist and awkward level design. I’m not going to complain about more content in one of my favorite games, but I honestly found the area to be the most frustrating in the game, even with a poison immunity.
The patch also comes with new music, new art, redesigned enemies, and a new form of a mid-game boss that ends up being one of the most beautifully epic moments in the game. Little touches like archers with new sprites shooting a volley of arrows rather than just one are also all over, making many areas feel like a new experience.
While I don’t think the new characters and content are going to do much for anybody that had zero interest the original version, I do think there’s more than enough here to sink your teeth into all over again, and even experience some new flavors while you chew it up. If you were lukewarm on it before, this might be the push you see as turning that polished stone into a demon ruby, and as a free update, you really can’t go wrong by checking it out.