Valdis Story began as a short, free game developed by EndlessFluff a few years ago. It was taken to Kickstarter sometime later where it found overwhelming success, easily smashing its funding target. Now that I’ve played it, it’s easy to see why. Valdis Story: Abyssal City is an outstanding game that I struggled to tear myself away from.
In a world where demons and angels are at war, Wyatt and his crew set sail in order to track down his missing father. During the voyage, their ship is attacked by creatures from below and sunk. Beneath the water’s surface, they find a slowly dying ancient city under constant attack from angels, demons and ferals. Separated from his crew, Wyatt must now reunite them while continuing the search for his father. During his journey, he discovers lost secrets and unravels mysteries surrounding him and his friends.
The premise and setting for the story are brilliant. The actual storytelling is sparse (which may be hit or miss for some players), but by speaking to NPCs, collecting items and fully exploring the city, additional information and lore entries fill in the gaps. The circumstances surrounding Wyatt’s father’s disappearance, the true nature of the two goddesses Alagath and Myrgato, and even the backstory of the game’s bosses are there to be discovered. Even better, neither angels nor demons fit their typical alignments of good or evil, but are both considered the enemies of humans. By the end, it feels like only the surface of the story has been scratched.
Valdis Story rewards those who go out of their way to explore; a vital aspect of this Metroidvania-style game. As you leap around the beautiful 2D world, you acquire new equipment and spells that allow access to previously unreachable locations. Summoning ice pillars as temporary platforms, short-range teleports and wall-kicking are just a few of the abilities needed to fully traverse the city. Dozens of hidden items, chests and crew members wait to be found, some of which are extraordinarily hard to find, making it sweeter when you do.
As you explore, it’s hard not to notice the fantastic musical score. At just the right moments it adds to the beauty, tension and isolation found in the game. Check out Stephen’s review of the soundtrack if you’d like to know more. You’ll have plenty of chances to hear it during your wandering as, without a cohesive world map (though there are area maps), remembering which locations connect can be tiring. While few items can be permanently missed, one location cannot be returned to and one village, without warning, is abandoned after playing through enough of the game. This could potentially aggravate players hoping to achieve 100% completion.
There is an excellent variety of places to see, from sewers filled with green goo to palaces literally sparking with electricity. The visual design of these locations is beautiful and the sharp 2D graphics and animation breathe life into it. Each area poses new environmental challenges such as frozen locations that drain your health over time, or rocky regions with collapsing platforms. Jumping is a little imprecise, which can cause problems on the more difficult platforming sections. This, along with the layout of certain rooms, leads to immense frustration when, after falling from a high room, you return to a lower one and must beat the same enemies and challenges to climb back up again. It’s bearable once or twice, but it’s thrown frequently at you near the end of the game.
At the moment, there are two playable characters to choose from: Wyatt or Reina. Two additional characters, Vladyn and Gilda, will be released for play at no extra charge at a later date. They should be something to look forward to, because Wyatt and Reina both have strikingly different styles of play. Where Wyatt sticks to his sword and uses both light and dark magic, Reina fights with her fists and has a completely different selection of offensive and defensive spells. Both characters have different skill trees too, and with a maximum level of twenty, more than one playthrough will be required if you want to try everything out. Not all combat mechanics are explained though, and while many are self-explanatory, others remain a bit of a mystery.
Combat flows smoothly, and stringing attacks together is fast-paced and exciting. The keyboard controls are clunky, but they can be rearranged or a gamepad can be used. You can execute short-ranged dashes that allow you to dodge and move past foes, or employ more than twenty spells to deal damage, heal, boost your own abilities or reach new places. The sound effects that accompany them are appropriate, though a little artificial at times. Nevertheless, spell diversity is outstanding, and there are dozens of ways to approach combat in any particular battle. Often, you will need to mix up your strategy as some enemies focus on speed and manoeuvrability, while others are heavily armoured or stand back and shoot. There’s a solid variety of foes, though their design relies on palette-swapping as the game progresses. On level up you can assign stat points and choose to focus on magic, melee or a mix of the two. It’s a fun, flexible system that provides great variety on additional plays.
There are plenty of bosses to test your skills against, both story-based and optional, and you’ll always need to be at your best to beat them. Monstrous armoured angels and sleek, agile demons are just a few you’ll encounter. Different bosses require you to take down shields, stay above poisonous gas, navigate precarious platforms, destroy healing devices and even beat a time limit in order to destroy them. There’s terrific variety, and, even on the normal difficulty setting, they are a real challenge to defeat. Once you do so, you are given a rank based on how soundly you thrashed them, and may be rewarded with extra experience or even additional stat or skill points to assign. At the end of the game you receive an overall ranking too, so completionists have a huge task ahead of them.
I had a wonderful time playing Valdis Story. Time and time again it exceeded my expectations, and it’s a privilege that I was able to play and review it. Just when I thought I had seen the greatest boss or most intense challenge, it threw another one at me. One play through, as Wyatt, takes about 10-15 hours, so there’s at least twice that to play as Reina and collect all the hidden items. Once Gilda and Vladyn are added, you can double that play time again! As long as you’re prepared for a challenging game, I can’t recommend Valdis Story enough.