A little more than a year ago, XSEED Games brought to North America Valhalla Knights, a little RPG that spawned a sequel due to hit stores in about a month. The game sounds too good to be true: solid graphics, dramatic customization options, multiple quests, various character classes, and seamless battle integration. What more could a gamer ask for? As they say, don’t judge a game by its cover and clever marketing.
The game opens with promise: the main character wakes up one day in a land that was torn apart by a dark lord that was ultimately defeated by a hero named Rastul. Even though the world was previously known as a paradise, this conflict led to the area being renamed as “The Cursed Land.” Our hero has no memory of this and awakens to a debt to a local innkeeper and a hope to rediscover his/her memories.
Sound fascinating? Well it is at first, but unfortunately, that’s where the story basically ends. Even though you ultimately learn all about the dark lord and you accomplish the end goal of defeating him, the story only serves as a backdrop to the action of the game. If this is your cup of tea: a game full of fighting and little or no story—then read on, if not, you’re not likely to enjoy Valhalla Knights.
After paying off the innkeeper, the game truly begins and it’s your job to recruit members at the guild, and go into the various dungeons of the game in order to both fulfill the side quests and progress the main story. Even though I enjoyed the concept of the guild quests (a feature found in almost all modern RPGs), I did not like how you could only take on one quest a time. Since all the quests are fulfilled by exploring the same dungeons, this mechanic seems to be used only to make the game longer.
When recruiting members, however, the game really shines. You can choose what race the characters can be (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and Machine), what class they will be (Knight, Thief, Mage, and Priest to name a few), as well as the subclasses within each class. In sum: imagine the kind of customization you are allowed in a series like Elder Scrolls and now imagine you can do this for a whole party, and that is what Valhalla Knights allows you to do.
Unfortunately, Valhalla Knights takes it too far. In addition to the race and class customization options, you can attribute stats to each of your guild members and organize points when each member levels up. Spells are learned through books found in the field, and each weapons carries with it a different special attack. So if you want a thief who happens to be a healer, you can do that. If you want a robot that is a fire magic user, you can do that too. If you want a mage who specializes in melee, try it if you want. My point is that the characters become interchangeable, and I always find that frustrating as a player. Customization is fine, but overcustomization becomes a snooze fest for me.
Once you have selected your character(s), the game really starts to descend into boredom. You enter the boilerplate dungeons (old prison, underground cavern, forest, etc.) in search of loot and the completion of side quests. In the process, you encounter monsters in the field and the battle transition is very similar to what you would see in the Star Ocean series. You control one character and can switch between them with a click of a button. If you don’t, you can set priorities as to what each of your characters can do (heal often, attack all out, etc). My problem with the battles is that unlike the Star Ocean series, I didn’t see much strategy in fighting. In Star Ocean, you can use various unique attacks and with some guile, defeat some enemies with quick moves. In this game, if you are a melee fighter, and you are almost out of life, you are going to die when you go in for an attack. This type of system is decent, but is really only enjoyable in spurts.
I will say the game does take some chances in originality, but they just don’t hit the mark. For example, the machine class and the industrial complex you reach later in the game are the only points in which you feel this game is not just another RPG. But, because of the lack of narrative found in between these dungeons, the player is unconvinced that the developers had a clear vision for what the complete makeup of the Valhalla Knights world should look like. Instead, these parts of the game feel tacked on.
While your party of six may be bored by the gameplay, you should not be disappointed with the game’s graphics. From the monsters, to the spell animations, to the main town, to the title screen, the game shines with bright colors, and a great attention to detail. While there is some palette swapping in the monsters, I found the enemies enjoyable to look upon. I will say the NPCs and their portraits are bland and this is the only part of the graphics that could have been improved, and dramatically at that.
While the graphics are good, the control in the game leaves much to be desired. The first thing that Valhalla Knights needed was a better map and its portrayal of the direction of the player. You can never really tell which direction you are facing and which direction you will move if you step up, down, left, or right. In addition to the map and its lack of control, the camera itself is a disaster. In battle, it is hard to tell if you can hit an enemy with an attack and even navigating the dungeons and town is a real chore because the camera is often in the wrong position. Top it off with buttons that are not used at all in battle and you have a severely overlooked and sloppy part of the game.
The sound is serviceable albeit totally forgettable. There is no voice acting to speak of and the battle sound effects are mediocre. Fire spells do not have a sizzling crackle, swords don’t clank, and with the attention paid to graphics, it is surprising that audio was left as bland as it is. I don’t dislike many noises when it comes to basic video game sounds, but if I hear the “monster is approaching” screech one more time, I may lose my mind.
Valhalla Knights lacks soul. It is a game of clever marketing and in-depth customization, but without a memorable story and boring gameplay. I have no doubt that there are some VK fanboys out there, but I can tell you this, without any hesitation: I am not one of them.