Valkyrie Profile was a groundbreaking, revolutionary RPG. It turned the four face buttons of a standard controller into a four-player party, able to execute combos à la many 2D fighters. At the same time, it was packed with all the same depth of a traditional RPG, with beautiful aesthetics, many memorable characters, a wild plot, and the insane trajectory one must follow for the true ending.
After a decent sequel on the PS2 and a generally forgotten (but still decent) side story title “Covenant of the Plume” on Nintendo DS, I had begun to wonder if the franchise would be buried forever. Unfortunately, Valkyrie Profile may have gotten something worse than a burial — namely, mobile resurrection.
As a disclaimer, this is not me saying that all RPGs on mobile platforms are bad. Even among those based on well-established franchises, even if all have a “freemium” model in play, some are far better than others. When Valkyrie Anatomia was first announced in Japan, I had hoped that it would be in that “better” category.
But it’s not. Indeed, among all the mobile RPGs I’ve played in the past two years, Anatomia was objectively the least fun to play, and subjectively the most disappointing entry in a franchise. For reference, do consider that I also regularly play such games as FF Record Keeper, Kingdom Hearts Union χ, Langrisser Mobile, SMT Liberation Dx2, and others. Each of these games have their pros and cons, and each has left me with different levels of pleasure or pain over time. Valkyrie Anatomia is, unfortunately, regularly more pain than pleasure. I truly believe I’ve only put in as many hours as I have because of sheer masochism.
Don’t believe me? Consider the following: most mobile RPGs allow the player to control battle speed in an options menu. Only in Valkyrie Anatomia have I found “increased battle speed” as a for-pay, premium option. I am not kidding. By subscribing to a monthly premium fee, the player is given a variety of boosts, including the option to double the game’s battle speed. In this one function alone, the developers are making two not-so-subtle admissions: “(1) large portions of this game are no-fun, mindless grinds, and (2) we have the nerve to make you pay for a feature any other mobile RPG gives freely.”
(Laughably, among the decent mobile RPGs to allow free speed control are many other Square Enix titles, whether developed in-house or licensed to other developers.)
Another perk for the premium subscription? How about “smarter AI?” I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I read this. For those who have played other Valkyrie titles, you may recall getting various gem/crystal drops while beating the lifeless corpse of a foe during a brief “overkill” mode before the end of the turn. When playing the game for free, the player is allowed to — and generally, will want to — go into auto-battle mode. However, the tradeoff is that the auto-battle characters will never grind out those extra gems. If you want those blue experience crystals and gold gems (in-game currency), you’ll have to always play on manual, or switch to manual near end of each battle … or pay for convenience.
That’s the message, I suppose. This isn’t pay to win; it’s pay for convenience. It’s pay to relieve boredom … from something that is supposed to be the opposite of boring! It’s infuriating.
If the player can handle that bit of bad news, perhaps that same player can accept that there is no difficulty curve in this game. Rather, there is a flat plateau for all main story content, followed by a mountainous ascent for anyone who dares traverse the final few missions in any given “Limited Event.” For those players who want to play the game for the story alone, rest assured, you can do so with no investment or effort. Unfortunately, this makes the already convoluted and frustrating story less rewarding.
For those interested in the lore: the game openly sets itself as a prequel to the original VP. However, due to all of the crossover characters the developer chose to pull in from across the franchise, there is so much talk of time and/or dimension travel that the prequel plot further loses its way. As I write this, there is no defined “end” to the main story. A few chapters have been rolled out every month or so in North America, still apparently behind the original Japanese release in 2016. But from what is there, I can safely say that the game’s main plot pales in comparison to any other entry in the franchise.
The writing itself, for any one scenario with any individual character, varies widely in quality. Some of this may be due to problems with localization; whatever the case, the good moments stand out as a reminder of what could have been. The same can generally be said of all the character art and the game’s music: pieces of what could have been a good game. Yes, even on a mobile platform, it could have been good.
Beyond all of the other complaints, written or unwritten — I will not even bother to get into all of the disparate upgrading options and specific currencies, as these problematic features tend to come with the mobile and MMO territory — controls are the most disappointing thing of all. Tapping on icons under four 3D-rendered characters to call them to action, and swiping in different directions under each icon to activate special abilities does not sound that bad. But it is that bad. It’s horrible. To make sure it wasn’t just me, I installed Valkyrie Anatomia on another device to test the responsiveness. I also asked some friends who had played the game. We all agreed: at best, the controls are finicky. At worst, there are no words in human language to describe how frustrating it can be.
I cannot help but contrast the above nonsense with the original VP’s design, mapping each character to a single button and treating the full party as one fluid entity. The game’s sequel and Covenant followed suit. Could there have been better control options on a touch screen? I hazard to guess the answer is “no,” though I would have been interested in at least trying a four-button touch pad mapped onto the right side of the screen. Barring that, perhaps the game was doomed to lose that satisfying hybrid experience due to the nature of the platform.
For all the Valkyrie Profile fans out there who are wondering about Anatomia: let me put your anxiety to rest! Valkyrie Anatomia is a game absolutely worth skipping. You need not lose bandwidth or storage space over this one. If you must know what is going on, follow the wikis out there and read story summaries from time to time.