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Valkyrie Profile

After playing so many role playing games, they start to become more and more similar. Thatís not to say that theyíre bad, itís just that so many follow the same formula and use similar conventions, so things become stale at times. Once in a while a game offers original gameplay only to be crippled by a substandard plot, or vice versa. Surprisingly enough, Valkyrie Profile is one of the most entirely original RPGs Iíve had the pleasure of playing in a long time.

Part of the originality stems from the engaging storyline and how it is told. The whole game is deeply rooted into Norse mythology. You know; Ragnarok, Valhalla, Loki, and all that good stuff you may have learned about in school. The world of Asgard, home of the Gods, is threatened by an ongoing war with the Vanir, so a Valkyrie is sent to Midgard (the human world) to recruit Einherjar.

Sorry about the names that are difficult to pronounce. Simply put, you control a battle maiden named Valkyrie whose job is to recruit the souls of fallen heroes and eventually send them up to Asgard for the boss, Odin, to use in battle. Before you recruit a character (and there are a lot of them), youíre treated to the fascinating story that shows the events leading up to their often untimely demise. Even though these scenes only last around 15 minutes, more emotion and character development are seen in these segments than in many entire RPGs.

If the plot can be faulted it any way, it can be that Valkyrie Profile only loosely follows the myths itís based on. Some aspects are far more accurate than others, but that can be overlooked by all but the biggest Norse mythology geeks because the storyline is nearly devoid of any of those pesky RPG clichÈs, which is truly a great accomplishment.

The game unfolds very differently thanks to the limited amount of towns and dungeons you can enter. The whole game is broken down into 8 chapters, and within each chapter is a set amount of period. Valkyrie has the gift of Spiritual Concentration, an ability that makes new dungeons available on the world map and shows where new characters can be recruited. Each time you use this ability or enter an area, a certain amount of periods are used and eventually the chapter ends.

In between each chapter, youíre given an update on how the War of the Gods is going. Youíre also given a bonus depended on whether or not you sent up a character who met the requirements given at the beginning of the chapter. When you send up a character you are unable to use them again, so you can even choose to piss of the Gods and not send up any of your prized fighters. In fact, the whole game is entirely flexible. You donít have to recruit certain characters or even enter any dungeons if you donít want to. Granted, this can make things more difficult later in the game, but having so much freedom is a luxury not many games give us.

If all of this sounds a bit intimidating, then wait till you experience the battles. The manual contradictorily dubs them as ìturn-based real-timeî and that actually couldnít be further from the truth. Though your party and the enemy take turns, your attacks occur in real-time, much like they do in the Tales of Destiny or Star Ocean series.

Each character is controlled by a different button, so sometimes itís necessary to attack with more than one character at a time. It all comes down to timing, because attack with the right succession of moves while the enemyís guard is down is the only way to beat some of the bosses. The only hindrance is that sometimes they take longer than they should. This would be a pain if the battles werenít so fun and exciting to begin, so fortunately it isnít much of a problem.

Equally enjoyable is navigating through the various dungeons. Everything is 2D, much like a platformer, and there are even some action elements involved. All of the enemies are visible onscreen, and Valkyrie has the ability to attack them with her sword in order to get the first attack when the battle begins. This can work both ways, so if the enemy walks into you with your back turned heíll get the first attack. Even the minor platforming elements are fun thanks to the responsive controls.

So the plot is engaging, the battles are fun, and the action-RPG elements are refreshing. Is there anything wrong with Valkyrie Profile? There is, and it is the sometimes frustrating difficulty level. Even on easy mode the game can occasionally be difficult. I like a good challenge as much as anyone, but some of the dungeons are just ridiculously vague in what has to be done, and it doesnít help that they are usually enormous in size. Also, the later boss battles are nearly impossible if you donít learn the proper skills. All of the gameplay mechanics work so well, so itís a shame I had to spend so much time looking over a guide to figure out where to go next in the harder dungeons.

Much like the gameplay, the graphics provide a fresh experience. All the characters are beautifully hand drawn, as are some of the backdrops. The other backdrops are rendered in 3D, but unlike most games the 2D sprites mesh wonderfully with the backgrounds. Less impressive is the lackluster voice acting. A few of the characters actually sound decent, but the dozens of others are just bad. Thankfully there arenít a whole lot of scenes with voice acting to begin with, so itís easy to overlook this minor problem. At least the music doesnít disappoint with its frantic battle themes and occasionally touching dramatic pieces. The variety makes it so that youíll enjoy at least some of the tunes.

After beating Valkyrie Profile in 25 hours and obtaining the best of the three endings, this underrated game proved not only to be unique, but also surprisingly satisfying. Itís rare that I find myself having a lot of fun while playing an RPG, but the gameplay in this one was undoubtedly excellent. Itís a shame the difficulty level was whack at times, but thatís the only serious fault in this otherwise great game. It will take a lot of effort and money to obtain this rare game, though I doubt many will be disappointed.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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