Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
I’d take Odin, Valkyrie and the magnificence of Valhalla over typical RPG fare any day. Those whiney teens, hapless females and silly demons just can’t compete with Norse mythology. Or maybe it’s just because I’ve played way too many RPGs with those familiar archetypes. Of course, it takes more than all the awesome things mentioned in Manowar lyrics to make a good game. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria gets it all done.
Apparently, this game is a prequel set hundreds of years before its very expensive predecessor on the PlayStation. I haven’t played that game in years (but I did make a killing on eBay with it), so my memory is hazy. I vaguely remembered some characters, yet my unclear recollections did little to interfere with following the storyline here. Alicia, the princess of Dipan, has a unique gift. To make up for her naive personality, she is possessed by a former warrior of Odin. This Valkyrie, Silmeria, is a total badass that strictly means business. They share the same body but their personalities can change in an instant.
Odin doesn’t want anything to do with Silmeria, and the king of Dipan wants nothing to do with his freakish daughter. Alicia and the Valkyrie inside her mind are even closer now that neither can go to their true homes. Their journey from country to country eventually gets them embroiled in a war between the gods and upstart humans. Although the storyline is never particularly involving, mainly because there’s a predictable town-cutscene-dungeon-cutscene formula, the pseudo-European atmosphere and intriguing world of Odin keeps things interesting.
What had me pathetically hooked wasn’t the larger-than-life soap opera. Everything about the gameplay had me playing in unhealthily long segments. All movement outside of the battles is two-dimensional, which makes the dungeons a fun blend of platforming and exciting tactical fights. Alicia/Silmeria is the only character shown on screen in dungeons and towns. She has the ability to launch photons, which can be used to encase enemies in ice. She can then move them around and hop on them to reach items. Actually having the freedom to move around as if it was a platformer is a lot more fun than walking a few steps and encountering an invisible enemy.
The enemies are a threat when they’re not frozen. The fight begins when Alicia slashes her sword or walks into them. Any four party members can move around freely in the 3D battleground, although the fights aren’t in real time. They aren’t even turn-based. When the party stands still, time stops. When they’re on the move the enemies move around too. This makes it easier to plan attacks. Each enemy has a different hit area represented by a cone or circle (think of it the soldiers’ vision in Metal Gear Solid ). Some foes can attack from any side while others have long-reaching attacks with a narrow hit area. It’s up to Alicia and friends to dodge the attacks and take out the leader as quickly as possible in order to net the most experience.
It’s all very technical and took me a while to get used to, but once I figured things out I realized that there is a satisfying amount of strategy that goes perfectly with the fast-paced battles. The party members can form separate groups any time in battle, so a tank character can divert attention while the others find a safe attack point. All moves are determined by action points and the only way to get them back is to move around, be attacked or stand still and charge it by pressing in the analog stick If anyone is about to be targeted, then a fast dash move can be done to get out of the area at the expense of action points. There’s another level of strategy involved when contact is made with the enemy. Each character corresponds to one of the face buttons. Everybody’s attacks can be set outside of battle, so some moves lift an enemy, others crush it down and so on. All of the buttons can be hammered at once for a beautifully chaotic mishmash of attacks. The smarter thing to do is time the attacks to create juggles and ensure that every move connects. It’s almost like a fighting game.
Each enemy’s body parts can be knocked off if they are attacked properly. There’s no gore, but the slow motion and misty special effects make up for it. Skeleton warriors aren’t very dangerous without their heads and birds can’t fly without their wings. Completing a perfectly-timed barrage of attacks that cripples the enemy makes every battle an absolute delight. Even in the final dungeon, I had no problem fighting similar groups of enemies over and over again. Breaking off a creature’s body parts is also the only effective way to learn skills. When a break is done, there is a chance of obtaining an item. Armor, weapons and accessories can be three different colors, and each color has a set of runes. By linking the runes together in the equipment screen and then getting in enough fights, a new skill is learned. Many of these skills make breaking off parts even easier. In the city shops, different sets of these items can be sold in order to create new ones. Sometimes the items needed for the creation are extremely hard to find. Since the fights are so enjoyable it never feels like a chore to do some hunting.
There are so many things that the battle system does well that it almost makes it difficult to play other RPGs. There are so many reasons to get in the fights, whether it’s to learn new skills, get some cash or find some rare items. Best off all, if you’re not in the mood you can simply freeze the enemy with the photon blast and just hop past it. One problem with the game is that there are so many characters that it’s hard to use all of them in combat. Many of these characters have no bearing whatsoever on the storyline. These warriors – named einherjar – are recruited by Silmeria to join the party. They’re scattered throughout the dungeons and once they have been leveled up five times, they can be released in exchange for precious stat-boosting items. There is a bit of an art to this because by equipping the strongest equipment, more items can be gained. It’s a rewarding system, but it makes it hard to grow attached to some characters since the party is a bit of a revolving door. When characters only show up in cutscenes it becomes easy to forget their role since they’re buried behind a handful of einherjar.
If only every game’s most glaring problem could be that there are too many characters to choose from. Usually at the 20 hour mark I’m checking FAQs to see when the RPG is ending. With Valkyrie Profile 2, I savored almost every moment. I took things slow and was finished the game in about 45 hours. There is even a bonus dungeon once the game is completed. It’s because of games like this that backwards compatibility on new consoles is essential for ensuring that excellent games like this are never forgotten and enshrined in Valhalla.