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Review scraps: Valhalla Knights

6:43 PM on 07.30.2008 // Brad Nicholson

Tossing the word “Valhalla” in a videogame title is presumably an attempt to elicit some sort of favorable meaning to the individual. Unlike the upcoming Too Human, the Valhalla included in XSEED and Marvelous, Inc’s game is nothing more than the place a player’s characters goes when he dies. In fact, the theme of Valhalla Knights is not the run-of-the-mill good vs. evil bit. The game is really about dying, because players will die a lot. Not in the good way, but in the teeth gnashing “I’ve done this section a billion times” way.

The role-playing game should be about immersive stories, fascinating characters, and fantasy realms. Valhalla Knights seems to just skip over these attributes in favor of a messy dungeon crawling experience that bares no real fruits of labor. To make matters worse, the game is ridiculously hard with zero safety nets in place to cover for its own miscues. Encapsulating the game in a single word is tough, because there are so many one could use to explain the personal strife players will have with this title.

Click on for the full review.

Valhalla Knights (PlayStation Portable)
Developed by Marvelous Inc., K2
Published by Marvelous Inc., XSEED Games

Released on April 17, 2007

Call me ambitious or silly, but I really wanted more out of Valhalla Knights than what was offered to me. When I first saw the trailers and screenshots for the game, I found it fairly interesting. A third-person RPG with real-time battles on a portable device isn’t exactly unique, but it is something that most developers don’t touch on the PSP platform. I assumed the depth of character customization, as well as an interactive dungeon experience, was headed my way. I was utterly, ruinously wrong.

The game begins with the protagonist’s awakening from a deep sleep. Apparently he was knocked out cold for a good bit of time. Unfortunately for the protagonist, he has lost his memory. Thankfully, a disembodied voice that only the protagonist can hear enters the fray and tells the brave youth that he needs to go through several dungeons to possibly get his memory back and confront the beast that knocked his ass out. At this point, the story has reached the maximum potential of its intrigue. There are juxtapositions of past and present conflicts that hit towards the middle of the game, but it’s all for show. Valhalla Knights disconnects players from the story very quickly through the tedium that is its gameplay.

Before the story even begins, players are forced to create a human character with one of the game’s initial four character classes. The Fighter, Thief, Mage, and Priest are typical of what most RPGs indicate that they should be. What Valhalla Knights really doesn’t do is tell you that picking up extra characters is not going to happen on any reliable basis. In fact, you’ll have to create your own extra members in the game’s guild. This introduces the first, and not last, very costly game breaking mistake that I made when starting out the title. I assumed Valhalla Knights was like most hack-and-slash games, where the introductory level is utilized to teach the fine arts of the game. Where mistakes are not permanent and the game is willing to hold my hand as I struggle learning it. Apparently, this game did not want to clutch me against its bosom. I initially horded my money in the vain hopes of affording some decent item at the item store, but eventually, after finding that the game is impossible to go at solo, I went out and created a mage (which costs money) to back up my melee character class. As it turns out, the game is impossible to play without buying a Priest from the onset. Literally, out of the first door in the first dungeon, the game is impossible to play, within any reasonable capacity, without making what the game deems is the correct choice of class.

Of course, it doesn’t tell you that. After four hours of struggling, running back and forth to the Inn to heal, I realized that I needed to start the game completely over. I couldn’t afford to create another character, nor could I scrounge up enough cash from fighting the bullshit little blobs that pass for enemies in the first dungeon. This kind of starting over experience defines what Valhalla Knights is all about -- fucking up. As the game progresses and players reach the first boss, they will be surprised to find that he is impossible to beat without beginning to switch classes at the guild, which then makes your characters level 1, and thus susceptible again to typical monsters. It’s a cyclical mess that yields nothing but aggravation.

Furthering the frustration, Valhalla Knights is a hack-and-slash game with a bit of an annoying twist. When confronting a monster, players are thrown into an alternate arena where battle is fought. It’s a simple affair with few choices, but omits one that seems to make sense. You can’t block. When dealing with melee characters, fights become just trading hit points. The only way to play any sort of defense is to run away from monster attacks. This is especially curious considering that the game gives players shields. Luckily, you probably already have that Priest if you screwed up before.

As far as interesting locales, Valhalla Knights offers none. There is only one city in the game and you’re already there. The rest of the game is just a series of interconnecting dungeons that weave incoherently with the silly story. The guild is where the optional stuff happens, but it’s as straightforward as the game is. You pick up a quest with spectacularly bland parameters and complete it in the assigned dungeon. There is no interactivity beyond finding some silly item in a treasure chest. To make matters worse, once you find it, you’ll have to run or teleport halfway across the dungeons to make it back to the guild to claim your meager reward.

I really wanted Valhalla Knights to be a great experience. Unfortunately, it fails on almost every level. What little ingenuity was instilled in the title both visually and with the fighting system is beat down by the terrible map, poor direction, anf lack of substance. Valhalla Knights forces players to play the game a certain way, regardless of how open the game appears. It’s a broken, evil system that made me want to toss my PSP across the room several times. Yet, I can see a faint light for the exceptionally hardcore crowd. The games could provide a decent experience if you’re willing to sit around for 8-10 hours grinding before every boss battle and lucky enough to make the right decisions on characters. If that’s your kind of game, have at it, but for anyone looking for a good RPG experience stay the hell away.

Score: 3.0 – (Valhalla Knights is a struggle to play, learn, and involve yourself in. I think there is an opportunity for crazy RPG players to enjoy themselves, but I also know that the game lacks so much substance that the marriage cannot last for long.)

Brad Nicholson,
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