I’m a fan of Square Enix’s recent strategy of releasing a steady amount of smaller-scoped Japanese RPG projects. They might not all be absolute masterpieces, but they don’t need to be. Sure there are darlings like the
Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster re-releases, NEO: The World Ends with You, the Live A Live remake, and the numerous remasters of the SaGa series and Legend of Mana, but the projects that get me most interested are the ones that are either a brand-new IP altogether or spin-offs that are very different from the existing IP they represent.
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Several that come to mind are
Dungeon Encounters, the Voice of Cards series, Triangle Strategy, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, and The DioField Chronicle. Obviously, none of these are big AAA games; they are nowhere near on the same level as Final Fantasy XVI when it comes to development and production costs – and that’s awesome. These relatively smaller titles are allowed to experiment more due to the smaller risks they inherently incur.
Valkyrie Elysium falls under this group. It is a spiritual successor / spin-off to the Valkyrie Profile series, but it is very different from those games. I was surprisingly fond of Valkyrie Elysium when I first played its demo in my , and now I’ve completed the full game entirely.
My immediate response to people asking what I think of Valkyrie Elysium after it all is simply “it’s ok.”
Since it’s a game in the Valkyrie series, you know that attack has to be in it.
The immediate thing that separates Valkyrie Elysium from its predecessors is that it is an action RPG. Players are in full command of the new Valkyrie and engage with enemies in real-time. I came away impressed with how fun the battle system is in Valkyrie Elysium. While I will always remain fond of Valkyrie Profile’s iconic turn-based combat encounters in the first two games, Valkyrie Elysium does a fine job evolving that formula in an engaging way.
Similar to Valkyrie Profile, players will spend a good chunk of Valkyrie Elysium recruiting a team of Einherjar, fallen warriors summoned by the Valkyrie to aid her in battle. There aren’t as many Einherjar in Valkyrie Elysium as in previous games, but the utility they all bring is invaluable.
In Valkyrie Elysium, players begin combat encounters alone,but Valkyrie can freely summon Einherjar into battle at the cost of some of their Soul Gauge. These Einherjar will fight on their own for a limited amount of time before leaving the battlefield, though people can choose to immediately resummon them if they wish. You can even tweak how long an Einherjar will stay on the field in exchange for consuming more of the Soul Gauge upon being summoned.
The tempo of combat in Valkyrie Elysium is simply sublime.
There are three Skill Trees that players can level up for the Valkyrie, and some of the unlockable skills auto-summon Einherjar into battle upon doing certain actions in the middle of combat. These range from fully completing a basic attack string, guard breaking an opponent, getting knocked back by an enemy, and much more. Auto-summoning consumes less of the Soul Gauge, though the assigned Einherjar won’t stay as long either. Only up to two Einherjar can be fully manually summoned at any given time.
Each Einherjar has an assigned element, and summoning them will imbue the player’s weapon with said element. If two Einherjar of differing elements are on the field simultaneously, then the player can toggle between those two elements. Executing a Divine Art magical spell with a weapon’s matching element will further power it up.
Hitting elemental weaknesses is a vital part of Valkyrie Elysium’s gameplay because its enemies can get quite aggressive. Repeatedly exploiting their weakness will fill up a separate bar above foes that will put them in a “Crushed” state – stunning them briefly. Bigger enemies and bosses can further be put in a secondary “Immobilized” state, which extends that stun period a bit more, though any foe that recovers from being Crushed or Immobilized will be immune to their elemental weakness for a few moments.
Combine that with a handful of different weapons that all play distinctly from one another and I found myself having a great time playing out Valkyrie Elyium’s battles moment-to-moment. There’s a gratifying weighty feeling to the arsenal at the Valkyrie’s disposal in this title. When blows connect in an attack string, the visual and audio feedback is satisfying; it’s a small, yet crucial, detail in making impacts just feel rewarding. As I previously mentioned in my preview, allowing the use of the Soul Chain grappling hook to go from enemy-to-enemy is absolutely delightful.
There’s even a training mode for players to practice different tactics against just about every enemy in the game.
Much of my enjoyment in Valkyrie Elysium’s battles can also be attributed to the elegance of the Valkyrie’s fluid animation transitions as she attacks. As the battle dynamics constantly change with new enemies spawning frequently, having the controls be as tight and responsive as they are was essential. The only aspect that annoyed me in this regard is the lock-on system; sometimes the game would not lock-on to the enemy that I wanted or would take too long to cycle through enemies to lock-on to a specific enemy. This becomes a bit of an issue for several bigger foes, since each of them will have multiple parts that each can be locked onto.
As players continually use a weapon in battle, that weapon’s proficiency bar ranks up. A few skills on Valkyrie’s skill trees will require that certain weapons reach a certain proficiency rank to unlock them. At first, I thought this would be a pain to grind out. I later realized that leveling their proficiencies up didn’t take too long, and it was a compelling incentive to experiment with different weapons as well. There are even a few weapons I initially dismissed only to return to them later and found them enjoyable after expanding their move sets.
Separate from their proficiency rank, weapons can be enhanced through materials earned in chests and battles. These same materials are also used for unlocking Skill Tree nodes. I was a bit skeptical about how much of a balancing act this would be, but Valkyrie Elysium pretty much showers players in these materials later on. Maxing out Skill Trees and fully leveling a few weapons is a breeze.
In fact, I’m not sure why there is a Character Point limit for the Valkyrie. Many skills have a point cost attached to them that players can toggle them on or off; in theory, this would suggest that people will have to be mindful of what abilities they want to take into battle and would have to choose not to bring some in order to stay within the Character Point cap. The reality is that there are exactly enough Character Points to have every single ability in the game equipped and/or toggled on, so there is no reason why that mechanic had to be there in the first place.
The mission select screen gives great visual feedback at a glance on if there are any subquests or collectibles that the player has yet to complete or collect.
Aside from the enjoyable battle system in Valkyrie Elysium, I unfortunately find every other aspect to be either mediocre or merely serviceable. The story is barebones and predictable: amidst a dying world, Odin tasks the Valkyrie to purify souls on Midgard throughout a few regions to prevent Ragnarok. Along the way, the Valkyrie meets several Einherjar after finding their relics and facing off a corrupted fragment of their soul in thrilling boss battles. A mysterious Valkyrie gets in the way of their plans and her words have the player’s Valkyrie question the motives of Odin and such. Valkyrie Elysium’s story is straightforward and uninspiring for the most part, with some slight nods to the original Valkyrie Profile in odd ways. It tries to somewhat retain the melancholic feel that is core to the series, but I feel that it comes across as too lifeless.
This is mostly attributed to the Hollow Blossoms in Valkyrie Elysium. These are collectible flowers that are marked on the map. They are the lingering voices of a person that has already passed away; when the Valkyrie interacts with them, it is merely a small bit of dialogue of a faceless, nameless NPC talking about well, anything. It is difficult to care about the world at large in Valkyrie Elysium unlike in prior Valkyrie Profile games that provided a much clearer and more poignant presentation in portraying its denizens.
The smaller-scoped nature of Valkyrie Elysium surfaces in some disappointing ways, too. While people are introduced to the backgrounds of the Einherjar they recruit on a basic level in the story, a large amount of their characterization and histories are tucked away behind optional memories that can be viewed from the Collectibles menu. These are merely small scenarios played out through text and voice acting alone, almost like listening to a drama CD. I would have liked to see these get a bit more attention and acknowledgement from the story itself because as it stands, these are very easy to gloss over because the game itself hardly emphasizes them at all.
A lot of Valkyrie Elysium’s side quests are small, somewhat dull, endeavors. Players obtain them from marked NPCs on a map as they play through main story missions and then the side quests are separate entries on the mission select screen when they return to the Valhalla hub base. Side quests use the same map as their corresponding main quest, but are sectioned off to a much smaller portion of it. They’re often quick to complete with many of them amounting to just “kill all the enemies” with very little variation. Their rewards are, at least, worth it most of the time from higher-level Divine Arts to items that increase the cap on the Valkyrie’s Health, Soul Gauge, and Arts Gauge for spells.
I wish the optional Einherjar memories were presented more along the lines of something like Lost Odyssey’s A Thousand Years of Dreams.
My total playtime of Valkyrie Elysium took a little under 20 hours. The game does have multiple endings, though the prerequisites for other endings are dependent on actions taken in the final chapter of the game. There is no New Game+ after completing it, but people can still obtain the other endings because loading a completed save file will take them back to Valhalla before the final chapter. The prerequisites are “reset” in this case, so they can play out the final chapter again and choose to do things differently that will alter what ending they get.
Valkyrie Elysium is an okay game with a fun battle system. Its biggest strength is that it’s fun to play when there are enemies on-screen. Everything else about it is relatively lackluster. This new take on the Valkyrie series is a solid gameplay foundation while leaving a lot of room for improvement in many other areas. Still, I think the developers at Soleil have done a decent job as newcomers taking their own interpretation of the series. I don’t think I’d want Valkyrie Elysium to completely overtake the Valkyrie Profile series moving forward, though I’d be happy with a peaceful co-existence as each strives to improve themselves – given that Square Enix greenlights more Valkyrie titles, of course.
Versions tested: PlayStation 5. Valkyrie Elysium is also available on PlayStation 4 now and will be available on Steam starting November 11.