I’m still not entirely sure whether I like Tri-Ace as a whole, but their early games most certainly feel different. Valkyrie Profile is nothing like any other RPG I’ve played before, from plot to battle system to dungeons. Even though it’s originally a PS1 game, it still feels like a fresh breath of air, since I’ve never played anything else quite like it. I played the PSP version, which is essentially the same game as the PS1 version with added CGI FMVs.
Valkyrie Profile’s story is rooted in Norse Mythology, which I actually know next to nothing about, so excuse me if I butcher anything. The story follows Lenneth, a Valkyrie tasked with the job to recruit einherjar, souls of dead humans, for the upcoming war of Ragnarok. She had to one up to Odin in Asgard each chapter, and there are 8 chapters. The strength of the game’s story lies in the tragic backstories of each recruitable einherjar, and the grim setting. Valkyrie Profile takes place in a world where little girls are sold as slaves by their birth parents daily, and if you are in any position higher than a generic commoner, there is probably someone who is plotting to get rid of you. You will witness terrible humans at their finest. Not to mention that Gods don’t really give a crap about humans. The plot is almost completely serious, and rarely light-hearted or comical.
The actual overarching plot concerns Lenneth’s memories, but the related scenes are very easy to miss without a guide. There are three endings, one of which is essentially a Game Over, and another of which is completely unsatisfactory and does nothing to address the, well, true story. The true ending that doesn’t feel underwhelming is next to impossible to obtain without a guide, and requires manipulation of an easily overlooked value that the game never mentions, let alone explain. In other words, if you only plan on playing through the game once (there is no New Game+), you’d better damn consult a guide if you want a satisfactory plot.
This game has loads and loads of recruitable characters, all of which come with some sort of tragic backstory. The recruitables are varied and diverse, and they all feel different from each other. Unfortunately, with the exception of three, your party members will not play any roles of significance in the main plot. Outside of their pre-death backstory, they will stay silent unless they’re a part of someone else’s depressing backstory. Nonetheless, I still found most of them likeable, because very few are actively annoying, and most of their situations are sympathetic.
My favorite characters are Lezard and Mystina. The former for being creepy to ridiculous levels, and the latter for being a good foil to the former and calling him out on his creepiness (and thighhigh boots + tsun!). Angrim is also a pretty cool guy, and Celia, while not recruitable and not dead, ends up being one of the most tragic characters in the end.
The game starts off very confusing, and the difficulty curve is kind of high in the sense that you can end up not knowing what to do in the first dungeon. It doesn’t give you a lot of direction, and there are quite a number of dungeons with frustrating puzzles. Add in platforming elements and the ability to create temporary footholds against walls, and you may very well end up not knowing what you are doing. Once you get a hold of the basic techniques things will begin to make sense, but certain dungeons are still confusing and/or rage-worthy. Surprisingly, the true ending’s final dungeon is many screens of one straight line.
The battle system is very unique. Despite being entire turn-based, you still have to learn how to time attacks to create a good combo. You have four characters in battle, each controlled by X, O, square, or triangle. When you press his/her respective button, he/she will attack. The point is to combines your characters’ attacks to create a combo, which will fill up a meter. Once that meter is filled up, you can make one of your characters that participated in the combo use their “Purify Weird Soul,” which is a special attack that does a lot of damage. There is no MP, so the only downside to magic spells is the delay of the next time the caster can act.
It’s a fun battle system that can get a little button-mashy for a turn-based game. It’s also very easy to break the game, especially with magic from the menu in the early chapters. Game-breaking methods are available in abundance, and certain fights will either be extremely easy or time-consumingly difficult, depending on your preparations.
Visuals + Audio:
Character sprites look blurry, but backgrounds are very nice and detailed. The dungeons all look different from each other, and are generally designed to feel different. The game likes to use a darker palette compared to most other PS1 RPGs. The FMVs look very nice.
Music is pretty decent. There is a lot of voice acting in this game, although it is not very good. Like most dubs at that time, the voices sound either awkward or devoid of proper emotion. They make some lines sound more cheesy than they should, or are so strange that they lessen the emotional impact of a scene. Okay, they sound better than Grandia’s voice acting, but VP is a serious game and Grandia is not.
Valkyrie Profile is great for its relatively dark story, and absence of the RPG cliches that certain people like to complain about. It’s not completely depressing though, and the true ending is satisfying. The battle system is strange, but fun, and the dungeons are certainly different from the usual maze-like fare. There’s nothing else quite like this game, except for its sequels, probably. Like Tri-Ace’s Star Ocean, this game has a fair amount of customization with skills.