Thursday, November 22, 2007

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth review

In so many ways the PSP has been slowly turning into the platform for RPG fans. It took me some time to realise it but hei, I finally bagged a lent PSP Slim. And in it was a UMD of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. I did say I wanted to play Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, but no... I had to replay Valkyrie Profile, again. It was this or the new Silent Hill game. Silent Hill isn't my cup of tea, so it was Valkyrie Profile. Who would say not to that, especially when I just finished Silmeria and haven't touched the original Valkyrie Profile for some years now (I no longer own an imported PSOne).

Apart from playing through an illegally modified PSOne or emulators, chances are the only way you will ever play this highly regarded tri-Ace's classic Valkyrie Profile game is through this little dinky machine (Oo.... so sexy). Or whenever Square-Enix decides to release the game on PSN (which is never). You can also pick up the sequel, Silmeria, out now on the PS2 (RPG of the year), but you really ought to play this classic first.

Lenneth is an improved Square-Enix'fied port of the original Valkyrie Profile game. It isn't a straight forward port. With this new version you gain a new 16:9 aspect ratio (Oo... beautiful screen), totally new pre-rendered CG FMVs (which replaces the original anime videos) and other little bonuses littered here and there. Apart from that not very much has changed, which is a good thing. The original hand drawn backgrounds and detailed sprites remains. Kudos to anonymous video game developer TOSE for not screwing up this classic with unnecessary add-ons and 'features'.

Rather than playing tired old jRPG cliché characters that are a ragtag of orphans out to save the world, the Valkyrie Profile series are based on Norse mythology, with artistic license. Here you play as the warrior maiden, goddess Lenneth, the Valkyrie sent to Midgard (Earth) by Odin to scour for the defeated souls of fallen warriors and prepare them for the final celestial battle between Asgard and Vanir during the upcoming Ragnarok. Recruits are trained in dungeons and then sent to Valhalla where they prepare for the final showdown.

In essence part of the gameplay is about recruitment and character judgement. Not all Tom, Dick and Harry is worthy of becoming an Einherjar, so choose wisely. You will have eight chapters and 192 days (periods) to bolster the Æsir army. Flying on the world map Lenneth can sense either a soul almost giving up or a dungeon where tasks can be completed. Recruits that you choose will have a bearing on how the game turns out and which ending you obtain. Wonder around and fly to a wrong town and you lose two periods. Odin is an impatient bloke and if you don't succeed in reaping enough quality souls then once the final chapter is up you will witness Asgard losing.

The Valkyrie's conscripts can be toughen up with more combat experience by increasing their 'Hero level'. If you obtain a good 'evaluation' then you will be rewarded rare artefacts. Pay attention to these 'reports' from Freya as you will hear of news from the front of the battlefield at Asgard. The war above the skies are happening in real time and if the recruits are not properly trained or you fail to send Einherjars, then the Sacred War will be lost and a bad ending awaits you. Additionally you may decide to withhold a combatant for the next chapter rather than sending him up to aid the war effort, to bolster your own party (such as with Lucian) or if an Einherjar isn't deemed ready yet.

Dungeons are two-dimensional Castlevania-like designs with multiple planes. Much like a platformer the smallish cute sprite of Lenneth can walk, jump and do other Mario-esque moves. Ice crystals can be evoked to create temporal method of travel for hard to reach places. Don't ask me why a Valkyrie can't fly in dungeons as I do not know. Anyway ice crystals can also be used to freeze enemies and give possible advantage when entering battles. Slashing an enemy (which are visible on the field) will also initiate the battle.

Battles are an intense mixture of menu-based combat system and turn-based with real-time button presses. Each face button is tied to a corresponding party member so you could easily button mash your way through early on (though not recommended). Combos can be unleashed through combining right button presses. Spells and other RPG cliché weaponry can also be assessed via the menu and are standard RPG flair. There are no MP systems here. Instead you have something called the Charge Time. These is the number of turns needed before a character can invoke a special attack or for a Mage to cast spells. Reducing CT can be quickened through various methods such as equipping with certain accessories.

The port isn't without its problems though. An inherit issue of releasing a game on the UMD meant that load times could have been quicker if they released it via... say flash memory. Waiting for the menu can be a pain, but I am used to it in Dragon Quest VIII. Animations are blurry too and slow downs does occur during intense fight sequences. The background is stretched due to the new aspect ratio, which isn't a good thing. Controls particularly those when needed during platforming can be a little erratic but this is more of a design fault with the PSP's little weird analogue stick.

I am not too concern over the need to search of save points (only newbies would complain about that), but a compromised quick saves system like that implemented in Final Fantasy III DS remake is useful for the odd quick play while waiting for the bleedin' bus under the rain. It is supposed to be a portable title after all. Also while the cinematics are nicely done, I find it unsightly when compared to the chibi style sprites used in the gameplay. The steep learning curve may also put off casual gamers, but who gives a damn about them anyway? Except Nintendo I mean.

So while the PSP still has a long way to go in order to match the SNES and PS2 for its abundance of quality RPG materials, Lenneth is a good first step. At the end of the day it is still a port, even if it is a port of a terrific game, I do hope we will see more original materials for the PSP (even then when - not if - I eventually purchase a PSP, NiS port Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness would be my number one purchase). As for Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, if you are a RPG fan who has yet to enjoy the delight that was Valkyrie Profile and also happens to own a PSP, you owe it to yourself to play this classic and its PS2 sequel.

- Story telling at its finest
- Hand drawn background
- Unconventional RPG
- Engrossing battle system
- Occasional slow downs
- Menu load times
- The lack of thought-out portable save system


You can buy this from Amazon UK or import it from Play-Asia

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