Sunday, 11 September 2011

Valkyrie Profile Game Design Review

Created by Tri-Ace, Valkyrie was released to much fanfare on the Playstation. It's a unique take on RPG's from a gameplay perspective and one which combines action and RPG fairly well. However I feel that Valkyrie Profile is a flawed classic because of the many bold but awkward gameplay design decisions that in my opinion tend to confuse the player and force the player to make uninformed choices rather than fun mysterious choices.

Keeping this in mind, let's go over the flaws:
Dungeons lack helpful descriptions - Dungeons get unlocked as you progress through the story but you can also revisit them to train. Unfortunately, sometimes its hard to keep track of which dungeons contain what sort of monsters and how you'll need to equip your troops.

Flawed time system - Each time you visit a location such as a town or dungeon it takes up time. When enough time passes you will move to the next chapter. As an RPG this places a real constraint on leveling up your characters appropriately.

Boring towns - Towns are generally places to get story or information about the world or quests or items. In Valkyrie Profile, because you craft items in the game menu the only reason you would visit a town or city is to obtain a character's special weapon and talk to people to learn more about the backstory.

Unfortunately the backstory isn't really fleshed out and you can't for example get side quests from townsfolk so there really isn't a reason to return back to them. Furthermore, visiting towns require precious time periods which could be better spent training giving you even less incentive to return.

Breakable weapons - Weapons that break permenantly are just annoying and they're very expensive as well. Worse, they aren't like items with limited use. Instead there is a 'chance' of them breaking. In the end you really only use them against bosses which I suspect was the intent all along or I would simply reload from my last save. It doesn't add anything to the game and I discourages players from experimenting and finding the best combinations.

Storylines could be interactive, link better and world could be more dynamic - Unfortunately, it seems the world of Midgard doesn't change enough if at all during the course of your travels nor does it seem to be affected in any way shape or form by any of your actions. I was hoping that your actions and level of success would somehow affect the wars between humans and new locations would open up open up. As I found out however, Valkyrie has very little effect on the human world. This is a really missed chance! Why shouldn't you be able to transform towns into cities or do something which actually affects the 'history' of the world or at least open up new side quests? There is from reading a game guide one or two secret side quests but that's about it.

Also once they join your party characters don't really interact too much with the each other or the real world either. Again another missed chance. It would cool to at the very least have a location or town or where you could visit and you could chat with them to gain clues or something. Instead, the only time you find out more about the character is after you send them to Asgard and you read about their exploits and replay conversations of them interacting with the gods and goddesses there as they level up!

Formation System could be better - Combat is blend of turns and action. During your turn, you push the relevant character's action button causing the character to attack. This works really well and is quite engaging. Unfortunately the actual formation system feels a bit limited because of this. The action buttons are mapped to the triangle, square, circle and cross buttons of the Playstation controller. As a result,that's the only formation you can make. This also makes it difficult to have 2 ranged attackers in your group because one of them will always be exposed to attacks and archers and mages take huge amounts of damage. This makes things somewhat unbalanced as a result.

Flawed combat magic system - Unfortunately its way too easy to spam group magic attacks if you have 2 or mages in the group. Usually this is enough to kill an entire enemy group unless they are resistant to magic. For me this created a imbalance in the difficulty where I would breeze through spamming group magic attacks until I hit the magic resistant enemies and find my warriors too week to do anything requiring me to retrain them and not spam magic attacks.

Poor experience system and flawed 'character sacrifice' system - Unfortunately the experience system is your typical 'kill monsters' level up system. You also get experience for performing certain actions or completing certain side quests. You can also purchase special abilities such as the ability to dodge or perform special attacks in combat. All okay so far. However the game has lots of characters and they only level up while in battle with you. When they join is also somewhat randomised so they might actually join in a later chapter where they arrive naturally underpowered. Yes, there are bonus experience points that can be stored and distributed to all party members but unfortunately it still isn't enough. The game therefore does not really provide incentive to experiment or use new characters since they will woefully underpowered when you use them.

One of the unique points of the game is that you need to send characters to Asgard to aid the war in Asgard. Sending experienced characters with the right statistics and abilities to Asgard will result in Freya, one of the other goddesses, praising your performance and granting you items and more points to create items.

As mentioned at the top of the article, the the time limit for each chapter also makes it difficult to train characters since there is only a limited number time periods. The only incentive to train new characters in fact is because you have to send characters to Asgard to help your forces in Asgard in order to get a better evaluation and more points to purchase/craft equipment with. Again, this is where the time system and the character sacrifice system sort of falls down. Because they made the game difficult, give you underpowered units and limited time periods, the game ends of punishing you for if you train up a set of characters too narrowly and neglect to train the other characters but also if you train too broadly. Its just difficult to know when you first play through the game whether you're doing things 'right' or 'wrong'.

Flawed reward system - Whenever you come across a special artifact, you are given a huge warning sign to surrender to Odin (thereby losing the item) or face a drop in evaluation. This is a way of controlling the difficulty in the game. As a gamer there are two problems with this. First the huge warning sign encourages players to think that the trade off between evaluation and item is quite significant and secondly you don't really know what the artifact does until you actually acquire it. Realistically, you should keep the item and then sacrifice it later in the menu if you don't really it need.

No New Game+ - Once you finish the game, that's it. You can't carry over your items and stats or whatever to make your new game easier. Again, hindering the player when they wish to enjoy the game again. Not many people would be happy to relevel up again. Furthermore, the higher the difficulty, the more dungeons you have to explore (note dungeons are NOT randomly generated). This would have been really helpful in encourging players in tackling the higher difficulties.

Bad ending - For a lot of RPGs the end of the Journey should be a powerful evocative one. Valkyrie just doesn't do that. Normal Ending is very strange and doesn't hint at the true story or even how to attain the true story. You practically have to read a walkthrough to realise there are 3 multiple endings.

Overall a game which has hints of greatness, replayability and interesting ideas bogged down by indecisiveness and quirks that discourage experimentation. I can only recommend it because it is so unique and treads new gameplay grounds with a wonderful art style, just don't expect a consistent polished experience.