Monday, November 19, 2007

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

Tech Info

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Tri-Ace
Genre: RPG
Release Date: Sep 26, 2006

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is the long overdue sequel to its predecessor, which was released some seven years ago. Unlike many of the other series in the Square Enix lineup, this title actually has significant relevance to its first installment. In fact, VP2 is slightly different in the respect that it is much more linear and story-driven, while the original VP was much more open-ended. Linear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The storyline is epic and very immersive. It can easily stand on its own for newcomers to the series, but it also adds more depth and appreciation to the history of Midgard, Asgard, and all the realms in between for veterans of the original Valkyrie Profile.

The story focuses around the struggles of Alicia, the young Princess of Dipan, who was banished by her father King Barbarossa because she is the involuntary vessel for two souls – her own and that of the valkyrie Silmeria, banished from Asgard by Odin for opposing his will. VP2 is a tale about opposition and revenge against the gods, and Alicia becomes an instrument in that crusade against divinity. Without spoiling the story, the young princess befriends a cast of support characters, from loyal knights to mercenaries and treasure hunters. The tough talking, heavy hitting Arngrim makes a return appearance in VP2, and this bad boy hasn’t lost his touch since his debut back in 2000.

While the cast of primary characters develops nicely, it is important to note that the Einherjar, spirits of slain heroes chosen by the valkyries, play a less significant role in the second installment of the series. While they were the focal point of Lenneth’s time on Midgard in Valkyrie Profile, they serve as combat support more than anything else on Silmeria’s journey. Their former lives are not nearly as glorified as they were in the original. As such, their stories are resigned to a few short paragraphs on the status screen. Thankfully, the main story is more than beefy enough to move along without needing the support of disjointed, and sometimes nonsensical, side stories.

Veteran players may remember Valkyrie Profile’s signature battle system, which involves each participant being assigned to one of the four right thumb buttons. That system returns in the second installment with a few modifications. Most radically, a free movement system is implemented, which means you have to actually move into attack range in order to hit an enemy. Also, unlike the vast majority of RPGs out there, you don’t win by wiping out everything on the battlefield. Battles can be won quickly by eliminating the enemy group’s leader. In fact, players are encouraged to end battles in as little time as possible, and they may be rewarded with usable items.

Also, all actions besides standard movement and Soul Crushes use a predetermined amount of AP, or Action Points, and player weapons have a preset attack limit, between one and three strikes per attack turn. The kicker is your party shares a single attack bar, which means button mashers have no home here, whereas that elementary play style was almost encouraged in the original VP. By timing attacks properly, you can maximize damage output and, ideally, unleash a series of devastating (and absolutely spectacular) finishing moves – the aforementioned Soul Crushes.

The skill system has been modified as well. The teach-by-item approach is gone this time around. Instead, players must discover combat skills through their gear. Each piece of gear is assigned a color, as well as a rune. Skills are learned by matching up like-colored gear with different rune combinations. For those of us not versed in ancient Norse runes, and that’s probably the vast majority of us, the runes flash when linked to other runes that will produce a skill. It’s all a bit much to grasp at first, and it takes a high degree of experimentation to get results. There are some tutorials in the early part of the game that help explain the concept, but the best way to learn is definitely through practice.

Dungeon crawling retains much of its original flavor. Even though the 3d models are very well done, VP2 plays much like its older sister. The general concept of puzzle-oriented side-scrolling dungeons, which is unique to the series, returns in full force. This time around the backgrounds are less like a cartoon and more focused on a sort of stylized photorealism. Think Norse mythology married to western European style and Japanese storytelling at its finest. The end result is one all its own.

Players are given some degree of control over dungeon dynamics through the introduction of “sealstones.” By collecting and placing these stones on the appropriate dais within a dungeon, certain effects can be projected across the entire zone, such as shifting elemental weaknesses. In most cases, players start at a disadvantage, and it’s left to them to retune the effects to create more favorable conditions. Such an approach requires some foresight.

These changes in the general system will come slightly more easily to the Valkyrie Profile vets out there, but even so, the learning curve for Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is pretty steep, even for a role-playing game. Expect to spend at least a good six hours in the beginning just getting used to the shifting camera angles in battle, which can be a bit awkward to all players, seasoned or not. If you can get past the huge learning curve, the end result is well worth it. Controlling a battle beyond the typical point-and-click-a-menu approach is a very refreshing change, indeed.

All in all, this Square Enix title will not disappoint. The visual design and world class storytelling alone make this one quite a force to reckon with on the game store shelves. Whether the captain needs an epic story to feed his mind or flashy, high power combat skills, VP2 is a prime example of both eye and mind candy. The original Valkyrie Profile lacked the exposure to bring it into the spotlight, and as a result, many players missed out on one of the role-playing masterpieces of the time. Thankfully, Silmeria does not have to suffer the same fate. This blonde is a pleaser, not a teaser. We do have our own contemporary saga, and it’s called Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria.

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