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Xenon Valkyrie+ (PlayStation 4) artwork

Xenon Valkyrie+ (PlayStation 4) review


"Valkyrie is undeniably a cool game, but it's hard to see it as such when it's kicking moon sand in your face."


Xenon Valkyrie+ (PlayStation 4) image

Xenon Valkyrie+ is undeniably cool. It oozes space opera style, starring a ragtag trio of space travelers on a journey to the center of a moon. An evil witch resides there, stirring up trouble for the locals. You guide a platinum-haired, pigtailed warrior, her red-haired companion and a frog-like alien to take down the interstellar sorceress. From the moment you exit their ship, the game hits you with a retro presentation decked out with all manner of sci-fi details. You delve into massive levels, some strewn with abandoned tech and others brimming with living machinery. Robots and extraterrestrials alike attempt to murder you within the depths, sending you screaming back to your ship on the surface.

This threesome came to party, though. Its members brought beam swords and laser guns, as well as grenades and special abilities. The pig-tailed protagonist, for instance, possesses an infinite supply of time bombs that not only damage foes, but also blast through walls and floors. Unlike her cohorts, she can access blocked off chambers and clear pathways to each stage's goal. Of course, you must abide a cooldown time before utilizing another bomb, but it's worth the wait.

Valkyrie is a roguelite title. Don't bother memorizing stages, because they're procedurally generated. In some rogue-ish products, randomization leads to dull, lifeless levels. Valkyrie, however, features tremendous stages composed of a multitude of design patterns. You might run into the occasional repeated sequence of platforms, but stages are so gigantic and complex that you rarely notice. They facilitate exploration better than most roguelite adventures, and beg you to check out as many hidden spaces and corridors as possible.

Xenon Valkyrie+ (PlayStation 4) image

Exploration is key to staying alive, as you'll need to level up your hunters. You can't gain levels unless you seek out and dispatch as many creatures as possible before clearing a stage. Each level you gain nets you a "talent point," which bumps up one of your stats when used at a mystic tablet that appears between levels. There's just one catch: the defense statistic requires two talent points, where the others only need one. Since you typically gain three to five talent points per stage, this nuance complicates character construction. Strong defense is a must, but over-strengthening it even slightly could prevent you from adding necessary upgrades to your strength, hit points or ammo capacity. This adds some depth to the experience, ensuring that Valkyrie will offer a formidable challenge.

In the first two stage blocks (consisting of two stages and a boss encounter apiece), Valkyrie pushes your patience to the brink. The primary area becomes easy as you hone your skills, but it will pulverize you during your initial run. Since you don't begin this quest with a tutorial, you'll need to learn Valkyrie's mechanics on your own. You'll discover which situations call for a sword and which are better handled with ranged combat. You'll figure out that some enemies explode when they die, and thus require wider berth when battling. Other foes fire projectiles at a certain rate, and you'll have to observe them and figure out their rhythm before slaying them.

After the first boss, Valkyrie develops into a harrowing romp. You tread lightly through the second string of levels, avoiding exploding skeletons who jump around erratically. It's a frustrating, albeit ultimately rewarding challenge that culminates in one of two terrific boss encounters. One pits you against twin cannons that launch rolling bombs, kept active by a generator in the middle of the madness. The other sports a kaiju-like robot with multiple pieces for you to destroy. Both require old school pattern memorization, and both are among the best scenes Valkyrie has to offer.

Xenon Valkyrie+ (PlayStation 4) image

By the time you reach the third world, though, Valkyrie begins to sour. By this point, you walk on eggshells whenever you engage an adversary. You can barely find one that doesn't blow up or shoot a ton of projectiles, and progressing through this hazardous mess is aggravating. You begin to wonder if you shouldn't just bypass the combat and cut straight to the boss chamber. But how can you expect to advance any further if you don't take the time to level grind? If you forego beefing yourself up, Valkyrie will eventually catch up with you and tear you to bits.

By level three, you realize that the game's looting system is inadequate. Only one treasure chest with a single item rests in each maze, and you must find a key to unlock it. The pig-tailed character starts with a key, but the others have to defeat a mid-boss in order to secure one. Even then, you have to hope the game doesn't randomly generate the chest out of reach, as it occasionally does. Honestly, I didn't loot many chests during my playthrough, because doing so is like waiting for planets to align. When I did succeed in opening a chest, what I most often received was a slightly improved gun that wasn't worth the trouble anyway.

Death complicates the experience all the more. When you perish, all of your equipment disappears, your level resets to 1, your cash disintegrates and any keys you collected vanish. The only thing that remains is your supply of a rare type of currency called “teamerite.” You earn this by vanquishing bosses or buying it from in-dungeon stores. Teamerite allows you to purchase new weapons, but those don't immediately pop up in your inventory. Rather, you're paying for the possibility of a weapon appearing in a dungeon chest. You know, the ones that are a pain to access in the first place...

Xenon Valkyrie+ (PlayStation 4) image

There are a few other doodads awaiting your hard-earned teamerite, such as automated robots that follow you into the dungeon. I once coughed up two teamerite to hire one of these bots, and I can't begin to tell you what a waste of money that proved to be. The thing shot maybe three times, then went inactive. When I died, it disappeared and I realized I basically flushed two teamerite down a pixel art toilet.

You're better off saving teamerite to activate post-level warp points. Every time you defeat a boss, you gain access to a teleporter that allows you to restart at a certain part of the dungeon. These teleporters also automatically give you a gracious amount of talent points, thus making up for your stat losses. The only catch is you actually need all of the materials required to activate the gate, otherwise you'll have to replay the previous set of stages again. In other words, if you defeat the third boss and don't have a few teamerites, two keys and five hundred credits, you won't be able to activate the warp point to the fourth zone, and thus must replay the third set of levels. Good luck obtaining those goods and surviving long enough to battle the third boss...

Xenon Valkyrie+ is a terrific concept and a neat game unfortunately done in by the latter half of its campaign. By that point, it evolves into an irksome, frustrating slog against seemingly impossible odds. Rogue-ish games dull their own tedium or frustration by offering you tons of useful loot while remembering not to over-strengthen you. Crypt of the NecroDancer comes to mind. Stiff challenges are par for the course with this genre, but most titles reward you for the grueling punishment they force you to endure. Without much reward, they come off as mean spirited. Valkyrie is undeniably a cool game, but it's hard to see it as such when it's kicking moon sand in your face.

3/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (June 14, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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