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Valis: The Fantasm Soldier (Genesis) artwork

Valis: The Fantasm Soldier (Genesis) review


"Instead of the tale of heroine Yuko and former best bud Reiko's tragic friendship, the Valis manual talks about how Reiko is dating Rogles (King of the Dark World and general menace to society) because she thinks he's cute! What in the hell is that nonsense about?"



The Valis games have been around since 1986, ever since Wolf Team made the original on Japanese PC, and then the series was handed off from developer to developer for sequels on systems ranging from the obscure Turbo CD to the not-so-obscure Super NES. Generally, the series got better and better, evolving from an insanely difficult, limited action game, to a tri-character, multi-tiered platformer.

So in 1992, Telenet of Japan (the guys who own the rights to the Valis series to this very day) announced they were doing two remakes of the original game -- one remake for the Turbo CD, and the other for the Genesis. With Valis 3's cult fan following, and the critical success of the awesome Valis 4 SuperCD, everyone expected the new development team -- RIOT -- to hit a grand slam with the remake, bringing in a fourth score for the series.

What everyone forgot (or never even knew) is that RIOT was one of the least dependable developers in gaming history, putting out a truly great game one week and a stank piece of trash the next. This complete unreliability extended to the Valis remake, which somehow turned out to be really good on the Turbo, but AWFUL on the Genesis!

How could this happen? Well, the two versions are really two completely different games, even though they share the same "girl is given magical sword to fight evil" story. Truth be told, such a simple synopsis is unfair to the plot, a tale of friendships, jealousies, and even a pinch of honor. Unless you read the instruction manual! The storyline from the rulebook doesn't follow the in-game cinematics AT ALL: instead of the tale of heroine Yuko and former best bud Reiko's tragic friendship, the manual talks about how Reiko is dating Rogles (King of the Dark World and general menace to society) because she thinks he's cute! What in the hell is that nonsense about? Nowhere in the game does it ever say "Reiko thinks the Dark Lord is cute" and you can't even see the guy's face, because Rogles (King of the Dark World and general menace to society) is always wearing this golden mask on his head. It's kind of a cool mask though (he looks like Soundwave) so maybe chicks who dig Transformers would go for that kind of guy.

But since that's not the REAL story to the game, I can let that slide... but what won't get to second base with me is the slow-ass gameplay. Okay, so Valis 3 wasn't fast either. Your girl Yuko ran from left to right at a pace that made fat man Mario look like a sprinter, but at least they tossed in some pits, platforms, traps, tons of cool opponents, and even a bit of exploration (free the prisoners and hear what they've got to say)! Put all of that stuff together, and you've got an interesting team of game mechanics. Not every character needs to be as nimble as Joe Musashi as long as the rest of the gameplay can hold up.

But the only player that made it to Valis on Genesis was Mr. Platform. So yeah, you can jump around from ledge to ledge... but there's not a single pit to fall into in the game (not one!), nor will you find any Valis 3-style environmental traps. Part 3 on Turbo had this awesome scene where you had to use ice magic to freeze these flying piranhas -- then you could hop on them and cross the gaping chasm. Nothing in Valis ever reaches that level of ingenuity. Even the frost level (an oft-used theme) has taken a step back -- ice that caused Yuko to slip and slide in Valis 3 now has no effect. I guess little Yuko's high-heeled boots have really good traction this time around.

And the enemies? Oh, let me tell you about the enemies. Tentacled beasts straight from Clive Barker's dreams, a demon that sends AWESOME earthquake ripples streaking across the ground, mad bull minibosses, and sabre-wielding skeletons that shatter with a slash from your sword -- that's what you'll find in the Valis remake!

...if you own a Turbo CD.

In the Genesis remake, the imaginative foes from the first level are replaced with ugly grey flying blobs and ugly grey grim reaper ripoffs, swinging their spears in canned two-frame animation lack of style. The earthquake demon in the Genesis game makes the screen shake, but the fantastic earth undulation effect has been removed. The mad bull miniboss is just outright GONE, and the skeletons have been replaced with sword-wielding knights that just blink and disappear when you kill them -- forget the awesome bone-bursting animation!

RIOT ripped off the graphics engine from Valis 3, so Yuko looks decent when she runs. It's as nothing compared to the overhauled graphics you get on the Turbo version, but her movement is still smooth. As for the enemies? They've actually made this game look worse than the earlier entries, by cutting the animation frames in half! Seriously, one of the amazon women is standing up, then the next thing you know, she's squatting, with no segue between the two positions! This is bad, bad quality.

But somehow, RIOT managed to make the most of the music chip, providing a soundtrack that surpasses even its CD cousin. The first level track, FRASH OF SWORD (what a name), has become legendary among Telenet/Renovation fans, and deservedly so -- it's a great composition, and the Genesis has the best version. They've even pulled one over on the original PC and Turbo CD incarnations, adding additional segments to other musical tracks! You have to listen to the game in stereo (mono is missing notes) but it's worth it.

But music alone cannot save this game! With the slow slow main character movement, complete absence of pits, lack of environmental obstacles, and the stupidly easy enemies (except for one boss that has a "remove half your life instantly" spell), the game just can't get my blood pumping unless it's in anger. Even the cinematics (a Valis staple) are disappointing, with nice graphics but snails-pace dialogue. One letter appears at a time, kind of like this:

s

l

o

w

l

y



Actually, forget disappointing. That's outright irritating.

So really, aside from the music test mode (hold A+B+C+UP+START at the title screen) there's no upside to this particular Valis game. Most entries in the series have been flawed, but most also had a few redeeming gameplay elements. Well, I guess the final boss fight against Rogles (King of the Dark World and general menace to society) is decent, but it takes an hour to get there. Let this one walk -- save your energy for something better, like El Viento or Shinobi 3.

//Zig

Rating: 3/10

zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (February 25, 2005)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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