Valhalla Knights (PSP) review
"Valhalla Knights is a game designed to sell X copies to X gamers for (X*Y) dollars. You could say that about anything, but most games have something more. Something catchy. Unfortunately, there's nothing catchy about Valhalla Knights — nothing to make me even want to pick the game back up again."
Back in the eighties, everyone wanted to be a ninja. Sometime during the mid-nineties, everyone decided they wanted to be pirates -- hence the introduction of "National Talk Like a Pirate Day" (September 19). But ninjas and pirates alike have fallen beneath the iron axe of a more manly, more muscular hero: the viking. Yes, the viking.
In keeping with the times, video games have referenced Nordic lore like never before. As examples, look no further than Riviera and Yggdra Union. Unfortunately, there's a problem with these games: they were developed by Japanese people. Over in the land of the rising sun, consumers don't want manly viking heroes. They want vulnerable, morally challenged boys and girls. If you doubt me, then just look at Raiden (MGS 2) and Vaan (FFXII); their appearances were based on Japanese market research. Only Koei, with their vikingly Gan Ning, stood firm against this wave of emasculation.
But enough about that. Let's discuss Valhalla Knights. From the title, you might think it stars a bunch of vikings charging up the mountains to take on Thor himself. You'd be wrong. Despite the deceptive name, Valhalla Knights doesn't have anything to do with Nordic mythology. It's just a random RPG released for Sony's PSP.
Unlike some of the flashier PSP packages, Valhalla Knights' cover art is very... brown. It's not much to look at, really. There are two people -- one a barefoot male with a generic head, the other a mostly-obscured female -- and they're standing in front of... brown.
It's a dull, generic cover, and the rest of the game follows suit. Valhalla Knights begins with your slightly customized hero -- either a dainty wench or a barefoot lad -- waking up in bed, suffering from a serious bout of amnesia. I'm astounded that RPGs are still milking the tired "waking up in bed" and "amnesia" plot devices, but whatever.
Since the hero(ine) can't remember anything, a wise spirit named "Noir" guides him/her on his/her quest, but never quite explains what's going on. He's like that priest from The Omen; Noir's read the entire script, but instead of saying something useful, he rambles incoherently. Furthermore, Noir is clearly a mighty sorcerer, but he never uses his magic when it's appropriate. For example, he heals you after an early boss battle, but he won't heal you during the fight itself.
Note: The bewilderingly ineffective all-powerful sorcerer would have been cool if used for comic relief. Unfortunately, Noir is meant to be taken seriously.
Valhalla Knights is essentially a behind-the-back, third-person update of classic first-person dungeoncrawlers like The Bard's Tale and Might & Magic. Although both of those RPGs were excellent, storylines aren't what made them famous. Intricate dungeons, mysterious sidequests, and inventive gameplay are what made those famous. If the lame plot were Valhalla Knights' only problem, I could forgive and forget.
Unfortunately, the game is -- how shall I put this -- long and boring. Unless you happen to select a priest as your main character, it takes five to eight hours to even get into the swing of things. And by "swing of things", I mean it takes five to eight hours before you're able to step foot into a dungeon and endure three consecutive fights without returning to Bolsir's Inn to heal. It's a long, arduous learning curve, and the dull, brown visuals don't help.
If you do select a priest, then the game might seem easier (and more fun) at first, but you've basically screwed yourself over. One of the early quests -- a mano-y-mano brawl between your main character and a super-buff, bare-chested dwarven warrior -- isn't something a priest can handle. Alas, you can't abandon one of the lazily-implemented quests once you accept it. If you agree to take on The Challenge, then you're stuck with The Challenge until you actually win.
The reason it takes so long to make any progress is because Valhalla Knights desperately wants to be an MMORPG. In other words, the game is loaded with tough fights, minimal experience earnings, and cumbersome mechanics. For example, you can't sell items at the shop until they're appraised. But appraisals are done at the Guild, not at the Shop. So you go to a dungeon, get an item, return to town, appraise it at the Guild (which costs money), then walk over to the Shop to sell it. That's a lot of effort just to earn a few coins. Why do items need to be appraised, anyway? When you find a sword, why can't it just say LONGSWORD instead of being an unknown one-handed sword?
The real-time battles control competently.
Secret classes, accessible only by discovering hidden items, were supposed to add versatility to the later stages of the game... however, the extra classes aren't really "new". For example, the "ninja" class is a slightly improved thief. The "anchor" is a wizard who can cast either mage or priest spells. They're not unique, so unlocking them isn't particularly exciting.
Note: Yes, it's true. In VALHALLA Knights, you can play as a ninja, but not as a viking.
In case the game weren't boring enough, Valhalla Knights uses a "time travel" plot device as a means of extending the game without incorporating new dungeons. Visit place X in the present... now visit it in the past! Visit place Y in the present... now visit it in the past! It doesn't help that each dungeon abuses the tired "flip switches 1, 2, and 3 to open doors 1, 2, and 3" mechanic. By the way, when you visit those places in the past, the switches are all reset and need to be flipped again.
Valhalla Knights is a game designed to sell X copies to X gamers for (X*Y) dollars. You could say that about anything, but most games have something more. Something catchy. Unfortunately, there's nothing catchy about Valhalla Knights -- nothing to make me even want to pick the game back up again.
So I won't.
Staff review by Zigfried (June 17, 2007)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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