"A thousand tiny voices rise up from Midgard, the realm of the humans. Each of them has a different story to tell, and all you need to do is listen. "
A thousand tiny voices rise up from Midgard, the realm of the humans. Each of them has a different story to tell, and all you need to do is listen.
In the guise of a commoner, a journey to ground level only leaves you with unanswered questions. A quiet mountain village to the north seems at peace until an elderly woman explains that her town has been inhabited only by adults ever since the children were taken away and sold. At greater unrest is the continent’s center, where the slave trade runs deep, and the poor nation of Artolia regrets being shoehorned in between two war-hungry empires. The scholarly professors at the world’s edge want to be left alone, while the seafaring people of the southwest know only of war between the merfolk as passed down through local legend. Few of these people would unveil their secrets to a stranger, but when Lenneth departs and soars into the sky, she hears the crying voices of those within arm’s reach of death.
Valkyrie Profile, being rooted in Norse mythology, tells of the coming of Ragnarök, the end of the world following an apocalyptic battle of the gods in the realm of Asgard. Lenneth, a valkyrie and herder of the dead, has been instructed by Odin to prepare for the coming war by traveling to the realm of the humans and gathering those dying souls noble enough to represent the gods. Lenneth admits she is no goddess of love, but as part of her duty is able to identify those souls noble enough to become Einherjar, warriors of the dead: those who die for an ideal, those who are slain in battle, those who would give their lives for a loved one.
Valkyrie Profile’s theme of death is a constant presence, and while the game certainly has religious undertones, it seems to function more appropriately as a meditation on death and its perception in the eyes of those who still live, those who have already died, and those who believe they have nothing to fear. With the end of the world approaching, ascension into the afterlife seems immediate and inevitable, and the tonal contrast between the human world and the realm of the gods is almost jarring. The first thing we see in Valkyrie Profile is Lenneth trotting through the pristine fields surrounding Valhalla, with flower pedals dancing all around her and mountainous clouds swarming in the distance. Compare this to the many locales of Midgard, with their drab colors and overcast skies –even the soundtrack, which is otherwise vintage Sakuraba, almost has a quality of impending doom about it. Death feels imminent around every corner, but Lenneth’s journey may prove that’s not always a bad thing.
In the corner of the map you’ll find a young boy, the son of a sailor, who falls in love with a mermaid and is granted one wish; Lenneth meets the mermaid, Yumei, at the bottom of a maelstrom when the boy wishes for her death so that she can finally fulfill her life’s dream and be reunited with her dead parents. In another land, beneath the spires of the grand royal city of Crell Monferaigne, the youthful Llewelyn falls in love with a girl just before being drafted into the military, and promises he’ll return to marry her; he dies at sea, but Lenneth grants him one last chance to speak with his loved one before he is shipped off to Asgard to battle with the gods. Elsewhere, in a town inhabited by rich slave owners, a nobleman named Belenus falls for his servant, who dies at the hands of a vampire; when Lenneth arrives at the scene, he offers to trade his soul for hers. Much of the beauty of Valkyrie Profile is found in taking the role of the quiet observer, watching as dozens of bittersweet stories unfold before you: all ending with the loss of a life, yet most somehow uplifting.
I haven’t actually said anything about gameplay yet, because in a way, it’s almost beside the point in the face of such a unique and moving narrative. Valkyrie Profile is fairly open-ended in nature, allowing you to soar over the landscape and collect the souls of fallen warriors as you see fit. You ultimate goal as a shepherd of the dead is to locate those worthy of becoming Einherjar, and then train them to become heroic soldiers before shipping them off to Asgard, where war awaits them. You do so by exploring the many complex dungeons revealed during Lenneth’s meditations. I’ve heard complaints that the often maze-like dungeons, when combined with the game’s side-scrolling perspective, are confusing, but as a means to wage battle with the undead to strengthen Lenneth’s recruits, they function fine. Likewise, the simplicity of the battle system (eliminating menus where possible) works to the game’s advantage, moving the playable segments of Valkyrie Profile along at a brisk pace so that we can quickly return to the game’s real draw, its engaging plot.
It’s a fairly well known fact that Valkyrie Profile offers several different endings and actually varies depending on the difficulty chosen, with higher levels offering more characters, more dungeons, and an altogether more complete narrative. Given the game’s relatively short length compared to other RPGs of the time (especially Enix’s other major title), Valkyrie Profile seems built for replay value for those without a crowded gaming schedule. I wish I could fit into that group. The first human I encountered in the game was Arngrim, a soldier who, when faced with the murder of an innocent girl with whom he’d only just established a connection, stabbed himself in the heart so that he could be reunited with her by Lenneth’s side. I’ve love to re-experience Valkyrie Profile and see how many equally compelling tales I failed to catch the first time.
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