While at E3 in 2006, I spoke to a number of journalists who raved about Monster Hunter; Capcom’s RPG that had an enormous amount of depth for the patient fan. They had sunk hours into the Japanese version, and were eagerly awaiting the U.S. translation. I purchased Monster Hunter at release, and was mystified at the kudos it had received. Although I could appreciate the depth and attention to minutia, I didn’t enjoy playing the game. I loved Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Disgaea for the intricate worlds these titles created, but Monster Hunter’s fundamentals seemed deficient- combat was clunky, and the game’s story moved at a snail’s pace. Whereas Bethesda’s interpretation of the role-playing fundamentals engaged me, Capcom’s construction choices merely left me perplexed.
So with a minor amount of trepidation, I approached Valhalla Knight 2, a RPG for the PSP that has been frequently compared to Monster Hunter for both its depth and its MMO-like aesthetics. As the opening cinema played, with a level of CGI that rivaled Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, my outlook slowly began to improve.
Combat is fast and furious. Blink and you might miss it.
The title’s narrative begins as a goddess descends upon the fantasy world, unleashing her wrath upon its citizens. A mysterious woman sacrifices herself by conjuring a giant blade that stops the angry goddess. Time passes as the protagonist is introduced in an era where some still worship the dispatched deity.
Upon starting the game, players are given a myriad of customization options to personalize their character. Players first choose a gender and race, followed by an occupational class. Physical appearances can be customized by choosing one of six faces and hair styles. Valhalla presents gamers with an unprecedented level of options in the handheld realm; character creation feels as intricate as a now-gen console title.
The title makes some unique design decisions. As players kill enemies, a treasure chest will appear where the defeated monster stood. When players open the chest they will receive generic items, that can’t be used until they are identified. The process of identification is performed in towns, or by uncovering single-use cards that identify items. Unlike most games that fill the players inventory with healing items, Valhalla players better leave the towns prepared; healing stations are painfully infrequent.
Ain’t no party, like a six man party, cause a six man party parties all night!
When players are defeated, which is inevitable in the early levels of the game, players will forfeit half their gold to the local innkeeper. Wise players will invest their gold in items, instead of being ‘liquid’; and carrying their money with them. Although this is an easy tactic to adjust to, it is incongruent with typical RPG clichés. Valhalla bravely marches to its own cadence.
Some other design choices are regrettable. Although the player has an on-screen map, with two levels of magnification, neither zoom level is adequate to gauge the party’s overall dungeon location. The map merely shows the area immediately surrounding the player, and the player will likely become disoriented when navigating a region for the first time. We would have liked a larger map, with indicators of quest objects.
Cute, little dogs as party members? Pure genius!
After some initial solo quests, players will soon acquire enough money to hire members via the local guild. A party may have up to six characters in its ranks; there is enough intricacy to keep the average stat-geek happy. Players can adjust party member’s positions, behaviors, and equipment. Enemy battles are usually avoidable, and once engaged, usually quick. Combat is a tit-for-tat, affair- you strike an enemy, and they strike back. Players can even turn on an auto-battle option if they want to speed through battles.
Graphically, Valhalla is a bit of a mixed bag. Towns and dungeons rely heavily on brown and grey tones, punctuated by the occasional radiance from treasure chests. Characters look hyper-animated; our sword-wielding warrior ran like an excited school boy. Overall, the game’s cities and dungeons are functional and show no signs of slowdown during navigation. The title uses a handful of inoffesive melodies in its sonic palette.
In summery, Valhalla Knights 2 is a difficult game to score. Some will be turned off by its dismissal of RPG staples; others may grow weary of its seemingly endless procession of quests. For others, the title’s approach and enormous amount of content are its main charm. If a 40+ hour series of quests gets your heart racing, I’d encourage you to try the game out. For Monster Hunter fans, the purchase of this game is a no-brainer.