Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria review
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When it comes to most RPGs it seems like it was be strange to not go with a band of happy-go-lucky adolescent misfits, complete with wild spiky hair and costumes that would seem out of place pretty much anywhere. Valkyrie Profile 2 opts to immerse itself in Norse mythology and shuns many of these common traits. The game has some pretty neat gameplay ideas too; if only they worked out well enough.

Well, things start out looking good. There's some jaggedness in the character models - mainly when close to the camera during cutscenes - but the detail is excellent, the general designs of the characters are varied and interesting and the animation of the characters seems done fairly well too. There are notable attempts to lip-synch with the voicework and that effort is appreciated, even if there are some moments when lips are moving to no sound.

The environments designs match up pretty well too. There's generally an overall earthy tone to the colour setup that suits the kinds of locations you get to visit, although this will be broken up by the greyish tones of castles or the icy blues of snow fields. Even though the adventuring part of the game is done in 2D the graphics work to craft nice looking 3D environments. Battle fields look quite good too, with some interesting looking layouts and features.

VP2 scores on the audio front too, beginning with a wonderful music collection that gives off the perfect fantasy vibe. Many of the tracks have such a charm to them and each typically suit the situations they are used in. Take on powerful enemies and the music will be that of a frantic battle theme that simply screams epic struggle. Wander through the dark streets of Dipan and the tunes drop to a more somber note to reflect the mood of the area.

Sound effects have been put to good use here. Combat is enhanced by using sounds to exaggerate actions, like how sword or arrow strikes result in crashes and loud swipes. The various crashes, explosions and blips that pervade the action meld together for a strong experience. Voice acting is in the game too, and this has been handled expertly. The voice actors recite their lines with enough passion to be interesting and the tone of the voices match up well too.

The overall story is intriguing, focusing on the princess of Dipan exiled from her own country. People think she's a little nuts but she actually shares her body with the spirit of Silmeria, a valkyrie who formally worked for Odin gathering souls of warriors. When another valkyire comes after them Princess Alicia is forced to flee and heads to Dipan hoping to avert disaster. There aren't really any major twists or anything, as any such attempts are often seen a mile ahead, but it's a solid enough tale to get into.

There's a general problem with the characters themselves though, and that is because it is hard to relate to any of them. Aside from Alicia/Silmeria and Hrist, the others just don't get enough development to make me care for them. Take Dylan as an example. He joins early on but soon takes a backseat, speaking up from time to time only to deliver some gruff lines but otherwise may as well be a rock for all the presence he has as a person. The same applies to the spirit army you can amass. They look nice and are voice acted in battle, but they never appear outside of battles and the only development we get is some background history tucked away in the status screens.

Like any good RPG, gameplay in VP2 is split between exploration and combat. The various areas you get to trek across are built using primarilly two dimensional layouts, where progress is mostly limited to left and right movement. Sometimes you'll come across a path that leads in or out of the screen to enter the next chamber or trail to offer a sense of 3D, and it does help offer a little more complexity.

Maybe we should stop and ask for directions...

Solde is the first town you visit and will be the standard set for all future towns and villages you'll see during the game, although that isn't that good a thing. If there is one thing that struck me about these dwellings is just how confusing they can be. Like other areas you have paths leading in and out of the screen, but since there is no map in these places it can be tricky to find your way around without memorising the layout, which wasn't the best way to start the adventure. Oh well, let's carry on since we don't have to stay around in towns for long.

As well as a few houses dotted around that people don't seem to mind you walking in unannounced (and potentially helping yourself to life savings while you're at it) there are some buildings of importance. The Tavern (in select towns) is where you can gather information about moving the quest forward or about sidequests. Inns can be used to recover the health and status of the entire army of people you control, and save points are usually located here too. Armouries is where you can stock up on supplies by spending your hard earned OTH (no, not a clue).

The shops here offer a little extra over your standard RPG item merchants through the valued customer aspect. By buying goods you will increase the respect the shop keeper has for you, which in turn unlocks new items to acquire. These goods require more than respect and money, as you also need to gain the materials required to create them. The reward is obtaining more powerful products you can't just buy or find anywhere.

Moving on we have the dungeons. The basic gist is to go from the entrance to either the exit or to the innermost chamber, taking on enemies, solving puzzles and usually fighting a big bad boss.

One cool aspect about this is that enemies are present in the field, and combat begins when you touch one of them as opposed to the older style of take a few steps and get dragged kicking and screaming into yet another random battle. Alicia can even fire photons off in most places, which can encase the enemies in a crystal form for a brief period. More than just a way to dodge enemy battles this is also used as part of the puzzle element. Freeze an enemy then jump on top and use the extra height to reach another ledge. There are other applications to this, like holding a switch down and you can even switch places with a frozen enemy by hitting them with another photon. This system works very well.

Unfortunately the dungeon design itself isn't that impressive. The Temple of the Venerated Dragon is a nice dungeon with some intriguing puzzles and a couple of others show some interesting ideas but the rest feel too sparse to be that interesting. Often it literally felt like I was just going from A to B, throwing out the odd photon to reach another ledge or something. Outside of battle there just isn't that much going on to maintain a solid level of interest, which is a shame because there is promise shown in here. If every dungeon demonstrated the same level of design that ones like the Venerated Dragon dungeon has then things would be different.

Seal stones form another element of the dungeons, although their effects are mostly felt in battles outside of a select few. These objects produce various effects such as boosting attack, increasing money gains from battle, reducing drop speed and altering elemental damage, to name a few. The target of these effects depends on where the stone is; one held by the player affects the player's group and one in a dias affects the enemies in the affected zone. Normally these objects cannot leave the dungeon they are in, but by earning magic crystals in battles and reaching a spring you can restore a seal stone, which allows you to withdraw them from any spring in any dungeon. These can help enhance combat, and they need it.

Touching an enemy or reaching a boss chamber will send you into battle, but before that you have to make sure you are properly set up. The various subscreens have a 70% chance of inflicting the scared ailment on players, mainly because there are a lot of screens to go through and things aren't always that clear, but it's workable.

You can use one screen to equip your characters with items and this is where you'll get a lot of the game's enjoyment from. You can pick out weapons, armour, headwear, arm guards, leg guards and four accessories. In addition to picking the good items you might notice that all items are colour coded as blue, red, green or grey. Linking any non-grey items together causes multipliers to be applied to the stat gains. In addition, mixing certain types of items and linking them allows you to gain new skills. These skills vary from increased damage output, chance activated healing and boosted chance of breaking enemy parts. Once gained skills must be learned by fighting multiple battles with the item setup intact, and then skills can be set to work (although you are limited to the number of active skills).

There are naturally other screens to work through. You can choose the attacks to set to characters and their order, you can change party members, you can examine and use items and even check upon the status of any given character in your team. None of it is quite as engaging as setting up equipment though.

Upon entering battle the game switches into 3D mode, a field is loaded and all enemies and player characters are dropped in. Flow is weird here as enemies only move when you move, so you can plan out approaches as needed. When not moving enemy attack ranges are displayed as red zones. Move into one of these and you may get attacked. The aim is to move around the threats and get the target within your attack range. Typically you only move one character and the other three follow. There are options to split the party into two teams and control them separately, but this is somewhat awkward and often isn't that useful. You can also dash if you need to cover distance quickly, and dashing can allow you to skip over red zones without suffering damage, although this uses up some AP so cannot be used recklessly.

That has to hurt.

Once in range attacking is done via hitting one of the face buttons on the right side of the pad - any one will do providing the related character is in range. You now get the chance to start comboing. Each of those buttons corresponds to one of your onfield characters, and pressing their button instructs them to use an attack that was preassigned to them (adjustable via the pause menu outside of combat). Attacks differ in damage and effects and the amount of damage you can dish out is limited by your AP gauge. Attacks use up differing amounts of AP, which is replenished mainly by walking around, defeating enemies or pressing in L3 to charge (not recommended since it gives enemies a free turn). Characters also differ in speeds, so learning what each attack does and altering your own timing can produce some wonderful combo strikes that can slaughter baddies. If you manage to get the special gauge to hit 100 before the end of attacking (done by linking combo hits well) and you have weapons equipped with special attacks enabled then you can use soul crush moves to tack on extra damage in extra flashy ways. It looks very cool and will be the main... well almost the only way to fight as it's easily more beneficial than anything else.

However, I became disinterested in the whole combat side of things as the game went on, and at first I couldn't understand why. I feel like I have reached an answer now. It can't decide what it wants to do. Valkyrie Profile 2 is a game that wants so badly to be both an action and a standard role playing game that it ultimately fails at doing either. There's not enough action because you spend your time slowly moving around the field trying not to step into the red cones of death. There's not enough freedom to appeal to action gamers.

At the same time, there's not enough depth to work for the RPG fan. Attacking always boils down to moving in range and mashing attack buttons to produce the same combos you got used to ages ago. There are some spells to use and you can use items in battle, but this system is crippled by the game's insistence on locking out the menus after a use for a while, and that 'while' can be a rather significant timeframe when enemies are sweeping towards you faster than you can leg it.

The game overall is pretty challenging, as enemies present varying attack patterns and strengths, but there are moments where things go badly too quickly, like having enemy attacks wipe over half the health off your entire party in a single attack for any significant enemies, causing you to waste more time trying to heal everyone before the next attack kills you outright. Combine this with opponents that often move faster than you do and mix in some monsters have insane attack ranges or being couped up in cramped arenas and you have some very frustrating moments building up.

Speaking of which, let's mention the battlefield design, which can be pretty horrid at times. In the early parts of the game fields are bland and a little boring. Around chapter 2 the arenas become a little more complex and interesting. In chapter 3 onwards some of the designs become crippled because they fail to take account of the battle flow. The most irritating aspect generally involves trying to move around objects, which is surprisingly more difficult than it looks. Many of the objects have their boundary fields extending further than what is visible, so just because it looks like you can dash past usually means you'll crash right into it. The computer partners, whose only job is to follow you, seem to enjoy getting themselves caught on these obstacles and then end up separated from you, somehow failing to grasp the concept of moving to the side to be able to join you. When lethal enemies are approaching the last thing you want is to waste time and AP just because you got caught on that pile of rubble. Granted not every arena is like this, but having some alone is bad enough, and it hurts even more when every boss arena is bad.

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is a case of one thing good one thing bad. It does have some interesting elements and presents some cool ideas, but the execution in places needs work for the game to shine. It's not terrible but it's obvious that it could have been a lot better.

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