By Katie . April 18, 2007 . 10:17am
Since the time of my last writing, Valhalla Knights and I have struck up a kind of mutual understanding, despite a stalemate of wills. I’ve come to appreciate the grueling curve to its difficulty, while totally disregarding it in my mad dash to progress; the game keeps me in line, saying, “that is not how we play, Escart”, and summarily sends me to a doom of surcharges at the inn. With half their money thus repeatedly levied, the motley adventurers live a subsistent existence of pawning treasures and sharing hand-me-downs, as there’s little money to be had outside quests. It’s frustrating – Valhalla originates in myth as the afterlife of those who die gloriously in combat, but I seem to be doing a good ass-ton of that, without making a lick of progress in Valhalla Knights.
My party having been fortified by the addition of a Halfling Thief proficient in archery, an Elf Mage of smug bearing, and a quest character you honestly shouldn’t add right away (for reasons I’ll soon get to), my Knights have gone from old castle dungeon, to subterranean dungeon, to forest dungeon, to bloody unending castle dungeon; fought an impressive variety of feeble slimes, cadaverous soldiers, flying beetles, pixies and Herculean-strength Cyclopes. I had the impression there was another town coming – spirit guide Noir told me so, just like he tells the mute hero all the infrequent, plot-related tidbits in his deadpan, plain manner – but settlements in this universe seem to be mostly of the monstrous variety, and you must wipe out virtually every last member if you wish to level up.
This is especially true of an uneven party: and if, for example, you easily manage to beat the game’s battle programming and take down the dwarf Ralgo early on (and as he appears early on, it only makes sense to try), you’ll suddenly have a level 13 party member amidst your decidedly green ranks. Now what does this do? For two straight dungeons, every battle, great and small, in which he partakes, will produce 1 measly experience point, maybe 1+1 if you’re lucky. And since the Guild won’t/can’t/would rather laugh in your face than take him out of the party, and since it takes hundreds of EXP to level up even from the start, you’re looking at a green party for a looong time.
Thankfully, since Knights lets the player assume control at whim of any one of a full roster of six characters – each with a different weapon, its respective limit-break style special, and still others with the game’s many magicks – while the AI-drones put up a stiff fight with the right settings, the fun doesn’t wear thin too quickly. You just have to be Ultraman to stay alive, and a guru of patience to persevere. And outside of battle, there’s little to keep the ball rolling – monoliths stand poorly hidden to unlock many doors conveniently sealed by ‘unknown’ or ‘strange’ forces, environments have no more details than your eye and an occasional button-press at a door can examine, little of atmospheric value to investigate, and quests prove simplistic and unrewarding but for the money. It isn’t a bad game – it just lacks that sheen of lovingly cared-for skin atop the bare skeleton and musculature.
Other things to mention are the sound and graphics. Sound has surprisingly shown deterioration from the outset – what began with lively woodwinds, brooding strings and exultant, up-tempo orchestra as appropriate for the town Paladi, the old prison and the battle theme have slowly been outstripped by generic ambience and techno riffraff. The fall marks a sad loss, as this was one of the game’s highlights. Perhaps inversely proportionate has been the rise in graphical quality, which exhibits some finer lighting, more varied landscapes and generally greater contrasts between areas. But compared to the opening FMV, which sets the bar fairly high with its bright, airy, and exciting visual cues, Valhalla Knights still feels bland and stifling to the eye.
All in all, Valhalla addicts by virtue of its lacks – the lack of a heavy plot to carry around in your head, the lack of intuition required to work your way onward, the lack of attachment that comes with fleshed-out characters. It’s easy to get into and simply stick with given a taste for the mercenary, for developing stats, and for playing dress-up in a grown-up, condoned sort of way. Since I can’t get further without serious work, however, these virtues are only enough for me to recommend Valhalla Knights on a try before you buy basis. If you miss it, there’re always gonna be more like it.