Fanservice is prevalent in Valhalla Knights 3. It’s the kind of game that, when you go into the options menu to increase the painfully slow unfurling of text in the unvoiced cutscenes, you’re greeted with six toggles to choose what kind of panties you want the shop clerks to wear, which you’ll see if you spend enough money and play the screen-touching “Sexy Time” minigame (each successive section of which involves the clerk in question (all female, mind you) removing a layer of their store-specific uniform).
Now, bear in mind that outside of Sexy Time, which can net you items that sell for a lot of gold and improve your relationship with the clerk (which culminates in you taking them to a seedy hotel), there’s basically no advantage to using them. Regardless of which clerk you hire or how much they charge for their services, you’ll still get the same shop or quest menu that you’d get if you went down to the slums and used the shops that don’t require you to hire a clerk beforehand.
Valhalla Knights 3 is the kind of game that doesn’t even bother with putting as much as a blinking or lip flap animation into its characters’ masklike faces, making cutscenes with dramatic zooms come off as ridiculous. However, it somehow managed to accommodate jiggle physics.
In Valhalla Knights 3, you watch a woman in your group of prisoners get dragged away by two men to somewhere she can “make use of her assets”. She’s shortly thereafter revealed to be the newest clerk at the local guild, which one of your compatriots easily mistakes for a brothel. She doesn’t seem too put off by her new employment, though, and she even forgives you for letting her get dragged off to what seemed to be certain doom.
The face of tragedy.
Why did I start this playtest by talking about fanservice? Because outside of that, Valhalla Knights 3 is rather unremarkable. Knowing that the game was set in a prison that’s entirely under prisoners’ control, I decided to put together a character who looked like a generic thug from an ‘80s anime (which didn’t work quite as well when the game tried to shove a tragic backstory onto him). Because of his scars and tattoos and the prison background, I figured it would be fun to make him an “Akatoki,” a fist fighter whose first weapon basically looked like two slabs of brick strapped to his hands. I was excited, ready to take my grizzled criminal into a gritty world full of violence and treachery.
But that wasn’t exactly what I got. Aside from the fact that you’re not really a criminal (which is revealed in a matter of minutes), the plot is set up in such a way that every evil act that your character might perform won’t be his or her fault, and instead of trying to survive in a brutal prison, you’re looking for a mythical treasure that’s supposedly hidden in the prison and can grant any wish. On top of that, the prison is so laid back, that aside from the initial kidnapping that I mentioned earlier and the rare fight in a shop, it’s basically like a town in any other RPG.
You’ve got a store that sells weapons and items, a guild where you can create new characters for your seven-person party and accept and report quests (typically kill so many of a certain enemy or collect a certain amount of an enemy drop item), and a place where you can change your characters’ faces and sexes—basically the exact same things sans-clerks in the lower slums of the prison, and one priest who will charge you a lot of money to revive your dead party members or get rid of whatever afflictions might ail you (including the particularly nasty “Money Pit,” which bleeds money and once left me just short of the cost of treatment and forced me to run down to the slums and sell my armor to afford it).
Combat typically takes place outside of the prison walls in a field that looks much more open than it actually is. The outside world is populated by clans of prisoners, but, much like your clan, they only appear as one person wandering the map before you engage them in contact. Your lead character controls nearly the same in and out of combat, with X acting as a main attack button, triangle working as a parry or special attack (unless you’re an archer, in which case your ability to aim carefully is disabled out of combat), and circle acting as a dash attack that be cancelled into an attack (proper timing of this dash-attack-dash-attack-dash-attack will become your main form of movement outside of the city). Kill an enemy before their friends appear with a “back attack” and you’ll be rewarded with extra experience points.
Should you engage an enemy clan, things get a little more busy. Everyone is out on the battlefield at once and you can swap from member to member with select. However, since you only really have two orders on the battlefield that can only be performed by your main character (attack and defend), large scale combat is kind of a free-for-all. I found that instead of going from character to character using special attacks, simply choosing your physically strongest character and going from enemy to enemy killing them made things a lot faster and less painful, since your AIs wouldn’t exactly take care of themselves if you left them to their own devices for too long.
You can adjust your battle formation from the pause menu, but since you can’t pause in battle, that doesn’t exactly lend itself to on the fly strategizing. Each class has a different skill tree that allows you a bit of diversity, and building up your party into a killing machine is fun (as is taking on subclasses for more skills), but my Akatoki’s skills were slower and weaker than his regular punches and I wanted more control over how my party acted as a unit. Attempts to strategize against bosses eventually just led to me assigning my entire team healing items or grinding until I could muscle my way through. It’s a shame, because the large parties could have led to something much more engaging than just running in and pressing X over and over with the right timing(which do lead to experience bonuses, which is nice).
One of the frustrating things about Valhalla Knights 3 is how it’s on the verge of being better. Combat has some interesting ideas but almost reduces to mashing X if you’re using a melee character. The idea of an RPG set inside a prison is interesting, but it’s basically just a village with more skimpy uniforms. It seems like the only thing that it follows through on is fan service.
Food for Thought:
1. Load times in Valhalla Knights 3 are very long, often in situations where they shouldn’t be, such as one lengthy load time for a character introducing you to their store and another for the store itself, where the previous scene that was just that environment, one character and a text box.
2. Because money was sparse, I found myself taking the early “Kill 30 Rabbits” quest with a 3000 gold reward over and over again. I don’t even want to think about how many damn rabbits I must have killed in my first few hours.