Soleil Inc. pulled off a bold move when developing Valkyrie Elysium as an action RPG instead of the turn-based RPG previous Valkyrie games were. Unfortunately, this gamble did not pay off. Playing the release build on a PS4, I found that Valkyrie Elysium suffers in virtually all areas you can think of — from the story to the combat to the visuals. While it still has the unique Norse mythological elements that makes the Valkyrie Profile series stand out, it lacks the previous games’ charm. As an aside, the accessibility of this game is pretty bad. Prepare for eye strain when you play.
The plot of Valkyrie Elysium follows the eponymous Valkyrie on a mission to purify souls in Midgard. This is to stave off the effects of Ragnarok for Odin’s benefit. There is more to the story, but what’s there is nothing groundbreaking. Like other Valkyrie Profile games, Valkyrie meets various Einherjar and forges contracts with them. The plot is pretty standard and every twist is predictable even with minimal foreshadowing. Valkyrie’s character development has very odd pacing, and her relationships do not feel organic. I had a bad feeling when the game started with a long plot-less tutorial. After I started the story, the game taught me everything again. What was the point of those first, lost minutes?
Unlike previous Valkyrie Profile games, you do not have a huge host of Einherjar to collect and use. You only have four, even though the Valhalla hub world looks big enough for way more. Their interactions with each other are fun until Valkyrie shows up, and then it’s all back to business. The only reason Cypher stands out is because Akira Ishida delivers his lines more flamboyantly than the others in Japanese. I had thought that with fewer Einherjar to share the spotlight, Valkyrie Elysium would try to emphasize deeper or more engaging stories over having more of them. But their quests do not really give them much more depth because they are so short. Even their gameplay-related benefits, unlockable skills, don’t make a huge difference in combat.
The combat also fell short for me. I consider myself to be a patient gamer, but I was ready to throw in the towel within the first hour. Playing on the PS4, Valkyrie’s movements feel very slow and it almost feels unfair how many times enemies can strike you from the blind spot that locking onto an enemy will create. It feels like you have train your sixth eye to figure out your location and what is happening, because half the time, foliage or enemies will block your view of Valkyrie. Dodging and parrying have a very severe timing, but you barely get a major advantage for pulling it off. It is excessively irritating to see an attack coming but you can’t cancel Valkyrie’s combo, so she gets hit and loses a huge chunk of HP. The description for the game says it has “speedy, three-dimensional combat.” It did not feel that way.
Battles can be surprisingly satisfying when in an open field with no foliage and up to three enemies. If you miss any one of those conditions, combat is a drag. But even under these ideal circumstances, the issues with the camera and Valkyrie’s animation locks persist. Every wonky camera movement or unexpected attack ate at my tolerance threshold. But once you reconfigure the camera to your liking and get more used to the timing of Valkyrie’s combos, the combat goes a lot smoother. It never quite becomes enjoyable, though, since the whole combat system lacks real depth and feels slow. It just becomes less frustrating.
So, the story is not the selling point and the combat needs work. What about the look of the game? Well, it looks outdated. The particle effects of combat lag on the PS4, which makes me think they optimized it for next-gen consoles. Aesthetically, the thick black outlines on all the objects are way too thick, for one thing. They overcompensated on making the characters stand out when they’re in a dark room. The physics for Valkyrie’s hair don’t play well with her shoulders in cutscenes, either. Like the Einherjar, there is only small handful of maps you explore. And also like the Einherjar, they’re all of them are dull, with too few variations when they’re reused for the chapters.
Valkyrie Elysium had potential, but is bogged down by its attempt to execute on its new ideas. Much in it feels like it needed more thinking through. Some mechanics are straight up unnecessary, while others need more tuning to become memorable. The Soul Chain gives a sense of speed and movement the combat desperately needs, but a smarter implementation would’ve avoided making the mechanic a recipe for disaster over water. The huge and empty hub world feels like it should be teeming with your otherworldly army of Einherjar, but the handful you get make that grand space feel that much lonelier. The combat implies fast-paced action elegancy, but Valkyrie’s slow movements and inability to take hits drain the fights of their dynamism. With a surface-level story, draining combat system, and unoptimized visuals, this game just doesn’t feel ready to take up the Valkyrie franchise’s mantle. Valkyries should choose the slain, not slay themselves.
Valkyrie Elysium is available for the PS4 and PS5. A Windows PC version will come out on November 11, 2022. This review is based on a PS4 version code provided by the publisher.