The Valkyrie Profile series has gone the way of most all successful Square-Enix franchises – it has spawned a strategic RPG. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume returns us to the game’s universe in a prequel that has players trying to get revenge on the valkyrie Lenneth.
Wylfred is a young man in the clutches of grief and depression who happens to be looking for someone to blame. His father died in battle. This caused his family to fall into poverty. His sister died from starvation. His mother went insane from grief at the deaths of her husband and daughter.
When Wylfred’s father Thyodor’s body was found, a single white feather was by it. This was a sign that the valkyrie found him worthy and made him one of her einherjar. While his colleagues saw this as a blessing, his family saw it as a curse. Wylfred determined that the valkyrie was responsible for his father’s death makes a conscious decision to kill her.
After nearly dying during one of his first mercenary missions, Wylfred gets his chance. Hel, the Queen of Niflheim, has taken an interest in him. She gives him a plume and tasks him with collecting sin and turning the plume black. If he succeeds, she will give him power and the chance to enact his revenge.
The plume is an interesting battle mechanic. You get the opportunity to use it once in a mandatory battle, and after that can use it whenever you wish. You can use it on party members who aren’t guests, and it unlocks that ally’s potential. They become incredibly powerful for one battle. After that battle, they die. The plume becomes more tainted as a result, and a new tactic ability is unlocked for Wylfred.
Its usage also determines what ending you get and what characters you can recruit. It can be used a total of three times in the game. If you use it all three times, your game is over. Depending on which chapters you use it, and how many times, you’ll get different characters in Chapters 3 and 4. An enemy in one playthrough can be an ally in another.
It’s really an interesting concept, and even though I really wanted to get the good ending my first time through, I decided to cave and use the plume. There’s a New Game + option after you complete a run-through, so you get to keep all the tactics you received by sacrificing characters.
Despite being a strategy RPG, the Valkyrie Profile battle system, where each attacking character is mapped to a different button returns. The goal isn’t to attack an enemy with one character, but to ambush and surround him with multiple characters. That way you can deal the most damage and garner the most “sin” in a battle.
The thing is, there are a few technical hiccups. For example, the transition from the battle map to an actual battle doesn’t proceed smoothly. It seems like it tries to transition, but white bars will briefly flash at the top of the screen when it jumps to battle. Also, the in battle character sprites movements can be jerky before and after attacking.
Also, the enemies aren’t the brightest mobs I’ve ever seen. Even in the hardest difficulty level, it seems as if they’re more content to wait for you to come to them, than hunting your characters. This means you’ll often have to go head first into a swarm of enemies, risking them mobbing you the same way you intend to mob them. A little more motivation on their parts would have been nice.
Yet, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume can be incredibly challenging. Especially if you choose the hard difficulty level. Some situations almost seem designed to force you to use the plume, or as though the game already assumes you’ve played before and unlocked a certain tactic.
The length of the game is surprising. I managed to complete my first playthrough (going for the “Normal” ending) in under nine hours. Typically, you expect a strategic RPG to take you at least 20-30 hours to finish. I’m thinking this is intentional, and that Square Enix purposely kept the length in check to try and encourage players to replay the game, so they’ll earn more party members, see all the endings and unlock the Seraphic Gate section.
I found myself feeling nostalgic, in a way I didn’t when I played Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is one of my all-time favorite games, and while Silmeria was good, it somehow didn’t feel like part of the same series at times. Covenant of the Plume definitely feels like a Valkyrie Profile entry, with familiar music, faces, atmosphere and drama. I almost started thinking of Wylfred as an anti-Lenneth, where Lenneth was rounding up souls to give them a bit of a second chance and Wylfred was rounding up occasionally doomed people to use them as potential plume fodder.
1. Difficulty option is determined by what location you choose to travel to at the end of Chapter 1. Hroethe Walk is the easy route, Aullewyn Keep is intermediate and Camille is hard. Depending on which location you travel to, you’ll recruit different characters and see different sides of the story.
2. Keep an eye open for Gandar cameos – he shows up in the game. He appeared in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth as an opponent and einherjar.
3. The Seraphic Gate mode returns again. In order to unlock it, beat the game with the Bad, Normal and Good endings. As usual, once it’s unlocked, there are secret characters available.
4. It’s a Square-Enix strategic RPG that doesn’t reuse sprites from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Hurray!