Square Enix and tri-Ace delivers a mature and engaging strategy role-playing game on the DS.
With many titles such as Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, Advance Wars, and Fire Emblem, the strategy role-playing game genre is well represented on the DS. The Valkyrie Profile series is known for being a unique traditional RPG, but this time developer tri-Ace decided to make a strategy RPG that blends genre conventions with the unique mechanics of the series.
The game's story is heavily steeped in Nordic mythology. Protagonist Wylfred seeks to avenge his father Thyodor, whose soul was taken when Lenneth, a Valkyrie, transformed him into an Einherjar. This ruined Wylfred's family, sending them into poverty, maddening his mother, and killing his younger sister. A few years later, Wylfred visited his father's corpse with a brooding hatred of Lenneth, and the underworld goddess Hel decides to aid Wylfred by giving him the ability to strengthen himself with a plume of Lenneth's feather that has been blessed by Hel. This enables Wylfred to exact his revenge on Lenneth through the course of the game. To aid Wylfred, Hel summons one of her servants, Ailyth, to advise him.
The core gameplay is similar to other strategy role-playing games, where each stage is played out on a grid from an isometric viewpoint and has a different objective in order to successfully advance to the next stage. Before starting a stage, the player can equip and change characters' armaments, and he must select which characters will participate in battle. Since characters are each assigned to one of the DS face buttons, there is a maximum of four characters in a party. A round is separated into two phases. During the ally phase you can move characters in your party, use items, cast spells, and, most importantly, enter combat. Once you are done with your moves the ally phase ends and the enemy phase starts, in which enemies get to do the same actions.
Battles are dealt with differently from a typical strategy RPG. Instead of having a 1-on-1 battle, all units in attack range of the one unit that players select to fight are included in the battle. In battles, to attack with one of your units you simply press the button that the character is assigned to; the top screen shows players how many times a character can attack during the turn. Once all possible attacks are exhausted, the enemy can retaliate and attack one of the player's characters, if it is possible. When a character strikes its target gems occasionally fall out of the enemy. Blue gems gives you bonus experience points, red gems grants a character an additional attack, and gold gems grant two extra attacks.
When one of your characters attacks, it partially fills a small attack gauge that slowly depletes. If the attack gauge fills up to 100%, that character will be able to launch a Soul Crush attack, which is an impressive-looking sequence of attacks. It is possible to perform more than one Soul Crush attack in a battle; however, each character can perform one Soul Crush per battle. These animations can be skipped for players who don't want to see or are sick of them.
Experience points are awarded a little unconventionally. Usually in a strategy role-playing game, only the characters that participate in a battle earn experience. In this title, all characters that have been deployed gain experience, as long as they aren't knocked out. This system prevents players from having to grind for individual characters that they use on a constant basis.
There are two unique systems in Valkyrie Profile. First is the sin system. To gather sin, players must deal overkill damage, which is any damage inflicted that is more than necessary to kill the enemy. Up to 100 sin units can be earned per enemy. In every stage except the tutorial stages, Hel sets a quota of how much sin a player has to gather by the end of the stage. If the quota is met, Hel will reward players with powerful gear that can't be purchased in shops—the more sin over the quota, the bigger the reward. If players don't reach the quota Hel won't be very happy, and as a punishment she will send powerful enemies known as stalkers in the next battle. Stalkers are so powerful that they can annihilate any character in your party with only a few hits.
The second system is Destiny Plume system, which allows Wylfred to unleash an ally's full potential; this power can only be used on full-fledged allies, and only once per stage. When the plume is used on an ally, the ally's stats increase by 1000%, gains full immunity to status effects, fully heals all characters in your party, gives Wylfred an permanent overpowered ability (one example is paralyzing every enemy except the leader), and gives enough sin to fill the minimum quota. Using the plume has significant side effects. Characters who use it will permanently die at the end of the battle. In an epic cutscene, they will reflect on their life right before passing. Players are only forced to use the plume once in the tutorial; after that, players can use the plume or completely ignore it. Usage of the plume will also affect the storyline, including which characters join your party and which ending the player receives.
The biggest issue with this game is the difficulty level: the AI always makes the best moves possible and tends to attack the weakest point in your formation. The most frustrating missions are the protect missions, in which you have to prevent one character from dying. In these missions the enemy tends to gang up on the person who you are trying to protect. Sometimes in these missions I had to make less-than-desirable actions in order to complete the mission. These missions invariably require a couple of retries to beat.
This game is an excellent strategy game with many interesting mechanics that make it unique in the DS library. Tri-Ace did a fantastic job of blending in various elements of the Valkyrie Profile series and successfully applying those elements into this genre. While it is short for a strategy role-playing game at around 10 hours, there are multiple endings and an unlockable dungeon that increases the replay value. I would highly recommend this game to people who are fans of the series and to fans of this genre. For people who are interested in this game but aren't familiar with the genre, try or rent the game first, because its difficulty can be daunting.