When Valkyrie Profile launched near the end of the PS1's life-cycle not many people took notice, they were too busy playing Dreamcast or waiting for a PS2, but if they had paid attention they might have not missed one of the most underated JRPGs to appear on Sony's debut system. Now with the franchise resurected on PS2 Square-Enix have released the original Valkyrie Profile here on the PSP, but does it stand up to the test of time? Is this a faithful port, or have Square ruined a classic? Of course not - this games awesome, here's why...
In Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth you play 'Lenneth' a Valkyrie (collector of souls of the dead) who is charged by Lord Odin the All-Father (God of the Gods) to leave Valhalla (Heaven) and return to Midgard (Earth) in order to recruit Einherjar (brave warriors who have died in battle) for the great final-battle Ragnarok (aka the End of the World). You start the game on the map screen, flying high above Midgard. From here you can innitiate spiritual concentration that heightens Lenneth's senses and enables her to locate nearby pain and suffering - thats a smart way of saying you press the start button and it adds new locations on to your map. There are two types of locations you can visit; Towns, and Dungeons - these take place from a 2d side scrolling view. Dungeons are where you level up your characters while Towns are where you'll progress the storylines of certain characters, and eventually recruit new characters.
The game is divided into eight chapters - each chapter is comprised of 24 turns, when you visit a town or a dungeon you use up one turn. One chapter represents an entire generation on Midgard so once you progress to the next chapter time will have moved on - this means that you may not be able to recruit a character you wanted because you wasted too much time visiting unimportant places but it also means that new characters and locations will become available. At the end of each chapter you are evaluated on how many Einherjar you have recruited, their levels and skills, their personality and any special items you have returned to Odin - Valhalla will then give you advice on what they require of you for the next chapter and won't hesitate to inform you if your warriors aren't up to scratch.
Innevitably as a characters storyline progresses they will die and Lenneth will recruit them to become Einherjar - you can have a maximum party of 4, so you must level up your 3 Einherjar and transfer them to Valhalla before the end of the chapter - it is your job to train these Einherjar and make them worthy of fighting at Ragnarok. But here's where it gets complicated - not only do you have to train the Einherjar in terms of their level and their fighting stats, or what spells they learned; you have to train their personalities too. Many of the characters you meet will have gaping flaws in their psyche, some will be arrogant, suicidal, or vain etc - it's your job to eliminate these traits from their personality and replace them with positive traits such as courage, heroism, fearlessness etc - you train personality traits by using CP (Capacity) which you obtain as you go up in level, to level you find dungeons on the world map and combat enemies for XP.
On top off all that you have EXP (Event XP) which you are awarded for completing specific events, this goes into an EXP orb which lets you distribute EXP to specific characters. Sound complicated? Well it get's worse - your characters must also be adaquatly armed before you send them to Valhalla or they'll be slaughtered at Ragnarok. To properly equip your characters you'll need to make them some weapons and armor - this is where the Divination system comes into play. As the game progresses Lenneth will gain MP (Materialize Points) and these will allow her to Divine weapons, armor and items for your characters however doing so uses up MP but luckily you can convert old items and equipables into MP.
Also, items can be transmuted into other items but this too consumes MP. Not every item has to be created, you'll still find items in chests or from fallen enemies in dungeons. Some items you find will be considered Atrifacts and you have a choice to either transfer the item to Valhalla for EXP or to keep the item but suffer a rating loss at the end of the chapter, you can however release the item to Valhalla before the end of the chapter but using it will decrease the ammount of EXP you are awarded for it - the game also introduces a nice platforming & puzzling element with Lenneths Ice Crystal abillity - by pressing the sqaure button you can fire Ice Crystals at solid objects to make platforms, if you fire at the same ice crystal you can increase the size of that crystal but the crystals will collapse after time. The ice crystals have other properties too - exploding them will cause the crystal to shatter into dust that Lenneth can float on for a period of time, also you can fire the crystals at enemies to freeze them and then move them to use as platforms and finally crystals can reflect beams of light which is used in one instance where you have to place 4 crystals at different points in the room to refract the beam of light into the specific place to unlock a door.
The combat is a bizzare mix of Turn-Based and Real-Time combat, and works suprisingly well. As in most turn-based RPGs you'll wait your turn to give out your orders, but unlike most turn-based RPGs you then control the timing and order of how your characters attack as each character is assigned to a different face button. The advantage of this is that it lets you pull of different combinations between your characters and different attacks will have different effects. For instance, you could be facing an ememy that has incredible defence when guarding - 3 of your 4 characters attack with melee weapons but none of their weapons are of a high enough level to perform a guard break, so you use your 4th character who is a magician and cast a explosion spell which knocks the enemy off their feet - wait for them to hit the floor and then attack with your 3 melee characters before the enemy can get up. However, you must be aware of TP (turn points) which are expended when a character performs an action - when you've used all the turn points your turn is over.
If you perform a continuous attack using all of your party members you will build up your special attack guage which allows you to select one of your character to perform their special abillity - however, each character can only perform one special attack per battle and this has an even bigger effect on magical characters as using special attacks will add to your CT (Charge Turn) which governs how many magical attacks that character can use per battle. So effectivly by using a magical characters special attack you are limiting the ammount of normal magical attacks they can perform for the rest of the battle.
Story - I really like the Norse influences in the game and it's a totally unconventional storyline made up of multiple stories of multiple characters.
Gameplay - Most JRPGs are quite linear so the freedom offered in this game was a shock to me, and it can be hard at first to get a hang of what you are doing while under the constraints of the time limit, but ultimatly it's really challenging. The combat is great too and is a good twist on the usual turn-based style battles. Also the platforming and puzzling elements were really welcome and offered a break from levelling up.
Presentation - The presentation of this game is a big factor, with beatiful landscapes and character designs - plus theres animations for practically every action which shows the time and effort put into the game. Battle animations are really where this game shines with some exceptionally crazy spells and skills at later points in the game that deal mass damage - also the only major change between this version and the PSX original; beatiful CG cut-scenes that are integrated really well into the original and add a lot to the dramatic effect of the story.
Sound - The sound is pretty good, while never being really exceptional or memorable it's not annoying either which is more than I can say for some RPG music.
Replayability - Valkyrie Profile is pretty huge, but also it's pretty intimidating too. You may feel lost at first, but if you percivere you may just become adicted - and if you do, you'll probally want to play through it again...which is handy as by increasing the difficulty level you open up new weapons, new characters, new storylines and new endings.
Overall - Get this if you're looking for a huge RPG that will last you ages. It's quite a complicated game and not for the feinthearted (and certainly not for anyone whose never played a JRPG before) but it's a hugely rewarding game that advocates discipline and tough choices. If you're a JRPG fan, you should feel right at home and before you know it you'll be 50 hours in and about ready to restart on a harder difficulty level