Valhalla Knights - Staff Review  

The Reason Odin is Missing an Eye
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Hard to Very Hard
45 to 55 hours


Rating definitions 

   Valhalla Knights is a game that offers a wealth of potential positives in character construction and basic action RPG mechanics but ultimately fails due to excessively repetitive gameplay. With a basic, uninspired plot full of RPG cliches offset by a reasonably solid character development scheme and large dungeons to explore, Valhalla Knights's focus is clearly on exploration and combat. However, despite a wide variety of classes, races and equipment, gameplay becomes very tedious very fast, largely due to an overly-simple combat system that requires hours upon hours of grinding to overcome some of the harsher jumps in difficulty. Visually and technically, the game is more satisfying, but it simply isn't enough to save Valhalla Knights, given its failure to present anything truly compelling in storyline or combat. Valhalla Knights may appeal to gamers looking for a very tough, lengthy dungeon-crawl, but with such predictable, genre-standard gameplay, it is unlikely to impress anyone else.

   Combat in Valhalla Knights works on a very basic real-time system. When the player comes into contact with an enemy, the game switches into a small, circular playing field, with player characters and monsters arranged on opposite sides. The player has a full range of movement in this circle and can press against the sides of the arena to run from battle. One of the main problems with combat is that there simply aren't a whole lot of options open to players. The player can execute a basic attack by pressing either the X or O buttons, open a menu to use magic and items, issue very basic commands from a sub-menu, and unleash a powerful Limit Break-ish attack when the proper meter is full. The player can also switch between characters on the fly with the Select button, which is faster and usually more accurate than issuing general commands. It's a nice touch, but given that the game will not allow players to switch to another character while their current character is doing something, it's not really useful, or, frankly, advisable, to try to command Healers or Mages directly. This illusion of choice that Valhalla Knights presents is one of the more frustrating things about the game - the player can choose to be a Mage, a Thief, a Cleric or a Fighter, but will only be able to get anywhere, for the most part, as a Fighter. This, along with the limited scope of commands that can be issued to allies and the small, flat arena the player has to fight in, means that the only real tactic is "kill them all before they kill us." The combat system tends to degenerate into button-mashing, and given the amount of leveling the player is expected to do, is far too basic to be engaging.

Combat tends to degenerate into a button-mashing brawl. Combat tends to degenerate into a button-mashing brawl.

   The player can put together a party of up to six characters, who can be either acquired through some of the game's many optional quests or directly created by the player. The character creation and job class systems are one of the better parts of Valhalla Knights, allowing for a more than respectable level of customization. When creating a character, the player can select from four initial job classes and four races, each with two statistically different genders. New characters also come with an amount of bonus stat points to allocate as they see fit. The collection of these bonus points, which after creation are acquired by leveling up, form the main focus of Valhalla Knights. The player is expected to do a lot of brute levelbuilding and bonus point-gathering in order to overcome the enormous shifts in difficulty between areas of the game's sprawling dungeon. In order to gather enough points to make a difference in the game's more difficult fights, it will be necessary to switch job classes often, regardless of what role a given character fills in the party. This leads to some unusual and awkward fights, with Mages and Priests temporarily outfitted as Fighters or Thieves, for example, in order to shore up their Intellect and Resistance. This kind of leveling scheme wouldn't usually be unacceptable in a "Rogue-like" dungeon-crawler, which would be expected to be above average in difficulty. What truly throws a wrench into the game is in how it doles out EXP. EXP is always divided evenly amongst the party, the overall amount of EXP received being significantly reduced the larger the party is, and the higher their levels are. 16 to 48 EXP is the norm when running a full six-member party, even in very advanced dungeons, a joke of a reward given that players require upwards of 1000 Exp to reach level 5. Essentially, players are required to reduce their party to three members to gain levels at all, and will still have to grind for hours to acquire enough bonus points to overcome some of the harsher jumps in difficulty. The time investment required to keep pace with enemy levels in Valhalla Knights drags the game down and makes it a chore to play.

   On the field, camera control is the main problem Valhalla Knights's control scheme has to deal with. The camera is controlled by one button, the R button, which centers the camera behind the player. Using this along with the game's look feature, the player can usually get the camera where it needs to be, but it can be difficult to see around corners and in tight places, especially when the camera gets hung up on a doorway or other obstruction. Aside from that, the game's control is reasonably solid. On a more technical level, Valhalla Knights has only a few minor problems. Load times overall are not particularly noticeable, with the longest load times coming when the player changes equipment, resulting in a new outward appearance for the on-screen characters. Slowdown, however, is a definite problem. Serious slowdown occurs when there are more than five or six characters on the field or in combat at the same time, making it hard to accurately control the on-screen characters and ruining any semblance of pacing combat might have had.

   Using a very traditional orchestral style, most of the soundtrack is predictable and without much originality. While it does fit the setting, and while the audio quality is good, the lack of creativity and low number of tracks in the OST make the music a diversion at best, and a distraction at worst. Sound effects are similarly repetitive, with a small number of sword-slashes and explosions seeing far too much use.

   Like many dungeon-crawler RPGs, Valhalla Knights's plotline is one of its weaker aspects. The basic plot deals with a city under the heel of a demonic curse, laid upon it in antiquity by the Dark Lord. The player, cast in the role of an amnesiac warrior guided by a ghostly voice, is tasked with clearing out the monsters and returning the city to its former self. The story suffers from a plethora of issues, such as a mish-mash of concepts and settings, and a profusion of RPG cliches. The game actually starts with the old "It's time to wake up!" chestnut. Though it begins with a high fantasy setting, Valhalla Knights eventually expands to include Samurai, androids, android Samurai, time travel, possession by ancient ghosts, and the ubiquitous Dark Lord. Such a confusion of ideas and genres could conceivably be tied together with a strong plot, but Valhalla Knights simply doesn't have the weight to do it. The characters are poorly developed and one-dimensional, and the androids and Samurai, which seem so far out of context as to be silly, are never really explained. Eventually the game is dragged along through sheer force of deus ex machina. The long gaps between plot events created by frequent and unavoidable leveling sessions don't help, either. Overall, the plot is simply too cliche, too full of unnecessary elements and devoid of direction to be anything but dull.

Caption The only pity is that there are maybe five buildings you can actually enter.

   The visual design of Valhalla Knights is really its best part. Though the player only has access to one fairly small town, it is visually well-constructed. With white brick buildings accented by tall, slender trees and age-darkened wood, the city's look of an idealized European Renaissance town works well with the character design and story setting. It's a pity the camera control is so poor, as simply exploring is one of the better parts of the game. The dungeons have fairly believable designs, with crumbling prisons set in a predictable pattern of cells, while forested areas are more chaotic and unpredictable. Some of the areas do descend into repetitiveness, but the number of times players are required to travel down the same pathways may be more to blame for that than the actual dungeon design.

   Due to the sudden and frequent difficulty spikes, as well as the time required to properly level characters, Valhalla Knights is hard or very hard. The difference lies primarily in how well players can predict what the game will throw at them next, and how enthusiastic they are for extended levelbuilding. Time to complete is a reasonably long fifty hours, give or take a bit to complete the list of optional quests.

   In the end, Valhalla Knights's positives are far overshadowed by its negatives. Though it showed some promise in character creation and growth, padding the gameplay out with hour after hour of mindless levelbuilding makes developing a character's skills about as much fun as shoveling snow. Though visually pleasant, recurring slowdown and a poor camera control makes it difficult to appreciate. Given its tired plot, tactically stunted combat system, and a leveling scheme worthy of the Spanish Inquisition, Valhalla Knights is a game that will appeal to a very small section of gamers. Only those looking for a lengthy, grueling test of patience need apply.

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