Valhalla Knights 2 - Staff Review  

In Soviet Russia, Game Plays You
by Glenn "7thCircle" Wilson

40 - 60 Hours
- Unexplained character creation and stats.
- Battle system can only be played well by AI.
- Lots and lots of dying with no penalty.
- Traverse the same maze hundreds of times.
- No warp points, and shortcuts are trivial.
- Poor translation with many typos.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A thousand years ago, belief in the gods was validated when the Goddess of Judgment descended from the heavens in all her solemn glory. Rather than help the world, though, she came to destroy it. As cities fell and chaos spread, mankind's fate was postponed when the Witch of the Crystal confronted her and put a stop to her misanthropic plan. The Witch was slain, but her final spell critically damaged the Goddess, causing her to explode into millions of monsters, called hostiae, and vanish without a trace. In the time since, a thousand years are like a day in that people still maintain a fearful existence, living around crumbled buildings, cursing the Goddess, and anticipating her dreadful return. Once the pretty opening video ends, the player would be best advised to turn the PSP off and switch to any other UMD, as Valhalla Knights 2 ignores the world's judgment of its predecessor by being a crystal clear example of how not to design a dungeon crawler.

   Right from the start, character statistics and creation are presented without explanation. When an enemy wallops an ally, the ally must lose life based upon a calculated defense value, but this stat is kept hidden. The game reveals that vitality affects physical damage received, however the overall defense of equipped armor -- abbreviated in the tiniest font imaginable as "AL" -- only changes marginally over the course of the game. Furthermore, each possible status ailment has a defensive value associated with it, the impact of which is left unclarified. Equipment also has separate defensive values for physical and magical attacks. The effect of these on damage received is never explained, and their presence is not even acknowledged in the manual. The same goes for dealing damage. Why display dozens of mind-boggling numbers and give the player full freedom in character growth without providing a backdrop of what these numbers mean? Valhalla Knights 2 provides races, jobs, multi-classing, and stat bombs without providing the slightest indication of how they affect the game.

   An obvious solution to these problems is to take a deep breath, relax, and play through some battles while experimenting with equipment. While this endeavor may begin with anticipation, it quickly devolves into abject horror due to the unplayable battle system. While strolling through the singular, enormous dungeon, bumping into an enemy on the screen opens up an action-based battle screen similar to the Tales games, minus any semblance of fun. The first issue is the blindingly fast speed of combat. A typical battle is over in three or four seconds. This blink-and-you-miss-it speed combines splendidly with the player's ability to control only one party member at a time. By the time the clunky interface is navigated to target the enemy of choice, the other party members have mostly likely already won or lost the battle; the player merely adds some inconsequential damage. The target lock button seems programmed to pick up the farthest enemy away, and toggling to a nearby one takes a second or two. The frequent system slowdown during large battles leaves the player at a huge disadvantage to the AI, as he will often miss his swings while the AI allies and enemies continue connecting throughout the slowdown. As a result, manually controlling a melee fighter is a total waste of time when the AI can do so much better.

Tiny numbers? Lots. Explanation? None. Tiny numbers? Lots. Explanation? None.

   Attempting to control a mage yields similar results. Spells must be picked from a menu, but the on-screen action cannot be paused. After spending a couple of seconds selecting a spell, a target, and casting it, the battle will be about over. If an ally is near death, the same problem surfaces; while the player navigates the magic menu to heal him, the injured party member will most certainly croak. In both cases, the AI has no problem since it can immediately start casting spells without pressing a few PSP buttons first. The best way to handle battles is to not handle battles at all. Let the superior AI fight them out instead. Behavior Points can be assigned for each character to guide the AI somewhat. Unfortunately, the weighting of the points is completely ignored. A priest with five points in Attack and two points Heal Magic will end up healing much more than attacking. Aside from a few useless and vague party commands in combat, this is the only way to set a battle strategy.

   The one thing the AI cannot do effectively is flee. Running from battle involves pressing a party member against the invisible wall surrounding the battlefield for several seconds. The problem with fleeing is that if the character gets hit, the hidden escape timer resets. Since the battlefield is tiny and the enemies are fast, running from battle can be next to impossible. There is a "run from battle" command for the AI, but it never works because allies take the most direct route to the edge and give up on fleeing when they inevitably get hit. Put another way, Valhalla Knights 2's battle system takes the PS2 Devil Summoner's cramped space, Tales of Legendia's uncontrollable party, Nocturne's punishing high damage, and wraps it all together with an insanely ramped up battle speed and the inability to run away so that, one way or another, every battle fights itself and ends in seconds while the player barely has time to yawn at the PSP screen.

   Outside of battle, gameplay consists of walking into the gigantic, mapless, warpless dungeon, dodging scores of enemies too weak to give decent experience, tackling a few tough enemies deeper in the dungeon, dying, getting kicked back to town with an inconsequential penalty, and repeating this for sixty hours. The experience system in Valhalla Knights 2 is horribly broken. Enemies give experience based off the party members' job level. This means that a character currently using a priest class at level thirty might get next to no experience whatsoever, but switching her to a mage will reset her level to one while keeping her stats, spells, and abilities intact, and -- voila! -- enemies go back to giving tons of experience again and the character will quickly gain levels. Experience points are calculated and shared by the entire party, so when the enemies get difficult and level grinding is necessary, the best remedy is to switch every party member's job to something new, not because dual-classing is implemented well -- it isn't -- but because enemies will go from doling out 20 to 200 experience per battle.

Quick! Burn the UMD so no one else can play it! Quick! Burn the UMD so no one else can play it!

   The excruciatingly painful gameplay is made worse by the design of the dungeon. It is huge and has no warp points. Imagine playing Diablo 2 with no town portals and no waypoints, and being forced to traverse the entire map every time the character dies. Walking through the dungeon in Valhalla Knights 2 over, and over, and over for the duration of the game takes more time than actively grinding, and significantly more time than exploring deeper into the dungeon. It is oversaturated with doors, and every one must be manually reopened each time an area is traversed. The door-opening button is the same as the hostiae-smacking button, and as a result it is possible to accidentally initiate a battle when one means to open a door. Every trip into the maze also involves avoiding all the enemies on the screen until some are finally reached that give meaningful battle rewards. Of course, these tougher enemies are also likely to wipe out the party. Hostiae in each area scale up once or twice, but the scaling is abrupt rather than organic, and can cause issues when previously easy encounters suddenly, and permanently, become automatic deaths, thus requiring more level grinding just to pass through previously conquered regions.

   The localization marks what will hopefully be the lowest point in XSEED's existence. There are many typos throughout the game, which is pathetic considering what a small amount of text there is. The oddest offender occurs upon leveling up, when the game clearly displays that a character gets "Dex. +1" even though there is no dexterity stat. Some minor bugs were discovered. None were game-breaking, although it is strange to see bugs outside of a PC game. The plot, though mostly absent, is also a disaster. Side quests give out conflicting information about the setting and are also horrid from a gameplay perspective. They are all drearily written, uninteresting fetch quests that add little to the game world and often have bogus rewards. Quests related to the main plot are hidden amongst the boring, time-wasting optional ones with no way of knowing which are which. Even more frustrating is that some of the main plot quests do not appear until secret conditions are met first. When the game eventually, thankfully ends, the final scenes make little to no sense whatsoever, being filled with bizarre plot twists for the sake of having bizarre plot twists. The entire story is condensed into the opening cutscene, which is the highlight of the game, and the last couple of hours, where it tries its best to be serious despite the ludicrous, nonsensical conclusion.

   If there is a muddy gem hidden in this heap of filth, it would be the graphics. The dungeon itself looks decent, but not grand. Since most of it is made of underground ruins, the visuals can be on the dark side. The surprise is that the graphics are polished and suspiciously finished in a game rife with mistakes and poorly planned gameplay ideas. There is not a lick of voice acting in the game, which is surely a good thing considering that the localization looks rushed anyway. The background score is less than mediocre. The sound is never aggravating, but there are no reasons not to mute it.

   There are gaming masochists out there who love finding, playing, and having their souls crushed by abhorrent, unplayable games. Valhalla Knights 2 is too boring and too long for these people, thereby excluding it from the only demographic to whom it could possibly appeal. It might make a good joke gift for the holidays, when it will hopefully be found in bargain bins everywhere; however, child abuse is a crime, so only buy it for adults. This game turns the PSP into a torture device. Aside from someone working for a website which demands that every reviewed game be completed, no sane person would ever choose to finish it.

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