Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume - Staff Review  

Shhh! Be Very Quiet, I'm Hunting Valkyries!
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

Less Than 20 Hours
+ Multiple paths and endings.
+ Decent background music.
- Boring characters and plot.
- Clunky battle system and interaction.
- Enough with the daddy issues, seriously.
- No Lezard for entertainment purposes
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   Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is a spin-off title that screams potential. Unlike the previous Valkyrie Profile installments, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume proposed an intriguing concept - playing the anti-hero. While playing the anti-hero is often uncommon in JRPGs, the protagonist Wylfred's character can basically be summed up into two pathetic words - daddy issues. After Wylfred's father is slain in combat and is selected by the Valkyrie to join the Einherjar, Wylfred is forced to take care of his chronically ill mother and younger sister. Refusing to accept fate, Wylfred vows to slay the Valkyrie for leaving him with the burden of taking care of his family. Sounds gut wrenching, doesn't it? Wrong.

   Giving credit where it is due, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume moves away from the button mashing combat that existed in the first two games. Fusing together tactical battles with the original Valkyrie Profile battle system is far from a winning combination, however. Part of the problem lies in both battle systems being unable to seamlessly co-exist, and they constantly attempt to overpower one another. The game either should have stuck to a traditional tactical style or continued the trend of Valkyrie Profile's trademark button mashing action.

   Since the player is only allowed a maximum of four party members, it is critical that they stay close together. The only way to successfully destroy enemy units is by performing axis raids. Axis raids occur when the player positions his units around an enemy, and depending upon how the units are positioned, the initiator is given a bonus to his or her attack. Each axis provides a different boost to help strengthen the attack, but these bonuses are also given to enemies if they perform a successful axis. Once in a battle, there is a combo gauge that, when filled to 100, allows characters to perform an overkill attack. This makes slaughtering the enemy slightly easier, but this can also add to the difficulty depending on the formation or enemy unit the player is facing. For example, if enemies are closely knit and the player performs an axis raid, on the next round it is almost guaranteed that player units will be swarmed, and one character will be annihilated. This means that the player will always have one unit who is forced to constantly be using revival items, such as Union Plumes just to stay alive in certain situations.

Instant Overkill. Instant Overkill.

   Another important feature is the Sin gauge. Once a player hits beyond "Overkill" on the main gauge, a secondary gauge begins to fill up based on the number of hits successfully landed. At the beginning of every map there is a Sin goal that, if met, will net useful items from the Goddess Hel. The easiest way to obtain Sin is by sacrificing one of your party members in combat using the Destiny Plume. Invoking the power of the Plume allows the selected party member to become overpowered, to the point where it is impossible for the enemy to land a hit. Using the plume allows for even some of the toughest battles to be completed in a snap. However, the penalty for using the plume is that you lose a party member, but the added bonus is that each party member sacrificed provides Wylfred with a new tactic that he can use in battle at the expense of his AP.

   Menus in Covenant of the Plume are simple to navigate, but lack any sort of customization. A larger issue is that the game lacks any sort of tutorial and runs on the assumption that those who are playing it have prior knowledge of the Valkyrie Profile battle system. For first time players, this can be somewhat confusing because although the battle system is a hybrid, it is basically taking the player from a regular SRPG and then moving the player into Valkyrie Profile style combat, but it is far from seamless because there is no real introduction to either system.

   The music in Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is one of the few redeeming qualities of this game. Although the music is composed by Motoi Sakuraba, it is good, but is sadly recycled from the previous titles which removes any sense of originality. Those who have played previous Valkyrie Profile installments will immediately be familiar with the battle and save music, but again there is not a lot of variation. There is also minimal voice acting, and it is only heard when characters perform their overkill attacks, so even that's not impressive. Sadly, the voice acting was stripped from the North American release even though the Japanese version contains it.

   Although Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume boasts a uniquely hybridized battle system and a plot that is the reverse of prior Valkyrie Profile installments, it is difficult to deny the game's originality compared to the previous titles. However, the battle system is tricky to recommend to a Valkyrie Profile fan because of its awkwardness. On the other hand, the title may hold a lot of appeal to SRPG fans because its battle system wants the player to link units together to create devastating overkill attacks. As for the storyline, because it is a reversal of the main plot in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, it's interesting to see how a character like Wylfred desires to change fate even if it means murdering his comrades along the way. The main objective is to eventually murder the Valkyrie, so for those who do like Lenneth as a character, this can feel rather conflicting. Still, the main premise is unique to the series and it allows for a different perspective to be shown. However, the political plot in the game feels completely tacked on, and the characters have no personality whatsoever, making the player feel less guilty about sacrificing comrades.

Feel my flame! Oh wait... you're not Bloodbane! Feel my flame! Oh wait... you're not Bloodbane!

   With Covenant of the Plume being on the DS, the graphics are all right, but they do not stand out anymore than other DS RPGs. While the dialog selections have beautiful unanimated character portraits, the character models during battle sequences are simplistic, bland and somewhat unpolished. Backgrounds during dialog sequences look vibrant, though they obviously cannot be rendered during combat sequences with such detail.

   One impressive thing about Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is despite its horrible overall plot, it at least features multiple story paths that branch off depending on the number of times the player uses the Plume. At the beginning of the game you are presented with three different areas, and the difficulty level of the game is determined by the area chosen. Depending upon the number of times it is used, the Destiny Plume changes the path and the characters acquired. This is a game that begs to be replayed more than once to see the various different branching paths, characters and endings. Despite boasting multiple paths, the game can be completed in ten hours or less depending on the path selected. Even though the game's difficulty is completely adjustable, using the Destiny Plume simplifies matters to the point where challenge is minimal even on the hardest path.

   As someone who adores the Valkyrie Profile series, it is difficult to recommend Covenant of the Plume to others who adore the series. Unlike prior installments, the characters and plot are not as strong as they could have been. The presentation of the hybrid battle system is also difficult to recommend because the game probably would have been more successful if it had stuck to one system instead of splicing two together. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is a clumsy attempt at being unique, and while it's highly original, the fundamental changes do not suit the series or add to it, despite the originality on display. For those who are huge VP fans, this is probably not worth your time if an engaging storyline is desired. For SRPG fans it might be worth trying if a hybrid battle system attempting something unique sounds appealing.

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