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If there were dieticians for videogame consoles, their diagnosis for the DS would be, "you're very healthy, but I think you should cut down on the RPGs. It seems like you have one every week and half the time they're just remakes filled with empty calories." But in spite of this appraisal, we think they'd make an exception for Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. This strategy RPG spin-off of the cult series gets too much right for us to stop now.
Firstly, the story has a great twist, as Plume doesn't focus on VP star Lenneth, but on someone out to kill her. That someone is the overly emo Wylfred, whose family lost a father in battle to the Valkyrie and, unlike most, didn't take it as an honor. So Wyl is out for revenge. After making a deal with the devil (literally) by agreeing to a covenant with Norse underworld boss Hel, he’s out to gain the power to kill a Valkyrie. He gradually gathers a party to help him on his journey, though he keeps his desires kind of vague for his friends. It's a creative spin on the concept of an anti-hero, and it plays out well on the battlefield.
Battles play out like most SRPGs (think Final Fantasy Tactics), on a grid-based map with each side taking turns to move their characters and attack. Fortunately, Plume adds some flavor to the old formula in several ways, starting with a more action-oriented way of battling. Just as in the main series, your group attacks with one of the four face buttons assigned to each character, and you can only have four characters on the board at once. And if all the characters are in attack range of an enemy, then they can dog pile them with a four-way simultaneous attack.
But battle isn't about mashing buttons. Careful planning and timing are the only ways you're going to win most fights. If you have an enemy surrounded, you have to attack in a carefully timed sequence if you want each character’s unique attacks to chain together in a combo. Not only is this extra damage essential, but as time goes on your characters gain limit break attacks that can only be unleashed by pulling off careful combos. This keeps your attention throughout the battle and makes every attack matter, a smart move to maintain the player's interest.
As mentioned above, the deal Wyl makes with Hel not only plays out in the plot – which branches according to your decisions - but also insidiously on the battlefield. Wyl always has on him the dark Valkyrie's plume, and when he uses it on another character he makes them incredibly powerful for the rest of the fight. Seems pretty nice, but once the fighting is done, that character is dead and you killed them - not that they know. With Hel's agents continually demanding you kill your friends to give her their souls, you must make tough decisions to off characters you may have become attached to.
We had a great time with Valkyrie Profile, and it has great replay value with multiple endings and branching stories. However, the difficulty spikes randomly during the battles, and that’s hard to look past. Not only were multiple battles so hard we had to replay them many times, some throw two or even three maps at you in a row. If you lose any of those, it’s back to the last save, which could lose you more than an hour of progress. Add randomly appearing wraiths - super-powerful fallen enemies - to the maps, along with the fact that there’s no way to level-grind your characters in random battles, and there’s a lot of potential for frustration here. But if you can push through those frustrating moments, Plume is very rewarding even for players who’ve grown fat from too many RPGS.
Mar 13, 2009