A voice cries out in pain and fear. Close your eyes; you can hear it. You descend from the skies towards the ground, arriving just in time to see a young woman brutally slain. Instead of investigating, or taking revenge on her behalf, you simply do your duty: you recruit her ghost as a warrior on behalf of the gods. Now, she joins the fighting - to stave off an inevitable Armageddon.
Sounds a bit more interesting than your average group of clueless kids on a field trip from one miserable little shrine to another, doesn't it? Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth turns your expectations for RPGs directly on their heads.
The main character is a mature, self-assured - and fully-clothed - woman. Her party is a diverse group drawn from different cultures and brought together not because they want to save the world but because they have lost their lives, and have no choice.
Wrapped around this dark and haunting story is gameplay that the rest of the tepid role players on the PSP can't even hope to touch. The battles are a truly unique blend of tactics and action - each character has his or her own attack style, and it's up you to both arrange their moves (between battles, you can tweak any and every attack) and execute with split-second precision. It's a demanding battle system, requiring you to think ahead and then act with grace, but it's addictive exactly because it places these two different demands on the player.
The rest of the game is split down one line or the other. The dungeons are completely action-based. These side-scrolling catacombs are filled with monsters that you can choose freely to engage or avoid, and lots of hidden platforms with secret treasures to discover. If there's a complaint to be made, particularly as this is a portable game and distraction is a very real problem, they can get almost too long and confusing to want to deal with. There's an auto-mapping feature, fortunately, which smoothes this over.
On the other hand, setting up your characters for battle and managing your party's abilities is RPG number crunching at its finest and most intense. You're able to create weapons from thin air to augment those you uncover in dungeons, and your characters have dozens of abilities to unlock and set up. On top of that, you'll recruit a steady stream of warriors - you can't hang on to favorites; you have to get them battle-ready and then send them to your lord, the god Odin, as they're needed for battle. Between chapters you get reports on their progress, and Odin sends down gifts if you send him talented recruits. The game's morbid story results in pure gameplay addiction when those special items rain from the heavens.
If there's a complaint to be made about this game, it's that it's not a fantastic conversion from the 2000 PlayStation original. The characters and text are unnecessarily blurry and tiny, and the game sometimes stutters and chugs for no apparent reason.
It's clear that nobody has plans to create a full-fledged RPG on the scale of any of the PSone or PS2 classics for the PSP, so a port is going to have to do. This game stands nobly above anything else you can buy on the system. Given that the vast majority of gamers missed the original edition back in 2000, there's really very little to complain about.