Valhalla Knights 3 begins as you arrive in Carceron Prison, a compound containing shops, luxury chambers, medical facilities, and, of course, prisoners. You're there to find treasure for the Emperor--otherwise, the magical tattoo branded on your neck will kill you. This unusual premise and setting are initially quite interesting, and could easily have made for a truly memorable role-playing experience. Instead, Valhalla Knights 3 is mostly content to remain a slave to genre conventions and suffers from a variety of issues.
The biggest problem is that the intriguing setting is underutilized. As you wander the prison’s labyrinthine corridors, you’ll hear talk about powerful Families that lurk in the shadows. You're made to understand that they're not to be trifled with, which creates an aura of intrigue--until you discover those Families play a minor role throughout much of the narrative. The main plot amounts to a handful of brief missions that don’t provide meaningful context or characterization. You’re told where to go and who to kill, you murder a villain you’ve no reason to hate, and then you receive a new mission that amounts to more of the same. Potentially exciting assassinations feel instead like mundane chores.
If the story-based missions were the extent of the Valhalla Knights 3 experience, players would reach the closing credits within a few unsatisfying hours. However, the assassinations quickly grow too difficult for low-level characters that lack quality gear. You’ll be forced to spend time doing tedious busy work so that you can save up enough money to purchase the pricey gear that will allow your team--consisting of as many as seven heroes--to tackle new missions. You can take up an abundant supply of uninventive missions from one of the local guilds, but these typically fall into the “kill 10 rats” or “deliver this message” archetypes. Sometimes you’ll meet characters in the castle or in the wilderness who offer additional tasks, but those assignments play out the same way. None of Valhalla Knights 3's missions are very enthralling.
Going into battle with shiny armor you financed by murdering kobolds isn’t enough to win the more important battles, though, and it won’t make your character competent in combat. Valhalla Knights also expects you to spend a lot of time customizing your characters. There’s a robust system in place, one that includes a slew of unique disciplines that eventually grant access to special abilities. While classes here stick to RPG archetypes, some yield nice stat bonuses if you master their innate abilities, and you can even mix and match abilities from the various classes on offer to create a powerful character who's not defined by any one role.
The immediate performance rewards make it easy to get wrapped up in the process. You’re always just a little way from an exciting improvement, whether that means doubling your life meter or unlocking a wicked new spell. The deep customization system is one of the few things the game gets right, but the accompanying menu diving does get old and you’ll have to spend an awful lot of time to master multiple classes with each character on your team.
Sadly, horrific load times routinely make the whole experience less enjoyable. Taking a worthwhile trip back to town for supplies could require a player to endure a dozen load screens or more in the span of a few minutes, and some of those can last upwards of 30 seconds apiece. Nearly every event--from entering and exiting a building to talking to a character during a mission or before a battle--triggers a load screen. It’s impossible to overlook.
When the constant level grinding, character tweaking, and overly similar guild missions get to be too much, you can also choose to partake in an optional sideline business: romancing the employees at the nicer shop, guild, and clinic. The scantily-clad female employees demand a fee before they will interact with you, but then you can offer them gifts to win their affection. If they start to like you, the girls will invite you to enjoy “Sexy time” and you have the option to play a mini-game that requires you to rub and tap the screen to simulate intimate caresses as they squirm, moan, and shed clothes. Such interactions aren’t technically required, but they offer precious items and party additions that make skipping them a tough sell. If this type of gameplay makes you uncomfortable, Valhalla Knights 3 likely isn’t for you.
A deep and addictive character customization system makes Valhalla Knights 3 a title that may intrigue genre diehards, but it quickly burns through most of the goodwill that it earned by teasing a unique environment and premise. Nearly everything the game does well is sandwiched between horrific load times, tedious fetch quests, and a misogynistic mini-game. Sure, you can create a party of truly awesome characters--but it's hardly worth the grind.
This game was reviewed on PS Vita.