Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Review
One of the most original RPGs on the PS1 was Valkyrie Profile, a game that fused platforming, side-scrolling, action, and ultra-deep combat RPG elements. Although some found the game's time limit to be somewhat frustrating, the beautiful artistry, great story, and intricate battle mechanic made that RPG shine with a unique luster. Since then, the title has accumulated a small yet loyal following of fans, so the long-awaited sequel was highly anticipated amongst the hardcore RPG crowd.
Beginning with the visuals, it's easy to notice that singular artistic style has returned in full force, and given the added power of the PS2, the game is downright gorgeous to behold. Those fixed backgrounds might not be as dynamic as in other RPGs, but the detail is exquisite and the color and shading are completed with a significant creative flair. The strength of the visuals lies in the meticulously designed towns, where everything is painfully beautiful; the cut-scenes are also impressive, but not the focal point. All in all, you won't find many prettier games on the PS2, and very few that are more wondrous, artistically-speaking.
The sound swings gently back and forth between classically themed tracks and some pretty decent voice acting. Each town and city has its own soothing or light and lively melody, and the dungeons and other battle areas resound with everything from haunting melodies to charging, fast-tempo beats. There is a great deal of imbalance in combat, though, possibly because there's just so much going on. The voices and various effects erratically rise and lower in volume, which is most disconcerting. Still, on the whole, the sound is extremely well done.
Some RPGs use a turn-based format, others use real-time, and still others combine the two worlds. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is the latter, but in truth, it's nothing like any other RPG you've ever played. The focus of this game is very much on the combat, despite the return of those exploration and platforming elements found in the original title. At first, it appears as simple as pressing one button per character to attack in real-time when an enemy comes into range, but as you progress through the game, you begin to realize just how complex the system really is.
You can bring four characters into combat, which is initiated by touching a purple spirit form, encountered in dungeons and other nasty, infested areas. Once in battle, you can move freely in real-time or pause by hitting select and moving to a simple menu screen. You can dash with the L1 button and attempt to position yourself to the side or rear of enemies, thus lowering the possibility of the foe blocking your attack. Once in position, the fun begins.
Each of your four characters has a button assigned to them (Square, Triangle, X, Circle), and when you press the corresponding button, that character attacks. Now, depending on the weapon you have equipped, you can attack a certain number of times for a certain number of AP. You can have a maximum of 100 Attack Points to use during a turn, and each time you attack, you use up AP. Your weapon dictates how many attacks you can use, and how much AP each attack will drain. However, if you attempt to perform another attack after they're all used up, you use double the AP.
In other words, if Alicia can attack twice, her first move using 6 AP and her second using 7, and you go to attack a third time, it will use 14 AP, thus draining that bar all the faster. So therefore, you must memorize how many attacks each character has, and not over-attack until they've all exhausted their normal number of attacks. This way, you get the most out of your available AP, and give yourself the chance to use some Special Attacks once you reach the end of your attack chain.
Special Attacks can be used for any character that has them available (again, it depends on the weapon; if it says "Special: Yes," he/she can use their Special during battle), once the Heat bar reaches 100. Yep, another facet to think about. When you successfully strike an enemy, your Heat gauge increases, and it continues to increase with each successive hit. If there's too much of a pause between strikes, it will start to fall, so you have to try to launch a continuous attack with all four party members until the gauge hits 100. Once it does, you can select whichever character to use their Special; again, provided they have the ability.
You can also string together these Specials. With each successive Special used, though, the Heat gauge drops more and more. In other words, after the first Special goes off, the gauge will decrease to 80. But if the attack can drive the gauge back up to 100, you can use another Special. After the second, the gauge drops to 60, so that Special must hit even more to push it back to 100. Further, not all Specials hit the same number of times, so in order to string as many as possible together, you want to organize their launching pattern. If done correctly, and with the right characters, you can unleash all four characters' Special Attacks!
Oh, but it doesn't end there. Another factor to consider is how the enemy responds to your attack. Some of your moves will toss the enemy into the air, others will knock it down, and still others will simply push it back. Of course, due to this little feature, you need to also coordinate your attacks so you're not missing with subsequent characters. For example, if you knock an enemy into the air with Arngrim and Dylan attempts to attack immediately after with a straight drive-through, Dylan is going to miss. This means you not only missed the enemy, but you also wasted AP and didn't add to the Heat gauge. It's just bad, the whole way ‘round.
To top it all off, the game features special crystals, called Sealstones, in each area that provide certain elements to either your party or the enemies. For example, if there's a Sealstone that says "Guaranteed Initiative" sitting on a Dais, that means all the enemies will have the initiative in battle. However, if you pick it up and carry it, you will have the initiative. You must use Magic Crystals to save any Sealstones you withdraw before you leave an area, thus allowing you to use that Sealstone in any new area you may encounter. Of course, some Sealstones require a lot more Crystals to save than others; the "1/4 Damage" one (all enemies in the area do only one-quarter the damage if this is placed on a Dais) is especially pricey.
So a lot of your success often lies in the placement of these Sealstones, and which ones you choose to carry around. And speaking of the environments where you'll find these precious stones, you'll also notice you do a lot more platforming-type adventuring in this RPG. By shooting a beam of light, Alicia can turn those roving spirits into crystals for a short time, rendering them both harmless and movable. You can switch places with any crystal if you can shoot it, and this will allow you to get to certain previously unreachable places. Sometimes, this can be an awfully tricky process.
To assist you in battle, you will encounter spirits of another age (called Einherjar) as you go, and you can free them from the weapon they're encased in (sword, bow, staff, etc.). It's up to you which ones you free; they will be with you throughout your adventure. And while they don't all have the same growth potential as the humans, they can be amazingly useful throughout the game. You can also permanently "free" an Einherjar when they gain five levels, but you can perform a "Perfect Release" if you wait until the end of the game and equip them with the absolute best stuff. Upon release, they give you valuable items, depending on the status of their release.
And finally (yes, finally), we come to the ability system, which relies on whatever equipment and items you have equipped. Most items have a Rune attached to them (some don't have any Rune, though), and by linking certain styles of Rune (Earth, Water, Holy, etc.) in your ability grid, you gain the option to learn a new skill. However, just because you've equipped the three necessary Runes doesn't mean you automatically learn the skill; you simply have the ability to learn it. You gain skill points in battle that will eventually help you learn the skill for good.
If you haven't figured it out by now, there's a ton of stuff to think about when it comes to this game. But in the midst of it all is a pretty solid control system (that sometimes feels a little clunky when maneuvering around the battlefield), a good storyline complete with a few surprises, and that very unique style of adventuring and exploring. You've also got another time-consuming aspect of the game, and that involves collecting raw materials for the assembly of new - and significantly more powerful - equipment at shops. So there's always plenty to do.
But there are a few drawbacks: the enemy's sometimes seem to always have the advantage at the worst times, and unless you really take the time to master every little facet of the battle system, you may find yourself consistently frustrated and annoyed. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is easily one of the toughest RPGs of the generation, if not the toughest, so RPG novices will have an extraordinarily difficult time completing the game. Besides this, you spend so much time battling, setting skills, searching for materials to synthesize new pieces of equipment, gathering up enough Crystals for restoring Sealstones, etc, etc, etc, that the game can begin to feel like a real chore.
That huge emphasis on the complexity also takes away from both the flow of the game and the cohesiveness of the story. Usually, our motto is, the more depth, the better, but Square-Enix may have overdone this one just a bit. It can really be a turn-off for those who aren't the most hardcore gamers, and while some may find that appealing, in the long run, it's detrimental. Taking everything into consideration, there is a fine line to walk between thought-provoking complexity and strategy, and mind-numbing, overwhelming depth.
Overall, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is one fine RPG that is nothing like you've ever played before. There is a giant amount to get used to, but if you take to the style and the atmosphere, you just might lose yourself in role-playing bliss for many, many hours. There are some issues here and there, and there's an insane amount of content, but the game shines forth as one of the premier RPGs of last generation. Just remember- this is specifically for the true RPG fan, one who's willing to embrace every ounce of that intricate combat system. Anybody else will likely find this game a tiresome struggle...this is both good and bad, by the way.
11/25/2006 Ben Dutka