Valkyrie Elysium - Putting The Cart Before The Norse
I get nervous sometimes when I hear a game is coming back after a long hiatus. It seems to be happening a lot more recently, whether it’s companies looking to capitalise on nostalgia for old franchises or trying to refresh a franchise with a new coat of paint and turn it into a new series. It’s a gamble between if it’s being trotted out as a namesake completely divorced from the original ideas, or if it’s a new take that will bring the game into a modern era.
Valkyrie Elysium is one of those games. At a glance, it’s not related by name to the Valkyrie Profile games at all. Hell, it’s been 10 years since our last real Valkyrie Profile game. Hell, it’s not even exactly the genre, with Elysium leaning more into the action RPG than the platformer mixed with turn-based RPG of previous entries.
We’re introduced to the Valkyrie via her awakening which also serves as the tutorial to the game. After a brief description that the All-Father Odin was injured in Ragnarok and needs some help purifying souls so they can help him out with his battle. You’re given access to a bunch of Einherjar, who are purified souls that act as elemental and extra attacks. Post-tutorial they are promptly taken away, and you’ll unlock them and more as the story unfolds.
The Einherjar are purified souls who also have their own little stories which tie in the to the greater story. On the whole, the story is very basic. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s going on, and the only interesting blips are the tiny little anecdotes from Hollow Blossoms, little flowers that given the final memories of people when they die which act as the game’s collectibles. That and the conversations between the Einherjar and Valkyrie help flesh out the story but it’s nothing to write home about.
Thankfully the action is great. If the game was longer, I could imagine it being a bit tedious but at its length it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Combat uses a mix between your light and heavy attacks, summoning your Einherjar which do their own attacks but also give elemental effects to your weapons, and eventually using the Valkyrie’s Divine Arts. It’s very fast paced and each individual battle outside of boss fights last only a few moments.
Using the right element on an enemy puts them in a weakened state which allows you to really lay the smack down. Against bosses, you can use the elemental Divine Arts against a weakened enemy to stun for a while for the cost of making them immune for a set time afterward. It’s fun and quick and there’s enough options there to keep things fresh. I will say that the weapons don’t really feel different enough, but they exist and that’s kind of fine in its own way. Just another layer of options.
Progression is handled via a gem system where you can buy Attack, Defense or Support abilities or increases. This, however, is just the illusion of choice. In truth, you’ll likely have enough to buy whatever you want until you get to the roadblock of needing a new currency. You can only get the new currency via progression through the game so realistically it’s just a normal progression system. As it’s a straight skill tree there’s no real option to skip upgrades or create a diverse or interesting build either, so as I said, illusion of choice.
In games, there’s something I keep a good eye out for too. World-building and lore. I wasn’t feeling it here at all. You’re led to believe you’re travelling over a Ragnarok-ruined world, but the levels are quite empty, and despite there being broken walls and buildings it doesn’t feel like a war-torn area. I think this is a huge missed opportunity for the game and I would’ve liked to have really felt the effects of large-scale destruction, but it is what it is.
The levels themselves are pretty linear too. I think for RPGs to nail level design, going off the beaten path should reward exploration. There are a few scant rewards such as the Hollow Blossoms, but they are shown on the map so realistically you’re just trying to solve the puzzle of how to get there rather than actually exploring on your own. Some Divine Arts are found in chests that are on a slightly different path but other than that, there’s no real enticement to not stay on the linear path.
It’s easy to rag on games like Valkyrie Elysium; series that have taken a long hiatus and come back as a different beast. I think there’s actually some good stock here, and despite my complaints I enjoyed my time with the game, and it scratched the itch for an action RPG. I think that shifting the genre is a smart move, as well as slightly changing the name as it encourages new players to give it a try and also harkens back to the series as its core.
Valkyrie Elysium was reviewed on PS5 with a code kindly provided by Square-Enix via distributor, Bandai-Namco Australia