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I had forgotten Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume had even existed, but a couple months back I was getting tired of Pokemon B/W and glanced at my shelf of DS games and facepalmed. Oh yeah, not only does it exist, but Eric got it for me for either my birthday or Christmas last year. So I picked it up with vague memories of there being some negativity around the game and popped it in with low expectations.Low expectations or not, the game blew me away.

It does differ from the other two VP games in two major ways. The first and biggest is that the sequences in between fights are no longer a platformer. Instead, it turned into a 3/4 view turn-based strategy RPG. That means the puzzle elements are gone, but it does have some real strategy involved. The closet equivalent I can come up with is Disgaea because if you situate your characters appropriately, they'll help each other out with attacking even if they've already had their turn. It's not the most robust system, but it serves its purpose, which is setting up awesome combos with the series' unique battle system. Once you engage in combat, the battles are almost identical to those in Lennath, with the SRPG elements on the map replacing the strategic movement of the characters added in Silmaria. The only real difference from Lennath is that you're taking on monsters one at a time and the only altitude issues happen if you've knocked your target into the air while you're trying to use a low thrusting move at the same time. No more harpies that can only be hit by archers or mages. The enemies still counter attack, but as their positioning relative to the enemy is exactly like that on the map, there isn't the back row protection of Lennath either. If a character is within range of that enemy's attack grid, they are fair game, though the AI seems to favor attacking the character who initiated the battle.

The other big difference is more of a story based element. Rather than working with the valkyries in one way or another, the main character is an embittered young man who hates the Battle Maiden and wants to kill her due to her supposed role in his father's death. Somewhere along the way he took the phrase "Chooser of the Slain" to mean that the valkyrie actually picks who is going to die rather than just picking those worthy of being einherjar from among those who died anyway. It's especially ironic that he and his compatriots refer to her (Lennath in this case, though he never knows that) as the Death Goddess several times...despite the fact that the covenant named in the title is one he makes with Hel. You know, the /actual/ Norse death goddess.

It's a stand alone title with only a few minor hooks seen that connect it to the other games. Those hooks do serve to show that it takes place between Silmaria (crazy time travel aside) and Lennath and help set up some of the chaos going on during Lennath. Interesting for a series fan like myself, but not anything to make a newcomer feel confused or like they're missing out. What really struck me is the beautiful language used. I've been trying to think of a good way to describe the dialogue for days now, and the best I can come up with is that it's like every character has a speechwriter at their side so as to always sound like a robust hero of legend. It's not at all how people really talk, but then, neither do people go around trying to chase down a valkyrie in order to kill her in real life. It's fancy, rather formal, and graceful. I certainly can't comment on how close the translation is (I suspect not at all in anything but general tone), but whoever did it is an amazing writer. Games have sure come a long way from where they used to be, where we would get barely coherent garbage, not to name names. *coughFFVIIcough* I've played virtually no console games since shortly before Enoch was born (I just barely failed to complete Silmaria for the first time then), so I genuinely can't recall what the dialogue was like in the other two games, but I was very impressed by this one.

As has become traditional for VP, there are three real endings (generally referred to as A for the best, C for the worst). Once you finish and then cry as you have to sit through the credits (Every. Single. Time.) you get an option to save again and can start back at the first with all items, techniques, and tactics intact. Companions must be found again, spells relearned, and levels regained. If anything, this one feels like it's meant for all three endings to be seen to consist of one game. I did all three in around 32 hours, the second and third playthroughs going a bit faster due to the stuff that carries over. Starting at the C ending, then doing B, and finishing up with A is best from both a story progression viewpoint as well as difficulty. It would be incredibly difficult to do the last two scenarios with only the gear you've gathered from your first playthrough, aside from the huge emotional payoff you'd miss. The development of the main character, Wyl, and the way his life ends up after "learning" to make the right choices through the three stories was just perfect. I actually teared up a little and I don't remember the last time I've done that for a game.

There's lots more I could discuss with gameplay and such, but as I've already babbled for ages about a game from an obscure series that came out something like two or three years ago, I'll stop now. It's an awesome game if you like RPGs that aren't just Oblivion or Final Fantasy repackaged for the umpteenth time. For all that JRPGs have been getting a lot of crap for being stale lately, Tri-Ace still seems to be doing a stellar job in my opinion. Five stars, two thumbs up, whatever ratings you want to use, I loved it.

ETA: Just went to put this on Amazon too, and it's only $10 now. If the VP games are your cup of tea and you don't have it yet, it's a good time to grab it!

October 2012

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