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Review: Valhalla Knights 3Valhalla Knights 3 XSEED RPG Vita K2 LLC
Developer: K2 LLC
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: October 15, 2013
ESRB: M for Mature
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
For as much of an advocate I am of the system, new Vita releases have been very few and far between for this year. While it is certainly easy to make a checklist of solid ports and re-releases this year with titles like Muramasa: Rebirth, Rayman Legends, Atelier Meruru Plus, etc- to make an honest list of exclusive, original titles would be far more difficult. It wouldn't be an understatement to say that aside from titles Killzone: Mercenary and Soul Sacrifice, the Vita hasn't really seen too many noteworthy exclusives for this year. To lighten the English-speaker's system drought, one of the three handheld localization holy trinities, XSEED (the other two being Aksys and NIS), decided to lessen the blow with new game releases- one of which is Valhalla Knights 3, a new action-RPG for the system.
After my unpleasant experience with the original Valhalla Knights on the original PSP, I have been sort of ambivalent towards trying out its localized sequels: one which was a direct sequel on PSP and another title on the original Wii. That said, enough time has passed, and I've decided to finally to give the series another go with the newest installment, Valhalla Knights 3. I mean, XSEED hasn't done me any wrong this year, and likely won't in the near future with Ys: Memories of Celceta, so what is the worst that can happen with this game?
Valhalla Knights 3 starts off with the description of a legendary treasure, known as the Flockhart Legacy. Details surrounding this treasure have been just as vague as to what happened to the person who found it, Flockhart, who vanished along with it some time ago. Despite that, it has been a desired commodity by a tyrannical king, who intends to turn the tides of a losing war by obtaining it. Some time later, the player character, who is branded with a deadly curse by the fiendish tyrant, is sent to Carceron Prison as a spy and is forced to find Flockhart's legendary treasure after new rumors emerge, under the guise of a convict. Carceron Prison, however, is now known as a 'Prisoner's Paradise', since the former royal guards were overpowered by convicts and the prison is now under control of the convicts themselves, and pretty much anything goes there.
This title makes it pretty apparent that the prison setting is dark and oppressive, emphasizing "might makes right," with the intro killing off new arriving convicts and some females convicts being outright kidnapped and sold to prostitution. Later on, the narrative also shows signs of political intrigue with not only an internal struggle in the prison with mob-like "families" as well as external political matters unraveling. In an almost sharp contrast, it feels like the events that lead up to the more story-pertinent stuff (and sidequests) are pretty weird and quirky. Just about every sidequest does not take itself seriously at all and some of the earlier main story events have bizarre context as to why you are doing what you are doing. Still, even if individual aspects about it can be interesting, it never really seems to capitalize on the story or setting, whether it be the dark or the quirkier aspects, and by the time I stopped playing, it simply made me simply think: "Man, this is a weird game..." more than anything else.
What is probably Valhalla Knights 3's greatest strength is how much customization it has overall. The player can tailor their own main character with a standard set of tools like race, class, appearance, individual stat focuses, voice samples, and sex. It also allows you to obtain various other party members, which can be customized in the same fashion or recruited through other means. The job system in particular has a noticeable influence from titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, or a newer example with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, where you can directly carry over passive skills as well as combat abilities you've learned to other classes. So you can very well have the skills of something like a priest and be able to cast support skills as a warrior, like I did.
Make no mistake, Valhalla Knights 3 is a very challenging game: Money is tight, battles are hard-won, and without a solid party formation you are going to get destroyed time and time again. Which is funny, because XSEED even had the difficulty decreased from the Japanese version.
Combat is pretty simple and sort of feels more or less like a Phantasy Star Online lite. You can equip various weapons based on class or skills you carry over, but unfortunately have a very limited standard moveset. Though, you do have a fair bit more flexibility with your party and formation, which can easily mean victory or defeat in regular or story battles. It's a shame that stuff like switching your party current member is so slow and clunky, and it goes by party order as opposed to an individual toggle, so much of the time it felt as if
there were little room for improvisation due to the fact that when you lose momentum in battle, the chance of victory goes just as quickly. So, more often than not, battles in Valhalla Knights 3 are won with preparation and leveling, rather than mid-battle tactics.
The bulk of the experience is centered around accepting quests and grinding, and you will do a lot of it. You need to complete a lot of quests for money, which are more than required for decent armor, weapons, and accessories, and you need not only levels, but the various skills of multiple classes to stand a fighting chance against the game's significant difficulty. Each main story scene will serve as a constant reminder of an all too apparent challenge and difficulty ramp; not coincidentally, this is also where I started falling off the game. Nearly everything about Valhalla Knights 3 goes at a very slow pace, due to various technical reasons and some questionably deliberate design.
I need to get this out of the way: Valhalla Knights 3 is a very unattractive game on a technical level. The character models and backgrounds are generally rather bland, even if they probably would've been perfectly fine on PSP, and are a bit of a strain to look at on the Vita's OLED screen. The framerate also stutters significantly the entirety of the experience and load times are very long and frequent. Load times are especially glaring in the central hub, Carceron Prison, because you can literally walk for five seconds and go into a new area that takes even longer to load. This is especially painful considering how compartmentalized many areas are, reminiscent of many 3D PSP games, and I even counted one load time to be longer than twenty seconds. I've also had the game outright crash on me three times after I've done a significant amount of grinding in the field areas, which only added insult to injury.
Speaking of field areas, traversal in the game is also rather slow. Sure, you can utilize a sprinting attack animation to traverse significantly faster on foot, but it does nothing about how often you have to do it. There is no quick travel feature, so the player has to revisit individual areas they have already been to a lot, due to quests. This only becomes more noticeable as areas for both quests and story missions become farther and farther from the starting point of Carceron Prison. You do, however, get rewarded for how many steps you take, allowing you to purchase specific items, and you also can use items/abilities to quickly teleport back to town to dull the pain. So I can't decide if I should accept backtracking as a design decision, or the rewards simply being an afterthought, especially considering how negligible the items are beyond trying to recruit random characters/clerks in the prison. In either case, it takes a lot of time to travel to point A to B for how often the player has to do it and, I don't think it needs to be said, there are more than a few lengthy load screens to accompany traveling as well.
If there is one thing that will probably make most players uncomfortable, including myself, it’s the addition of the “Sexy-time” minigame. Yes, that is the real name of it. “Sexy-Time” in Valhalla Knights 3 is a hostess-themed mini-game where the player can ‘woo’ most female merchants by groping them via touchscreen after buying a certain amount of goods in the shop or giving them random gifts. Just as it sounds, it is more than a bit tasteless and is even more sad in execution, especially since some clerks are in lolita territory. It IS optional, and normally I’d pretend such a minigame doesn’t exist, but considering how you can recruit these clerks to your party (which are unique classes), and even unlock certain advanced classes much earlier in the game using it, it is sort of hard to avoid for those who intend to play the game for an extended period of time.
Specific to the U.S. release, Valhalla Knights 3 has an online versus mode, opposed to local ad-hoc of the Japanese version. I didn't spend too much time in it, since it seemed horribly imbalanced, where I either decimated my competitor or I was destroyed very quickly and stun-locked by spells, so there was nothing that had any semblance to a close match. Even so, it's cool that XSEED allowed the functionality to actually be used overseas and there is rewards to utilizing it in the long-term, if you are diligent enough for whatever reason.
Motoi Sakuraba composed the score for the game, and while Sakuraba himself is most certainly a talented composer, he does more than occasionally come across as samey with his musical scores in games and Valhalla Knights 3 does little to challenge that, especially among Japanese RPG fans who are likely all too familiar with frequent compositional works. However, there are some decent tracks laced within the game, which are usually more atmospheric than anything, but overall it is probably one of his least noteworthy soundtracks. There is even less to mention with the overall audio design, and even if the voice acting doesn't offend, much of the general audio design is rather cheap sounding.
For every one thing I found myself interested in, or liking, about Valhalla Knights 3, I found two or more that outright annoyed or underwhelmed me in the long-run. I found myself interested in the setting, but pretty much underwhelmed by its execution and how it was presented. I liked the customization options, but hated how grindy it was, the technical jankiness surrounding gameplay, and tedious overall structure. There will certainly be those who are willing to overlook the game's many technical shortcoming, and its very grindy/tedious structure, since the series has lasted as long as it has, but I'm not one of them. It has the furnishings of solid games, but the execution of none of them. Players will have to sacrifice more than their time to tolerate their stay at the 'prison paradise' of Valhalla Knights 3.
+ Interesting setting that is both quirky and dark
+ Fair amount of party customization options
+Some decent musical tracks
- Tedious backtracking and slow overall traversal
- Very lengthy load times, noticeable bugs, and tawdry presentation
- Combat is too simple and clunky
- Requires a lot of grinding
- Tasteless “Sexy-Time” mini-game
Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10)
Valhalla Knights 3 is an RPG with several interesting ideas and a fair amount of party customization but it is unfortunately muddled by extremely poor technical issues and a very tedious and dull structure.
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