Theorycrafting: The Difference Between Methodical And Experimental Gameplay

Sorry I’m late with this one guys.

Whether you want to know which style of gameplay is best suited to you or you desire to develop a game with a specific audience in mind, knowing what makes experimental or methodical gameplay is important.

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Review


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There comes a time where the excitement and wonder of playing videogames begins to waver. As we experience more and more games, our tastes become more refined as do our expectations. It is very rare that a game manages to truly live up to the expectations of a seasoned gamer and when it does, you know you have picked up a true gem of a game. That’s where Valkyrie Profile 2 comes in.

Nostalgia is often the driving force when it comes to deciding on a player’s best experiences. We all look back at the good times… and the bad but it all translates to good in the end because they were an experience. My childhood was spent playing games such as Pokemon, Final Fantasy and Super Smash Bros Melee, looking back my childhood was pretty shallow compared to what I experienced in my later years. Even though I am merely at the age of 23, Valkyrie Profile 2 wasn’t a childhood game, I played it in my late teens. I had already played countless other games beforehand and I was beginning to grow tired of modern gaming.

So I made the decision to go back to the good old days and play some of the games I missed out on in my youth. In doing so I realized that there was more to my distaste of modern gaming than nostalgia, there is something missing in gaming today. I realized that I missed out on so many gems that went under the radar, some were better than others but I soon realized that I had missed out on so many amazing games that I wish I had experienced as a child. Then I found it, A game that went above and beyond my expectations. A game so breathtaking that it put all of my childhood games to shame. Little did I know that it would forever be engraved on my very soul. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria currently stands as my favourite game of all time and it’s my job to explain to you why I find it to be the greatest game ever made and man this is going to be one hell of a challenge to review.

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So lets start with the logical observation. Unlike the first Valkyrie Profile which was a cult hit, Valkyrie Profile 2 was shadowed by its predecessor in every single possible way and was considered a “massive disappointment” by many fans of the first game. I’ve never seen a game that has been nitpicked as much as this game. It’s a game that literally did no wrong (at least to me). Seriously just picking out flaws in this game alone is like finding a needle in a haystack and yes there are flaws there but personally I find that they do not hinder the game’s experience in any way.

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So what did the game do to make people dislike it? Well for starters, Valkyrie Profile was a very good game… I say that loosely considering the fact that it was a hugely flawed game, an acquired taste you could say but the flaws in that game stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, Valkyrie Profile managed to gain a cult following who appreciated the games design choices for its originality and also appreciating the emotional impacts and deep undertones that made the game feel unlike any other.

Valkyrie Profile was unique and to see it become a traditional JRPG was ludicrous. People refused to accept that an 18-year-old midget princess with social disorders replaced the almost stereotypical stoic goddess that was Lenneth but if you look back at Lenneth, as cool as she was, her stoic disposition really took a toll on her character as a whole and her development arc was blatantly forced. I just think the game was rushed by the end… but then again even Valkyrie Profile 2 suffered a similar fate by the end though looking back, I found that Valkyrie Profile 2’s story as a whole was better structured and was better executed than its predecessor.

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At first sight, it’s understandable how someone can detest the idea of Alicia being the main character. She appears to be a stereotypical bimbo at the start of the game which is ironic considering the fact that I found that her alter ego, Silmeria fit that category far better in the long run. Over time however, things began to make sense and I did start appreciating Alicia as the main lead and became to understand the developers reasoning behind this choice, it was all about perspective and that’s what led to the biggest change Valkyrie Profile 2 made, the fact that it followed a more generic narrative structure but despite popular belief, this change was completely vital.

Lets face it, Valkyrie Profile was an unpolished masterpiece. Horribly unpolished might I add. Had the developers put more TLC into the game’s execution, it could have become the masterpiece that was Valkyrie Profile 2 but it didn’t and remained nothing more than a cult hit. Valkyrie Profile 2 barely got together a cult following but nowhere near the same level as Valkyrie Profile. People who hated Valkyrie Profile avoided it and people who loved it… also avoided it… it was an inevitable flop that went down with a huge bang that no one ever saw. Basically Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made.

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Now as someone who disliked the direction the first Valkyrie Profile took, I played a few more tri-Ace games and realized that they were by the same people who did Valkyrie Profile. So surely I should give the series another chance and I picked up Valkyrie Profile 2 on a whim. It could have been another horrible experience but I had a small glimmer of hope that they changed it and thank god they did.

 

“Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made”

 

Gone was the open-ended story line concept which sucked just as much ass as Big Rigs Over The Road Racing, Gone was the ever punishing period system which punished player choice and exploration and in with the old school narrative structure we all know and love. Vanilla storytelling has never been so bliss and to be honest, it was quite refreshing seeing the Valkyrie Profile series’ story line told in this new direction. You got to actually experience the story line directly as opposed to just watching some random scene which holds no relevance to the plot whatsoever only to be thrown into the next dungeon, rinse and repeat. It was a horrible… seemingly repetitive formula which bogged the first game down.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s traditional approach may not have been perfect though. Early on in the game, you are presented with quite possibly the worst macguffin trope ever conceived to man and I honestly don’t mind macguffin tropes so long as they don’t take up too much time and aren’t too predictable. It’s easy to just sit there and say “this game is boring, give me a better plot” but as bad as it was, it didn’t seem to hinder the game’s pacing half as much as Valkyrie Profile’s entire story line and strangely enough, it really didn’t impede on the overall experience. In fact I believe the slow pacing was actually needed. Why? Because it allowed you to take everything in.

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That’s right, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the best looking game on the PS2, still holding up today as one of the most aesthetically appealing games ever created. The visuals are crisp and are loaded with glittering particle effects to add that extra sparkle. It’s easy to tell that a considerable amount of effort was put into the game and there are a lot of minute details that are easily missed the first time round.

So to put it simply, the visuals are a step beyond sublimity but the game’s incredible soundtrack just happens to be even better. The two go hand in hand to provide the player with one of the greatest gaming experiences you could possibly imagine.

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As I have said before in my original review of this game back on Destructoid, Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion and not just visually but musically as well. If you can appreciate music and visuals, then this might possibly be your dream game and I damn well love some good music and visuals.

Seriously if I listen to the game’s soundtrack on Youtube (which I do way too much) I start to get addicted to listening to it and think to myself “fuck it, I’m going to listen to it all over again from beginning to end” and after listening to it all over again, I realize that I’ve just spent hours simply listening to the same songs over and over again.

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Listening to the music in Valkyrie Profile 2 is just like eating a full bag of Doritos, I just can’t get enough of it, it’s like a drug. Captivating is probably the most fitting word to describe Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack. Heck I’ve spent more time listening to the game’s soundtrack than I have actually playing the game. I sometimes even listen to them whilst playing other games, particularly open world RPG’s where they are surprisingly fitting.

 

 “Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion”

 

I find that the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 has a much greater purpose beyond simply being enjoyable. The music of Valkyrie Profile 2 has a purpose beyond merely engaging the player, it also helps build up the game’s abstraction. In fact the music in this game somehow tells a better story than its dialogue. I don’t know whether or not Motoi Sakuraba was aware of this, perhaps I’m looking into it too much. However many of the dungeon music in this game not only the perfect ambiance but also manages to illustrate the significance of the area you are in.

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It is implied that many of the locations you visit in Valkyrie Profile 2 have historic connections with a lot of the game’s lore and whilst I cannot discredit the visual department for doing its bit, the music certainly does it part in building up the abstract background of the game’s story line just as well. I swear I could analyze many of the game’s songs and decipher their hidden meanings but I’d rather let you, the player experience that for yourselves.

A recurring theme surrounding Valkyrie Profile 2’s abstraction and story is history. The game takes place many years before the events of Valkyrie Profile and puts you in the perspective of a Valkyrie who can read the psychic energy of objects allowing her to read into the past. Hence the reason why this game’s story focuses a lot on abstraction rather than what’s actually going on in the plot. This is likely one of two main reasons why most JRPG fans are turned off from the game’s story for they fail to recognize this abstraction.

Silmeria's object reading opens up a whole new dimension within the game's storytelling.

Silmeria’s object reading opens up a whole new dimension within the game’s storytelling.

Somebody mentioned in an article that Valkyrie Profile 2 tells a better story in its world and setting than it does in its narrative. This is 100% the truth. The narrative in Valkyrie Profile 2 isn’t bad by any means but as I have mentioned before, the narrative doesn’t even compare to the likes of games such as Grandia 2 as it is somewhat flawed at certain points. That is because narrative is not the focus of Valkyrie Profile 2 whereas the first Valkyrie Profile had quite a lot of narrative, some more trivial than others but there was plenty of it nonetheless.

Valkyrie Profile 2 decides that rather than telling you the story it wants the player to explore its world and uncover the story for themselves. Sadly, most players aren’t patient enough to do this and as such, I find that the story of Valkyrie Profile 2 was horribly misunderstood. Nevertheless, the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 creates a solid ambiance that will pull you into its world.

Rather than simply plundering people's hoses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

Rather than simply plundering people’s houses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack works with everything and just makes everything better. Seriously you should listen to some of the songs whilst playing Skyrim or something, it will make the experience so much better. The fact that it manages to capture such a perfect ambiance to the world makes it so ideal to listen to whilst playing open world RPGs as it enhances the experience of exploration. I listened to the soundtrack of Valkyrie Profile 2 whilst playing Two Worlds 2 and whilst the game was good (at least to me), I doubt the experience would have been the same without the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 playing in the background.

As for the game play. It doesn’t disappoint, like the first game, it is a side scrolling RPG, probably one of the biggest reasons why it got overlooked but it’s part of the series’ charm and couldn’t be ignored. In any case, the visuals more than make up for it.

As with most side scrolling games, Valkyrie Profile 2 experiments with platforming with the use of photons. For the most part, the game’s platforming sections are pretty simplistic and the game tends to focus on thinking rather than reflexes.

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Photons can be used to crystallize enemies to immobilize them, however if you shoot a photon at a crystallized enemy, you will swap places with it. This mechanic is the most common element of the game’s platforming as it revolves around swapping places with enemies to reach certain areas.

If anything, the side scrolling sections are less about platforming and more about puzzle solving. I often joke about how Valkyrie Profile 2 experimented with the portal gun idea before Valve did with their release of Portal as it is essentially the same idea with photons except it uses enemies instead of walls. Overall, the platforming sections are a cool distraction, but the real meat of the game play is in the battles.

Valkyrie Profile 2 keeps the same style of combat as the first game but expands on it greatly. In battle, you are actually able to roam around a 3D battlefield… oh the irony. This opens up a completely new approach to battles and applies more flexibility and depth to them as a whole.

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Like the first game, characters are set to face buttons, they are your choice of attacks. Rather than just giving you a set of special attacks for each character, picking one and letting the computer play the rest, Valkyrie Profile 1 and 2 have you playing as all the characters at the same time and each character represents a certain move set which can be customized at will in Valkyrie Profile 2 (which was limited in the first game). This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPGs fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s battle system is unlike any other JRPG and can take a while to get used to. It can also feel quite repetitive at the start but once the training wheels are off and you obtain more characters, the real action starts. Honestly when I replayed the game and just had Alicia and Rufus I felt like the game removed so much. That’s because the combat improves over time but eases you into the basics and you better appreciate that as the game is very deep. Sadly it can put a lot of newcomers off, particularly impatient ones who judge the game at first sight.

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A lot of people say that this game is really hard. I honestly had no trouble playing through this game. It’s a very deep game and you really need to pay attention to the tutorials, get the right skills and understand seal stones as this game requires a lot of preparation. Valkyrie Profile 2’s game play is all about thinking outside the box. Whilst there is some strategy involved during game play, it matters little if your characters are under equipped, you’re going to get a spanking if you’re not prepared.

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Then again, if you do come prepared, you might find the game to be way too easy. This is because Valkyrie Profile 2 is so easily broken, it’s ridiculous. It’s all about knowing how the game works and if you want to play the game the normal way, the difficulty might be tough. However if you’re into power leveling and gearing then this game can seem be a bit too rewarding.

 

“This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPG’s fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault”

 

There are a lot of ways to play this game and it can seem a little daunting at first but experimentation is key. Valkyrie Profile 2 is all about finding the best play style for you and maximizing it to its full potential, though it is encouraged to switch on the fly. For this reason, gaining experience matters little in comparison with equipment and skills.

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Each character has their own set of attacks and they learn more of them as they level up. Considering the fact that Valkyrie Profile is not a Tales/Star Ocean game, the move selection in battle is limited (and linear) for each character simply due to the fact that you are controlling everyone in the party (though you can learn the scramble attack skill to mix things up). You’re not picking out moves, you’re picking out characters and developing moves from the characters you like in order to enhance them, you can then change-up their moves later after you’ve developed them, either that or swap them out for a new character and equip that character with the armaments from the other character to make them just as powerful.

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Characters learn skills through battling, the amount of battles required depend on the character’s level. So it’s important to learn new skills as early as possible.

Utilizing all of your character’s skills and abilities is the name of the game here. Most battles revolve around timing your attacks in order to acquire bonus experience via magic crystals as well as increasing your AP reserves via gems which lets you use more attacks. Whereas some characters are best at dealing direct damage, others are better at generating extra hits which can not only help gain more gems and experience crystals but it can also generate more heat allowing you to perform soul crushes which are a signature move each character has which can be chained with other soul crushes to deal a tremendous amount of damage towards the enemy. In addition, the higher your hit count, the higher the damage you deal.

That’s not all, enemies can also lose body parts when they attack in a Monster Hunter esque fashion in the sense that breaking off enemy body parts often rewards you with loot such as accessories which you can use to learn skills and improve stats. Additionally, breaking off certain body parts changes the behavior of the enemy, if you break off their weapon for example, their range will be limited.

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Shopping in Valkyrie Profile 2 is like Monster hunter. Basic armaments can be bought with cash, more powerful items need additional materials to be created. You do however get a return on your materials simply by trading them for OTH.

The biggest reward for breaking however is break mode. Break Mode allows the player to attack freely without expending AP so you can button mash to your heart’s content. The strategy guide mentions that break mode occurs randomly and the rate that is occurs accumulates by 5% per break for each character and the occurrence rate starts at 70%. Pretty deep stuff huh?

Allow Lezard Valeth to demonstrate the many benefits of breaking

It is often important to experiment with different attacks in order to hit a certain body part and acquire certain items early on in the game which can be used to learn skills quickly. This is important if you want to have an easier time with this game.

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Magic is visually spectacular, however many of the enemies have high resistances making mages fall short of other characters in the damage department. Possibly an oversight by the developers.

Visually, the combat is spectacular. The animations are very detailed and encourage a steady flow of combat. Like I mentioned previously, timing your attacks is important and can be very rewarding. However if you miss an attack, it could prove detrimental so it’s important to stay focused on the action, however it never becomes too hectic and can even be somewhat relaxing due to it’s pacing. The soul crushes are also a treat for the eyes and can be extremely satisfying to pull off. All in all, Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat is not only intricate in its mechanics but also in spectacle.

However, Valkyrie Profile 2 offers a variety of features which enhance the possibilities in combat. Sealstones are powerful tools you can use whilst traversing through dungeons to empower or weaken the holder.

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Sealstones can be purchased with Magic Crystals which are rewarded for hitting enemies in a mid air combo in battle. Allowing you to keep them permanently.

By holding a sealstone, the effects of said sealstone are bestowed upon the entire party. As such you may find some sealstones to be detrimental in battle. However if you place it on a dais within the dungeon, all the enemies in the area will be under the effects of the sealstone. Sealstones have multiple uses, you can use them to assist you and you can even use them to deliberately handicap yourself for challenge runs, if that’s what you’re into.

Furthermore, the game has up to 50 difficulty levels which can only unlocked with each play through (complete the game on 1 difficulty, unlock the next difficulty etc). Each difficulty multiplies the enemies stats depending on the difficulty making this game quite possibly one of the most challenging rpg’s out there. If you are a perfectionist you will spend a long time on this game.

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Valkyrie profile 2 also has a bonus dungeon that not only deliberately butchers the game’s storyline (typical tri-Ace trend) but also provides a real challenge for the dedicated players. The bonus dungeon has 5 floors each packed full of mini-bosses and tough super-bosses and lots of loot. Much of the side content takes place here and the developers worked hard despite having limited resources to make it a somewhat interesting bonus dungeon compared to the conventional bonus dungeons many rpg’s implement which tend to be rushed, dry and tedious.

Valkyrie profile 2 carries on the trademark super-bosses of the tri-Ace games as well as adding its own, allowing players to recruit otherwise inaccessible characters in the main story. Sadly most of these characters have already been playable beforehand so you won’t find many surprises here except maybe for one but you’ll have to wait and see.

There is a lot of depth provided by this game’s lore. You can collect einherjar by interacting with weapons littered around dungeons and they will fight for you, essentially giving you another character to control in battle. Each character comes with a bio which can only be read in the status screen, some characters relate to one another, it’s funny when you learn that one of the first einherjar you get is one of Alicia’s ancestors. Now this is one of the game’s biggest controversies and what gives the game so much hate. The first game practically revolved around einherjar which are basically warriors risen from the dead to fight for Odin.

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In Valkyrie Profile, you can view the death scenes of each character during intervals. This is where the game’s abstraction is rooted, a series of short stories involving character deaths who will eventually become a member of your party and from that point on, you never see or hear from them again, except in battle or the sacred phase (which shows brief conversations between characters that aren’t really all that big of a deal and to view them, those characters have to be removed from your party). So essentially Valkyrie Profile had absolutely no character interaction outside the sacred phase and at a certain point you are expected to believe that they have grown attached to her which is total bullshit if you ask me.

Now the second game replaced them with a brief bio and people hated this despite the fact that the einherjar in Valkyrie Profile 2 took a backseat role which to be honest is quite relieving as it allows you to experience a more direct storytelling approach with a bit of character interaction and even though it’s not as deep as other games of the genre, there is some character development to be found here. I do believe the cutscenes do a good enough job, at least enough to motivate the player. People who expect strong character arcs may not find it in Valkyrie Profile 2 (or any JRPG for that matter, go play Warcraft 3 if you want serious storytelling) but it doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable. If you prioritize gameplay and just about everything else over story, then you will adore Valkyrie Profile 2.

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Then again, there is a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the einherjar backstories in Valkyrie Profile 2, it’s just a different kind of approach which requires more reading than watching. If you take the time to read all of the character bio’s in the game, you will find out about a lot of events which occurred many years before Valkyrie Profile 2 and it’s quite interesting to say the least. In fact some of the einherjar are connected and will occasionally share a battle quote with each other relating to their backstory which symbolizes that the einherjar, though backseat characters are actually part of the game’s lore. I personally believe that the attention to detail makes up for the lack of einherjar stories as just like the music, it contributes to the game’s abstraction. it’s obvious that the developers didn’t rush this design choice, it was just changed to reflect on the game’s storyline.

One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication. Though I have mentioned the visuals previously, I find that sophistication is the core of all aspects of Valkyrie Profile 2. Not only does its focus on history carry a lot of sophistication within itself but just about everything from the subtle yet somewhat simplistic story, the unbelievably sublime soundtrack, the crisp yet somewhat achromatic visual style and even the pacing of battles feels sophisticated as the game encourages times button presses rather than reckless button mashing.

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In fact this game is so sophisticated, it is difficult to believe that it is a tri-Ace game at times considering the fact that many of their games often try to follow a more generic anime style route. I find that Valkyrie Profile as a series stands as tri-Ace’s true claim to fame personally because as enjoyable as the Star Ocean games are, they don’t manage to capture half the depth the Valkyrie Profile games do and each installment seems to follow the same formula… just with a different method of conveying that formula.

Part of what makes the Valkyrie Profile series in general so iconic is the simple fact that it stands out as being sophisticated but the first Valkyrie Profile, despite it’s plot and setting didn’t manage to capture as much sophistication as the sequel simply because of it’s ridiculously flamboyant voice direction, the enjoyably dynamic, yet unsophisticated soundtrack and it’s focus on delivery through exposition, which despite being presented and performed very well, fell flat on its face in the end simply due to the fact that it was not only rushed by the end but it also felt as if they shoved way too much forced exposition down the players throat leaving them confused as to what relevance each and every moment of the game’s story had.

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Valkyrie Profile 2 didn’t have this problem. Whilst Valkyrie Profile was undoubtedly sophisticated to a degree, Valkyrie Profile 2 seemed to have perfected the sophisticated feeling that they were trying to convey in the first game but with a completely different approach. Rather than hurling tonnes and tonnes of exposition down our throats it instead focuses on building up its world and lore through abstraction rather than narrative. In my personal opinion, they did a better job conveying the game’s lore through abstraction rather than exposition.

 

“One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication”

 

The beauty of Valkyrie Profile 2 being a sequel is that the first Valkyrie Profile already explains so much that they had a lot of room to focus on abstraction. Personally I think they simply took an opportunity and ran with that expecting players to appreciate it. They were sadly wrong for the most part. However I for one can see the beauty in the game’s direction and as a result it made me love the game more than any other.

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“I know you are there… come out and play”

Ultimately though, the storyline can be enjoyable but it doesn’t satisfy all tastes and it’s narrative, though it is enjoyable to a degree feels rather simplistic, though the delivery of the narrative is done in a fashion which befits the sophisticated style of the game. The voice direction is very direct in its approach and the pauses in cutscenes helps tell the story in a clearer fashion rather than coming across as convoluted like the first game. There are a few lip sync issues here and there along with a few other oddities in the cutscenes but they are barely noticeable most of the time and when it is, the voice performances more than make up for it. Those who can appreciate the direction of the narrative and aren’t concerned by the very minor flaws in the game’s story will have a good time whereas those who are dissatisfied with the simplicity and are unable to appreciate the game’s focus on abstraction may find the story quite boring which is understandable.

As such, if we speak from a broad perspective, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the opposite of Warcraft 3, the story is serviceable but the rest is absolutely brilliant. It brings together everything that makes a JRPG experience so enjoyable. I encourage anyone with an ounce of taste in JRPG’s to give it a try, just be sure not to rush through it and take time to appreciate what this game has to offer. Oh and Valkyrie Profile 3 needs to happen, get on that shit tri-Ace, I know you’re busy with Star Ocean 5 but please do not forget this legendary series. Honestly all of the Valkyrie Profile games are legendary though Valkyrie Profile 2 holds that special place in my heart that no other game has. If you’re going to play Valkyrie Profile 2, you may as well play them all, yes that includes Covenant Of The Plume.

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Subtle and sophisticated, Valkyrie Profile 2 is not just your run-of-the-mill JRPG experience, it’s Michelin star quality gaming at its finest and as a result, it deserves a star of its own, a symbol that this game is phenomenal, something which I can easily recommend to all fans of JRPG’s because if you don’t enjoy this game, you’re not a true JRPG fan. As such This game gets my gold star of awesome and I do not give them out lightly. Reviewing a game like this is quite daunting, after all, a game as classy as this deserves a review of equal standards and though that feat is a tough one to meet, It won’t stop me from trying.

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Plot/story: Great

Visuals: Masterful

Music: Masterful

Game play: Exceptional

Lifespan: Decent Length

Worth replaying? Maybe

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Overall score: Masterpiece 

Gold Star Of Awesome

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2)