Theorycrafting – Does the RPG genre really need to exist?

When one interprets the term “RPG” they tend to associate it with Dungeons And Dragons. The problem is, this doesn’t tell us what an RPG actually is. If you look at Dungeons And Dragons today and break down all of its elements, you can clearly see connections between DND and other genres outside of RPG’s.

Doom for example is loosely inspired by DND, this is made even more apparent by the Astral Dreadnought’s face being cropped and made into one of Doom’s most iconic enemies, the Cacodemon. ID software were clearly fans of DND and they took inspiration from it. The maps in both Wolfenstein and Doom can be seen as replications of possible DND maps, the first person maze-like structure of the game’s levels are similar to that of Akalabeth which was also inspired by DND.

One could argue that Doom and The Elder Scrolls Arena are the same game on the surface with the only differences being the lack of RNG elements, character building and replacing the direction of sword swings with the aiming of the crosshair. Mapping isn’t the only thing DND was known for but it’s definitely one of its defining traits as mapping was a big part of the game. The same could be said about Doom.

So what truly makes an RPG an RPG? If we look at all the elements of DND we are left confused as to which elements truly matter within the context of an RPG. The point I want to make is that the context does not matter. Every single gameplay element of DND is important, not just in RPG’s but videogames in general. The problem is that the games we define as RPG’s were merely games that were built to imitate DND much like Toukiden Kiwami and God Eater Burst are built to imitate Monster Hunter. That is not to say that they don’t have their own unique elements, these games did solve problems, it’s just that the problems they solved aren’t as clear to us today because we’ve taken them for granted.

One could consider Role Playing Games to be a sub genre of strategy games. The thing is, DND is exactly that, it’s a strategy game that uses dice rolls to manipulate variables to encourage more experimental gameplay and more replayability. The dice roll is merely a facade that covers a deep strategy game built on player intuition. The player’s choices are the strategy, the dice roll is the manipulation of the variable values that influence the outcome of the strategic choice the player makes. The reason for this is likely to solve a problem.

Strategy games like Warcraft Orcs And Humans are a lot easier to figure out than DND because they focus less on RNG and more on methodical design. That’s not to say that Warcraft Orcs And Humans is entirely a methodical game. However the fact that it is named “Real Time Strategy” and not “Real Time Role Playing Game” makes it pretty obvious that it wasn’t trying to be like DND, it was trying to be more akin to wargaming but in real-time. Then Warcraft 3 came along and introduced a leveling system. This isn’t something that hasn’t happened before. Games like Chainmail did this way before Warcraft 3 ever did. Does this mean that Warcraft 3 and Chainmail are RPG’s? Well apparently not as many consider them to be strategy games. So if leveling systems have nothing to do with what makes an RPG then what does? Just to make things clear, Warcraft 3 does have elements of RNG. A good example of this is Grom Hellscream’s critical strike skill which has a chance to deal double the hero’s base damage.

So this technically means that RNG and stats also have nothing to do with RPG’s since they can be applied to strategy games and they should be applied to strategy games, at least in my opinion. Why? Because they are wonderful gameplay mechanics that helps keep games from stagnating. Random elements can make anything intense because you can never be so sure of the outcome, sure said outcome can be manipulated but only to a certain extent through the use of RNG. The thrill of getting that critical strike chance is awesome because it can turn the tide of battle very quickly.

Now if we were to break down the definition of a Role Playing Game, it essentially means that you’re playing a game in which you represent a role. The truth is, this is the case for a lot of games these days. We have moved on from games such as Tetris and it seems that most games these days involve role-playing in some shape or form. Halo might be a first person shooter but you’re playing the role of Master Chief. What people don’t understand is that back in the day, games in which you played roles were few and far between, games were more abstract and as such it was far more difficult for games to portray a role for the players to play. There are games like Tetris in which you don’t play a role whatsoever. These games still exist today and as such they’re massively outnumbered by games that can be labeled as RPGs and if we were to name these games RPGs then the term itself would serve no practical purpose.

I can however state that most games are RPG’s these days and the mechanics that traditional RPG’s are known for have flooded into other games such as Borderlands. Does this mean that the term RPG has no meaning anymore? Well yes and no. The mechanics traditionally used in RPG’s are very meaningful, the ability to play a role is also very meaningful. What isn’t meaningful is the genre used to define a specific type of game. The term RPG is misleading. If you were to ask whether you wanted to make an action game, a strategy game or an RPG, which one would you choose and why? Action and strategy games have plausible reasons for their existence. Some people enjoy slow-paced thinking games, other people enjoy adrenaline pumping rhythmic games. There is a completely different audience for games like chess to games like football and each audience has their own set of preferences.

This is why many people were outraged when Final Fantasy decided to focus on real-time gameplay. The usage of the menu system in Final Fantasy XIII didn’t flow particularly well with the fast paced real time gameplay. Adding an auto battle option merely served to limit the player’s choice and navigating the menus took way too long for players to do due to the fact that every single choice is presented in a long list the player has to navigate through. As such the combat of Final Fantasy XIII was a recipe for disaster and the reason why people despised Final Fantasy XIII becomes clear.

Personally I dislike Real Time Strategy games as I don’t enjoy having to quickly think about what i’m going to do, I prefer to take my time. Real Time Strategy games rush you to make decisions and while making quick decisions might seem like a good thing to some, it doesn’t to me. Strategy games on the other hand aren’t so bad. Mount And Blade is a good example of a well paced and cleverly structured strategy game as the pacing of the game is only as fast as the player wants it to be. It is what I like to call “Synchronized Time Strategy”.

Believe it or not, the same applies to action games. Valkyrie Profile 2 is a “Synchronized Time Action” game which is something you definitely don’t see everyday. This is what makes Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat system one of a kind as many of its gameplay elements would never work in a real-time game (which most action games are). If I was to compare this style of gameplay to any other game series it would be the Mystery dungeon series. Unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 however, the Mystery Dungeon games are not considered to be RPG’s, rather they are considered to be “Roguelikes” which Valkyrie Profile 2 is not.

I really think that people under appreciate the value of synchronized time in videogames. It allows players to play games at their own pace. Pacing has been an issue for quite some time now and if more games were to use this style of gameplay, I believe it could help alleviate the problem of slow-paced gameplay. Synchronized time is not exclusive to RPG’s, so this doesn’t make it less important than any RPG mechanics in an RPG.

The point is, people need to start looking at the structural elements of game design more closely rather than trying to come up with thematic definitions for game genres. It’s one thing calling a game a first person shooter but is it a rail shooter or a free moving shooter? Both can be in first person and involve shooting but both are completely different games. Unlike RPG’s however, at least the term “First Person Shooter” makes sense as it categorizes gameplay that involves aiming via camera movement. The term Role Playing Game makes no sense whatsoever as it only categorizes gameplay which involves playing a role… which is in the vast majority of videogames released these days.

I do think genre definitions can improve, however I can see the importance in thematic genre definitions as they help newcomers discover a genre they can feel comfortable with. Not everybody is going to want to play a shooter because many shooters contain violence. Sure not all first person shooters are violent, Pokemon Snap is a good example as to how you can design a first person shooter without having to kill things but until people become more accustomed to gaming, I don’t think genre definitions should change. Perhaps if gaming becomes more acceptable in popular culture, we can improve our definitions of games by breaking down their individual mechanisms and sectioning them off into their own categories, we need an alternative definition for these games as the current definitions too vague. The problem is that there are so many different games labeled as RPG’s and we would have to break them down individually to find out what they really are.

If we did break them down, I think critics would have a much easier time measuring a game’s caliber. Of course it is still important to measure the levels of growth in a videogame and since RPG mechanics are directly linked to growth it can be as easy as simply looking closely at these mechanics and measuring them to see how well they accompany the core gameplay mechanics and how much of a rewarding experience they provide.

So I think we’ve found the true meaning of the term “RPG”. The genre label of RPGs given to games that use heavy RNG based mechanics and variables as a form of influencing decision-making and growth. The biggest problem with this label is that every other genre of game is adopting this system and thus they become RPGs. This means the way we look at games needs to change, we need to look at other games and how they implement elements of growth and experimental gameplay because this has become the norm now. Role Playing Games are no longer a genre exclusive to the stereotypical games that focus on heavy narrative (which was never the case to begin with, we just grew accustomed to this definition and by we, I am talking about the masses).

So what is to become of those games? Are they to be judged independently as either action or strategy games? Or will we find a new definition? Whatever happens, the way we critique these games should be no different. It is still important to focus on the mechanics that make the game’s growth and decision-making process engaging. We just need to start acknowledging these games as either action or strategy games or whatever is left when the RPG mechanics are ripped out of it. That way, we can help people understand what the game actually is without getting lost in the fog that is the term “Role Playing Game”.

It is important to note that this is not the responsibility of the critics. Critics cannot change something until it is widely accepted by the masses and as such we need to be patient. We cannot simply shove these definitions down people’s throats nor should we confuse the masses further by completely boycotting the definition. Instead we need to work on breaking down each individual game and discuss what makes these games great or otherwise. Once we know what makes a great game, we can discover new methods to motivate and engage players by analyzing the systems games use to provide the best possible experience for the player and share our ideas with other people so that not only do we get better games but people can finally understand what truly matters to them in game design.

This is a slow and arduous task that I alone cannot do but I can shed some light on it hence the fact that I chose to write about it. The RPG genre label needs to disappear and all games should be judged on growth and how well they implement growth because growth is practically everywhere now, people enjoy growth and as such, people enjoy RPGs. That’s not to say that everybody needs it but I do think that people enjoy it. Ultimately it all comes down to the way it is implemented. People have argued for way too long as to what makes an RPG an RPG and it’s time we put a stop to this, permanently by banishing the label from existence and accept that each of these games are different.

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Odin Sphere/Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review

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Imagine A Valkyrie Profile beat em up game where you get to play 5 different characters each with their own perspective in the story. Sounds cool right? Well the guys at Vanillaware seemed to think so and decided to create a game that would do just that… well maybe not exactly that but they came very close. That game was Odin Sphere released in 2007… a year after the release of Valkyrie Profile 2… surely that’s not a coincidence.

Now when I heard that there was a remaster of Odin Sphere in the works, I didn’t really think much of it. You see during its time of release I was in the middle of playing the original Odin Sphere and I was originally going to review that game by itself. Thank god I didn’t because Odin Sphere on the PS2 was a piece of shit. Now you might be wondering how bad it could possibly be?

How about you watch this video and make your own judgement:

So after watching the video you can clearly see that this game has a lot of issues. Let me explain. First of all, the most obvious issue is the fact that you have 1 attack button. What this means is that you are literally mashing the square button the entire time. Sure you can use the directional buttons to mix things up but they really don’t blend in well with the main combo attack that can be used by simply pressing square over and over again. As such there is no way to string together combos. All you are doing is mashing square over and over again.

But don’t just think you can just sit there and mash the square button constantly. Just like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time, Odin Sphere has a special gauge designed to punish spamming… when in reality all it does is leave the player incapable of doing anything for a few seconds. In other words it is completely pointless and only exists to give an illusion that the game is actually encouraging players to use a wide variety of attacks when it clearly isn’t the case.

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This my friends is what the game likes to call the POW meter. It is a meter that is consumed every single time you use an attack or a guard action and it recovered by either walking around or simply doing nothing. You can also recovery it by absorbing phozons off of dead enemies but doing so requires you to perform an animation which leaves you vulnerable. Once the POW meter is depleted the game not only prevents you from attacking but it also inflicts the dizzy status ailment immobilizing you leaving you vulnerable to being attacked. Talk about adding salt to the wound.

The attack animations are quite detailed but unfortunately the frames used to perform these attacks take ridiculously long whereas the frames used for certain enemy attacks can be extremely quick, in fact one particular enemy can hurt you before the actual attack frame is executed. This can be really frustrating as you feel crippled compared to pretty much every other enemy in the game. To make things worse, certain bosses tend to heal themselves or be healed by other enemies. This can be extremely frustrating as when they are healed their health bar is restored to full. Add to this the fact that these healer enemies respawn and you have a really tedious and annoying boss fight to deal with.

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Oh and don’t think that boss fights are few and far between. Each stage has not only a single main boss but also has several minibosses for you to fight, these minibosses are just as difficult as the actual boss fights, sometimes more. You will often find yourself stuck on a boss only to beat it and eventually run straight into another boss fight. This can be infuriating to deal with and can make each stage a painful slog to play.

Odin Sphere is a game that focuses heavily on its alchemy system which is surprisingly pretty complicated for those who don’t know what they’re doing. Basically potions have different effects when mixed with mandragoras but they also have a numerical value. This numerical value is a variable that decides what potion you brew with each material.

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Each material has several different combinations based on its number. These combinations are only tied to even numbers however, odd numbers will have no effect with any ingredient and only single digit numbers affect the outcome of the potion so if your numerical value is 10/20 you will still get the same result as you would get with a 0 but it will release extra phozons as a result. You can multiply the numerical value by adding more ingredients to the material, the value the material is multiplied depends on the item. The results of the potion vary based on the numerical value and the type of mandragora used to create the potion.

And don’t think that the alchemy system is just a novelty. Expect to brew dozens of potions and be sure to keep stocked up on them but don’t forget to use them when the time is right. Potions can save you a lot of hassle, this is true in both the original game and the remaster but especially true in the original. There are offensive potions such as napalm allowing you to deal a large chunk of damage to an enemy and healing potions which are surprisingly quite rare since the main ingredient for it is hard to come by. This is somewhat problematic as healing potions tend to be your main source of healing early on and you’ll likely end up backtracking to acquire more of them.

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In the original Odin Sphere, phozons had to be absorbed manually using the R1 button. In Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Phozons are absorbed automatically but you can still manually absorb them if you want to.

In addition to all this there are potions that protect/heal certain status ailments, these are also vital as well since to add insult to injury, status ailments can be devastating in this game. The poison status effect will sap your hp to 1 very quickly so using an antidote quickly will save you a lot of food/potions, the burn status is also quite strong too with a similar effect which can be stopped by using a cooler. Then there’s quite possibly the most annoying status ailments. These are freeze and dizzy.

Freeze does what you think it does, it freezes you in place leaving you completely vulnerable for an attack which can be devastating in this game. Dizzy stuns you for a short period of time just like running out of POW which can be a real pain. Pretty much every single status ailment can turn the tide of battle in the enemy’s favor very quickly especially the freeze/dizzy status ailment as being inflicted by those ailments often leads to the player’s death since they are vulnerable to any attack and enemies won’t hesitate to take advantage of your misfortune.

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Goddamnit…

Hopefully I’ve illustrated to you just how frustrating the original Odin Sphere is which is why I recommend against playing it. I say this because there is a “classic mode” option in the remaster of the game which is exactly what you think it is. It’s the original game in HD. If you don’t want to put yourself through this torment then please for the love of god don’t play classic mode, it will break you… no I’m serious, it will break you… mentally.

Now that that’s out of the way, let us talk about the remaster itself. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is not just a mere HD re-release like most re-releases tend to be these days. Story and cutscenes aside, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a completely different game to the original. They have completely wiped the slate clean and started from scratch, essentially recreating the entire game from the ground up. It’s incredible to see how so much has changed with this re-release it literally feels like a whole new experience altogether. In other words, fans of the previous game will find a lot of new content here even though the game’s story is still pretty much the same as it was in the original.

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The question is, does this 9 year game still hold up today or was it best left in the dust? Now I’ll admit, I was eager to get this game simply due to the fact that the original game had so much potential underneath despite all its flaws and I seriously mean that. Odin Sphere is one of those games that I really tried to like despite my infuriating experience. I wanted to keep playing the game to experience more simply because I didn’t want to give up on it.

On paper, Odin Sphere had a lot going for it. A simple yet engaging story with multiple perspectives and a great soundtrack composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto accompanied with bright and colorful visuals in order to create a lush atmosphere that would have captivated me had it not been for the abysmal gameplay. Thankfully, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir not only fixes many of the issues that plagued the original game but it also brings more to the table.

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For starters using regular attacks no longer consumes POW, instead there are new items called phozon prisms which contain psypher skills. These abilities consume either POW or PP when used, the latter being a replacement for the phozon gauge which has been removed. In addition, running out of POW does not make you dizzy either which was a big nuisance in the original game. I like how they found a good use for the POW gauge rather than just removing it entirely, it merely adds an extra layer of depth and flexibility to the game and that is never a bad thing.

In addition to the new psypher skills, there are also new regular attacks to experiment with allowing for even more flexibility. There is also an added dodge button which can be quite handy at avoiding attacks quickly. You can dodge both on ground and in the air but on the ground you can dodge limitlessly making it a great way to quickly maneuver around each stage as well as a great way to avoid getting hit. Dodging doesn’t make you invincible but it can let you slip away from attacks easily. Dodging is really smooth and easy to execute so it’s a good idea to take advantage of it as often as possible.

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Guarding no longer consumes POW and all characters are given the ability to guard making it a more viable option to protect yourself against enemy attacks. Guards can only take so many hits but they let you avoid attacks in situations where movement is limited, They can also help you deal with annoying projectile attacks and often put you in a better position to counter your enemy making it a more viable option than dodging in some cases though if you get hit from behind then your guard will break so be careful.

Moving the left analog stick in each direction while guarding allows you to perform the additional standard attacks I spoke of allowing you to weave in and out of a guard easily allowing for more passive aggressive play. Psypher skills can be set to the circle button or used from the menu, it’s great how players have the option between seamlessly performing their psypher skills and pausing the game to select a psypher skill. Up to 4 moves can be assigned to the circle button and its associated directional inputs so they can be used in a pinch.

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Each psypher skill you acquire can also be upgraded using phozons collected from enemies in order to enhance their effects which adds a little bit of personalization to the game allowing you to customize your experience making Odin Sphere feel more like an RPG than its predecessor. In addition to psypher skills, as you level up you will acquire ability points which can be spent on passive abilities for even further customization. All I can say is that it’s about time this game had some great character management as the original was sorely lacking in it despite being considered an RPG by many.

In the original game you would either absorb phozons from dead enemies to level up your psypher level (attack damage) or you would plant seeds which would absorb phozons in order to obtain food items which would heal you and level up your hit points. This essentially means that you had 2 levels to manage. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir merges both levels into one so that you don’t have to worry about your food to psypher ratio which was kind of annoying as your hit points level would often be lower than your psypher level simply due to the fact that it was so tedious to level up a character’s hit points because of how long it took to grow seeds.

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So to rectify this issue, both levels merged to become a single level which increases all your stats. In addition they added the ability to stack seeds in order to save the player from having to constantly go back and forth between menus to plant multiple seeds. Another problem with the original is that if you absorbed phozons it would cost part of your psypher gauge in order to release them. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir adds the ability to release phozons by holding R1 + Square. The top right hand corner of the screen shows the total number of phozons you have and you can use them as not only a form of currency in the upgrade screen but also to feed seeds so they will grow into food.

In the original Odin Sphere there were restaurants which would cook meals for you giving you a huge chunk of hit point exp. This was vital if you wanted to get through the game smoothly and as such you would often have to backtrack to different levels to farm ingredients including mandragoras and seeds, it was tedious. In addition specific coins were also required to pay for the meal. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir splits this system in half by adding a new touring restaurant that appears in rest areas on the map. This means that players can eat food on the go rather than having to constantly enter and exit the level to get access to the restaurants.

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Unlike the restaurants however, the touring restaurant doesn’t require any money, rather you are required to bring the ingredients necessary to cook the dish. The restaurants themselves however only take specific types of coin but do not require ingredients. This allows players to level up their hit points easier in a way that befits them. Those who wish to gather the right materials for a meal can level up their food level at the touring restaurant. On the other hand, those who do not want to have to search for specific materials in each level can use the regular restaurants. Ideally you will want to utilize both for the maximum exp gains. You can also buy takeaway food that can be used in battle but the exp gains are lower than other dishes.

This is great for people who enjoy invested empowerment as it constantly throws exp rewards at you… but you have to earn them. Ingredients can be purchased from shops but they can be expensive, special coins are often obtained from treasure chests littered around each stage. You can also be rewarded with more/higher quality special coins by getting a higher rank for beating each fight zone meaning that if you play well, you will be able to level up higher. In addition as there is only one leveling system in this game, food doesn’t just level up your hit points it levels up all of your stats. This is a pretty big deal.

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How does she remain so dainty after eating so much food?

One of the more interesting challenges that comes with playing Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is managing your resources in a way that best suits the situation. As important as it is to eat food, it is also very important to keep stocked up on potions. There are a lot of new potions this time round, many of the spells from the original have been transformed into consumable potions which kinda makes more sense when you consider the fact that many of the characters shared the same spells. Now that the psypher skills are more-or-less unique to each character, it makes sense to separate the shared magic and to instead use it as a consumable damage dealing item.

If the original Odin Sphere has taught me anything it’s don’t be conservative with potions. Potions can really deal a lot of hurt towards enemies and can really help turn a bad situation around for you as well as to buy you some time. Things can get pretty chaotic at times to the point that even the psypher skills don’t provide strong enough crowd control. Damage dealing potions act as an extension to your psypher skills allowing you to really build up the hits and can be really handy for crowd control, especially when you’re trying to position enemies up for an attack. This can be really handy against bosses too as they can take a good chunk of a bosses health away.

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Crafting potions is a lot easier than before. Rather than relying on the numerical value to decide the outcome, the numerical value is now used to determine the strength of the potion as well as other factors. Crafting different types of potions is as simple as adding up to 3 of the same type of mandragora to a material. The type of potion you make depends on how many of the same type of mandragora you put in. Each mandragora has different potion recipes  linked to it, you can find them out by collecting them over the course of the game but they’re easy enough to figure out. I would also like to note that potions will no longer generate phozons when crafted which means that you can no longer abuse the value system for phozons.

Just about any item can affect the value of a potion. Other items such as seeds, accessories and even junk have their own recipes connected to them so you will want to try all kinds of items to find out what results you can come up with. To make things easier, there is an option to stack multiple ingredients as you make a potion. This not only speeds up the process but it allows you to preview the results of a crafted potion without having to actually make it. This makes potion crafting a lot easier to grasp than it was in the original and it only takes a few minutes of experimenting to find every single combination. You can also craft some really overpowered potions early on if you want to so you can still break the game… though it will come at a cost of course.

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When it comes to surviving in Odin Sphere, preparation is key. You’re going to spend quite a while doing simple yet somewhat time-consuming character management. While this is not everyone’s cup of tea it’s important to realize that Odin Sphere isn’t just a mindless beat em up, it’s also an RPG. While the core gameplay really focuses on the beat em up action, you are expected to manage your character’s stats and inventory often. Thankfully Odin Sphere makes this easier as it cuts away all the tedium so you will spend far less time planting and crafting than in the original.

Those looking for more of a challenge may be disappointed by the fact that many of these new mechanics added to the game seem dumbed down when compared to the original. Fear not, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir acknowledges these changes and offers even more challenges to the player in order to balance things out. Bosses have a lot more hit points this time round and rather than having a single health bar, their health is presented in multiple chunks. on other words you have several health bars to deplete. The good thing about this is that bosses will no longer be able to heal their health to maximum if you have taken out a chunk of their health.

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If you somehow managed to beat the original Odin Sphere you probably have all of the basics figured out but don’t think you’ll be able to use the same strategies as before. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir introduces new enemies, many of which are bosses. These bosses can be brutal… so much so that they put the original game’s bosses to shame though I won’t deny that many of them can be really fun to fight. Returning enemies also come new and improved with new abilities to keep you on your toes. You will have to be more careful when fighting these bosses this time round and be prepared to eat food and use potions often, you’re going to need them. All in all the standard enemies and the bosses offer a satisfying level of challenge and death is never too punishing, you can also retry a fight right from the beginning at any time retaining any items you used.

The stage map is a lot more intricate this time round. The original Odin Sphere’s stage map consisted of battle stages, boss stages and rest stages. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir mixes things up adding brand new stage layouts each with their own unique environments which is a pretty big deal considering the fact that the original Odin Sphere re-used the same environments for each stage which became quite stale over time and appeared to be somewhat lazy. I don’t know whether this was to do with budget issues or not but this was a pretty big problem considering the fact that the original Odin Sphere’s art design was the game’s biggest selling point. The new environments are just as stunning as they were in the original and they really help to flesh out each location to give them more of an identity.

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Some passages are too small for the character to fit through. These pink plants allow you to transform into a miniature version of your character in order for you to access small passages, keep an eye out for them.

In addition to all this, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir adds a brand new soundtrack to accompany these new environments. Fear not, the original music is still there, it’s just not as common as it was in the original. Many of the original ambient tracks now play in the rest stages, the battle music remains the same for the most part as does the boss music. The cutscenes remain completely unchanged from the original and have the exact same music playing in each one. I really enjoy the new soundtrack that has been added into this game, some of the new tracks are even better than the originals, that’s not to say the originals are bad but the new tracks are even better which isn’t surprising considering the fact that Hitoshi Sakimoto returns to compose many of the game’s tracks.

That just about covers all of the new additions to Odin Sphere Leifthrasir but aside from all the improved mechanics and additions, how does the rest of the game hold up? While the gameplay may have been abysmal, the story itself wasn’t half bad. Like Valkyrie Profile, Odin Sphere’s setting takes a lot of inspiration from norse mythology although Odin Sphere goes a little crazy with it. there are several nations, each with their own ideals and methods. The character’s you control are often affiliated with each nation and has to deal with the many conflicts each nation is involved in.

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Each book starts at a completely different point in the game’s timeline from a different perspective. Interestingly enough the first book starts half way through the story and finishes right near the end… but once you finish the rest of the books, the events leading prior to the first book become clear. It’s a smart and interesting way to tell the game’s story by putting you straight into the action right from the get go rather than drowning the player in exposition. In doing so, the story manages to bait the player’s curiosity, beckoning them to uncover more.

Despite all this the plot itself feels rather simplistic though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I find that the story’s execution is the driving force that keeps players coming back for more. I like how rather than telling you what’s going on directly, the game illustrates the situation and presents the player with written notes which explain the story in more detail which can quickly be skimmed through or even skipped should the player wish. These can be viewed at any time in the bookshelf on the book selection screen and in the original they could be found in the prophecies section of the notes.

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There is also a timeline where you can re-watch all the cutscenes which can be handy for those who want to re-watch them. Each cutscene represents a specific point in the timeline so when you see characters cross paths you can see what the other character was doing simply by checking out the other character’s cutscenes that occur around the same time as the current cutscene. This helps link the story better and also helps the player keep track of where they are in the timeline which is very important as certain books start in different places and you will question why something is or isn’t in the other book because of changes made in an earlier book.

It’s interesting to see how each book connects and how each character views one another. I always love the ability to experience multiple perspectives in a game’s story and I can appreciate how Odin Sphere manages to execute this concept so well. While it may not be on the same scale as Warcraft 3, having 5 different characters to play individually is something I believe that more games need to explore.

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The original Odin Sphere was undoubtedly wasted potential. I think the game suffered from a severe lack of budget. Even with its vibrant visuals, interesting story and gorgeous soundtrack, the game itself felt patched together at the last minute. Given more time, I’m sure the developers would have been able to deliver a solid experience. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir proves this. It is a remarkable turnaround for what was once a complete and utter failure of a game.

I think we can all learn a lot from both Odin Sphere and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. Gameplay is the root of all videogames and while the focus may still be shifted towards the visual and audio department, we cannot forget that these are games to play, not games to look at. Polished shit is still shit and I can’t recommend shit to anyone. Odin Sphere is probably one of the most painful experiences I have ever had in gaming to date. This is why I had to review this both this game and the original simultaneously because Odin Sphere Leifthrasir proves that stripping away flawed mechanics and replacing them with something better can turn shit into diamonds.

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Now I could give this game a higher rating but there are still a few things that annoy me about Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. For starters, using items in the middle of battle is still an issue. The animations still take way too long and I’d rather they were just cut out completely or at least sped up several frames. Even with the gourmet ring, eating food still takes way too long. Why can’t players simply use items on the move rather than just standing there? It really doesn’t blend in well with the gameplay at all and often leaves you open to be attacked which is a nuisance.

One of the additions that didn’t impress me were the shoot-em-up sections with Mercedes. I get that they were trying to mix things up but these sections are frustrating as hell. For starters you are unable to use items and you can only evade backwards not forwards. Also if you die you merely get sent down to the floor below. Fortunately these sections are completely optional to complete though they tease the player by knocking them down to the next section when they die rather than letting them retry which is a pain since you have to use items to heal yourself since you will have 1hp left afterwards.

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Fortunately you are able to retry these sections as the stage map now allows you to warp between stages so you can backtrack easily. This still doesn’t make these SHMUP sections any less painful though. If they allowed the player to dodge forward instead of back then these sections could have been more enjoyable. Sadly this was not the case. While you are often able to choose between multiple stages on the map, these “optional” stages are compulsory to partake in though you aren’t required to finish them.

Another issue that may turn players away from this game is the inventory management. While it has improved considerably from the original Odin Sphere, it is still an issue. The original Odin Sphere gave you bags which had to be picked up and placed in your inventory. You then needed to create a separate bag slot from the inventory by selecting the bag. This was a pain to do if your inventory was full as you had to drop an item, pick up the bag, create a bag slot and pick the item you dropped back up off the floor.

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Thankfully Odin Sphere Leifthrasir fixes this issue by automatically increasing your storage capacity which cuts out all the needless inventory management you had to do. There is also a storage chest which can store numerous items too. The problem is that these storage chests are only in rest areas. While I can’t exactly fault the game for this I can see it being a problem to people who detest inventory management as you will often find yourself with limited space. Plus it is important to save your best items for the bosses so you won’t want to use them in standard fights. Why would you want to when you can use your powerful psypher skills?

In any case I would argue that aside from these minor issues, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is definitely worth playing for both newcomers and returning fans. I would also recommend this game to people who were disappointed by the original Odin Sphere. It’s just sad that my first time playing this game was single-handedly crushed by the abysmal gameplay of the original. For those who haven’t played the original and are interested in these types of games, never play the original, it’s just not worth your time or money but if you own a PS4 or a Vita then you owe it to yourself to experience Odin Sphere in all its glory by picking up the remaster.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review 5

Can you please stop eating? It’s making me hungry…


Story/Plot: Great
Visuals: Excellent
Gameplay: Excellent
Music: Excellent
Lifespan: Quite Long
Would You Replay? Maybe

Overall: Excellent
silver-star-of-awesome sized

Value: £40.00

Purchase Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4)

Tales Of Symphonia Review

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I don’t talk enough about the Tales series, maybe because the series has burned me out. I’ve been seeing more and more Tales games get shoveled out every year and each time I see them I kinda get a bitter taste in my mouth. Ever since the release of Star Ocean 5 and Exist Archive, my interest in the Tales series started to dwindle to the point where I had just lost interest in it.

However there’s nothing like a great Tales game to satisfy one’s JRPG cravings and Tales Of Symphonia is the first game that comes to mind when It comes to playing a good old-fashioned run of the mill JRPG. You see, Tales Of Symphonia doesn’t present itself as anything new. At first sight it’s easy to be misled by the game’s slow pacing but I’d advise you not to judge a book by its cover. Tales Of Symphonia is definitely a must play for any JRPG fan, particularly those who enjoy action RPG’s over the conventional turned based.

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As and action RPG, Tales Of Symphonia is often seen as a benchmark and rightfully so.  It was the first 3D Japanese Action RPG to give us a deep and engaging combat system and ultimately served as the demise for the Star Ocean series as a whole. If it wasn’t for Tales Of Symphonia, I don’t think the Tales series would have lasted as long as it has. The series has had a pretty huge legacy and Tales Of Symphonia serves as the pillar that holds it all in place.

Tales Of Symphonia might not seem much at first glance but as a game released in 2003 it has aged magnificently… most of it that is. A lot of people question the popularity of Symphonia, often comparing it to other games in the series. While the Tales series has evolved considerably, there have been a lot of changes to the series that have improved on the formula set by Tales Of Symphonia. As good as this was, future games in the series failed to stand out from its predecessor. While I won’t deny that there were some solid Tales games released after Symphonia, Symphonia kinda feels different from those games.

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There is something about Symphonia that keeps me coming back to it and I think I’ve found out what that something is. For starters, one of the things that made Tales Of Symphonia so iconic is its diverse array of content. There’s no shortage of things to do in this game as the main story has a pretty sizable length and there are plenty of sidequests to experience as you progress through the story and many of them offer some great rewards, usually in the form of titles.

The title system allows players to collect special titles that will alter the character’s stat growth. These titles can be carried over in a new game plus which allows players to customize their character’s growth in future playthroughs. Knowing that nearly every sidequest you complete contributes towards each playthrough gives you more of an incentive to complete them, when it comes to rewarding players, Tales Of Symphonia has a lot to offer.

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This alone would be a mere novelty. What truly makes Tales Of Symphonia a memorable experience lies in its gameplay and story. While the story of Tales Of Symphonia might appear quite generic at first glance, it manages to stay fresh with its strong themes. The characters themselves are very much the same, on the surface they are cardboard cut outs but each of them has their own place in the game’s story and play their role well enough. Rather than focusing on the characters individually, the game uses them as a means to portray the strong themes the game’s story revolves around. I don’t want to go into too much detail on these themes for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to lie, Tales Of Symphonia’s story isn’t going to blow you away, it’s pretty bog standard for today’s standards but it was executed well enough to create a memorable experience. So long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you might be pleasantly surprised by the game’s story. If you do want to get the most out of the game’s story though, you’ll want to engage in some of the game’s many side quests as a lot of the story is hidden behind them. There are also skits which can help shed a light on some of the characters too.

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What makes this game truly stand out from other games in the series is its affection system. Tales Of Symphonia steals borrows this idea from the Star Ocean series which allowed you to partake in special events known as private actions which allowed certain scenarios to influence variables. These variables would affect the ending the player would obtain and each character would have their own adjustable variable value. As such the player may opt to avoid certain scenario’s or backtrack for specific scenarios in order to build up their desired variable.

In Tales Of Symphonia the way you interact with characters is different from the Star Ocean series. While lot of the choices you make throughout the game will affect the amount of affection each character has for the main character Lloyd, the actual process of acquiring these affection points is a lot more streamlined for the most part often forcing choices onto the player as they make progress though the game’s story. That’s not to say that there aren’t any optional interactions. Many of the sidequests can also affect a particular character’s affection for Lloyd. There are also optional skit points where you can engage in a skit conversations with other characters in which the player’s choices affect the character’s affection for Lloyd.

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Sadly this feature never made it into any of the future Tales games which is a shame. Unlike the Star Ocean series however, the affection system doesn’t affect the game’s ending, rather it changes up many of the game’s cut scenes. Once you reach a certain point in the main story, the characters with the highest affection will be able to partake in a cut scene with Lloyd, this scene will solidify that character as the one with the highest affection for Lloyd, essentially replacing the multiple character endings the Star Ocean series has. As a fan of the Star Ocean series I really enjoyed the inclusion of this feature as it allowed me to get more invested in the story and characters. Plus it allowed me to personalize my experience more which is always a good thing.

The Tales series is known for its fast paced real-time action battle systems and Tales Of Symphonia is no exception. Even today, Tales Of Symphonia holds up well despite it being rather basic. If you’ve played any other Tales game then you’ll know what to expect here. Tales Of Symphonia uses a side scrolling battle system in a 3D battle arena. This means that by changing targets you are able to spread your party out. So despite the fact that it is a side scrolling action RPG, it really feels like a free moving combat system.

Tales Of Symphonia was the first game in the series to offer serious competition to the Star Ocean games and for good reason. Rather than simply having players barrage foes with attacks, Tales Of Symphonia focuses on chaining hits to build up combos. While the ability to combo was somewhat prominent it still felt rather unrefined. Tales Of Symphonia’s combat offers a more refined combo system allowing players to chain up to 3 techs and alternate between 6 different techs per character at a time. This was a big deal back then as ARPG’s often lacked variety back in their early years. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first ARPG’s that added a considerable amount of depth making it capable enough to rival that of a turned based RPG.

The combat focuses on synchronizing your attacks with the AI (or other players) in order to build up a combo. This idea would later be used in other games such as Valkyrie Profile 2 which allowed players to take control over all four characters in battle, managing them all simultaneously. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first to focus primarily on combo focused gameplay and offers a wide variety of options in battle.

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Unfortunately like in all real-time action RPG’s with AI controlled party members, the combat suffers from having a lack of control over multiple characters. This is a problem that is not exclusive to Tales Of Symphonia but is worth bringing up considering the fact that Tales Of Symphonia is one of the pioneers that established the more modern style of real time action RPG’s and as such it is important to keep in mind that relying on the AI is essentially a big part of the gameplay.

For this reason, playing the game with a friend is probably going to be a far better experience than playing alone. Much like Secret of Mana was a more co-op orientated game, Tales Of Symphonia appears to be very similar. However players managed to enjoy playing Tales Of Symphonia as a single player game so it’s not impossible to enjoy playing it alone, rather there are some flaws to be aware of in terms of the AI. I will say though that for the most part, the AI aren’t all that bad in Tales Of Symphonia and if you can learn the AI’s patterns, you can really build up some awesome combo’s.

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Still, my philosophy on these type of games is that they were actually built with co-op in mind originally but the early games in the series along with all of the Star Ocean games seem to have forgotten this. Regardless, I judge these types of games in four different categories: flexibility, intuition, smoothness and AI behavior and considering the time this game was released, Tales Of Symphonia is above average in all four of these categories making for a very well-rounded combat system. Like I said before, you have 6 attacks at your disposal and they can all be mixed up in any order you choose as well as several regular attacks to mix things up more. While that may not sound like much today, back in 2003 this was a pretty big deal in terms of flexibility.

Now I never had the chance to play the original Gamecube release (which is quite ironic since the Gamecube is my favourite console) but based on the PS3 release, the controls are very simple and easy to use. You can guard and dodge using the square button, use normal attacks with X and artes using O. Comboing is simple enough, using a combination of normal attacks and artes as well as the AI’s attacks you can build up some crazy combos which are still really fun to pull off today and it’s easy to build up those hits, you never feel like you have to do too much busy work to pull them off like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time which required the player to constantly swap characters in order to juggle their enemies.

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To add to all this you also have unison attacks. This was cool because you got to stop the enemy in their tracks while you get to perform any move of your choosing. Performing certain moves allows you use a compound special attacks which were a combination of two different artes with two different characters. It was a flashy and cool way to finish off enemies. I really liked the unison attack system and building the unison gauge was never too much of a hassle. It just gives you more control over battles and adds some extra flashiness to the combo’s.

To make things even crazier, the PS3 version (based on the Japanese PS2 version) adds mystic artes which are an alternate finisher that allow specific characters to pull off a unique special attack much like the purify weird soul attacks in Valkyrie Profile. These are used as finishers but unlike Unison Attacks they are pretty hard to pull off and can sometimes be completely forgotten about. This is due to the fact that the overlimit gauge didn’t exist yet and overlimits were built up over time much like trance in Final Fantasy IX in the sense that you cannot trigger it at will. Since most mystic artes required the character be in overlimit or at low hp, they were difficult to pull off.

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Regardless I can easily say that Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system stands the test of time, while other games in the series may be better in some areas, few games come close to the polished smoothness of Tales Of Symphonia’s combat. It is one of those combat systems that keeps you coming back for more due to how simple yet polished it is. To put it more accurately Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system is the benchmark of any real-time action JRPG combat and is what all real time action JRPG’s should aspire to be.

Aside from combat you do get a little bit of character management here, while not as deep as it is in the Star Ocean series, Tales Of Symphonia offers the player a few choices in regards to character management in the form of EX skills. These skills alter several different properties of each character giving them special passive abilities or allowing them to be played in a unique way. Sadly in future games such as Tales Of The Abyss, EX skills were learned in a more linear fashion and rather than picking and choosing, you get given all the EX skills over the course of the game which ruined the whole point of having EX skills. Regardless this was a great addition which adds a little bit of experimentation to the game.

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Other than that however, character management is very basic, learning new artes can be quite complicated as there are two different combat styles to learn: strike and technical. Each style has its own set of artes and is influenced by the player’s EX skills. Strike artes are mostly powerful attacks which focus on knockback. Technical artes focus more on delivering more hits and are usually a lot flashier than strike artes. Then you have magic which is completely different depending on the character. For example, you could have Raine be a strong party healer and teach her technical moves like Revitalize. On the other hand you could teach her stronger single target healing abilities and the ability to give your characters an auto-revive buff.

You can mix between strike and technical artes by changing your EX skills to favor the opposite style just before you learn a new move, you can also forget certain moves and swap them for their alternate move should you wish. Or you could just stick with either style and see what you get. This makes the game more interesting as there are so many different combinations of moves you can have at your disposal, some may see it as limiting but that’s kinda the point, by limiting the player, you are making them choose between two variants of moves based on which they prefer.

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Do they want to focus on dealing raw damage and knockbacks or so they want to focus on building up more hits? By limiting your game for the sake of choices, you’re actually providing a more rewarding experience since the choice the player makes equates to that of rewarding players with personalization. This is what many of the other Tales games failed to realize, by breaking these limits and just giving all the abilities away to the player, they are essentially removing that element of choice which made Tales Of Symphonia feel so rewarding… at least in terms of personalization.

So Tales Of Symphonia does a lot of things right with its gameplay and while the story starts off quite slow, it picks up later on. In theory this alone should provide a highly engaging experience and it does… for the most part. You see Tales Of Symphonia may be the series’ benchmark but it isn’t without its flaws. For starters, the dungeons of Tales Of Symphonia tend to really bog the game down in monotony as there are plenty of dungeons in the game that just flat-out suck. Why is this you ask? That’s simple, puzzles and when I say puzzles I mean hours upon hours of tedium.

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The puzzles in Tales Of Symphonia are quite possibly some of the most irritating puzzles I have ever seen in an RPG. While the first few dungeons have very simple, yet boring puzzles, later puzzles can become quite tedious and annoying to do. One puzzle in particular literally has you moving blocks of garbage and dropping it off a catwalk for no other reason than to pan out game time. To make things worse you have the sorcerers ring with its many functions. I absolutely loathe the inclusion of this feature because there are times where you have to switch between ring modes to accomplish certain tasks the game gives you to do like shooting braziers and shooting a bomb to blow up a rock.

Maybe this is just a personal issue but I honestly do not see how anyone can enjoy slogging through such horrendous dungeons. The most infamous of dungeons require you to guide several blobs to a certain position. These blobs will follow you but it is a nightmare to keep them all together. All you do is run around the area aimlessly pushing switches and trying to find all the blobs and trying to keep them altogether. To make things worse pushing in certain switches pushes other switches out. It’s a nightmare for people like me who want to get straight to the action. Even if I were to like puzzles, I cannot see myself not getting frustrated in that horrendous place.

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The dungeons are the biggest problem with this game and they are one of the few things that hinder the game’s replay value. However there is also another problem that many games released back in 2003 suffered from, unskippable cutscenes. That’s right one of the most irritating parts of replaying a JRPG is to have to press X/A to keep the text moving so you get back to the action. I wish that players could just skip the cutscenes and move on. Why this isn’t a thing in the PS3 port I cannot fathom.

Despite all this, I managed to slog through another playthrough and while it did have its annoying parts, the amount of rewarding content this game offered convinced me to play through it again and once I reached the second half of the game, my engagement levels rose a ton. Tales Of Symphonia offers a new game plus feature. By spending grade you are able to unlock certain perks which you can carry over to each playthrough. After unlocking the combo’s perk the game felt extremely rewarding to play in terms of growth as it rewards you with experience based on the highest combo you perform in the fight. This made every boss fight feel different and added an extra layer of depth to the game.

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It was this second playthrough that convinced me to review this game as I felt that being able to play through a game such as this a second time alone is something worth noting since I don’t normally do such things in videogames. I will say though that the second playthrough did have its annoying moments, particularly in the dungeons but I believe if you are truly willing to give the game another shot, by all means do so.

This game has a lot of replay value to balance out the horror of having to slog through those painful dungeons again and as someone who dislikes replaying videogames in general, I can confirm that there is some value to be had in doing so, it just takes a bit of patience because Tales Of Symphonia is quite a lengthy ordeal as it can take around 40 – 50 hours to finish the story. I assure you, once you endure the first half of the game, the game opens up fairly quickly and you feel like you’re playing through a whole new experience entirely. There are still the painful moments but if you are willing to endure some of that pain, it’s definitely worth playing through this game multiple times.

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As far as music is concerned, the game’s soundtrack does a reasonable job of keeping players engaged in the experience but doesn’t go the extra mile to deliver something particularly noteworthy. There are some good tracks here and there, ironically the best tracks tend to play in some of the most tedious dungeons, kinda fitting considering the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of your time in these places. Some tracks are better than others but for the most part I’d say that the soundtrack does its job reasonably well.

In terms of art direction, Tales Of Symphonia takes a very vivid approach depicting a bright, colorful cel-shaded world. While some may find this kind of contradictory to many of the game’s themes I feel that it serves to make the world more likable and makes the locations more memorable due to this distinct art style. After all, sometimes you want a break from the more darker styled games and you want something bright and colorful as a refreshment. As such I feel that the art design fits this game rather well, it really fools you into believing that the game is very plain and simple at first but when things start to get more interesting as the story clashes with other themes, the art direction really stands out.

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When it comes to choosing whether or not to play Tales Of Symphonia, ask yourself what exactly you are looking for in a JRPG at this point? While I do believe that every JRPG fan should give this game a shot at some point, I don’t think this is a game people should rush towards for the sake of it. If you’re going to play Tales Of Symphonia then you want to be in the right mood for it.

If you’re tired of the more conventional RPG and want something different, Tales Of Symphonia can be quite difficult to get into. On the other hand if you’re looking to escape from more modern, avant-garde JRPG experiences then you should definitely give Tales Of Symphonia a go. I do think that the game starts off quite slow and it can be an arduous task to get to the meaty stuff but when you do I believe that you will enjoy what you see.


Story/Plot: Good
Visuals: Good
Music: Satisfactory
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Quite Long

Overall: Great

Value: £40.00

Purchase Tales of Symphonia (PS3)

Star Ocean 5 Stream – The Purpose Of Invested Empowerment In RPG’s, Valkyrie Profile 3

0:00 – 5:45 Introduction/Updates.

5:45 – 46:35 Talking about invested empowerment in RPG’s and whether or not leveling systems matter in RPG’s anymore.

46:35 – 1:14:30 Talking about the Star Ocean series.

1:14:30 – 2:05:31 Talking about other games (SEGA games, Level 5 games, other tri-Ace games and F-Zero GX) and Star Ocean 5’s story.

2:05:31 – 2:14:27 Talking about what I want to see in Valkyrie Profile 3, if it ever happens.

 

How to make an engaging storyline in a videogame

Videogames have reached a point where they are no longer merely a source of simulated kinetic interaction in the form of virtual entertainment but many games are being known for their interactive stories, some games are built for this purpose exclusively but what is it that truly makes a good story? While I cannot speak for everyone, I can at least speak for myself and what videogame storylines can engage me. As such I will list several important components a story needs in order for it to become engaging for me.

1. World building

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Evil bad guy wants to destroy the world? Why should we care? Make your worlds captivating first before putting one of these tropes in your game… heck you should make your worlds captivating regardless. Every videogame with a storyline takes place in some kind of world and this world is shaped by the people in it.

As such, the player needs to be able to connect with the world through its characters and its people but not just any characters, they need to experience the cultures and social standards that govern the world, they must also meet with charismatic individuals who they strongly care for or bitter rivals who they wish to overcome before any world ending conflict. If you don’t craft an interesting world then you might as well be destroying a cardboard box. Make the impending doom something worth preventing!

2. Multiple Perspectives

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Now here’s something you rarely see in videogames. Remember that guy who crossed you at a certain point in the story? Perhaps you were brought into conflict with this person. Who or what is that person and what are his/her intentions, why do they side with the bad guys? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What do they strongly believe in?  What challenges must they overcome?

Most villains in videogames just show up to laugh at you and bugger off for a coffee break when they have played out their part. When a game puts you into the perspective of that evil dude however, the player sees a part of that character that the other characters didn’t see, they get a personal connection with that character… even if that character is a deranged psychotic serial killer. You might grow to hate a character one minute and the next minute you are cheering them on. Why most videogames do not make use of this concept is beyond me. I am tired of games being focused on individual characters, I want to play and experience all of them!

3. Add a bit of edge

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Now I know that edginess is often seen as a bad thing but let’s be honest, a good way to engage the player into a videogame is empowerment and by putting them into an edgy world filled with powerful enemies with a character who is equally as powerful and confident enough to take on entire armies of these enemies, the player is pumped up for not only the story… but the gameplay.

Remember that the purpose of storytelling in videogames is to motivate the player. What better motivation is there than having you play as someone stupidly cool?

Now sure there is a limit to how much edge you can have before it becomes too silly and if you do throw in too much edge, at least lighten things up with some humor. Edginess can get pretty bland after a while and that is why people tend to hate it. If you take your game too seriously and edgy, your game becomes sterile. No one cares if you can wield a 20 ft long buster sword and cut down armies, they want you to have some kind of personality. Even Arngrim, as edgy as he is has at least some funny moments in Valkyrie Profile.

4. Keep it clear and concise

Keep things simple and concise

Or more accurately speaking, respect the players time and make damn well sure it is not wasted with uninteresting dialogue or boring exposition. The player wants to move through the game as quickly as possible and the story needs to grab their attention whenever possible. However, the moment that the player loses that attention, stop the chatter and move on!

I know it can be difficult for game developers to judge when and how they present the game’s writing but it may be a good idea to have someone read through and cut out some of the filler. This can be quite important when writing complex storylines. It is easy to drown the player in jargon and cruel doses of exposition but you need to know when to stop.

In addition, it is important to make your points clear by being brief. The main reason why people hated the plot twist in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was because it wasn’t clear enough… or to be more precise, there was way too much exposition explaining it all that many players completely lost track of the plot and gave up at what was a crucial point in the story.

5. Experiment with different tropes and see what connects

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Every videogame uses tropes but not every game puts them to good use. Tropes can be both a games strongest weapon or its biggest weakness. To use tropes correctly you must find a connection. For example, evil empire oppresses its people and suddenly a world destroying maniac appears out of nowhere and wants to destroy everything (yes I’m referring to a specific videogame here and no I’m not telling you what it is and you can probably guess if you’ve played it).

Are his/her reasons for wanting to destroy the world connected to this evil empire. Or are the evil empire somehow aware of this destructive force and are secretly planning to prevent the worlds doom? If not then don’t make a ridiculous plot transition like that.

However a game which manages to connect tropes together well can make for a very engaging experience because you get to watch the world change and people change, you get to see how certain events can impact the player’s characters and their personalities. A story of epic proportions requires a plot that is not only ambitious but can connect seamlessly with each plot point to keep players engaged. Tales Of Vesperia is an example of a story which didn’t manage to do this very well.

6. Subtlety

subtlety

Though it isn’t required to be subtle, it certainly makes a story more interesting. Foreshadowing is something that may appear completely irrelevant at first but once the event does happen, you will remember that moment and you will realize that you have been fooled. This can and most likely will shock the player when the time comes and it keeps the story fresh, entertaining and most importantly, engaging. Some games however can make things a bit too obvious.

I find it amusing when the game shows the villains in a room talking amongst themselves as to how they are going to defeat the good guys, giving away all their sinister plans and then they swap back to the good guys who are completely oblivious despite the fact that the player is informed.Lets say there’s a box and you know not to open that box However the game forces you to open the box and inside that box is a trap that you saw coming, it makes the player feel as if they lack control over the story and can be quite frustrating and sometimes even boring.

So be sure to keep things a secret from the player when you need to. Remember that the purpose of the player is to be connected with the characters. Unless you are in direct control of the bad guys at some point in the game, don’t reveal their plans right away. Even so, you can still give that character control and make them subtle to make things even more interesting. Make the character a puzzle that the player has to unravel. This can be done with both abstract and exposition. This makes players feel more rewarded if they figured it out.

7. Keep characters fresh

keep character's fresh

I would have put character development here but let’s be honest here, character development is pretty unrealistic in some cases. Watching someone completely change over the course of a night can sometimes feel awkward, it is almost as if they have been swapped brains with someone else. Character development is often demanded in story driven games but it isn’t always the best approach nor does it work in some cases. Like they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, at least not without a good reason.

That being said though, characters take the spotlight in the story, they are the pillars that hold everything up. If the characters are uninteresting, the pillars holding up the story will begin to deteriorate until there is nothing left. It is important to at least have one character who gives mixed feelings to the player to make a story engaging. If all the characters give the same impression for an entire game, it really does get sterile.

However it is possible to change the player’s perception of a character without character development. Like I said in #6, a subtle character can prove to be one of the most engaging of characters because you learn more about them at a slower pace and you feel more rewarded for figuring them out and that alone can be a game in itself, a puzzle someone will need to solve.

8. Don’t forget to illustrate your stories

Don't forget to illustrate your stories

Videogames can be more engaging than books sometimes and this is often the main reason. When you are in a fictional world, you expect some aesthetic appeal in that world. While this may be more connected to visuals than storytelling, the visuals do have an impact on a game’s story and can set the mood for a particular event or abstraction in a story.

Sometimes, a strong ambiance can speak greater words than any story. The same has been said about art. Illustration speaks a lot of words and if you can illustrate your world well and make it look interesting, even if your story fails, at least you have a brilliant looking world set up for you in the sequel (so long as you maintain the level of visual quality).

Remember that stories don’t need to have any narrative whatsoever. An example of this would be Kirby 64 The Crystal Shards where the characters don’t speak and only gesture but the world is so picturesque that you are immediately engaged in the story. It is important however to remember to make the aesthetics fit in with the theme of the story so the player doesn’t get distracted by an inconsistent visual style. Sunshine and rainbows have no place in a story where people are being enslaved and beaten to death.

9. Don’t just make videogames

don't just make videogames

It may sound silly but sometimes a story is better told in words and in such a case a book would be more appropriate. Videogames are great and all but if you can make an engaging book to go alongside it can get people more invested in the game’s story and they grow more attached to it. This is usually the ultimate test. A book written within a game’s world can be daunting. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. It is a good chance that if you do manage to pull it off, you probably had some good material to work with.

Successful videogame stories are perfectly evaluated this way, if you can tell a story in a videogame you can also tell a story in a book. However, books have been going on for years now and there are much higher standards set by readers than there are with gamers. If you are going to write a book, make sure that your world is well-built and that you have a lot of potential to expand your story beyond the game’s story.

This can involve characters that may have had very little opportunity to shine, it can also involve characters you played as in the games. You could make a completely new story altogether with new characters if the world building is good enough. Warcraft managed to do this and it did it so well that sometimes I find the books to be more engaging than the games themselves.

10. It’s not about what you write, it’s how you write it

its-not-about-what-you-write-its-about-how-you-write-it

A story can be great in concept but can be very shallow in writing. Good writing can make a huge difference in storytelling. While average writing does get a pass most of the time, good writing is what helps games stand out. I know it may seem obvious but when your vocabulary is limited to the basics, the story can become stale very quickly. Good writing allows you to create memorable lines that can be either witty or hammy to make for an epic moment.

There is no straight answer to what makes for well-written dialogue, you just have to experiment. Using a thesaurus can be handy if you wish to bring the best out of your dialogue. Try to deliver your writing in a way that is not only clear and concise but is also quirky.

Remember to make sure that your writing matches the mood you wish to portray to your audience unless you are deliberately trying to alter the mood of the game. That being said writing something funny in a serious situation can be a good thing at times as it can add an unexpected twist to suppress the melodrama a little which can be handy should a situation cause a game to stray away from the narrative style the writer wishes to portray.

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In any case, those are ten ways to make a story engaging in a videogame. A lot of it may be simple and perhaps somewhat vague but nobody said it was easy. If you are playing a game, try to pay attention to these things and see if they are up to snuff. It may help you evaluate your experiences better and it may also help you inform others too, something I may also have to keep in mind.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t really looked too closely at storytelling in videogames and that it mostly due to the fact that I haven’t experienced many stories in videogames which I can consider to be masterful. I’m not a critic of narrative, I am a critic of videogames in general and as such I try to be an all-rounder. Even then I will miss things that a writing critic would point out. I do my best though, after all it is my goal to create a review that is as accurate and detailed as possible.

Exist Archive Costs £49.99 at release. Is It Worth it?

Well in case you didn’t know, Exist Archive released today overseas and it turns out there are a few things to note about it after doing a bit of research. I have not yet played the localized version of the game but I have seen footage of it and found out a few important things.

First of all, the pricetag has escalated to £49.99 for the PS4 copy of the game. If you’re unfortunate to not own a Vita you’ll be forking out a lot for this game. Now I can see what they’re trying to do here, they’re trying to get rid of the DLC/Microtransactions. However, I am watching you Aksys Games, the moment I see the DLC costumes, I won’t be afraid to call you out on it.

Of course the Japanese release did have cosmetic DLC but I could accept it since it was just that, DLC. No strings attached, no fun money, no loot boxes, just straight up cosmetic DLC. That’s perfectly acceptable, plus we got some free costumes as well.

Oh and as for those free costumes we got in the Japanese version, you guys are gonna miss out on them. Now this might not be a big deal to the vast majority of people but it is a shame considering the fact that they were costumes from the Valkyrie Profile series. It seems Square-Enix weren’t willing to bargain with Aksys Games so I guess it’s not their fault.

In addition to this, the game also has an English dub and from what I have heard so far, the dub isn’t anything particularly special but my views on it could change when I actually do pick up the game. Regardless it is a nice surprise to see an English dub included in there as well. I know a lot of people hate English dubs but for me, it’s important because it makes it easier to understand the character’s emotion. However it’s not be all and end all, after all, back 20 years ago dubbing was a rarity as was voice acting so I could easily cope with it. This is a nice surprise regardless even though the voice actor for Kanata sounds like Dust from Dust an Elysian Tail which is… well, not my thing to be honest. However it was to be expected so there’s no point getting worked up about it.

As for when I’ll pick up the game… not sure, all I know is I will buy it eventually, maybe today or tomorrow, maybe when the price drops? I don’t really know. All I can say is that this release is definitely an interesting one. Lets put it this way, it’s been very uneventful. I thought I should at least post something about it to acknowledge its existence (see what i did there?) because nobody else is going to so I might as well considering the fact that I’m a huge tri-Ace and Valkyrie Profile 2 fan and all.

As for whether or not it is worth £49:99, check my review here: Exist Archive: The Other Side Of The Sky Review

Bare in mind the story may be good or bad, I don’t know yet, I don’t think the story is going to be terrible though, I think they’re going for something interesting with this game story wise but I will wait till I actually play it in English to give my 2 cents on it.

In other news…. Star Ocean Anamnesis

No comment…

Seriously you should know by now what I think of this. All I can say is, it was bound to happen.

Videogames don’t need to be perfect

Sometimes I wonder… does the name Cynical Gaming Blog hold much meaning anymore? Perhaps I should rename the site to “Rational Gaming Blog” because as a gamer, I seem to be one of the most rational gamers there is at the moment. Why is this you ask? Because I can appreciate games for what they are instead of simply berating every single little thing about them.

Ryudo 1

What has happened to gamers these days? Have we really stooped as low as the movie industry? I made three consecutive articles a while back (two of which are reviews) and all three of them revolve around gaming related media which has recieved negative backlash from either fans or critics over something stupid like “why does this girl wear such huge underwear?” or “this movie sucks because it’s based on a series which I haven’t a clue about because I don’t play videogames so I don’t understand the story” or “Why do the character models look so ugly? This game sucks because the character models are ugly!”

Now I think one of my biggest flaws as a blogger is that I haven’t stayed true to my name as a “cynical gamer” and hopefully this blog will help you interpret its meaning. I’m cynical towards the industry, yes because publishers are ruining it (that’s a rant for another day, go watch this video if you want the gist of it because this guy sums it up in a nutshell) but I’m becoming even more cynical of the gaming community. Why? Because we let it happen, it is us gamers that let all the industry bullshit happen because we buy the games that cause the issues in the first place.

You just bought Overwatch? You’re the heart of the problem. I wonder how long it will take before they implement microtransactions… oh, wait they already did? Brilliant, one small step for man, one large step for the industry’s downfall. Lets see how long our beloved games last shall we? Gaming may be on the up now but considering how much backlash Star Ocean 5 has received by so-called fans, can we honestly expect that it will last?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Perhaps you were disappointed by Star Ocean 5 and while that is cool and all, it doesn’t make it a bad game just because you set your expectations too high, it has too many merits to be a bad game and I have described those merits in my review. That’s why I write reviews, because reviews are all about finding both the merits and the flaws of a game and weighing them up. The problem is that most gamers, sometimes even critics focus way too much on either the positives or the negatives that they contradict their statements completely. I try not to be one of those people. Whilst I won’t deny that I have written reviews that are absolutely terrible (my Star Ocean 2 review which written was back on Destructoid was appaling) I can definite say that I have improved over the years and I have enough experience to understand what makes a good review.

However many may be led to believe that my points are invalid due to the fact that I’m not a paid professional. Journalism goes beyond what I do, they get where they are because they have qualities which I don’t and I am aware of those qualities. That doesn’t mean that their points are any better than mine, I’ve seen some absolutely terrible reviews from critics that don’t know what they’re talking about, go look at Warcraft movie reviews if you want proof of that.
terenas sleeping

As a result, I only read/watch reviews from independent sources such as myself because believe it or not, they do a far better job than professional critics do. This is mainly due to the amount of workload they are given whilst we independent critics have all the time in the world to make a detailed and complete review, it is something which I aspire to do, to cover everything a game has to offer and whilst I don’t always get it the first time (AKA Valkyrie Profile 2) I try my hardest to cover as much as I can about the game and even then it’s not enough. I could re-write half of my reviews and apply so much more information but I’d rather look to the future rather than look to the past. Maybe if I received requests I would go back but until then, I will move forward (unless I really feel the urge to re-write a review).

You see, most paid professionals are given deadlines and a lot of games to review. As such they can only briefly cover each one because they have to be resourceful with their time. How can you trust someone who does half a job? Don’t you want to hear the whole thing? I’m not telling you that you have to read my content and only my content because that’s absurd, so many people do a better job of reviewing videogames than I do, here’s some examples of reviewers that I watch, those guys do a far better job than I do when it comes to making reviews and you should watch them.

That little rant aside, let’s get into the meat of the topic, perfection in videogames. What does perfection mean exactly? I’ll show you exactly what perfection means:

f-zero gx 3

Ok, ok I don’t mean to be so big-headed to state that F-Zero GX is a perfect game as a fact but personally in my opinion, I think it is. Why do you think we haven’t seen a sequel yet? Because what else could they do with it?  Shigeru Miyamoto asked this very question and to be honest I can’t deny that he is right F-Zero GX perfected the gameplay formula, it perfected the world, the feeling.

Even the terrible voice acting and over the top choreography invokes the perfect style of campy charm that was intentionally designed to act as a parody of comic book tropes, an underline agenda that the game never openly admits to but as the player, you can just tell by playing the game that the developers wanted to create a comic book inspired world and rather than trying to come up with something serious, they decided to make it funny, this is made even more evident by the character bio video’s which show each character in a funny situation. The game was intended to be camp and as such the flamboyant and misplaced voice acting was added specifically to add humor to the game.

F-Zero GX 1

Add to that the incredible music, visuals, 60 FPS and the countless features which exist purely to add more to the experience and you have what I consider to be a perfect game. Even Valkyrie Profile 2 couldn’t surpass it in this department but my cognitive bias puts it 1 place above F-Zero GX because I love RPG’s.

However to expect every game to be as incredible as F-Zero GX is simply outrageous. That game was a masterpiece in every single way, though it may be possible to top it, doing so would be an insane task, a challenge and a huge risk. People seem to forget that videogames are made by people. The goal of a videogame director is not to come up with as many ideas as possible because that would be foolish, their job is to be resourceful. Why do you think Star Ocean 5 was so short? It’s not because the developers are lazy, not by a long shot.

The reason why is simple. They want to filter out all of the filler in order to improve the pacing of the game. Shuichi Kobayashi (I swear I spell his name wrong every time) openly mentioned this in an interview. How can you say that’s not a good decision? He is surely giving us what we want by removing the needless filler that many games have these days and even if you enjoy filler, can you honestly say that this decision ultimately made the entire game terrible? Surely not because I refuse to believe that anybody could be that foolish.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

One thing that I would like to mention before wrapping this up is that the things that matter to me in game design are the little things. Whether or not you pay attention to these things or not is irrelevant, it is important to pay attention to the small intricacies if you want your opinion to hold any value. If you aren’t capable of accounting for every single little detail a game has to offer then your opinion is worthless. I’m not saying that having a biased opinion is wrong, I’m saying that you shouldn’t use your opinions to give false advice.

By analyzing the minor intricacies you are able to decide more thoroughly who the game is for and who should avoid it. If you fail to do so, you obviously don’t show enough respect for the game, so why should other people respect your opinion? I don’t care if you’re a reviewer, if you have an opinion, don’t spread biased propaganda if you aren’t able to respect the game enough to give it a thorough analysis.

This however doesn’t mean you have to look at every single feature a game has to offer. Like I said, the small things matter but the big things aren’t as important when discussing a review because they are a lot easier for the consumer to see and as such they can easily judge whether or not the game is for them by just looking at it or watching a lets play on Youtube. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cover these points however. Big things do matter, just not as much, if a game has a unique feature that separates itself from the crowd then it is definitely worth a mention. However most games use features that are set in stone.

Painkiller HD Survival

Like for example, most FPS have horde survival modes now. You don’t have to break down every single game mode to get your point across unless that game mode has issues… and if it does you have to find the problem… and thus you must delve into the small intricacies once again. Instead you evaluate the bulk of the game and judge it based off of that because if the cogs don’t work properly, you aren’t going to have a working machine, no matter what it does.

If people only looked at the big, we would only see the same thing time and time again. If you go back to my “What a rip off” article, I mention the qualities of ripping off other games. It is these small intricacies that differentiate those games from their original concepts.

As such, the tools of making a great game are applying the right tools for the player to enjoy a functional, yet enjoyable gameplay experience, you don’t have to make the gameplay spectacular to pull that off. The reason why I gave Star Ocean 5 a “great” rating was for that very reason. I had fun playing through the game despite the lack of move options and the inability to stagger enemies simply because the game was designed well enough to add an element of challenge, something which in all honesty may well be the most executed out of all of the games in the series in my opinion. Is it perfect? Perhaps not.

Break Mode

If we look at Valkyrie Profile 2 for example, that game uses break mode to allow unlimited attacks for a short period of time, perhaps Star Ocean needs to do the same thing with staggering, they tried it with Star Ocean 4 but I find that they will need to do the opposite in order to succeed. Add a gauge that when filled allows enemies to stagger or do what Valkyrie Profile 2 did and make it so that when you break off an enemy’s body part, you can make them stagger for a short period of time allowing you to combo them.

However that alone wouldn’t make the game perfect. I wrote another article before talking about how we could theoretically create the perfect action game and since Star Ocean 5 is an action RPG, this is relevant. One of the games I brought up is one of Star Ocean 5’s competitor’s, Tales Of Xillia which by holding a certain button, it changes the moveset of the character on the fly allowing for a more varied moveset. This is what the Star Ocean series needs in my opinion, however I cannot deny that Star Ocean 5 was a step in the right direction and you shouldn’t either, removing the stagger-lock was the first step to creating a better game… but it’s not a complete step. People need to realize that these things take time, tri-Ace are probably trying to find some new way to improve this as we speak. Instead of complaining about it we should see the merits of its intentions and move on.

ryudo 2

I’m not just saying this because I’m a Star Ocean/tri-Ace fanboy (which I am). Tri-Ace have made mistakes just like any other developer. In my opinion, that mistake was teaming up with SEGA and making Resonance Of Fate but as a fan of tri-Ace, I’m not going to discredit them just for one game because I know that they are capable of more than that, plus I know that they’re all human beings and human beings make mistakes. This is an undeniable fact, game developers aren’t gods, they are people just like me and you, so appreciate the effort they put into the game by showing a level of respect worthy of that effort but to truly respect the game, you have to look at the small intricacies that make the game so good/bad in the first place because believe it or not while most of us gamers don’t pay attention to these things, developers do, there is a reason for every single little thing they add to a game and you may or may not understand those reasons, nor will you even notice all the things they add to the game.

As someone who knows very little about the intricacies of game development, I cannot say I can completely understand everything, however I consider myself a theorist. It makes things more fun that way. I don’t need to know the exact reason, I just need to know what works and what doesn’t. That is what I do. Though I do want to explore the theory behind why certain game design decisions were made and why certain intricacies and features were included. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I haven’t found a good enough format in which to do so. Hopefully one of these days, I will be able to get face to face with these developers and learn the truth but the chances of that happening are very low.

So remember, games are supposed to be as good as they can be for what they are. You can’t expect everybody to be as accomplished as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the same applies to videogames. Learn to appreciate things more rather than nitpicking about every little thing and calling it out as bad.

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Review


Valkyrie Profile 220

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… 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 issues 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 as there are a lot of minute details that are easily missed the first time round.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s visual style illustrates a tone which is neither bright and uplifting nor is it dark and gloomy. Valkyrie Profile 2 treads the middle ground between the two, illustrating a world where prosperity is relatively prominent yet tensions are rising and war could break out at any moment, thus foreshadowing the events that occur in the first game and Covenant Of The Plume.

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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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 as I find that when done right they bring out the personality of the game better than any form of narrative.

I could listen to the entire soundtrack from beginning to end and never encounter a single track that doesn’t maximize its potential. Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack is consistently outstanding from beginning to end, that’s not to say that there aren’t certain tracks that soar above others, rather the music never becomes bland or tiresome.

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Listening to the music in Valkyrie Profile 2 is like a drug, I just cannot get enough of it. 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 RPGs 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 game’s ambiance manages to tell a far better story than its dialogue. I don’t know whether or not the developers were aware of this, perhaps I’m looking into it too much. However many of the dungeon music in this game not only create the perfect ambiance but they also manage 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)