Nordic gods, beleaguered Einherjar, and grotesque monsters have long been the staple of one of Square Enix's most revered and most dwindled series. Valkyrie Profile and Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria established the series as more than a riff on Norse mythology and creative RPG mechanics—the Valkyrie series itself has been celebrated for its melancholy, creativeness and refreshingly stark differences against more renowned identities like Final Fantasy. With Valkyrie Elysium, it seems that Square may have brought the series back in track, even with a few things missing.
In my first thirty minutes with Valkyrie Elysium, I felt a pang of fear and annoyance that the unique combat of the first two entries was sidestepped in favor for yet another action combat system. In Valkyrie Profile, characters are assigned to individual buttons and combos can be inflicted against foes and bosses with satisfying effect. Valkyrie Elysium eschews the turn-based style entirely with gameplay that initially seems like yet more cookie-cutter action faire. After spending an hour and a half with a demo, I can breathe a sigh of relief. While Valkyrie Elysium feels initially different from its predecessors, the spirit of the Valkyrie series has certainly returned.
Tasked with finding lost souls for Odin once more, the Valkyrie returns to Midgard on the doorstep of Ragnarök to find Einherjar that might serve in the All-Father's army. This new Valkyrie brings some familiar quips and one-liners that fans of the series will recognize, and serves as another stoic if beautiful protagonist and psychopomp. While the demo only provides brief usage of Einherhar abilities, it allows the player to fully explore the surprising depth of the combat. Aside from the traditional hack-and-slash gameplay, enemies are equipped with elemental weaknesses that can be exploited by Valkyrie's array of spells and swords. Abilities and weapons can be swapped on the fly, providing a layer of strategy against dragons, soldiers, and the undead. Plus, about midway through the demo the player unlocks a double-jump, double-dash, and last second guard and dash properties that can slow down time or execute powerful vengeance maneuvers. This keeps the otherwise lackluster button-mashing combat tight and responsive—there is always a weakness to find.
Bosses and larger enemies, beyond elemental weaknesses, have segmented bodies that can be attacked to deal more damage. These enemies can also be stunned, as there is a secondary bar to the health bar that showcases when an enemy can be downed. By combining Valkyrie's array of spells, abilities, weapons, and Einherjar support, boss fights are exciting and splashy. In the style of the Valkyrie series, these monsters are creative, grotesque, and beautifully mythological. The first boss fight alone pits Valkyrie against a monster that's satisfyingly horrific, and establishes what may lay await in the final game.
In terms of its mythology and feel, Valkyrie Elysium is at home with the melancholy hell established in previous games. There are flowers to interact with throughout each stage, where echoes of dead peasants recount their final harrowing thoughts. While Valkyrie is tasked with saving the noble dead, Valkyrie Elysium showcases front and center the uncaring nature of the All-Father and his pantheon. Valkyrie Elysium seems intent on capturing this same brutal sadness, placing us in a world that's on the brink of final despair. With a gorgeous soundtrack composed by a returning Motoi Sakuraba (Valkyrie Profile, Golden Sun, Dark Souls), and a ruined world brought to life from the impeccable art of Yuya Nagai (NieR), Valkyrie Elysium has the hallmarks of something truly special. While initially on the fence, the demo has made me crave the game as assuredly as Fenrir craves the sun and the moon.
Considering that the Digital Deluxe Edition comes with a free copy of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, we could be seeing the true return of this impeccable series. Valkyrie Elysium releases September 29, 2022 on PS4 and PS5.
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