There was once a little game for the Dreamcast called Phantasy Star Online (PSO). It was a popular title that launched the RPG series into the wide, recently booming, world of the internet. Players could join up in thousands of beam saber waving contests around the world, from the comfort of their couch, or they could quest with NPCs through a single player campaign. Ah, the glory days.
Fast forward to today. Every console, even the portable ones, have the capability to connect to the magical internet, and gamers have been searching for almost a decade to replace the beloved PSO.
Enter Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga (VK:ES). This action adventure RPG romp is the third in the series and a first on home consoles. Simply put, XSeed’s homage to PSO falls short of reinvigorating the gameplay gamers know and love, and instead, misses the mark completely. It has more problems than Jay-Z can count and is something that only extremely hardcore fans of item collecting dungeon crawlers should pick up.
VK:ES plays a lot like PSO and Monster Hunter. There is a hub-city where players quest from, buy items, and interact with NPCs. Players collect items and gear through dungeon crawling combat and customize their character with the loot they find. There’s tons of variety available for players willing to work for it, but it’s never worth it considering the extremely flawed gameplay.
For starters, combat is extremely stiff. Attacking is slow and glitchy, and the controls make it difficult to execute timely commands. Switching between spells and weapons requires holding certain buttons down and doing so on the fly is frustrating. However, this is slightly stifled thanks to some of the worst enemy AI ever. Dragons, giants, yetis, and strangely powerful rabbits are easily dispatched with a quick dash attack and subsequent retreats. The only way to dodge attacks are based on certain statistics (which barely make sense) making toe to toe combat almost impossible. Casting spells takes too long and it’s too expensive to rely on it as your primary attack.
Because of this, the class system is a moot point. Casting spells is easy, but costly, and most of the special abilities operate on an absurd timer that fills up as you move about the map. Not independent timers mind you, but one single timer right below your mana. Even then, after the meter is full, the parameters required to execute these moves are like solving a rubix cube without opposable thumbs. One can argue that it’s the players choice in how they approach combat, however, each class needs purpose. If it’s merely a personal choice, then it’s just like picking what shirt you want to wear in the morning.
Weapon class suffers too. It doesn’t matter what weapon you pick, because the attack cadence is so deliberate that it roots your character to the ground for more than three seconds, sometimes more, for a full combo. One-handed weapons, knives, clubs…etc it doesn’t matter. To make matters worse, managing your character’s equipment is extremely difficult thanks to a convoluted statistic system. Items with higher weapon levels than others will offer less attack when you equip them, but nothing to make up for it.
There seems to be no governing factor in what raises or lowers your ability to carry heavier weapons. Your sub-weapon loadout slot will offer higher bonuses than your main hand, for no reason, and when switched to in combat, the “supposed” higher damage isn’t apparent. There are tons of stats that seem like they offer no benefit to your character at all, so choosing what to use and wear is difficult. And, all of this must be figured out in the hub world, because equipping weapons anywhere else is forbidden. The axiom “you get what you pay for” has no clout in the world of Eldar.
It’s mind boggling that VK:ES was released only on the Wii. The graphical and sound capabilities of the Wii are nowhere near what the 360 and PS3 pump out, and recently, PSP games have been looking better than this. VK:ES delivers an extremely bland color palette with graphics that resemble the PS2′s launch lineup with recycled sounds, terrible voice acting, and the worst footstep noises in the history of gaming. It’s unacceptable.
The worst part about picking the Wii as the console of choice is the game’s “focus” toward online play. Players can connect and quest together through the use of the infamous friend code. However, there is no main hub for people to gather together, so the friend code is required to quest together. Once you dupe someone into playing with you, it does alleviate a few of the problems with the class balance.
However, when you do finally get connected, there is no change in the gameplay when questing with other players, so those problems carry over. Sure, there are other peole there with you, but even if two people are being tortured… it’s still torture. Honestly, whenever the Wii disconnects, it’s a mercy killing.
Players that finally realized their Wii will never connect them to the internet can hire mercenaries instead. These NPCs travel with the player on certain missions (some won’t let you take them) and fight alongside the hero. Doing different quests will net you different mercenaries, and you can change their equipment and battle plans in town, but it’s quite possible to the beat the game using the fighter class the game gives you in the beginning. Don’t worry, he will die and run into walls. That’s normal.
The only redeeming quality is the story. However, it isn’t the quality of the story. The translation team apparently was a group of pre-kindergarten students using bargain brand crayons. No, it’s a generational game that spans two episodes. One as the hero that begins to fight back against destruction, and the second as the hero’s son/daughter. The game lets you play as other races dependent on the species you marry in the first episode. The concept behind generational storylines has been underused, and if done right, could be the next thing that freshens up the RPG genre.
The problem with the generational storyline in VK:ES is its length. The game is FAR too short for players that don’t do the guild quests. Each episode clocks in at about four to five hours each, and that’s a combination of cutscenes, running, fighting, fetching meaningless items, and more running. Of course, there is a lot of replay with the large quantities of items, classes and quests, but the gameplay and balance issues make it difficult to come back.
VK:ES is a mess. Not just a normal mess, but one of those messes that ooze all over the counter and use countless paper towels to clean up. Every gameplay mechanic is a poor reflection of something gamers have already played before. It does nothing to reestablish PSO gameplay for consoles and is an overall poor attempt at an action adventure RPG.
A combination of bad localization, flawed gameplay, a low budget, and console choice will send VK:ES into the bargain bin before the month is over. It makes you wonder why games like this are imported to America, but Mother 3 and Fatal Frame are kept locked up.
This is one of the worst looking Wii games to grace the console: it reminds me of a handful of PS2 launch titles.
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Shoddy controls and pointless statistics make VK:ES a poor excuse for a PSO clone and an even poorer excuse for an action adventure RPG.
The annoying footsteps and derivative score will give you a reason to fire up iTunes.
There is a lot of content here for players, but the will to complete any of it is lost on the incredibly sub-par gameplay
VK:ES has so many shortcomings and fundamental issues that it makes it impossible to enjoy any of its good qualities. It's a title that only the hardest of the hardcore action adventure fans might tolerate.