Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria – Staff Review

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria has an impressive set of credentials to recommend it. Possessing a high-energy, yet tactically challenging combat system, an unexpected epic symphonic soundtrack, some truly impressive visuals, and a sharp, well written story, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is a remarkable title which should appeal to a wide variety of gamers. However, those expecting an experience similar to Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth will be disappointed, as most of the gameplay mechanics that made it so unique have been gutted or outright omitted. There are also a few problems with stiff animation, poor lip sync, and a bit of excess deus ex machina late in the plot, but the game offers an entertaining and thought-provoking take on the Valkyrie Profile world to those willing to accept the changes it makes to the series.

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth dealt with the most famous conflict in Norse mythology, that of the apocalyptic war of Ragnarok. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria takes place well before that era, during a time in which Odin and the Aesir were at the height of their power, holding sway over both Asgard and Midgard. It focuses on the youngest of the three Valkyrie sisters, Silmeria, who was banished from Asgard for some unknown transgression against the All-Father and reincarnated on Midgard as a mere human. However, an error in the transmigration process resulted in Silmeria being bound to the body of Alicia, the young princess of Dipan, goddess and human co-existing in the same body. A far more traditionally-told story than that of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, this game forgoes the Period system used by its predecessor. It still progresses in chapters, but time inside each chapter is infinite, which allows for backtracking and level building without fear of a time limit.

Pretty Alicia is preeeetty.
Pretty Alicia is preeeetty.

The lack of a time limit allows Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria to deal with some of the same ideas as Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth in a much more focused and concise manner. The cruelty and arrogance of the Aesir is shown through characters like Alicia and Rufus, her archer companion, both forced to live under constant threat of annihilation due to the whim of the gods. The game is an effective and well-written tale about the dangers of arrogance and bigotry in the use of power, and the ultimate futility of allowing oneself to be held servant to those powers. The dialogue is sharp, and the characters develop along interesting and believable lines, ultimately producing one of the more memorable casts of recent memory. The final stages of the story do engage in some disappointing and rather unbelieveable deus ex machina, all of which brings the story down a notch, but overall, the story stands well on its own as a unique and intriguing tale.

The game’s combat system is a hybrid between the 2D system of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, and the 3D field-style combat of games like Radiata Stories. When combat is initiated, the player drops into an irregularly shaped 3D playing field, which can be anything from a wide open plain to a series of small, enclosed corridors, depending on the player’s location. These areas are highly diverse and creative, incorporating environmental hazards and even hidden passageways for enemies to burst out of. The party moves around on this field with a large circle to indicate attack range, while enemies have a variety of shapes to indicate where they can attack. Enemies only move when the player does, though the player can perform a dash to get around troublesome enemies, meaning that the system isn’t entirely real-time. When one group comes in contact with another, the game switches into a 2D mode of combat which should be familiar to those who have played Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. Each character has a limited number of attacks, and is mapped to one of the four face buttons. The trick is to attack in such a way that each character’s move connects in sequence, forming a combo that fills up the Special Attack bar. When the bar is full, characters can unleash flashy, highly damaging Soul Crush attacks. Using these attacks in succession, and attempting to do so every round, is the key to winning most of the tougher boss fights in the game. Normal encounters, however, are not quite so challenging. Every enemy group has a leader which can be destroyed to immediately end the fight. The game encourages this by use of a Bonus Gauge, which slowly empties as the fight drags on. Quite simply, the faster the opponent is defeated, the more EXP and Oth is received.

This combat system is highly inventive and challenging, requiring a certain amount of tactical creativity to use properly. There is still a certain amount of visceral thrill to be had, especially when one considers Break Mode. Each enemy has specific hit areas that will separate from the foe’s body after taking a certain amount of damage. When this happens, there is a small chance that the game will enter Break Mode, which will allow the player to make unlimited attacks for a short period of time, unhindered by the amount of AP the party has. The game actually encourages the player to attempt Break Mode as often as possible, awarding items for each body part removed from the enemy. These items can be used as skill-teaching accessories, or in crafting new weapons and armor.

One of the things that made Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth such an unusual game was the way in which new characters were recruited. Lenneth could see the last moments of an Einherjar before their death, meaning that each new character joined the party fully developed with a unique backstory. This system allowed for an unusually high level of character development, especially considering the number of characters that were available to be recruited. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria also uses a system of recruiting Einherjar, but rather than seeking out the souls of those about to die, Alicia can recall the souls of the dead through the items they carried in life. To this end, weapons belonging to the Einherjar are scattered around dungeons, waiting for Silmeria to come along and find them. Unfortunately, the game provides only a short couple of paragraphs describing their lives, meaning that the Einherjar are a largely underdeveloped crowd.

The voice acting on Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is something of a mixed bag. The main characters all have very solid actors assigned to them, with the vast majority of their work coming off as quite professional and believable. The Einherjar voices tend to be slightly inferior, but the largest problem with their voices isn’t the level of quality, but rather the fact that most of the voice clips are re-used for two or more characters. Given that the Einherjar were already suffering from a bit of homogeny, the lack of distinction amongst their voices causes bit of a problem when trying to get a feel for them as people.

Motoi Sakuraba’s work on Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria comes as something of a shock. As a composer more traditionally known for creating high-energy techno and electronica-inspired pieces, the symphonic style of this soundtrack is a genuinely pleasant surprise. The music works extremely well in its setting, creating a slightly melancholy feel to go with the towns and fields, while the dungeon themes tend to be a bit more hard-driving, adding in electric guitars and other decidedly non-symphonic elements. The most unusual tracks, however, are the combat themes. Widely considered to be Motoi Sakuraba’s strongest point as a composer, the combat themes of Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria still hold to his energetic style, but show a degree of flexibility not previously attributed to his work.

Control is probably the most significant improvement over the previous title. Where Lenneth had trouble jumping precisely and dodging environmental traps, Silmeria’s control is solid, responsive, and intuitive. There are certain issues in combat, with characters getting hung up on obstacles more often than is strictly comfortable, but it isn’t a horrible issue. Translation is very good, and as far as can be told, without error. It still has a touch of the old-style speech that typified dialogue in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, but it mostly forgoes the melodramatic style of its predecessor in favor of a more naturally flowing script.

VP: Lenneth's side-scrolling perspective makes a return.
VP: Lenneth’s side-scrolling perspective makes a return.

The visual style of Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is significantly more coherent than that of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, abandoning hand-drawn character portraits and 2D sprites for extremely detailed 3D rendering. This new visual design presents an impressively realistic world, full of tiny quirks that make it seem alive, such as hanging ivy blowing in the wind, or the shifting of grass in an open field. Character animation is less solid, however, coming off as jerky and unrealistic at times. The lip sync is a particularly serious problem, with mouths moving at cross-purposes to the voiced lines, when they bother to move at all.

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria has an unusually variable level of difficulty. In each chapter, the game presents certain sidequests that offer a chance to significantly improve the party’s abilities. These sidequests are entirely optional, of course, but not finding or completing them will cause spikes in difficulty that can make the game far more difficult. In addition to this, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria has a unique New Game + option, wherein the difficulty increases slightly for each new playthrough. Overall, the game shouldn’t be challenging enough to cause frustration, but it does require some active involvement by the player to keep the difficulty level in check through the forty to fifty hour play time.

Given the highly unique ideas presented in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, the changes in style and gameplay shown by Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria are bound to disappoint some sections of the series fan base. However, with a unique take on real-time combat systems, a remarkable musical score, and a memorable cast of characters, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is highly recommendable in its own right.

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