Publisher: Xseed Games/Marvelous AQL
# of Players: 1 – 7
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Score: B- (75%)
For some people, anything resembling sexual behavior in a video game seems to set them off ranting about things they don’t want to do (play the game in public or show it off to friends and family) or didn’t see at all thanks to overreacting and imposing arbitrary rules of the real world where it never needs to be. All I’ll say is this: if you can watch this music video without curling up into a ball in a corner and whining about it being too racy or sexist or prurient, you’re probably mature enough to play (and even enjoy) Valhalla Knights 3.
K2′s new Vita exclusive may not be the best looking game on Sony’s handheld and what’s here often feels a wee bit unfinished, needing actual interactivity in the environments in the form of destructible objects and structures that could be actually entered in some outdoor maps. While there are some amusing and dramatic moments to be found, the main plot could have also used a bit more spice, as it offers up some interesting ideas that don’t mature past a certain point…
That said, While the gameplay itself is simple to pick up and play and (provided you love grinding levels with multiple classes) somewhat enjoyable, some fans of the older VK games will no doubt miss the more varied enemy types from the portable games plus the more open world (and the ability to ascend and descend certain spots in the environment) from VK: Eldar Saga on the Wii.
The bulk of the game both in and outside of the main plot has you and your team of up to six allies running around a huge map broken into sections killing monsters, tracking down and retrieving items as well as a few other RPG quest staples. While these quests and side quests are your pretty generic “fetch this for me!” or “kill that for me!” stuff, for a game that came off to some reviewers as “dull” despite this sort of thing being common to the genre, you have to wonder if some of those folks have ever enjoyed a grind-heavy RPG in their gaming lives.
Combat is in real-time, fast (although spells take time to be cast) and not too shabby once you work through some kinks. While previous games up to Eldar Saga allowed for up to six in your party (VK: Battle Stance allowed four and VK: ES was solo with an AI mercenary or up to two live players online), VK3 lets you take up to seven characters with you.
This is both great and pesky, as the combat system has been changed from the earlier games with some great and not so great elements. In the older games, the AI acted completely independently and even at low levels, did a decent job of fighting and spell casting. In VK3, the fights go well against weaker to current level enemies and some stronger foes, but sometimes you need to babysit or switch to other characters who may get into trouble at certain times. The game allows for slotting skills and items to use in battle, but the problem is the AI doesn’t always use restore items when it runs out of spell points because it cast spells like a crazy sorcerer trying to kill flies with a full on lightning storm.
Additionally, there aren’t enough slots once you start multi-classing and want to add in some strong offensive and defensive spells, healing and revival items. While it’s fantastic to be able to raise a spell casting/healer/archer or fighter/mage/ninja type, you simply won’t be able to use all of the best skills unless you have a few characters classing the same skills and split spells between them. It may sound like I’m griping a LOT here, but this is constructive criticism on my part as I like this series and want to help K2 make a better game in the future. It’s far easier to write up a snide review that’s not going to do anything but be another instrument on the anti-VK bandwagon, but there’s a great game in this series somewhere and I’d LOVE to help it get made.
One other sticking point for me in the new combat is other than one main story boss (and some later baddies in a bonus dungeon), enemies are no longer surprising. They generally won’t attack on sight unless your levels are much lower and you’re close enough for one to assault you, but you can actually sneak, walk or run past many of them and not fight at all. Otherwise, they wander around in robotic circles or retrace predictable paths like two to eight-legged Roombas (or no-legged if you add in the Slimes) until you run up and smack them with something. This is a bit odd at first, but for newbies, I can see K2 wanting to make things a bit lighter in terms of enemy encounters. The PSP VK games and Eldar Saga were notorious for enemies jumping you if you got careless and zipped around a corner too quickly or even walked through a doorway only to step into a fight because a monster was right behind that door.
Save for boss encounters and a few other instances, you can choose who to fight, kill an enemy or enemy group and wait around for a respawn (keep running in circles yourself, as you earn points for walking that come in VERY handy!). Or you can cover the entirety of a sector, killing off enemies as you go around the map. This is a definite improvement over Eldar Saga’s MMO-like super fast respawns that made traveling through some of the more enemy-packed areas almost unbearable. I’ll get into the game’s somewhat low-key use of its otherwise huge environments below, but I’ll move on to the plot and try not to spoil anything (well, maybe one or two things)…
As noted above, the story is serviceable at best, but definitely not going to win any writing awards and neither is the storytelling in the cut scenes. As the game begins, you’re one of a group of prisoners captured tossed into the hellhole that is Carceron Prison, but after a bit of exposition and some early leveling up, it turns out you’re not really what you seem to be. There’s a nasty curse afflicting you and some of your fellow convicts, an evil “warden” of sorts who’s got some nasty tricks up his sleeve and that prison is less of a prison and more of a really weird and dangerous Las Vegas mall as the adventure forges onwards. VK3 tries hard to balance its dramatic and humorous moments, but some clumsy animation combined with text-only dialog make nearly every scene too goofy or too flat or both. It’s a shame, because there are actually a handful of side quests that have decent enough resolutions that would have benefited from a bit of speech and better animation.
On the other hand, had they been fully voiced, the more salacious elements of the game would probably have earned the game an AO (Adults Only) rating just for the sheer suggestiveness alone. Quests can be accepted from either a “hostess club” on the main floor or a much more dingy-looking guild below.
The main differences being the top level club offers the OPTIONAL opportunity of romancing the girls there with gifts and cash purchases until they ask you to participate in some “Sexy Time” that has you tapping or rubbing your Vita screen like someone with an OCD trying to rub a hole in that Vita. This also goes for the upper level shop and clinic, but again, you can avoid any public or private *beet*-ing of your face and finger by conducting your quest-taking at the lower guild. It’s entirely possible to woo the ladies with gifts alone, but you’ll need to know exactly which gifts to give them (there’s a list online if you’re lazy or hate guessing) if you want to add them to your party. Even if you go the all gift route, recruiting these ladies requires a short quest through the same red-colored dungeon that’s going to be stupidly easy or ridiculously tough depending on your levels.
Is the game “sexist” in its portrayal of its women as scantily clad fantasy stereotypes? Sure it is, but poke further into things and guess what? The men get their due as sex objects as well. Past a certain point in the story, a small army of male characters appear throughout the prison that you can get to join your party with many gifts (but minus the Sexytime screen rubbing).
That said, whether or not you play as a male of female character, gaining a new man in your crew sends you to the same love hotel you go to with the girls, meaning VK3 is an equal opportunity letch when it comes to sexual preference. Even more surprising is the game has among its ladies (SPOILER ALERT!), a hermaphrodite, a clockwork android that looks like a pretty girl and based on the sparse but goofy voice acting for one character, a “lady” who may not be much of a lady at all!
That the outrage over the game’s treatment of women is so vocal even though save for the mercenary shop, all the other employable characters are more or less sex objects means not a lot of people fully explored this one at all. Granted, the assorted ladies you interact with are ALL gorgeous and stuck with too-revealing outfits, so the game gets a knock for that issue.
Additionally, unlike previous VK games that had normal-looking to ugly ladies all over the place, VK3′s gals are all uniformly AV idol cute and then some. Even if you create your own main character, you’re limited in how she can look (pretty at worst). Even if you choose to create a bald, battle scarred, tattoo and filth covered female avatar, she’s still got a shape a Victoria’s Secret model would kill for. Male characters get the same treatment with their honed physiques, but at least there are some ugly NPCs and other non-perfect looking guys to run into in your travels.
If anything, K2 is “guilty” of making the game TOO much of a fantasy RPG in terms of its presentation of both sexes. That said, the Bunny Girls (as the assorted shop gals are called as a class) make for very formidable warriors in combat once you beef up their skills and swap and train in some of the very skilled second and third classes the game offers. The one silly trade off is the different (and all risque) Bunny Girl outfits have some great stats, meaning you’ll probably not change them to something less revealing if you’re smart. Yes, the males you can recruit are all in some form of much more protective armor from cloth robes to full-on metal suits, but at least you can armor up the ladies if you so desire.
So, we’ve established the game isn’t for prudes while also not quite as perverse as some say. Of course, that Mature rating means it’s absolutely NOT for kids, so if you’re playing this game because you conned an adult into paying for it or used a PSN card you bought in some local shop to pick this up… you get an “A” for ingenuity or something. Your eyes haven’t burned out and I bet you’re not growing hair on your palms (yet). Hmmm. Anyway, back to the tough love stuff, in case someone at K2 may be poking a stick at this post to see what’s under the pile of words I’m dumping here…
As noted above, some of the familiar enemy types are back along with a bunch of new human enemies based on some of the prison’s residents, but sadly, the number of enemy types in the main game isn’t as diverse as in previous VK entries. Environments are nicely sized but bland and the game loses the climbable terrain found in Eldar Saga, which is somewhat annoying because K2 packs some maps with location opportunities that SHOULD have been exploited.
You’ll see what looks like hidden cave entrances, rock “steps” you should be able to climb up and other areas that seem as if they’d lead somewhere cool (or at least to some hidden treasure) and plenty of other nooks and crannies that are just there for show. The same goes for some indoor maps where you’ll find egg-shaped rocks in odd patterns and enemies in the same spots all the time. Finally, zero destructible objects in a game where you can swing a weapon? That’s a low crime right there, particularly given those maps with crates, barrels and lots of other stuff that SHOULD be bashed for fun (and profit)…
The game also misses the chance to add menace to its dungeons, particularly in the case of a few mazes that separate you from a few doors that require opening. In the case of these areas, all you get are big open spaces with busted walls you can see over, a switch to hit and a treasure chest to unlock. Sticking monsters in these rooms with some traps and perhaps higher walls would have been absolutely much more exciting than what’s here.
Indoor and outdoor areas have human and animal skeletons that SHOULD have been popping up to scare the crap out of players as new enemies and even some of those dead trees would have made for nifty battles had they come alive when you passed by. For me, a game like this needs LIFE all over and some sort of random element to keep things fresh. Outside that hidden dungeon, the worst random thing you’ll come across is an occasional gold-colored slime that may kill everyone in your party if you attack it and are weaker than one of its attacks.
That said, there IS that extra dungeon in the game to unlock that requires beating a pesky final boss and despite my tough love grousing, the game DOES indeed have enough rough and polished (but still crude) charm to keep players who don’t mind the grind locked in for the long haul. Finally, the fact that K2 has been pumping out some nice DLC to extend the adventure with new classes, ladies to woo, characters, gear and interesting potions is also a key selling point as is Japan getting an super-enhanced version of the game soon that adds features and fixes some of the annoyingly long loading issues.
I haven’t covered the online versus play here because I just find it both useless and annoying for my solo preference tastes. Unless you’re going in with a powerful party, you’ll be beaten to a pulp by some very skilled players or if you’re beating up on someone else, they may disconnect on you (which happened to me the second time I played against some fool). In cases like this in a game that I prefer to play alone, I give versus play one or two tries and that’s that. However, should the tweaked Gold version make it out stateside, I’ll test out that update’s co-op mode and hope for the best.
To wind up here, to me, the ideal Valhalla Knights game still hasn’t been created yet. But if asked, I’d let K2 know that they’re definitely getting there bit by bit. Open up the game world, add destructible objects and MORE chests, make the load times MUCH shorter, add more variety in the NPCs and enemies as in the previous games, work on the cut scenes and maybe even add fully voiced cinemas if possible. Doing even a few of these will make sure I’m back again in the world of Valhalla Knights with a happier face and ready for even more adventures.