I’ve had around a week with a demo build of Square Enix’s upcoming action JRPG Valkyrie Elysium. During that time, I’ve been at a loss for words. I don’t mean that in a “Wow, this is great!” or “Wow, this sucks!” type of way. It’s more of a “I don’t have much to say about this at all so far” situation.
Valkyrie Elysium takes the equation that made the classic JRPG Valkyrie Profile and its sequels so memorable and attempts to give it the Final Fantasy 7 Remake treatment. It tries to open the series up to new players who want even more interactive gameplay than was found in the classic combo JRPG formula its predecessors followed. My issue after playing its first two-and-a-half hours isn’t that it attempts to update the series’ game-winning recipe, but that it dramatically lacks the heart and polish that it boasted all those years ago.
Getting combat right
If you were around during that bygone era when God of War was all the rage and inspired a slew of lifeless copycats, then you can probably see some of my issues with Valkeyrie Elysium already. The game isn’t effortless, but it isn’t as lively as it should be yet, which is a shame because it’s full of so much potential.
Like the classic entries in the franchise, you play as a Valkyrie tasked with saving a world on the brink of Ragnarok. To do so, you’ll travel the world in search of lost and recently deceased warrior souls to build a team of Einherjar. Unlike the older titles, this is an action JRPG closer to something like Devil May Cry, but way less flashy. You’ve got jump cancels, Bayonetta‘s Witch Time dodging, different attack strings, specials, and assists attacks that work similarly to those in Scarlet Nexus to replace the old Einherjar party members. The issue comes down to how the game controls and limits the action.
The main character of Valkyrie Elysium, the Valkyrie Maria, controls like a rock. Her attacks are slow, there’s no way to cancel out of attack strings until they complete, plus no real jump cancel combos to keep opponents in the air for extended times, and assists don’t help much with cool juggles either. This leaves the game to be a mash fest where I only had to think about enemy weaknesses, which wasn’t even necessary most times. It’s a drier experience than a bad Dynasty Warriors game, and that’s saying a lot.
It doesn’t just affect the fun factor of the game. Due to the slow speed and lack of the ability to cancel out of strings, guarding against multiple enemies and bosses is a pain. There were so many times I tried to play it like Bayonetta or Scarlet Nexus, where I attack and react to attacks to get the slowdown and rack up damage. However, due to this limitation, I just ended up stuck in animation until I got hit again. The game ended up just telling me to wait for an attack, dodge, then do a quick and boring combo to get the kill. The fun just isn’t quite there yet, and that’s a pain when the game has the promise of something like Scarlet Nexus or Tales of Arise.
Exploration is another area where I have mixed feelings so far. The world of Valkyrie Elysium is a beautiful one. After leveling up to the double jump, I had some fun running through the forest areas and ruinous castles now pilfered by demonic undead. My issue is how empty everything is. Besides being eye candy (thanks to the world looking like a living painting) there isn’t much to do. You can collect items from enemies and chests or go to flowers where you can read the thoughts of recently deceased looking for salvation or happiness in the afterlife, but none of it feels too fulfilling when the combat to get to it isn’t up to par.
I had high hopes for Valkyrie Elysium when I saw the initial reveal, but I’m heading into the full release with more tempered expectations. Valkyrie Profile going in the direction of an action JRPG for a new generation is a huge no-brainer, but the game direly needs more polish in its combat if it wants to live up to the original’s legacy and the advancements in the genre that we’ve seen in so many modernized remakes, sequels, and remasters.
Thankfully the demo build of the game I played places you in earlier moments of the game. The initial tutorial and these early levels may not have impressed me, but they also show reasonable amounts of promise. The thought of more assists for different situations excites me, and the fact that you’ll be able to wield weapons with different combo strings gives me hope for more combat depth and options later on. With the game releasing so soon, I’m not hopeful for any massive polish changes, but I believe Square Enix could add more attack options like being able to dodge and jump out of strings in time for release or in time for a patch.
I want nothing more but for this game to succeed, so I’m hoping Square Enix can pull it together by the time Valkyrie Elysium launches on September 29 for PS4, PS5, and PC.
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