Discussion Review: Valhalla Knights 2

VK2 FRONT D2_mmv_10+.jpg Valhalla Knights showed a lot of promise but ultimately fell short of expectations when it first burst onto the PSP scene last year. Disappointing as it was, an optimist would say that K2 built a solid foundation that deserved a proper sequel to hopefully build upon the ground work laid by the original. Well, Valhalla Knights 2 has now arrived thanks to XSEED Games and its new co-publishing partner Marvelous Entertainment, and we’re here to tell you how it turned out. Worthy successor or half-assed sequel? Mike and I discuss…

Michael: Did you realize that an anagram for ‘Valhalla Knight Two’ is “we failed to listen to constructive criticism”? OK, so that isn’t accurate, even if the sentiment is true. An actual anagram is the somewhat more sinister “Halving Hawk At Toll”, which describes one possible thought you will have after suffering through this miserable sequel to one of last years most disappointing PSP games. In the months approaching the release of this game I was watching videos, looking at screens and reading previews and honestly found enough promising looking stuff that I believed that this sequel might actually be able to redeem the original. Nothing prepared me for this one actually being WORSE than the original!

Let me run the litany of offenses: the introduction is junk, the character creation obfuscated, the lack of teleports unforgivable, the combat system still sucks, and the quests are still mindless. Here is an example – in the courtyard outside the castle you find a little kid search for a sibling who has run off avoiding chores. You are told ‘tell me if you see him’. So you wander around and find the sibling, who claims to be playing hide-and-seek. You talk to him, then return to the first child assuming you can report your find. No, you get the same apparently meaningless dialogue again. That is Valhalla Knights in a nutshell.

I’ll make another example: you start battling your way through the dungeon, meeting and killing monsters all along the way. Controlling combat is confusing and frustrating for anyone but a warrior. Warriors just hack-and-slash and choose special attacks and so long as you manage to lock a target it all precedes fairly easily. But for a mage, maintaining a lock is a pain, as is selecting and firing a spell. Eventually you die, and find yourself back at the Inn. The resurrection fee is 50% of your cash. No loss to skills or attributes or experience or equipment, so it is a pretty mild penalty. But that is deceptive because you have to walk all the way back through respawning monsters to where you fell, which gets worse and worse as you make more and more progress. To say that I would have trader a harsher death penalty for a decent teleport system is an understatement.

Matt: Wow, you really despise this game, don’t you? I maybe don’t have quite the same heightened level of animosity towards the game as you, but honestly I’m not too far behind. I don’t necessarily agree that it’s worse than the original, however I do think it is more disappointing because none of the problems with the first game were remedied, and worse yet it doesn’t seem like the developers even wanted to try to fix them to begin with. As you said, they failed to listen to constructive criticism, and that’s inexcusable.

Valhalla Knights 2 brings absolutely no improvements to the table whatsoever. Final Fantasy XII‘s writer was brought on board to help with the story so I was at least expecting an upgrade over the barren plot of the first game, but not even that happened.

I actually don’t have too much of a problem with the real-time combat system — it’s not great by any means, but I wouldn’t say that it sucks — and the character customization is incredibly deep, but ultimately the game’s tedious, grinding style is too overbearing for even the most hardcore dungeon crawl fan (and I’m a pretty hardcore fan of dungeon crawlers myself). My main problem with VK2, just like with the original, is the same terrible porting system you touched on. Portals are far too infrequent, and without them you either have to die to get back to town or backtrack through completed areas freshly respawned with all the creatures you already disposed of. It’s just bad game design to die after spending hours grinding through a dungeon, get booted back to the inn and then have to go all the way back through the same areas again as if you’d never even played them in the first place. It doesn’t add challenge to the game, only frustration of the cheapest kind.

You are dead on about the quest system too. Quests are so obscure and confusing that it’s hard to know what specifically you’re supposed to be doing to complete them. The quest system was supposedly improved upon, but good luck being able to tell.

And how about those menu screens? The depth of the character customization is impressive, but pouring over the stat menu is enough to make your eyes bleed. There are so many stats crammed into such a small menu it’s damn near impossible to read and actually comprehend what it all means. I honestly had no clue half the time if the new gear I was outfitting my party with was actually an upgrade over past items because the stat text is so difficult to read. Playing portable gaming devices already strains the eyes more than console or PC gaming, so to have to squint and focus so hard just to read some of the text becomes painful, literally.

Michael: It is not so much that I despise the game as I am just really disappointed that the developers squandered what seemed to have been such a great opportunity to make a very good game. OK, I do despise the game.

I have an inherent problem with the combat system: I believe that real-time combat belongs on the normal field or at least a large enough area that you don’t feel constantly constrained by the space. That said, there have been numerous games such as Crisis Core that have pulled it off very well. Typically this involves the use of turns or phases or some other constraint system that allows more tactics than random button-mashing and hoping you are locked onto an enemy.

The menu system is cramped, but honestly it didn’t bug me too much … I also have really good vision (which sadly neither of my kids inherited). Also, while the options might seem confusing, I did time in Generation of Chaos and am impervious to that.

I don’t think there is much more I can say… I already regret the Internet bandwidth wasted by those reading this review! The saving grace is that perhaps it will prevent others from making the same mistake.

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Matt: Amen to that. Better that readers waste a few minutes of Internet time rather than $30 to buy the game!

But in all seriousness, Valhalla Knights 2 really is just a bad game. Bright spots do exist, such as the deep character customization, richly detailed 3D graphics and real-time battle system that I at least found to be moderately enjoyable at times, but just like before a lacking story, ass-backwards quest system, and tedious world navigation cripple any chance the game has to succeed.

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Pros:
+ Deep character customization with a nice variety of class/race combos and tons of gear to collect
+ Excellent graphics put the PSP hardware to good use
+ Combat can be decent fun if you like simple hack-n-slash

Cons:
– Story is weak, thin and poorly written despite the aid of FFXII’s scenario writer
– Quests are obscure and tedious
– Travel through the world is tedious – give us more portals, dammit!!!
– Cramped, crowded menus can be tough on the eyes
– Combat system requires too much grinding and button-mashing overall
– Basic failure to listen to constructive criticism of original game and lack of any noticeable improvements is extremely disappointing

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment/XSEED Games
Developer: K2
Release Date: 10/1/08
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2
Source: Review copies provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!