I felt pretty old when 90’s music started showing up on classic rock radio, and thinking back on some of my favorite games, I’m starting to realize that the games I feel like I played just the other day are already generations gone. It’s enough to make me nostalgic for all the good ol’ days that have happened since the original good ol’ days. Like the 80s and 90s before them, the 00s were a time of spectacular growth in the video game industry. So much growth, in fact, that another crash was expected at the time. But with so much quality on the market, the exact opposite ended up happening and business boomed and has continued to boom ever since. After Nintendo took control of the market in the 80’s and maintained dominance for much of the 90s, Sony knocked them off the mountaintop with the PlayStation and its unspeakably vast variety of quality games, and by 2000, we had a new king.
What really set the PlayStation apart from other consoles at the time was the sheer size and scope of its library. A lot of gamers have favorites on the N64 and the Sega Saturn, but PS owners can go on for days. So many unique and groundbreaking titles were coming out right up to the end. And that’s where we find Valkyrie Profile; an underrated gem released very late in the console’s life cycle. In fact, the PlayStation 2 had been out for months by the time it saw North American release in 2000. This is possibly the reason the franchise never caught on and it’s a crying shame, because this is the kind of innovative JRPG that others should be taking lessons from.
Valkyrie Profile successfully combined several elements into a seamless and original creation and threw in some really fresh ideas that made it a joy to play through multiple times. Playing as the titular Valkyrie Lenneth, the player is able to fly around an open world and listen Superman Returns-style for the death cries of mortal warriors. As a Valkyrie, it’s your job to locate the souls of valiant warriors and recruit them for the armies of Valhalla, currently engaged in Ragnarok, the final war. When you locate a village or dungeon containing a potential recruit, the game takes on a 2D-platforming form where you explore on foot.
Once you recruit your chosen combatants, you can place them in your combat party and equip them as you see fit. Experience and equipment distribution are important because in this game, you don’t just hold onto your party members for your own use. You’re training them to prepare them for war in Asgard. At the end of each story chapter, you get a request for troops and a list of criteria the gods are looking for. You choose which warriors to send off to Valhalla, and you are actually given updates and rewarded according to their performance. This was the coolest part because I’ve never seen another game do anything like it before or since and it demands multiple playthroughs.
This feature made Valkyrie Profile a true classic in my mind. The ability to choose how to manage your limited time for each chapter, the diverse cast of mythological warriors with their own tragic stories and personalities, and the ability to decide their fates with your actions while altering the course of a distant war made this story feel extremely epic and personal at the same time. Getting your followers’ report cards and reading about their exploits and victories gave a kind of pride that was unique to this title.
On top of all that, the combat was an innovative blast too. With each character in the party assigned to a face button, you could time their attacks together as combos to break enemies’ guards and juggle the hell out of them in real time, leading up to an epic finisher if you did it just right.
The freedom, exploration, characters, cool aesthetics, Norse mythological setting, and flat out fun and unique gameplay made this one of the best RPG’s of the PlayStation era, but it’s never really gotten its due. Subsequent attempts to branch the franchise out with an enhanced PSP port, Lenneth, and prequels on the PS2 and Nintendo DS have met with positive critical response, but only modest success. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria and Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume both diverged from the original game and the latter even cast the player as a mortal on a quest to kill Lenneth. Great games to be sure, but I have to say I’d really love to get back to the original concept that made the first game so special.
It’s officially been a full console generation without a new installment and it may be time to worry. The series was developed by tri-Ace and published by Enix so once again I’m left wondering why Square Enix is sitting on an exceptional franchise and letting it rot away while beating gamers over the head with Final Fantasy and watering down their biggest franchise with quantity over quality. Not to tell them how to run their business, but I’m a lifelong FF devotee and I haven’t bought their last few games. Just sayin’.
It’s always a bummer when something original, innovative, and exciting fades into obscurity while lesser franchises take over the market with yearly releases and constant massive marketing pushes. I keep seeing the influence of Valkyrie Profile in other games, such as the character Tsubaki Yayoi in BlazBlue and in the overly convoluted battle system of Record of Agarest War 2, but they’re nothing like the real thing, baby. It’s time for Square to brush the dust off of Lenneth’s armour and get her flying again, or at least put the first two games up for download on PSN so a new generation of gamers can discover them because it’s a bit sad that at the dawn of a new generation of consoles I’m thinking about the good ol’ days.