Square Enix was kind enough to send us a code for a preview of Valkyrie Elysium, the latest entry in developer Tri-Ace’s Valkyrie Profile series and the first in over ten years. The Valkyrie Elysium preview allowed us to play through the tutorial and the first chapter of the game.
A lot has changed in gaming since the last Valkyrie game and Elysium has given the series quite the overhaul. Instead of the 2D combat of the originals, the game is now a full-on hack ‘n slash action RPG almost feeling like a Devil May Cry game at times and while this first chapter was light on the story its new combat was a light to behold, even adapting several features from its forefathers.
The Valkyrie Descends
The Valkyrie Elysium preview started with us taking control of Valkyrie, a warrior sent by Odin to cleanse the souls of the dead in order to prevent the events of Ragnarok, the end of the world.
As far as the story goes, that’s more or less all that has been revealed so far. We get sneak peeks of characters that seem like they’ll be important later on but the first chapter of Elysium is very much holding its reveals for later.
This has both positives and negatives. The lack of characters really makes the game’s grim world all the more desolate. Throughout the chapter, you see nothing but the Valkyrie, the enemies, and the ruins of human civilization. It’s very isolating and immerses you how just how dead the setting is. One of the cool features of the game is you can find the flowers growing throughout the level which reveals the last thoughts of dead souls before their lives ended. You see people think of their friends, family, fears, and regrets. It’s a nice layer of early world-building that helps shape the melancholy tone yet to come.
On the other hand, however, the minimalist story and the complete lack of almost any other characters to talk to make it a little hard to get too invested in the game. The game starts with Odin sending Valkyrie down and basically telling her “Go save the world”. After that, it was just taking on mobs of enemies to the very end. I found the world intriguing but I can’t say I was truly attached to it. At least not yet.
Thankfully, the trailers for the game do show that it’s likely saving the more story-heavy elements for later on. The premise did make me want to give the full game a try to see where it’s going so it did succeed in that regard.
The World of Midgard
In terms of graphics, I’ll admit at first I found the world of Valkyrie Elysium is a little on the rough side. The levels have a very drab look to them consisting of fuzzy grasslands and grey buildings which would benefit from looking a little sharper. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.
The dull color palette makes the apocalyptic world feel all the more desolate. The areas feel bleak and empty, truly making them feel like the final days of life. It may not have the highest graphical fidelity but I still think it looks great for the world it’s trying to make. There also weren’t any frame drops while playing so the combat was buttery smooth.
The character models are also generally good, but their faces can also sometimes be a bit blurry. It’s not too noticeable during gameplay but it can take you out of the mood the game’s trying to set during some cutscenes. The voice acting has been good so far though. Maria has a deep, noble voice with a good mixture of stoicism and gentleness you’d expect from an angelic figure.
In terms of gameplay, Valkyrie Elysium is a level-based action RPG with hack ‘n slash mechanics. After each chapter, your teleported to the hub world where you can select which mission or sidequest you wish to do next.
Once you enter combat, you have a light attack, heavy attack, jump button, and dodge. It’s pretty easy to string combos together and the tutorial does a good job at teaching you the basics. If you’ve played games like Devil May Cry, it’s quite similar. You even get graded on how good your combos were at the end of each level.
The game truly takes advantage of this hack ‘n slash battle system and it’s all the better for it. Slashing your way through the undead feels smooth and sleek, especially with the use of the new soul chain grapple beam which lets you latch on to enemies and pull them closer. Of the two weapons that were available in the preview, the rapier was my favorite as it allowed Valkyrie to attack faster and more easily switch combos into each other with a satisfying sense of weight to each blow.
In terms of upgrades, Maria has three skill trees that you can buff through the game by collecting materials that enemies drop: offensive, defensive, and support. These can give her better stats or add new moves and combos to her arsenal. Each weapon likewise can be upgraded by the same method, although they can only be buffed from the save points scattered over the levels.
I really appreciate a game that you can just jump into and understand how it works. Between the combat system and the leveling system, Valkyrie Elysium has a great sense of accessibility. While I appreciate more complex battle systems in RPGs, it is sometimes nice to play something a little more straightforward.
That isn’t to say the game is easy either. It very much expects you to understand and grapple with the mechanics it does make use of, especially where magic and enemy weaknesses are concerned. You’ll need to think on your feet and time dodges and jumps before landing a fatal blow.
Magic and The Einherjar
The real meat of the combat however is in the use of magic and The Einherjar. Using the shoulder buttons you can equip different magical spells like thunder, fire, and healing. These not only attack enemies but after using them, your weapon will gain the affinity of their element and can be used against opponents. So if an enemy is weak to fire, you can hit them with a fire spell and your sword will do fire damage. These can stun enemies, allowing you to get in some free combos. It’s an electrifying system that encourages you to be creative with the magic and fully incorporate it into your aresenal.
That leads us to Einherjar. These are souls of dead warriors that the Valkyrie can summon to battle. In the previous games, they were your party members but here they are AI-controlled allies fighting alongside you.
The Einherjar are the real bread and butter of the game’s combat. They hit hard, stun enemies and you can synchronize your combos with them to string even more attacks together. I understand that the heart of the Valkyrie series was the connection between the Valkyrie and the Einherjar and that connection is on full display in battle. Whether against a swarm of the undead or a large boss, you’ll want them by your side.
They also have different elemental magic whose affinity, like your own spells, can be used to alter your weapon. This magic is also needed to overcome certain platforming puzzles and find hidden areas littered throughout the world. You truly feel like an all-powerful warrior calling in the cavalry when these guys arrive as they can really help turn the tide of battle.
The only real issue I have is that for the demo, you can only really use them during the tutorial. You end up meeting them and adding them to your party as the story progresses but it would have been nice to have been able to use them more. They truly brought the best out of the combat from what I’ve seen of them.
I’ll admit I haven’t played the original Valkyrie Profile games but I can safely say from the preview that I’m enjoying what I’ve seen of Valkyrie Elysium. The action RPG combat is fast and streamlined, easy to understand but with enough challenge to make it hard to master. I also like the way the magic and Einherjar and implemented into fights and look forward to unlocking more of them.
We haven’t seen much of the plot but I am at least interested in where it’s going. The small glimpses of characters hint at a much wider scope and if the trailers are anything to go by, more will reveal as the game goes on. Valkyrie Elysium’s world made be dark and ruined but it has the potential to reach Valhalla.
Valkyrie Elysium will be available for PS4, PS5, and PC on the 29th of September.