Valhalla Knights 2 (PSP) Review
Posted by James McGee on 11.11.2008
Despite the title, this game has nothing to do with Norse mythology. Good thing, because Odin would not be pleased.
Bad games come along all the time, but most of them seem like a mistake. Graphical glitches, controls that don’t quite work, that sort of thing. You get the impression that the developers wanted to make a good game, but something went wrong along the way. Maybe it was a lack of time, funding, or any number of things, but people don’t just set out to make a bad game, right?
Well…I wouldn’t have thought so, but after playing Valhalla Knights 2, I’m not so sure. Technically, the game works just fine, seeming to accomplish what it sets out to do. However, the various design choices implemented by the developers make me think they set out to create the most tedious, frustrating game in recent memory. If so, they’ve succeeded brilliantly. Valhalla Knights 2 is a boring, maddening mess of a game that should be avoided at all costs.
There’s no nice way to say this. Almost from the beginning, Valhalla Knights 2 is a train wreck. Everything pretty much goes downhill from the (decent enough) opening cut-scene that sets up the story. Years ago, the evil Goddess of Judgment clashed with the Witch of the Crystal, with the Goddess essentially taking over the world. Now the Witch’s followers are building an army to thwart the Goddess and her minions once and for all. That’s about as engrossing as the story gets. The narrative here is just a paper-thin backdrop for the action, and not nearly enough to make up for the game’s myriad of other shortcomings.
Characters don’t fare any better than the story. Once the opening cinematic finishes, players get to create their avatar, choosing from a handful of races (humans, elves, dwarves, etc.). From there, they choose a class, which determines the character’s skill in such areas as magic use, ranged weapons, close-quarters combat, and the like. Then comes the shallow customization options, which consist of about five facial and hair models, none of them with very much detail. You’ll repeat this process over and over again, because you’ll have to create most of the characters that join your party as well. A few folks from the game world will join you from time to time, but most of your teammates will be the same soulless constructs that serve as your main character. I fully realize that not every game can offer as many options as, say, Oblivion (especially on a portable system), but the limitations of this character creation tool are just another chink in VK2’s battered armor.
Once the business of creating characters is finished, the real “fun” begins. In Valhalla Knights 2, players spend their time exploring labyrinthian dungeons, fighting nasty beasts, collecting loot and earning better weapons. Pretty standard RPG fare, right? The problem with this tried-and-true formula is that VK2 manages to make it all so tedious and maddeningly frustrating that you realize what a flimsy structure it is to begin with. Fighting countless lesser enemies to level-up your character, undertaking menial fetch-quests for paltry rewards—again, these are par for the course in RPGs. But the battles are so tedious and the rewards so insignificant. Other games compensate for all this level grinding with engaging action or an engrossing story, but VK2 simply relies on button-mashing battles to pull players in, and it just doesn’t work.
Creatures look pretty good, but combat is nothing but chaotic button-mashing
Not only is the combat atrocious, but everything about the game seems specifically designed to frustrate. All of the various dungeons are interconnected, but rather than being some grand, branching masterpiece like the Metroid and Castlevania series, this simply means you have to pass through the same areas over and over as you progress farther into the game. Save points and Guilds (where you will receive most of your quests) are located in towns, which are few and far between. So, the pattern plays out like this: find a quest, walk through miles and miles of twisting paths (oh, there’s no real map, either), slay the bunny or find the flibertygibet that completes the quest, trek all the way back to town to get your reward, then repeat. There are no easy ways to traverse from one dungeon to the next—not even any very useful shortcuts. Its all leg work, and it will have you wanting to scream after the first three or four quests. The whole structure of Valhalla Knights 2 is torturous, and the idea that someone actually thought it was a good idea is simply baffling.
Oddly enough, there are a couple of things that VK2 gets right. The camera isn’t perfect—it occasionally has you walking blindly into who knows what kind of danger—but it works more often than not and quickly, easily adjusts to a behind-the-back perspective at the touch of a button. Your teammates’ AI is also remarkably effective. Technically, you can switch characters in the thick of battle, but combat is so fast-paced and chaotic, doing so is usually a death-sentence. So, you can set parameters for your comrades (how often they will use magic or healing items, for example) and they will usually follow your orders flawlessly. These points aren’t enough to make up for the game’s other flaws. I only mention them because there’s a kind of cruel irony in the fact that so many great games are marred by bad cameras and AI, yet they’re virtually the only thing that VK2 seems to get right. It makes the game even more frustrating, because the designers clearly had some idea about what should go into a good game, at least from a technical standpoint. They just couldn’t pull all the details together in the end.
VK2’s sound design may be the only element of the game that’s more of an afterthought than the story. The music is a forgettable collection of tunes that sound like rejects from an early ‘90s 16-bit RPG—right down to the “instrumentation” which sounds suspiciously like midi rather than real instruments. Fights are nothing but repetitive smacks, bleeps, and the occasional cheesy death-rattle from one of your foes. I don’t think anything could actually help you enjoy this game, but turning the sound down at least removes one of the annoyances.
The graphics in Valhalla Knights 2 are another of those oddly competent aspects of the game that make it all the more frustrating. They’re not spectacular by any means—the game definitely suffers from the “next-gen curse” of being all browns and grays—but they get the job done. The environments have a decent amount of detail, characters animate well, and there are no noticeable hiccups or glitches. Load times are relatively short and the frame-rate always runs smoothly. In a better game, these graphics would be one of those points to nit-pick, or maybe gloss over if the reviewer was feeling generous. But in VK2, they’re another odd footnote. In a game this bad, you’d expect everything to be broken, yet the graphics are passable.
For some variety, environments also come in brown and gray
If you manage to finish VK2, you will have logged dozens and dozens of hours. However, when a good two-thirds of that time is spent running around in circles fighting the same two or three enemies over and over just so you will be strong enough to walk through the next door (only to repeat the process), you can hardly call the game’s length a value for the money. There is also an online component that allows two players to battle in the same party or against each other in versus mode. Good luck finding another player, though. In fact, if you see anyone else buying this game, you may want to stage an intervention. That would be more helpful than any co-op support you could offer them.
Are you kidding? Fun is the last thing to worry about with this game. I suppose for some masochists, there might be a sort of old-school dungeon-crawler appeal to Valhalla Knights 2, but there are other games that fill that niche much better. There is just nothing about the game that warrants a serious recommendation.
Valhalla Knights 2 is a continual exercise in frustration. The game isn’t broken and full of glitches. It’s full of conscious design choices that seem to purposefully create a horrible game. Tedious exploration, a boring story, and simplistic combat all come together to form a truly maddening experience. To call the game a waste of time is giving it too much credit. Wasting time isn’t necessarily bad if you have fun doing it, after all. But playing through Valhalla Knights 2 will suck hours away that you could put toward something worth wasting your time on. Do yourself a favor, and let this one go on to its final resting place in the bargain bin.
Nothing special but not too terrible
The iceberg that ultimately sinks this ship, everything about VK2's design is baffling, frustrating, and tedious.
Forgettable synthesized tunes and generic battle sounds make the sound design another nail in the coffin
VK2 is a long game that you probably won't want to finish, so no value for your money. Online modes do nothing to sweeten the pot.
This game is the antithesis of fun, period. Spend your time and money on something else.