Greek and Egyptian gods may have toyed with human lives, but they always promised eternal bliss in the afterlife. For the good Greek, the tranquility of the Elysian Fields awaited their everlasting habitation, while a pious Egyptian could hope for a comfortable existence on the Plains of Offering.
These upbeat assurances certainly compare favourably with the pledged afterlife of the Norse gods: slave away in this life only to be drafted into a bloody way against the end of time in the next one. What a raw deal.
At least Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth makes light of the situation with some first-rate gameplay. Turning lemons into lemonade, this PlayStation remake turns the rather dismal Norseman's fate into an engaging role-playing experience. While it isn't perfectly suited for handheld play, the game certainly provides plenty of entertainment, free from the eternal servitude.
Fought in Asgard, land of the Norse gods, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth chronicles Odin's Sacred War to fend off Ragnarok – the end of existence. You take the role of Valkyrie, a minor deity charged with bringing the souls of warriors from the human world to fight on Asgard's behalf. In short, you act as the Norse Angel of Death, drafting humanity's best fighters to serve in Odin's army. And you thought your current job was bad.
Don't be late for work, though, because you're on the clock. The game spans eight chapters comprised of several periods each, and every action Valkyrie takes eats up time in the form of periods. Resting moves time forward, as does entering a dungeon or city, but as there's a deadline on your god-given quest, you only have so much time to send warriors to Asgard before the game ends. This gives the game a sense of urgency and as a result, an excitement few of its peers possess.
Since you're never forced to do anything, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is an exercise in self-motivation. You can play the entire game and literally do nothing; on the other hand, you're free to explore every nook and cranny. With around 20 hours needed for completion it is a little short for a role-playing game, but the promise of multiple endings lends a lot of replay value.
As you might expect, getting the brightest ending involves sending as many warriors to Odin as possible. Doing this requires scouring the planet for ready souls and then strengthening them through combat – each character possesses a hero rating that signifies how ready they are for afterlife battling. Experience earned is used to boost attributes, which in turn increase a character's hero rating.
Before doling out experience, you need to track down enemies to kill. Dungeons play out in side-scrolling platform fashion where enemies appear on-screen – simply run into one and combat commences.
Navigating through dungeons does require a bit of fancy footwork, though. For instance, Valkyrie can create ice blocks for solving platform puzzles, which supposedly adds to the variety but will actually make you frustrated. These platform mechanics are too demanding for a role-playing game where the focus should rest in combat and character development, not precision jumping.
On that note, jump into battle and things are a little confusing at first. You can have up to four characters in your party at any given time, which you control simultaneously, and each is mapped to a face button that can be pressed to issue an attack. Hit the buttons in specific sequences and you'll trigger a combo. Items and magic are accessed with the Select button, but you'll be fine with standard attacks.
The game doesn't provide a tutorial or adequate explanation in the instructions manual, so unfortunately you'll have to slog through several battles before figuring out what's what.
For a PlayStation remake, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth looks remarkably good. New pre-rendered cinematics certainly do much to boost the game's presentation, and even when you're roaming about or locked in combat it looks solid.
There is a bit of a catch to having such pretty presentation, though: loading times. To be fair, they're never extraordinarily long, just frequent.
Whenever you access the camp menu, for example, there's a delay for a couple seconds while it loads. Having to wait each and every time you want to visit the menu screen gets boring extremely fast. (You also have to wait when entering any location from the over-world, although this is easier to bear.) All of this loading makes the game a nightmare for on-the-go play – you're better off nestling in a comfy chair at home with this one.
As an opportunity to connect with an overlooked and fairly unique PlayStation RPG, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is a great package. Having said that, its merits as a handheld game are a little lacking – in particular, the loading issues make it less than ideal and its unusual battle system is hard to pick up on a whim. Hardly the raw deal offered by Norse mythology, of course, but it does mean it falls short of the promised portable paradise. Still, well worth fighting with.