Star Ocean Universe

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume Review


Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is the third title in the Valkyrie Profile series, and is the tri-Ace title to feature on Nintendo DS.

Whether the Nintendo DS is the right system for the game is debatable. The game features a handful of decent movie like sequences, such as the intro which certainly shows the DS is not without power. Typically the game will feature the action in the bottom screen, and an overview screen up top. While outside of battles for example the top screen shows an overall view of the land, while the bottom screen shows a zoomed in view from where you select where to go next. In battles the top screen will show the status of any given character, while the bottom is there the battle takes place. The dual screen’s work well to keep you in the action and informed as you progress.

For better or worse though the game doesn’t care whether you have a fancy stylus or not, because you won’t need it. While I’m glad it’s not used for battles it wouldn’t have hurt to allow it as an option for movement and menus wouldn’t it? Oh well, the game certainly functions fine without it, although it’s not really using the DS to its full potential. Personally though I’m not fussed by its omission, it still uses the dual screens ok and that’s good enough from the DS for me, even if a voice in the back of my head says it could have been better on the likes of a PSP...

Nevertheless, I’ll move onto the story and game itself.

You play as Wylfred (or known as Wyl), a young swordsman that struggles to deal with the grief over his fallen father, Thyodor. He was once a great warrior, but had passed away years ago when Wyl was just 10. Upon his death he was taken in by the Valkyrie (Lenneth) to become one of her Einherjar – proven by leaving her Plume at the side of his dead body.

To be taken in by a Valkyrie is considered the highest honor for a soldier by most fellow soldiers, but for others it is an accursed act that robs ones soul the opportunity to rest in peace. Covenant of the Plume for the first time in the series focuses on both sides, well more so the negative response which has rarely featured in the first two titles in the series.

Wyl has mixed feelings on the matter – while leans to hatred to the Valkyrie for the tragedy his father’s loss caused to his family. He witnessed the mixed reactions at such a young age, endured his mother who has seemingly blocked out the fact Thyodor had passed away, and actually looks to Wyl as though he is her husband – she now lives her life in denial. But not only that, this caused his family to fall into a poverty stricken state, which later claimed the life of Wyl’s younger sister due to malnutrition.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for that matter) Wyl while in the early days of his career to become a mercenary alongside his long time, and enthusiastic friend Ancel falls in battle – only to be given a lifeline shortly after by queen of Niflheim, Hel. The lifeline however it comes as a high price. Hel preys off Wyl’s anger towards the Valkyrie and makes a pact with him to allow him to continue to life, providing he swears to gain vengeance against the Valkyrie, a fate that Wyl accepts.

As the story progresses you work alongside one of Hel’s assistants, Ailyth who acts as an emissary between you and Hel. Quite similar to Freya’s role in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth between you and Odin actually. She will provide you with useful information as your story progresses, requirements to keep Hel satisfied and pass on due rewards for performing them.

A fundamental part of your pact requires you to reap sin for the Plume which is given to you by Hel – the fateful Destiny Plume. In order to reap Sin for the Plume you must Overkill your opponents, which means you must continue to attack them once they have been defeated. In each (important) battle you will be given a Sin quota, a quota which is usually each to reach – but to exceed can at times be difficult. You will get further reward for reaching the quota by 150%, or even greater reward for reaching it by 200%. For example, if your Sin Quota is 280, reaching it will give you minimal reward, reaching it with 420 with give you even more, while reaching it with 560 will give you maximum reward – items and weapons that can make subsequent battles easier. If you fail to reach the Sin quota Hel will give you no reward, and may even punish you by unleashing powerful enemies in subsequent battles. At times the Sin quota can be difficult to reach, much less exceed. Although you have another option to make it much easier to reach, but at a heavy price of an ally's life.

Next the Destiny Plume has an enormous double sided power which can vastly empower one of your allies for any given battle, giving you enormous strength to defeat your enemies and reach your Sin requirements with relative ease. Another benefit is the Plume will unlock a powerful trait from that ally, such as the ability to temporarily stun your opponents. In fact they are essentially overpowered skills that can vastly turn the tide of any battle in your favor. Furthermore, yes there is even more it will also completely fill your basic Sin quota for the battle in which it is used.

It sounds like one of those dodgy sales persons doesn’t it? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and that is very much the case here. One the battle ends the excessive power of the plumes will ultimately take their life, occasional use will affect your ending, and regular use can in fact result in a prompt game over via intervention from the gods. Use at your own peril.

To achieve these goals you are drawn into a war right across Midgard, where you essentially move from battle to battle. Throughout you’ll engage with a number of characters which at times makes Wyl question his motives and ability to judge other people. But more importantly also to make new allies – which one way or another can prove quite useful to you through your journey.

All in all it is a fascinating new element to any given RPG, with a serious dilemma of consequence vs. reward. How you go about progressing and fulfilling Hel’s requirements is up to you, and your skill in battle.

Now for the battles themselves, you can have up to four characters active in any one battle, one of which must be Wylfred. Movement takes place in a typical tactical RPG fashion, all your allies move in a limited number of spaces and can attack, use items, magic, skills, change equipment on their turn or simply hold position. Once all your allies move, the enemy then takes their turn. You also have an option to end your turn before everyone moves if you are content where you are to speed things up a little.

Thankfully though, for Valkyrie Profile fans it still has its unique battle element inside, in fact you could perhaps call the game a hybrid tactical RPG – as fighting itself is somewhat action based, very similar to those in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth.

When you get close enough to your enemy to attack you engage the battle sequence, where you have 1 to 3 hits and can strike the enemy via your button presses, you can follow them up quickly or spread them out. As just like prior Valkyrie Profile titles you can attack with up to 4 characters if you can position them all near the enemy. In fact, this is the ideal way to strike your opponents; you’ll find yourself moving as a group to maul your opponents one by one. For most effective mauling results you can position your characters directly to left and right of your opponent, or front and back – or more. With 2 or more characters positioned at full opposites will grant you Siege bonuses, such as higher attack gauge growth, higher chance of Plunder (getting items and more) etc. Failure to do so will hurt your ability to get decent Overkills and exceed your Sin quota.

Now I mentioned the attack gauge just in that last paragraph, it’s a gauge that builds each time you attack your opponent, with consecutive attacks with multiple character you can get the gauge to hit 100. At this point, providing your weapons allow you can unleash a special attack on the enemy known as Soul Crush. This is an ultimate attack sequence which can deal a great deal of damage to your opponent, and also help you reach 100 Sin points on any given opponent.

Once you have attacked your opponent they are able to counter attack, proving they are in range, or were not defeated or incapacitated in any other fashion, such as been stunned or frozen.

One element that can really frustrate is you cannot cease your attack half way during a turn, if you have 3 hits, you must use all three. You can be in a position where your final attack will defeat the opponent, consequently leaving you with nothing left to reap Sin. You even have to plan ahead before beating down your opponents! One relief though is that you don’t have to counter attack if you are in a position to do so after attack, at times you may opt not to return fire if the opponent is almost defeated, saving you an opportunity to siege them later on.

Of course, all the above applies for the opponent as well, they too can gang up and attack any one of your characters, you’ll have to move carefully and plan ahead otherwise you can find yourself in a dire situation before your eyes. Good placement of characters, well timed usage of temporary stat boosts and patience can be enough to get you through most battles and reach your 200% quota – even without using the fateful Destiny Plume.

But of course things won’t always go that smoothly, as most tactical RPG’s do you’ll be put in awkward situations at times. Where your group may split up, you may be surrounded by opponents or even worse, have to rescue someone you cannot control. Such elements force you to work in haste opening up the risk of been defeated and make it much more difficult to reach sufficient Sin – which in turn increases the temptation to use the Destiny Plume. The one good thing though is no enemy re-enforcements will appear out of no-where akin Fire Emblem.

Occasionally you will be forced into two or even three consecutive battles without been able to return to the map screen as well. This prohibits access to a shop or an ability to properly save your game. There is thankfully temporary relief via a Quick Save option which stores you progress to a certain point, a file which deletes itself upon reload (it saves independently to your main file, so don’t fret). It can help break up a long battle if need be, but remember that is it’s only purpose – you can’t abuse if things go wrong. You’ll just have to reload your main file from your last proper save. Such is the challenge of tactical RPGs.

Outside of battles you travel from a limited amount of towns available at a time, one usually contains a shop, to purchase better weapons, armor and stock up on items. And course you can sell older equipment to increase available funds. In towns there is also a tavern, a great information source which can at times also direct you to bonus optional battles. These battles have nothing to do with the main story, nor do they have any Sin requirements. They are simply an additional opportunity to build exp & money (OTH).

Will you try enduring battles with all of your allies and skills, or take the easy way out with the Destiny Plume – at the cost of losing allies and affecting the ending of the game? Either way, you have a Sin requirement to reach while working to build Wyl’s strength & resolve to be able to become strong enough for vengeance against the Valkyrie.

Summary:

Story: Quite an unusual theme to an RPG, but I think that is what makes this one standout, it provides you with a unique and intriguing platform unlike many others. No overdone save the world nonsense here. It is the real feature of the game. If you want a story that offers something different you must consider this. 9/10

Gameplay: Somewhat unique in the world of tactical RPG’s, but at times equally frustrating. Typically you just hop around seiging opponents with 3-4 characters at a time, rinse and repeat. Really there is not a whole lot more to it than that, other then of course been thrown different variables to make it harder to achieve, which increases the temptation to use the fated Destiny Plume. 7/10

Graphics: For a DS, it’s pretty good. Good old sprites for most of the part, with the odd quality looking movie sequence in-between. Certainly suffice. 7.5/10

Music/Sound: The soundtrack to go with the game is enjoyable, they really help intensify battles. Sound affects for weapons etc are average but do the job. There is also some voice acting during battles, but not of a quality to be really interested in. (But you can turn the voice acting off if you wish – an option which should be available more often!) 7/10

Replay Factor: There are three different endings, and you can carry over equipment from previous completed files which can give the game a little more life. But it’s only really 10-15 hours long, and the gameplay can be rather tedious after a while, one siege after another – or frustrating battle restarts because you didn’t get enough Sin. There is reason to replay for at least a better ending and go down a few different paths, post game dungeon, but it’s not a game you’d want to replay too often. It’s unlikely to surpass 50 hours in total, including all the endings. 6/10

Final Thoughts: The game offers one of the most unique concepts with its story, sadly though the remaining elements of the game don’t quite support it well enough. It’s certainly worth looking at for its unique value, but unless you are a fan of tactical RPG’s or Valkyrie Profile you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.

Overall Rating: 7.2/10

Opinion by Fayt.