Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2)
You Are: Alicia, Princess of Dipan. You are also the valkyrie Silmeria, who's taken residence inside Alicia's body. Quite an interesting predicament.
Your Goal Is: To rebel against Odin, king of the gods.
General System: Whee, where to start? VP2 is very, very complex. First off is your party members. You've got your story characters (almost all of whom leave forever at some point) as well as einherjar, who are basically interchangable characters who you can "materialize" by finding relics. You can keep them around, or after raising 5 levels, you can "release" them. Doing so nets you stat-raising items based on the equipment they have at the time, and they'll also kick around Midgard and possibly give you more items if you talk to them (you can never get them back in your party though). On the one hand, releasing them early gives you a greater chance of getting special items; on the other hand, you'll get more stat bonuses later in the game since there's better equipment available.
Then there's the actual equipment. You arrange your items on a grid. Each piece of equipment (including four accessories) has a color and a rune. Linking colors together strengthens their effects, and if you have the right runes of the same color linked together, you can start learning skills. Unfortunately, skills take forever to learn unless you're fighting overpowered enemies, but in order to get the right color equipment you'll often have to lower your stats to do it, making it quite challenging. Skills require CP to equip (each skill takes up some CP); you'll never be able to equip more than five or so, or down to two if they're really good skills.
Once you get into dungeons, you'll be faced with my favorite ingenuity: Sealstones. These have various effects, both in and out of battle (ranging from raising or lowering stats to making you jump higher and a ton of others) and can be carried by you (in which case it affects you), an enemy (affects that enemy) or placed on a dais, where it affects all enemies in the area. You can also find stones in "shells" (which affect nobody). There are also springs, which allow you to draw sealstones out from the earth's veins. Of course, first you have to put them in there, which is done at daises or springs and costs crystals, which you get by juggling enemies in combat. (Many sealstones are way too expensive to restore, though.) Once you restore it, you can draw them out at any spring. However, each dungeon has a set amount of stones you can draw out; to raise the number, you'll have to restore stones you find in the dungeon itself. The upshot of all this is that you'll spend a lot of time juggling stones to get the best effects for you and the worst for your enemies, which is actually an interesting puzzle.
Also in dungeons, you'll find yourself having fun with photons. These can be shot out and can bounce around the walls. If they hit an enemy or pillar, they'll freeze it (similar to the crystals in the original VP). However, what's neat is that you can then shoot another photon and you and the crystal will swap places. This leads to some inspired and cool puzzles (although those in the bonus dungeon are insane).
Finally there's the shop system. While some good equipment can be bought, the best stuff has to be sort of "synthed" from ingredients. Sell the ingredients to the shop and you can buy the item, provided you're a "valued customer", which you can become by spending lots of money at the shop. Unfortunately, this is the worst-executed part of the game and the most frustrating. Why? Because nearly all the ingredients must be obtained by breaking parts off of monsters... a cool idea, but it's difficult enough to do, and even if you manage it, the chances of it actually dropping an item are very low. What's worse, you can't even find out which enemies drop which items. By the end of the game, I still hadn't synthed at least 75% of the items available, and this fact had me struggling through almost the whole game.
Battle System: There's your four party members and a bunch of enemies on a 3D field. Time only passes when you walk around or engage in attacks with enemies. Each enemy has a ranged target field, depending on what it wants to do, and if you avoid all the target fields (usually by dashing past them or around them) you can get in free shots. Speaking of which, once you get in range of an enemy, your entire party can attack at once in a way very similar to the original VP. It can be hard getting your hit gauge up in order to do your special attacks (Soul Crushes).
There are two huge challenges, though. Firstly, after using an item or spell, your menu's locked for a certain amount of time. Since resurrecting an ally always gives them minimal HP, if an ally dies you often have to spend ten minutes running away from enemies in order to get your HP back. Secondly is the use of AP, which goes down if you attack, dash, or use spells or items, and goes up if you're attacked or walk around. You'll need full AP if you want to do a full attack sequence including Soul Crushes. Unfortunately, as you restore AP, so does your enemy, so you'll have your hands full healing and running around before you can even think about attacking. You can split up your party into two to make for some strategic baiting, but I never got the hang of this.
Every enemy battle has a leader; you can go right for the leader if you wish, in which case all the other enemies will run away. This can be useful to make short fights go faster (and if you beat the leader fast enough, you'll get bonus crystals and an "Leader Item") but if you can't destroy the leader in a round or two, be prepared to be attacked by five enemies at once. The Leader Items are too tough to get and too generally useless to make attacking the leader a good option in later battles. It's faster just to avoid battles entirely by freezing enemies or running away.
Graphics: Absolutely gorgeous. Most of VP2 has 2D gameplay, but the graphics themselves are 3D, and the locales are stunning. The characters are well-defined but have odd expressions.
Music: Sakuraba seems to be missing his keyboard... there's some nice orchestral tunes and much fewer pounding beats, but very few memorable tracks.
Story: There isn't much of one, to be honest. Well, that's a lie: the story sequences are nice and tell an original and interesting tale. But out of the 65 hours I have logged, maybe four of them were spent watching story sequences. It's like Xenosaga in reverse. The voice acting is pretty good, but the characters' mouths barely move, which is a bit off-putting. It was also a bit annoying that none of the einherjar had any story at all other than their "background" paragraph.
Length: About 55 hours, probably closer to 75 to be able to survive the bonus dungeon
My Thoughts: My love-hate relationship with tri-Ace continues. VP2 has great potential, but it's a very difficult and often frustrating game. Most of the problems centre around the aforementioned impossibility of getting enemies to drop items, meaning you're usually underleveled, and often you'll have to explore as much of a dungeon as possible without getting into any battles in order to reap the treasure before trying to actually fight. There are other problems, though, primarily the one which allows you to skip story sequences BUT NOT TO PAUSE THEM. I also don't like the fact that your story characters never stick around, meaning I was stuck keeping my stat boosting items around out of fear that the person I'd give it to would disappear. (I didn't want to waste them on einherjar because I figured I'd be getting rid of all them eventually.) I also got annoyed at how often battles consisted of fleeing enemies in order to heal up. But overall, there are some amazingly original ideas, some of which are surprisingly well-executed. It's not as solid as its predecessor, but it's a fun game, especially if you like challenges.
Overall Rating: 7.0/10