Valkyrie Elysium Review: So Nier, and Yet So Far
You’d be forgiven for not knowing Valkyrie Elysium is the fifth entry in a series. Forgetting the critically-panned freemium mobile effort that surfaced in 2016, this is the first Valkyrie game since Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume on the Nintendo DS almost 14 years ago. It’s also the first to move away from the series’ JRPG combat trappings, instead offering a more free-form, character-action game experience. However, this is not the Final Fantasy 7 Remake moment that long-suffering fans of the series may have been hoping for.
You play as the titular Valkyrie, out traveling Midgard to purify lost souls in the wake of Ragnarok. Odin sits weakened on a gilded throne in Asgard, and you’re sent to undo this calamity and restore his power, Naruto-running all the while. This quest is given to you because Odin says so, and as a Valkyrie, it’s not your lot to question orders. Yours is to go out and fight. And this is much of the central plot shown in Valkyrie Elysium – that, and our protagonist’s reckoning with what it means to be human. Stop me if you’ve heard that before.
The vast majority of your time with Valkyrie Elysium will be spent fighting the hordes of enemies thrown at you; the rest is either walking through a handful of fairly linear maps or watching cutscenes. The combat system is solid and, after you find a rhythm, incredibly satisfying — Valkyrie zooms around the battlefield at pace, propelled by a grappling hook-style ability that is sorely underutilized. Your Einherjar, a woefully typical rag-tag bunch of warriors with archetypal, tropey personalities feed into this rhythm.
They function as summonable allies, each with their own elemental affinity that affects your normal attacks. In the instance that you summon Eygon, your lightning pal from pretty much the start of the game, your attacks are also imbued with lightning for the duration of his time on the battlefield alongside you. This helps greatly in exploiting enemy weaknesses, which are handily displayed alongside their health and stamina, as you don’t have to rely solely on your Divine Arts – Valkyrie Elyisum’s equivalent of magic.
Used in tandem, though, you’ll deal out serious damage, and the screen will also quickly fill with all sorts of madness. This, when you’re equipped for the fight, is fantastic.
However – and it’s a pretty big however – the UI for your abilities is ill-considered to the point of negligence. You can only equip up to four spells at any one time, one for each of the face buttons. Consider this against the fact that there are seven types of spells in the game. Five are required to gain an elemental advantage over enemies, one is for functional spells such as healing, and one is an anomalous sixth earth type, which in my playthrough, I didn’t see signposted as a single enemy’s weakness.
The encounters in the back half of the game routinely require that you change up your Divine Art usage — which there is no quick menu for — such as that found in FF7. To switch spells, you pause the game, navigate to your equipment menu, decide which spell you can do without, and then find a replacement from a list ordered neither alphabetically or by type.
You can find yourself doing this every few minutes as the game goes on. It’s exhausting and takes you right out of the flow state that the combat offers when the game isn’t getting in its own way. Some encounters even have enemies of four elemental types, forcing you either to do away with your heal or keep diving back into the equipment screen as you clear out enemies of whichever elements you do have equipped.
This would be less of an issue if there was another reliable means of healing mid-fight, but there’s no currency and, subsequently, no shop in Valkyrie Elysium. Any potions you’re to use must first be found in chests, and you have a limited carry capacity for them. You can carry up to four of the largest healing potion. Four. Any excess you find is left right where they are found, in lieu of a system where overstock is kept in the ether and replenished at checkpoints or between levels. This is to say that Valkyrie herself has some weird pockets, capable of carrying six hefty weapons but only a handful of bottles of juice.
All of these mechanical gripes serve to detract from Elysium‘s one redeeming feature, which with some minor tweaks, I’d very much welcome being lifted wholesale into a more considered title by developers Soleil in the future. But for a game that offers practically nothing but combat, the lack of considered design around the combat systems, and to be honest, anything else of note, relegates Valkyrie Elysium from the sort of title you’d recommend at a cut-rate price to one you should probably outright avoid.
In an attempt to justify the previous hyperbole, the lack of variety on display is quite easily quantifiable. Valkyrie Elysium’s nine chapters and myriad subquests play out across just five stages, which are reused time and again – much like most of the assets. There are 10 or so enemy archetypes, though they do have variations; the human enemy type that looks lifted out of Demons Souls’ Boletaria can be found carrying a sword, bow, or spear. They’ve only got one set of clothes, though.
There are no real set pieces to be found, either, which could elevate Valkyrie Elysium significantly. It’s just wave after wave after wave. Boss fights repeat ad nauseam, too, with the worst offender turning up on four separate occasions. You won’t get away next time, our party says half-heartedly. But they do get away and will do so again.
This speaks to the half-baked quality of the plot and its delivery. The voice performances are mostly weak and sound like they were met with a resounding “that’ll do” by the recording engineer. The script does them no favors – the Einherjar are painted as sycophantic and servile, despite their initial protests in that classic Hero’s Journey fashion.
The wider writing is often clunky and, infrequently, outright jarring. The worst example by some margin is a reference to “the Goddess of marriage, Frigg herself.” Oof.
It’s notable that Motoi Sakuraba has returned to the conductor’s stand once again, famed for his soundtracks to the earlier Valkyrie games, as well as his Dark Souls score and many, many others. His input here, though, is a largely background affair. If you’ve played anything remotely action or RPG-adjacent over the last 30 years, you’ll have heard any number of similar suites of music before.
There is praise due, however, for how seamlessly the tracks swell and quieten when you go in and out of battles, as the arrangements grow in scope to up the intensity or cut back to allow you a moment’s peace. If only the game took these cues to heart and allowed for some dynamics in an otherwise one-note performance.
Valkyrie Elysium Review — The Bottom Line
- When the fighting clicks, it’s superb.
- There’s altogether too much combat, to the game’s detriment.
- Unwieldy UI that often breaks the game’s pace.
- Almost nothing else of note on offer.
Your arc with Valkyrie Elysium will be entirely determined by your patience for subpar presentation and design, the latter being infinitely more frustrating. A few slight adjustments could salvage the almost-stellar combat from an otherwise forgettable game and make it fairly easy to recommend if you want to switch your brain off and rampage. As it stands, though, your mindless fun is consistently interrupted by systems seemingly built to prevent a flow state, perhaps as a lasting hangover of its JRPG heritage.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but if you really want to play a character action game now, as opposed to when, say, God of War Ragnarok launches in a few weeks, then I’d still advise against it. Play Nier Automata again instead, which I found myself longing for quite soon into starting Valkyire Elysium.
As the Weird Machine in Pascal’s Village says, “there’s an important lesson here: the more of a fool people take you for, the more you’ll learn of their true nature.” And I can’t help but feel the true nature of Valkyrie Elysium is to get firmly in the way of any enjoyment you may take from it.