As the newest Valkyrie created by Odin, you are tasked with descending to Midgard to purify souls which have been corrupted into undead beasts after eons of neglect. The All-Father needs these souls to prevent the end of the world, along with four ancient artifacts. Along your journey, you’ll encounter special souls of note who will join you as Einherjar. While you unquestioningly follow your righteous mission, is there more Odin isn’t telling you?
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a proper Valkyrie Profile game. The first, released in 2000 on PlayStation, was an interesting hybrid of RPG and Platformer with an open ended structure. This was followed up with a sequel on PS2, a DS game, and a remaster on PS2 all in 2006. Since then, there’s been a mobile game that ended service in 2019, but that’s it. While I’ve been interested in the series, I sadly haven’t put too much time into the first or second games, but what I have played has been incredibly interesting and engaging. Along comes Valkyrie Elysium then to serve as a proper reintroduction of the series.
In Valkyrie Elysium, you play as a god known simply as Valkyrie and battle your way through several stages with fast paced, real-time combat and some very light platforming and exploration. While the first game has its roots firmly planted in the history of turn-based RPGs, Elysium is strictly a hack and slash affair closer to God Hand, Devil May Cry, or Bayonetta. If you are looking for the depth and replayability found in those titles though, you won’t find it here.
That’s not a bad thing, however, as Valkyrie Elysium’s campaign, which runs just shy of 20 hours for full completion, is a ton of fun and fully explores all the game’s systems. The game is divided into chapters, with one of each pair having you run through about half of a larger stage. If you’ve played the aforementioned Bayonetta, you’ll find the level structure very familiar here, with combat encounters trapping you in an arena before you can progress to the next one.
In those arenas, you’ll be engaging in the main draw of the game: the combat. Valkyrie can acquire an arsenal of weapons over the course of the game, though she can only equip two at a time along with two consumables all bound to the D-Pad. Using those weapons, she can perform combos similar to the Warriors games, with standard attacks executed with Square and finishers or special attacks with Triangle. Valkyrie can also jump with X (complete with aerial combos), dodge with Circle, block with L1, and even grapple towards enemies with a Divine Tether by pressing L2. She doesn’t have the biggest move pool out there, but it’s varied enough to give you plenty of options with more to unlock as you upgrade your favorite weapons. For example, the rapier can unlock a drop kick move by pressing Triangle after dodging twice with Circle. You can unlock follow ups to just about every action you can perform, which keeps combat constantly flowing in a satisfying way.
As you explore and complete missions, you’ll also unlock new Divine Arts to cast and Einherjar to summon. Every enemy has two weaknesses: one elemental and another weapon based. Valkyrie can consume a portion of the Arts meter at the bottom of the screen to use Divine Arts by holding R2 and pressing a face button to shoot a fireball, summon a holy blade from the earth, heal herself, and much more. While the Arts gauge is replenished simply by landing attacks, other meters like health are restored through items or drops from enemies.
By progressing the story, you’ll recruit a total of four powerful souls as your Einherjar who can each be summoned with R1 and the assigned face button at the cost of some of the soul gauge. The character you summon will help you in combat for a brief time, but more importantly your weapons will become enchanted with their corresponding element while they’re out, allowing you to exploit enemy weaknesses and deal tons of damage. If you have more than one Einherjar summoned, you can switch by simply pressing the button to summon them once more. Additionally, you can unlock automatic summons through the game’s skill tree which will call on the set Einherjar when certain conditions are met, like having your guard broken or parrying or dodging at the perfect time.
All of this together makes for an incredibly fun combat system, though it has a few major issues. I can forgive the lack of depth compared to character action games, as this is more of a beat-em-up with light RPG elements, but it can get very repetitive because of this by the end of the game. Especially if you’re going for all four endings to see the full story, you’re going to have to play through some stages multiple times and the final stage at minimum four times. I had fully maxed out all weapons and the skill trees (which unlocks certain moves like the dodge as well as more boring things like health increases) quite a while before the final credits roll, so it felt like I was just going through the motions for cutscenes rather than experimenting and discovering new moves or the best way to fight each enemy type.
To be honest, the story isn’t that great anyway, with the biggest plot twists having already been done in the original game or are obvious if you’re familiar with Norse Mythology. Outside of that, this is a fairly rote tale of an “emotionless” character learning to express herself thanks to her friends while they all use the power of friendship and love to kill god, you know, what basically every RPG is about. It’s disappointing when the other two mainline games were so fresh and innovative at the time. Part of the original’s spirit is retained, however, with you learning your Einherjars’ backstories by completing their quests and listening to the unlocked audio dramas. These have some pretty good voice acting, though I found they were forgettable and overly long aside from Cypher or Kristopher’s, but hey two out of four ain’t bad. Aside from that, the characters are generally likable and have some great designs, in particular your rival Valkyrie Hilde who looks like a Final Fantasy Dragoon dressed all in black but with Norse mythological flair-like wings that she can summon. She’s so cool in fact that I hope she stars in a sequel or DLC campaign, but I digress.
The game uses a semi-realistic art style, but with black outlines to highlight characters, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. This can look incredible in some lighting situations, but in others it’s just a little uncanny, especially when combined with the stiff animation and terrible lip synch for most cutscenes. It works mostly in the pre-rendered or higher budget cutscenes, because you can really tell where the probably slim amount of money went. This does feel like a budget title, and that’s a shame because I feel just a bit more polish could have really made Valkyrie Elysium one of the best looking games on PS5. As it is though, the characters look like robots most of the time and the environments feel drab and colorless.
The lack of color is most likely an artistic choice however, as the game takes place AFTER the major events of Ragnarok while the world is dying. It does help to convey that idea a little bit, but not enough that I wouldn’t think more color would be better. As it is, you’ll be running from combat arena to combat arena and not paying attention to the environmental storytelling. Meanwhile, the music conveys this much better, with very subdued tracks that seamlessly transition into combat versions. This is one of my favorite tricks in gaming, and while I wouldn’t actively seek out the music to listen to outside of the game it does its job very well.
The level design is spiced up a bit with tons of items to collect hidden everywhere in these stages, particularly the Blossom flowers (which contain memories of the dead) which are needed to unlock the true ending. In fact, finding them in stages is the only way to get items like healing potions, which was a bit annoying by the end of the game. You are penalized slightly for using items in the end of stage scoring, but it was never enough to matter and I was able to achieve an S or A rank on every single level. That could be because I’m very good at action games like this (I achieved the maximum combo of 999 hits very early on, not to brag), so your results may vary.
That being said, I do feel the difficulty was just right on normal mode. I did die a few times when I wasn’t properly using my resources. While Einherjar gain stats every time you summon them, if you’re haphazard with their use you’ll quickly run out of SP to summon them and suddenly you’re the target of every enemy at once. Bosses in particular are a ton of fun, with you having to balance the summon they are weak to and the fact that you can’t restore the gauge as the blue orbs only drop from defeated enemies. Exploiting weaknesses isn’t required to beat enemies, but it certainly helps a lot thanks to the break system.
Opposite to their health bar, every enemy has a break gauge that fills up as you hit them with the element they are weak to. Once it reaches max, they’ll be stunned for a short time allowing you to go ham on them for extra damage. However, you also have another, slightly risky option while they’re broken. You can continue to exploit their weakness to immobilize them, essentially resetting their break timer for double the free damage at the cost that you won’t be able to fill their break gauge again for a short time. This is mostly relevant in boss fights, since normal foes can be dispatched fairly easily, and even then it’s not that much of a hindrance, but I really enjoy the idea and it came in clutch a few times when I just needed to finish them off. As it is, it’s a lot of fun, but it does feel like it could be much more.
I think that really sums up Valkyrie Elysium – it’s a blast for its fairly short length, but it feels like it doesn’t reach its true potential as an action game. I love perfect parries and witch time dodges as much as the next person (OK, much more than the next person), but I can’t help but want a bit more on top of that. Maybe that makes me greedy, but I’d really like to see some pause combos and dodge/block canceling in my action games. Considering the series this is reviving, Elysium plays it a little safe for my tastes too, but hey, it’s been a long time coming and I’m just glad to see the series return.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
Valkyrie Elysium has an incredibly fun combat system at its base along with some light platforming and RPG elements, however it doesn’t go too far beyond that. The rote story is held up by good twists and likable characters, but I can’t help but see massive potential just beyond what the game presents. Still, if you’re an action game junkie like me, this is well worth your time and more.