Knights of the Round... And Round... And Round...
Valhalla Knights' old-school gameplay is almost good enough to excuse how broken the rest of the game is. Almost.
Published: April 17, 2007
In a bit of a nod to the Monster Hunter effect, co-developers K2 (of Tenchu fame) and Marvelous (the folks behind Harvest Moon) threw in Ad-Hoc-only multiplayer modes so you can play with friends in the same room. Though you can't quest through the main game in any sort of proper co-op, you can go on specific quests to gain experience and items to help out in your solo adventure. If you want to plunk down a wager of cold, hard cash, you can also duel someone, winner take all. They're decent additions to be sure, but actually having a full-time co-op mode would have made trudging through those dungeons and doing all that backtracking a whole lot easier.
In fact, re-running the same path is sort of the name of the game for a while. In order to keep pressing deeper through (and finally out of) the castle, you'll have to run through the same hallways over and over again on the way down and then back (trust me, dying and losing half your cash is worse than backtracking). Later on in the game, you're able to zip around to different parts of the castle much, much more easily, but it still doesn't excuse the fact that there's plenty of monotony in between those shortcuts.
There was an attempt to at least control the amount of unnecessary fighting, however, as the game actually lets you sneak around enemies, thus reducing the size of their vision cone and the chance that they'll see you and start to follow. You can outrun nearly all enemies, but sneaking also has the benefit of giving you side or back attacks, which hit all enemies with a little pre-battle smack and help give you an advantage. Likewise, you can be side or back attacked too, so it pays to watch out.
Problem is, the camera isn't especially adept at giving you a clear picture of the claustrophobic crawlspaces in the castle, and though there is a first-person mode and an overhead map, neither really excuse the fact that you'll still have to fight enemies that you may not have known were even there -- and often with the disadvantage of getting side or back-attacked.
What sucks is that all of these little things; the lack of serious direction or even indication of where you're supposed to go, the trail-and-error process of creating parties and arranging job classes, the backtracking and monotony, the surprise spike in difficulty when you wander into a new area trying to fulfill a quest, all of this adds up to an experience that gives one the impress that there's just no fun to be had here. That simply isn't true, but had XSEED not sent along a much-needed strategy guide to get through the game, I would have dropped the game within the first 10 hours out of sheer frustration and boredom.
If you can stick it out (and that'll likely mean more than a few trips to GameFAQs to do it), you'll find that some of the later monsters, environments, and even some of the basic storyline details that link back to that first epic fight with a super bulked-up party that the game teases you with as soon as things start are almost worth all the pain and confusion. Almost. With a guide printed out to help you along, it's actually tolerable. The constant hook of leveling up, building out your party, venturing deeper into the dungeons, all of that makes for a heady mix of old-school challenge and gameplay, but for many it will be too old-school.
This is offset by the battle system, which is real-time (and with absolutely minimal loading between enemy encounter and the arena you'll fight in, which is a godsend), but things can be paused at any time to issue specific orders. See, you don't control more than one member in your party at a time, so K2 tossed in the ability to spend points to tell the AI how to act. Devote more to healing and your Priests won't stupidly charge into the fray, nudge up the melee behaviors and your Knights will immediately charge in and draw the attack.