Valhalla Knights: Eldar SagaESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Action Games, RPG
Publisher: XSeed Games
1-2 players/limited online 1-2 players
Wii Remote & Nunchuck Control
Classic controller compatible
Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is the third instalment of the popular action RPG and marks the first time the title is available on a home console. I was looking forward to playing the game on my big screen given that I do not play games-on-the-go as much as I should. So after my time with Valhalla Knights what did I think? Read on to find out.
Graphically, Valhalla Knights is a mixed bag. The games environments are quite detailed and from a distance look very good, especially the town areas and areas of structure. The game also animates very well, the battle actions look real with ferocity and zeal throughout the game. I liked that each character is displayed in great detail, although sadly if you zoom into too close you’ll see huge shortcomings where jaggies and blockiness begin to dominate. This unfortunately this is where the niceties end.
The game is very dark; in fact I tried to play with the settings on my television to compensate how it dark it is. I suppose the darkness helps with the mood of the game’s somewhat dark story, but it begins to distract from the gameplay as you progress. It’s as if the color spectrum has been limited to dull greens, grays, and browns. Valhalla Knights also has some of the worst texture mapping I have ever seen with great barren expanses of gray, brown or even black rock is dotted by a few gray, brown and sometimes green trees. I know the Wii is capable of more and this is why I was somewhat disappointed.
Technically speaking Valhalla Knights suffers from an inconsistent framerate throughout. The game stutters quite badly with multiple enemies on screen and especially when using special attacks. When heading online the framerate drops abnormally without any indications or consistency, it just happens out of the blue. I saw great rips in the game and huge clipping issues even if I had a great connection. It’s almost as if the game’s development time had been cut in half as the game shows huge promise with very little finish.
The games soundtrack is its real only bright spot. I loved some of the classical selections and they seemed to flow with the game’s style nicely. Unfortunately the sounds effects take dive in the wrong direction. You will immediately notice your character having heavy footsteps. I had to adjust my subwoofer as I had a few things rattle shake as I clomped around as if my character was a 1000 pounds or more. The strange effect managed to drown out some of the music as I played. Disappointingly other sounds, from screams to sword slashes, are extremely tinny and poorly compressed. It sounded as if I was playing off a cart instead of an optical disc medium. The Wii is capable of much better, and I’ve heard a ton games done in Dolby Pro Logic 2; this game is definitely not. Luckily you can turn off all the sounds which isn’t too much of a risk considering the music fits the medieval period well.
In Valhalla Knights you will enter into an epic tale that has endured for generations and generations. For centuries the land of Eldar has been synonymous with chaos and destruction; a place where monsters prey freely and demons wreak havoc, indiscriminate in their attacks. Legend tells of how, ages past, a being known as the Spirit King gained control of the creatures and waged an unrelenting war upon civilization. Order and life were brought to the brink of destruction, but an alliance of the four races was able to drive them back and seal the evil. Centuries have passed since that time, but once again the lands are slowly being overrun by the re-emerging monsters. With the continent giving way to madness, a hero must come forth to reunite the races and confront the relentless enemy. And so the saga continues.
Before starting on your adventure you create a character. The creation options are extremely limited right off the hop as you must play through the game for a time to unlock additional races, appearance options, and gender. You will have the option to choose from about a dozen or so faces available at the start, but only two or three look any different than the others. I found myself cycling back and forth between faces trying to choose something distinctive and different, but nothing really stuck so I chose one of the defaults. I liked the voice feature as you can choose from a number of voice preferences including female ones as well. Here you can have some fun by matching a female voice to male bodies and faces, and of course vies versa.
Valhalla Knights plays a lot like a combination of Phantasy Star Online and Monster Hunter. There is the familiar hub or city where players quest from, buy items, and interact with others. Players collect items and gear they need by dungeon clearing combat and customize their character with any of the booty they may find. There are literally tons of items available along with a plethora of variety of each for those players willing to work for it. With gameplay so flawed I’m not sure if anyone would want to continue after a certain amount of time playing. Let me explain.
Right off the hope you will find the combat is extremely stiff. Attacking is slow and periodically it tends to glitch, feeling like being stuck in the middle of a move or attack for a few seconds longer than necessary. The tough control scheme also makes things difficult to execute timely commands. Switching between spells and weapons requires holding certain buttons down and doing so on the fly is frustrating. However, this frustration is ever so slightly alleviated thanks to some of the worst enemy AI ever. Pretty much anything in your way can be easily dispatched with a quick dash attack and quick retreats. Once again that feeling of a hurried development cycle gripped me, which had me shaking my head at some of the antics on screen. I also found AI partners often getting caught up on tree roots and other random items in the field. If you need to climb up a ledge or cliff of some kind, be sure to wait for them, as they tend to lag behind and get caught up on such things as a wall or ladder. The effect is almost comedic and very humorous once you figure out where they are, but over the course of the game it becomes an exercise in tedium.
Casting spells usually takes too long and can be far too expensive to continue using on a regular basis. Because of this, the class system is a moot point. In order to cast spells and use most of the special abilities, you must fill up a special meter or timer that fills up as you move about the map. Even after the meter is full, you are required to execute fairly complex moves likened to solving a rubix cube without opposable thumbs. It’s very strange and a tough ability to master, and the rewards in learning how to effectively use seem very small. I for one began to steer clear and began using a different class of character, mainly for the simplicity factor.
That being said weapon class users suffer too. It doesn’t matter what weapon you pick, the attack sequence or animation is so deliberate that it roots your character to the ground for more than three seconds, even longer if you do a full or longer combo. The resulting lag leaves you not only vulnerable, but needlessly locked into a motion that should not be so robotic and slow. Regardless of the weapon,you will find the problem widespread and another exercise in tedium. To make matters worse, your character’s equipment is extremely difficult to manage and wield thanks to a convoluted statistic system. Items with higher levels than others will offer less attack when you equip them; the system seems backwards, and far too complicated for anyone to want to learn. This leads me right to the tough to master, controls of the game.
Valhalla Knights toughness can be attributed in part to its tough controls and very awkward button configuration. Instead of utilizing every button on the Wii-mote, the developers have instead opted to cram as many actions as possible into a few buttons. Not only does B perform the strong attack, but if held down it allows you to access the item menu, change your weapon, or unleash magic attacks. Confusing? Yes very much so. Countless times I had the item menu pop up while trying to issue an attack of some kind. Other button combinations allow you to perform dances or sit down and rest, or rotate the camera in place. The crammed in feel flows from every button, as if the developers had little time to test and optimize button placements, the result is a very unforgiving and unfortunately makes for a lacklustre gaming experience. It’s feels very unnecessary, especially when the + and - buttons aren’t exactly difficult to reach and even the 1 and 2 buttons can be pressed with minimal stretching of the thumb. It tried using the Wii’s classic controller with fairly similar results, but I did find the awkwardness a bit more manageable overall.
One aspect of Valhalla Knights I have not touched on is the online co-op multiplayer. The primary purpose of the game is to deliver an online RPG experience, which the Wii sorely lacks. The game achieves this fairly well, but there are issues. You can choose to play co-op with another player using the Wii's Wi-Fi abilities but there is no local co-op. Sadly, communication is limited to preset text and emoticons and this is a bit of a hit and miss affair because you can never say exactly what you want. The little quote bubbles reminded me my old Dreamcast PSO days with fellow staffer Kirby Y. There is no keyboard for the Wii, so you’ll have to figure out more buttons in order to communicate. If you find someone who knows what they are doing then there should be no problems in tackling quests, besides the game works solely with Wii friend codes so you chances are you will be playing with people you trust anyway.
As with offline battles the online controls are simply horrid and clunky. You have two attacks available, weak swing and strong swing, both of which feel feeble and weak. The problem here is that the bunnies are quite fast, so lining up a successful hit on them becomes very tedious. The bad controls become even more apparent as the game goes on and monsters become more of a threat which requires a lot of retreat tactics. Mix in balancing issues and a bit of a wonky camera and you’ve got the year’s most unintentionally complicated RPG.
Not everybody has the ability to or want to take their Wii online, so there is a compromise. Since some quests can only be completed when working with a partner, Valhalla Knights features a mercenary system so solo players can hire AI partners to go questing with them. Unfortunately the AI partners here are absolutely terrible and regularly get lost or stuck on environmental hazards like trees and rocks. The whole thing begins to feel more like a babysitting simulator rather than a co-op simulator.
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