Valkyrie Elysium came as something of a surprise when it was announced in March of this year. Twelve years after Covenant of the Plume and sixteen since the last numbered entry Silmeria, the latest entry in the series was to be developed by Soleil instead of tri-Ace, undoubtedly busy with the forthcoming release of Star Ocean The Divine Force. With so much distance since the previous entry and another developer taking the reins, it felt natural to have some concerns — especially when Elysium is an action-RPG proper instead of a turn-based affair like its precursors.
If anything Valkyrie Elysium is aptly-named in a sense that it’s not going for the same things as Profile, despite the window dressing. Really, it’s something of a re-introduction to a fantasy world inspired by Norse mythology, disconnected from the one Lenneth and Alicia inhabit. Many of its elements are an adaptation of Profile’s mechanics to an action-RPG combat that feels like a cross between Kingdom Hearts II and NieR Automata. More on this a bit later, but Soleil is largely successful in creating something that feels good to play first and foremost.
To set up the story: after losing a battle against Fenrir, Odin retreats to Valhalla, where he binds a Valkyrie to purify the souls of humanity to prepare for the end of the world. This Valkyrie, given supernatural abilities, can enlist the souls of the departed to fight at her side. And so she does, traveling through decaying and blighted lands, recruiting Einherjar who have been transformed into monsters due to their irreconcilable plights while they were alive.
Navigating the lives of the Einherjar is one of the draws of the Valkyrie series, stories of human tragedy and exploring what we do with second chances. Unfortunately, these stores take a backseat to the overarching narrative, relegated to voiced log entries unlocked through completing breezy sidequests. I think a stronger integration into the main story here would have been ideal, something that binds the Einherjar together a bit more. Sidequests have a little meat here, but not much.
Stages are also peppered with blue flowers that, when approached, share a small mote of insight into the lives of the departed. While this is a nice idea, none of them really paint a collective story about the areas they inhabit and end up coming off as non-sequiturs — and mere collectables. I would have liked to see something a bit more substantial here too.
Elysium’s combat is its biggest draw. It’s quick and snappy, and understands that being able to maneuver and react reliably is important. While only the Valkyrie is controllable, her Einherjar are mapped to shortcuts activated by holding a bumper and pressing a face button. It’s a format that’s calling back to the Profile games and how they had character actions tied to each face button. Spells are deployed in a similar fashion by using the trigger, a la Kingdom Hearts. Enemies will have an elemental weakness displayed on their health gauge, to which your elementally-aligned allies can be deployed quickly to take them down alongside you. Using them frequently is the best course, as they’ll also perform a bit of crowd control.
Different weapon types can also be employed, each with their own combo strings along with a normal and heavy attack. Each type feels good to use, and if it weren’t for weapon ranks improving their performance and abilities, I probably would have been constantly rotating them. As you collect various gems, the Valkyrie’s skill tree will unlock further offensive and defensive options, such as the ability to slow down time with a perfect evasion. The abilities are a bit more Automata reminiscent, as you can time perfect blocks and evasions at the moment of impact, which I found pretty satisfying. However, what really ties a bow on it is the ability to grapple towards enemies with the left trigger. This keeps things exciting while moving in and out of close and ranged targets, eliminating the downtime between enemies. In addition to clearing the campaign stages, there are missions that will have you duel your Einherjar that are quite fun, and will probably push you the hardest — to which I’m glad to report that the battle system holds well.
For the final days before an apocalypse, Elysium’s world is understandably gloomy, both in its art direction, and its empty, ruinous locales. There are a few NPCs out there in the word, including a notable one, but for the majority of your adventure you’ll be trudging through crumbling cities, ancient forests, and desolate swampland. Despite the limited color palette, each stage feels unique enough. It’s hard not to feel that this is where the budget had some hard limits, but the assets themselves have a good resolution, and the use of cel-shading at a distance on models and environs is a little questionable but ultimately inoffensive. Characters also look good, but suffer from a lack of bespoke lip movements for dialogue, so much so that you’ll often see the camera pull away for wide shots during cutscenes to mask it to a certain degree. Again, these are the niceties of a bigger budget title and don’t necessarily detract, but certainly don’t impress.
Composer Motoi Sakuraba’s soundtrack is a nice fit for the game, as it always has in this series. Dynamic music is used here, majestic melodies picking up intensity during battle encounters with more percussion and vocals (a favorite here is the Romalia region), and working in an electric guitar for boss fights. It’s a tried-and-true method that works well here. Voice performances and direction are generally well done except for a few painfully stiff moments. Gulfs of silence between interjections, and so on.
I understand that a lot of folks are looking at this wanting or expecting a ‘Valkyrie Profile 3’, something that puts the capital letters on a continuation from yesteryear. I don’t think you’re going to be satisfied going into this game expecting that, but I really do think it’s a solid, worthwhile game with a really fun battle system that doesn’t exhaust its runtime.
It’s definitely possible to complete in a weekend, which I spent about 20 hours finishing the campaign and sidequests, and another handful going for all the endings — which is a plus in a crowded Autumn season if you’re planning to check out Square Enix’s multitude of offerings. It’s really reminiscent of the Trials of Mana remake, itself a 3D reinterpretation of a 2D action-RPG that’s much better than a skeptic first take may provide. In fact, I’d like to see what more Soleil can do, potentially building their own action RPG series with Square Enix, perhaps with a bit more resources.
Version Tested: PlayStation 5
Disclaimer: Review code for Valkyrie Elysium provided by the publisher Square Enix.