Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume Review «

We’re a long way from the days when actual Valkyries starred in Valkyrie Profile. In fact, we’ve gotten to the point where the tables have been turned. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume stars Wylfred, a revenge-driven warrior willing to do whatever it takes to kill the titular battle maidens. And unlike other entries in the series, he does so in a tactical RPG, exacting his revenge one grid at a time.
When it comes to this latest entry in the ten-year old Valkyrie Profile franchise, you have to give tri-Ace credit for trying something new; few would be willing to put such a radical spin on one of their top franchises. And tri-Ace is plunging into unfamiliar waters, developing its very first SRPG on a system it’s never worked with before. The result of all this risk-taking is a product that’s not without its ragged edges, but does manage to redeem itself by bringing its own, unique spin to its chosen genre.

Click the image above to check out all the Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume screens.
It begins by going a long way toward restoring the fundamental character of the series, which was lost when its staid predecessor Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria jettisoned much of what made the series a cult classic in the first place. After the pain of seeing Valkyrie Profile reduced to an utterly ordinary RPG, it is a great relief to see signature features (like the fast-paced soundtrack or the ability to choose your own destiny) make their triumphant return for the sequel.

Much like the first game, your choices will do much to affect the overall outcome of the game. You’ll have to make these choices wisely, because your decisions won’t just affect which characters you get to recruit, or the difficulty of the levels. They’ll also affect whether or not Odin’s servant Freya obliterates your party, or whether Wylfred ends up getting dragged down to Niflheim for an eternity of torment. Both of which happened to me, by the way, so be careful. Like the first Valkyrie Profile, this is a game that actively encourages you to make the wrong decisions.

Of course, this is perfectly understandable, even expected. While Wylfred isn’t exactly evil, he is under the influence of evil forces. At the center of said influence is the Destiny Plume, a corrupted feather that can imbue your characters with great power — and then kill them. It’s an awful thing to use, especially as you watch a party member live out their final moments — fully aware that you brought this fate down upon them. While killing your party members might not seem like a good idea (they are, after all, a limited resource), their falls do bring with them certain benefits — in particular, special abilities (such as the power to paralyze every enemy on the map, which is quite useful when you’ve got multiple foes bearing down on upon you). And if you happen to choose one of the harder story branches, the temptation to use that feather will be strong. Just remember that its use brings heavy consequences.

The rest of the battle system is pure Valkyrie Profile, which is somewhat remarkable given that the signature combat mechanics have been successfully adapted into an SRPG. The combat will be instantly familiar to fans of the previous games; it still requires your characters to coordinate their strikes in order to build up enough energy to release a variety of powerful overdrive attacks. But in order to attack together, your characters must be in range to strike, which is where the tactical element comes in.

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume ‘Camille Highlands Battle’ clipSince an attack from only one or two characters is generally ineffective, you’ll spend a great deal of your time trying to get your entire party into effective positions. The best case scenario comes when you completely surround a given foe, and thus partake of a number of combat bonuses. Truly, there is nothing more satisfying than surrounding a boss with the Grand Cross formation, and then simply unloading your best attacks on it. Even better, while you could keep unloading on enemies who were already dead in the previous games, there are actual benefits to doing so in Covenant. Every point of damage that is dealt after an enemy’s death converts to sin, which in turn earns you some nifty items. Queen Hel is generous like that.

Unfortunately, it all starts to feel rather rote when you realize that the A.I. is dumb as a sack of rocks. You still have to be careful lest you be quickly overwhelmed by multiple attacks, but otherwise the A.I. is incredibly passive, rarely even moving in to attack unless you happen to be nearby. The result is that you often find yourself spending several turns tracking down that one enemy who absolutely refuses to come out of the corner, which gets to be a pain on some of the larger maps. It wouldn’t be so bad if you were given the kind of armies typically found in a SPRG, but Covenant only lets you use four characters at any one time; four characters who have to stick together to be effective.

Bad map design ends up being a recurring problem, which is where tri-Ace’s inexperience with the genre really begins to show itself. The worst is a mission in which you defend two characters who reside on opposite sides of the map, forcing you to plow your way through a variety of powerful enemies while praying that they don’t get overwhelmed and killed. It isn’t quite as bad if you have a few of the Plume’s powerful abilities under your belt, which is surely the point. But it is a particularly irritating mission to complete as far as SRPGs go, and it’s even worse for the fact that it’s the second in a two part set.

Click the image above to check out all the Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume screens.
Tri-Ace also seems ill at ease with the Nintendo DS itself. The developers push against the little handheld’s limits, but fail to maximize its strengths. It takes some time to get used to the pixelated sprites, the ugly polygonal landscape, and the occasionally awkward camera. Perhaps more damning is how poorly it uses the system’s two screens, often ignoring the top screen entirely. The net result is that Covenant feels like a PlayStation Portable game that’s been shoehorned onto the Nintendo DS. A little extra polish would have done wonders for this game.

But it’s a testament to the fundamental strength of the narrative and the gameplay that all these individual issues never conspire to sink the game entirely. Instead, they remain mere irritations in an otherwise entertaining experience — entertaining enough that I started over the instant that I finished the final battle. It helped that the conclusion I had reached was rather grim, and that I liked Wylfred enough to try and redeem him. It also helped that it didn’t feel like much of a chore to start over either, since my first play through clocked in at a mere 10 hours — incredibly brief for an SRPG. When you factor in that Covenant New Game Plus mode lets me keep all of my skills, items, weapons and special abilities, the second run becomes a cakewalk. Tri-Ace clearly wanted me to experience all of Wylfred’s potential destinies. And for all of its flaws, I was more than happy to do just that.

I think that alone is enough to recommend Covenant. It’s a lovably eccentric RPG; one that keeps you playing despite its rough exterior. If the design were just a little tighter, and the presentation just a little crisper, I am convinced that this game would be one of my all-time favorites. As it is, I still find Valkyrie Profile’s gameplay and branching storyline fascinating, and I will absolutely be adding it to my personal collection. If you’re any kind of SRPG or Valkyrie Profile fan, I suggest you do the same.


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