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Review: Valkyrie Profile 2

Posted Aug-30 2008 by ron, created under common review policies
For PS2, optional widescreen mode, runs fine on European 60GB PS3 models


To get the easy part out of the way, Valkyrie Profile 2's main perspective, used for good old exploration of towns and dungeons, is that of a 2D sidescroller. The world is rendered in 3D, and the camera's path as it follows your character can be quite curvy. You can however go only strictly left or right through this world, and jump (or fall). The entire game world proper is sectioned into such "flat" areas and rooms.
There's also equipment crafting, you can recruit new characters that are basically the same as the characters you already have, but with new names, you can equip seal stones that will grant your party special benefits inside an area, and you get to play as a princess possessed by the spirit of a valkyrie!
And now for the parts that matter.
When you're done chatting with townsfolk and got that new pair of shoes, you'll inevitably head into a dungeon, and find out that the game features a surprising amount of platforming, going by RPG conventions at least. To this end, the game allows you to fire "photons" at roaming purple ghosts, which freezes them into a solid block for a few seconds. These blocks can then of course be used as stepping stones to reach higher-up treasure chests or alternate exits from a room. You can also swap places with such a frozen block simply by firing a second photon at it, which enables you to move blocks and/or yourself into more convenient places, such as from ground to mid-air, or through otherwise impassable iron bars.
Okay, now for the parts that really matter.

It's all nice and lush 3D, but in terms of how you can navigate it, Valkyrie Profile 2's world is a 2D sidescroller.

Of course they wouldn't be proper ghosts if you couldn't fight them, and as such it shouldn't surprise that touching one that is not frozen will take you into an instanced combat arena with the local variety of monster. I.e. the purple ghosts are just a universal representation of evil fighty opposition things, and not the actual enemies you will end up battling. We'll get to that in a bit.
Once beaten, a ghost will turn into a receded purple cloud of post-ghostishness that can still be frozen into a block, but no longer wants to fight you. These will only regenerate back into fully determined ghosts when you leave and re-enter the room.
There are no random encounters anywhere in the game. The ghosts are trivial to avoid by just freezing them and then jumping over them or switching places. There are some rare mini-boss enemies that guard optional high-end treasure in most of the dungeons, and these can't be frozen solid, but they are still easy to avoid. They won't even chase you, unlike the ghosts. The only combat that the player absolutely must go through are the boss battles that top off each major area.

Combat

Bump into a ghosts with no platforming on your mind, and you'll find yourself in a full 3D battle arena in a magical pocket of space just outside the game world. Unlike the pure sidescrolling seen in the rest of the game, here you can move around freely, minus the jumping ability. Time only flows when you move your currently selected party leader, and conversely, if you don't move yourself, enemies will be frozen in place as well. Thus you can evaluate the situation and plan out your moves without pressure.
The basic idea is to take your party of four for a walk until an enemy is within attack range, and then perform a combo. Each active character is mapped directly to a face button, and pressing either will initiate the corresponding character's first attack, on which the other characters can then join in. Depending on the types of attacks you have assigned for each character beforehand, and also on your timing, it's possible to build long air-juggling combos. On the flip-side it's possible to miss swings, when you attack low while the enemy is up in the air or swing high while the enemy is floored.

Enemies can of course strike back. For each enemy inside the arena, you can see an area on the ground highlighted in red, usually a cone facing in their own forward direction, that is the zone they will/can/want to attack. Walk in there and get hurt. On the other hand, if your characters never enter these target zones, the enemy will never take a turn. It's thus very possible to stand directly in front of an enemy with a short-reaching attack, just close enough to let it fall within your own attack range, and attack it again and again until it's dead. It won't move and won't be able to defend itself.
The tricky part is dealing with enemies that have longer-range attacks, or enemies that can switch their attacks, to one that can reach you, in response to your own actions.
Conceptually, every combat move is governed by action points. When you unleash a combo, you are consuming points with each attack. If you want to do a long combo with many attacks, you'll need to dive in with as many points as you can. Movement, however, is not just free, but recharges your action points, up to a set maximum. You'll also get AP back when an enemy manages to hit any of your characters. That, walking and waiting are the only ways to recharge AP.

This enemy here has a very short attack range, as you can tell by the red target zone in front of it. As our party's attack range, depicted by the yellow circle, is far superior, we can just leisurely walk up and pummel it at will.

While time and physics are generally somewhat, approximately frozen unless you move, there is a number of exceptions. Your attack combos for one: you perform combos that do rely on time and physics, say, to juggle an enemy or simply to avoid swinging at thin air while an enemy is still in the process of getting up, but when the combo is over, nothing else in the combat arena will have moved. Enemies, even though they cannot move can also be knocked back by your attacks. Another mysterious appearance of not-so-frozen time wraps itself around characters that get detached from your party, which tends to happen when you perform a dash move and some members get stuck on terrain features, such as a pebble or a speck of dust. The dash move is used to zip right through an enemy target zone: as long as you have fully left it after the dash, there'll be no harm done to you. A character that gets stuck in transit drops out of the dash, and then runs the rest of the way in real time to rejoin with your party leader, and in that case touching the target zone at all will trigger the enemy's attack. It's strange, and it's bad for you.

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