Valkyrie Elysium Review – Shackled Cognizance

    Title: Valkyrie Elysium
    Developer: Square Enix, Soleil Ltd
    Release Date: September 29, 2022
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: Action JRPG

After playing Valkyrie Elysium’s public demo, I grew mildly enthused but still felt a general sense of unease regarding what a drastic departure this entry took from its roots. It doesn’t remotely come off as being part of the same franchise, and I was concerned over whether this shakeup in identity would work to its detriment. However, after fully playing through the game, my fears became unfounded because Valkyrie Elysium has managed to stand on its own by being a stellar and fulfilling action experience.

Throughout this title, players control Valkyrie, a tool of intervention made by Odin to bring salvation to the world. It’s a simple premise that never becomes intricate or elaborate as the narrative progresses. While significant developments occur in the game’s latter half, the story can merely be seen as a backdrop for other elements to propel and shine; namely the navigation and action.

The gameplay is set across several stages, divided between exploration and combat. The former is surprisingly well-handled, with the maps meticulously crafted to hide rewards in just about every corner one can stumble upon. Treasure chests, blue flowers illustrating the lingering thoughts of those who have passed on, and individuals granting subquests are what players will find when going off the beaten path.

Further, Valkyrie’s Soul Chain ability allows her to reach higher elevations, and her companions can occasionally destroy obstacles impeding progress. None of these elements are presented in ways to propagate complex problem-solving. Still, they offer consistent freshness to alleviate the potential tedium constant battle would provide.

However, battling never grew tiresome. On her quest, Valkyrie gradually gains the aid of numerous Einherjar; potent souls compelled to join her mission. They provide passive damage output when manually summoned while also coating Valkyrie’s weapon in a specific element. The Einherjar’s combative efficacy is enhanced the more they are utilized, and personal sidequests involving their yearnings and backstories grant additional gameplay benefits.

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Further, memories of their pasts are unlocked and viewed in the main menu, serving to establish deeper dives into their places in the former world. Thanks to these avenues of characterization and interaction, the Einherjar truly felt unique from one another in ways other than solely being elemental outlets. While more time could have been put into their bonding, their relationships came to feel genuine. They even converse amongst each other while you explore stages, with some endearing outcomes.

Going back to gameplay, I was genuinely surprised by the weapon variety, with each feeling distinctive from the other due to their individualized handling and proficiency percentages. The latter provides enough incentive to occasionally switch up your weapon choice, and the half-a-dozen quantity is quite welcome. Valkyrie’s movements are rapid and abundantly responsive, but some attacks require timed dedication to perform fully, so there is a sense of risk versus rewards if dire straits arise.

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When throwing in Runes into the mix, essentially weapon add-ons with varying benefits, some notable synergies become apparent. Like the exploration, the weapon choice and overall customization are simple yet undeniably effective at instilling continuous achievement and growth. The Skill Tree and quests also house a few shakeups to the gameplay systems, with the latter worth pursuing at every opportunity possible. Further, also regarding quests, speaking to the Einherjars will open up new ones as well, which I appreciated as their conversations granted practical benefits and not just fluff.

The magic system is potentially my favorite facet since some spells, regardless of matching elemental alignments, enact their effects in differing ways. For instance, you have multiple ice and lightning spells that track foes in different paths, so you aren’t tethered to stylizing elemental output in one defined way. It’s a subtle yet inestimably appreciated implementation, and I wish there were more spells of the same element that weren’t only upgraded iterations and instead inherently unique in approach.

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One design choice I was fearful of going into the full game was how often maps were likely to be reused based on the demo. And while they are reused, primarily for sidequests, their frequency never came as a bother since each area is vast. This may put some players off, but the quests are often brief and never overstay their welcome, so their presence in previously used areas was not something I ever found to be an issue.

I mean this with no exaggeration when I say that Valkyrie Elysium’s combat is among the most gratifying and addictive systems I’ve experienced. However, if I have one major critique, it’s the camera. I dealt with a few instances of minor camera obstruction while playing the demo, but the umbrella issue was pronounced tenfold here. Corners, narrow hallways, and other enclosed spaces contain frustrating angle oddities. As a result, Valkyrie’s model will often jut in and out of focus, with enemies unfairly gaining the upper hand. I honestly sometimes dreaded battling in specific environments because of the camera.

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Regrettably, there is a lack of proper lip-syncing with the English dub. The voice cast is excellent as their deliveries are solid and fitting for their contexts and characters. Still, we’ve reached a point with modern gaming where lip-syncing is usually perceived as a default feature, so its lack of place here is jarring at several points. Moreover, as a half-critique, the soundtrack is atmospheric and mesmerizing, perfectly complementing the dreary and naturalistic state of the environments you visit. Unfortunately, the number of tracks is noticeably low, at least while in stages. Additional combat and explorative songs would’ve been nice for variety’s sake.

Another part of the experience where variety is lacking is the enemies, though only physically and not gameplay-wise. To elaborate, a few select enemy models in the game, and though their elemental affinities differ, their appearances only slightly vary. Amid combat, it likely won’t peeve you much. It’s just that, in hindsight, I found it all questionable. Lastly, this is pretty minor, but I figure still worth mentioning; the performance on PlayStation 5 was smooth on my end, save for when I would use the Meteor Swarm spell’s strongest variation. Its initiated slowdown was strongly noticeable for a few seconds when activated.

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Valkyrie Elysium is an enjoyable action JRPG suffering from clear problems regarding its camera system and more granular details. Yet its core combat is undeniably stellar, with transparently depicted customization and upgrading. Additionally, its cast and narrative are light but effective, paving the way for a satisfying adventure if you don’t embrace critical presumptions. Despite my initial disappointments with this entry’s lack of clear connective tissue to the franchise’s origins, I genuinely loved my time with this title. I hope its gameplay elements are used as a basis and improved upon for future installments.

The title is launching for PC via Steam on November 11, 2022.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.