It's been six years since Enix's original Valkyrie Profile hit the US and introduced players to its rich world based on Norse mythology. You played as Lenneth, a valkyrie (who were handmaidens to Norse god Odin and conducted the souls of the dead to Valhalla) tasked with helping defend the home of the gods in a time of unrest by raising an army of souls to fight the forces of evil. The gameplay featured a mix of the expected role-playing game elements--2D graphics, real-time action, turn-based combat, and platforming--but wound up offering a unique experience that stood out from its contemporaries at the time. The polished title found a loyal audience in the States, but due to a modest production run, didn't sell through the roof and joined the ranks of PlayStation titles such as SquareSoft's Final Fantasy Tactics as being almost impossible to get hold of. Fast forward to today and Square Enix's upcoming Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, a PlayStation Portable conversion of an old-school gem that promises to give players a second chance to experience the rich adventure. While we already checked out the import that hit Japan earlier this year, we've since been able to land a preview of the US version of the game.
Before we delve into the various aspects of the game, we'll cut to the chase and break down what new content those who are familiar with the original game can expect. Square Enix has tapped original developer Tri-Ace to handle the conversion, which stays faithful to the original PlayStation game, for better or worse. The core game remains exactly the same, but it's been enhanced with a 16x9 widescreen presentation; new CG movies; and, according to Squre Enix, some localization cleanup. While this isn't much in the way of new content, the fact remains that VP is arguably one of the best games Tri-Ace has made to date, and it holds up after all this time.
The game features the same assortment of modes found in the import version of the game, which includes an assortment of options such as access to a movie gallery and a sound-test mode. The movie gallery collects the new cinematics that have been added to beef up key moments in the story, and they look great on the PSP's screen. The meat of the experience is in the single-player game, which will offer easy, normal, and hard difficulty settings. Though the different difficulty settings are a smart touch, they also come at a price for completionists. Each setting will have its own unique settings for experience earned; frequency of items dropped; dungeons visited; characters to manage; character starting level; and, most significantly, which of the three possible endings you can get. Easy will only let you get two of the game's three endings, while normal and hard offer access to all three. In addition, the hard setting will let you access a bonus dungeon that contains unique treasures and hidden characters that you'll only find there. Of course, the joint is not for the faint of heart, as the foes there are merciless, so tread with caution.
No matter which difficulty you choose, you'll be able to take in VP's rich story, which follows Lenneth as she travels the world in search of skilled warriors to defend the home of the gods from an assault. Though the game, like all RPG's, is basically linear, you'll have a bit of freedom in how you go about your business. Your search for suitable warriors will send you off to visit locations all over the earth and interact with colorful, and often depressed or troubled, folk. You'll suss out locations to go to by using "spiritual concentration," which is one of Lenneth's special abilities and lets her have a listen to the people in the world as she hovers over a continent. The locales you can visit will be denoted by red or green markers, which you'll fly over and pop down into. Green locations are town settings that find you going undercover as a simple peasant girl and interacting with locals, while red locations are dungeon areas that you and your party of two companions can explore and battle through.
Interacting with locals involves exploring the different green areas, which contain towns and other areas to explore, as well as story events. There's a good measure of variety, more than you'd expect, out of the 2D side-scrolling areas thanks to the ability to move between the background and foreground. These sequences will move the story along and shed more light on your mission.
The red areas are where you'll explore dungeons and require the standard RPG conventions of exploration, puzzle solving, item collection, and combat. Enemies can be seen and avoided, although you won't want to, as defeating them yields precious experience and items. One of the nice touches in the game is that you can not only manage who's in your party, but also, if you decide you want to rope in one of your newer members who's lower level than the rest, draw experience from a common pool of points to equalize the levels of the members in your party.
You'll want to manage your fighting team well, as Valkyrie Profile features a meaty turn-based fighting system. You'll perform melee attacks by hitting each fighter's corresponding buttons. If you time your attacks properly, you can create massive chains that do progressively more damage with each hit. When melee attacks aren't enough, you'll be able to use magic and items to help even the odds. The system holds up after seven years and works well on the PSP. As in most RPGs, you'll be collecting experience after each battle, which will eventually let your party level up over the course of the adventure and in turn open the door to new spells and abilities. Also, you'll be able to enhance your party's growing power with a host of different items that you'll collect on your adventures, buy in shops, or create yourself.
The visuals haven't changed from our view of the import game, whose presentation was based on the original PlayStation game--which was a fine-looking game in its day--and the import doesn't sport much of an improvement over either. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth's look remains faithful to its PlayStation roots and is pretty atypical of the RPGs of its era. In the face of the landmark presentation achievements seen in Final Fantasy VII, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth's environments use prerendered backgrounds that animate. The game's world map is a massive 3D plane, which you'll fly over to look for the aforementioned locations. In contrast to the static backgrounds, the characters in the game are large, well-animated sprites. As with the import version, the downside to the PSP conversion is that you'll notice some blurriness due to filtering when the view is brought in close. The blurry graphics are a bit of a letdown, given the game's now-legendary beauty on the PlayStation. However, the lush, new cinematics help take the sting out of the loss of clarity. The same principle of good news/bad news holds true for the game's loading, which is quick but not always consistent.
Lenneth's audio fits well onto the PSP, which offers a crisp showcase for the game's rich sound offering. You'll hear English audio that's reasonably well acted and the standard complement of effects--all of which come straight from the PlayStation game. Probably the best part is the game's soundtrack, which, depending on your tastes, has aged well.
From the look of it, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is shaping up to offer the same mostly solid conversion of the original that the PSP-import version did. The visuals are hit and miss due to the annoying fuzziness that crops up regularly, but they still manage to make a good overall impression. Also, the new cinematics definitely add to the presentation. In terms of content, the gameplay is solid and plenty deep but doesn't offer much new, though it should please longtime fans and newcomers alike with its polish. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is currently slated to ship next month for the PSP, so look for our full review then.