There are some game series that befuddle with their ability to persist through the years. They repeat the same design mistakes they have always made, over and over, with seemingly nothing changing in spite of frequent fan feedback. One such series is Valhalla Knights. After two and a half mediocre-at-best PSP outings and an astonishingly miserable Wii spin-off, the series went quiet for three years, only to return to life like some sort of horrible Frankenstein's monster on the PS Vita. You would think those three years would be put to good use fixing the series' many, many problems for a new generation. Unfortunately, the Frankenstein's monster metaphor is particularly apt here: Valhalla Knights is a lumbering, ugly, patched-together mess. It's made up of some interesting concepts, but the specific parts that compose it are rotten.
Valhalla Knights starts off with you creating a central player character. You are part of a team of spies infiltrating the prison city of Carceron, a hive of scum and villainy that has housed numerous scoundrels since it fell from grace during a war many years ago. The setting is one of the few interesting bits of Valhalla Knights 3: a palace transformed into a prison city in the aftermath of a war, with criminal "families" warring over territory and a legendary treasure said to rest somewhere deep within its walls.
As interesting as the concept is, the execution is thoroughly botched. Many stories have given us lawbreakers and career criminals who nonetheless manage to be appealing and interesting characters, but practically every person in Carceron--aside from the "service girls" in various locales--is unappealing at best and detestable at worst. The game also quickly squanders its own setting; the appeal of finding the secrets within a mysterious, cordoned-off prison town dissipates as soon as you step outside into the generic fantasy fields and caves where most of your quests take place.
The setting and class system, while great in theory, are attached to a game that is ugly, grind-heavy, laughably animated, and just plain unpleasant on numerous levels.
Once you get past the initial batch of tutorials and story (and load times, which are frequent and lengthy), you start digging into the gameplay of Valhalla Knights 3, only to find that it is also wholly unappealing. You start off by creating a character from one of several races and classes, each with its own attributes, stat bonuses, weapons, and skill trees. As you progress through the game, you can swap classes, unlock new races and classes, create and/or hire new party members to join your band under CPU control, and reassign both main classes and subclasses to your crew. The game does an awful job of explaining when and how you can do all of these things, however. At one point early on, I expended a bunch of money to assign my main character a subclass, but then discovered I could do nothing with it because the game hadn't told me that I could learn skills only from a main class.
Classes have a direct effect on combat through their specialized weaponry and skills, and no two classes play the same way. While the variety is nice, there's no class or class combination that makes the fighting any more fun. Fighting in Valhalla Knights 3 is akin to that in other action role-playing games: attacks, spells, items, and skills are mapped to certain buttons (or button combinations), and you and your CPU-controlled band try to stay alive while beating down whatever foes are in the way. What becomes clear from the very first battle you enter is how hilariously awful the character and enemy animations are. Hits have little impact, with fighting and hit animations looking abysmal when compared to the sophisticated fighting animations of comparable games. Giving enemies a few soft smacks with a choppy punching combo and watching them topple over dead sucks all the thrill out of a fight. (Cutscenes look just as slapdash, if not more so because you can see the poor character modeling much more clearly.)
Adding to the annoyance are the game's bizarre AI and difficulty fluctuations. You can see enemies wandering the fields, but it's tough to tell when or how they will be aggressive toward you (unless, of course, you initiate combat first). They don't behave in any sort of believable way, either. I encountered instances when I could start a fight, kill some members of a band, run away, and then come back and loot the corpses while the leader was still wandering around, not bothering to strike back even when he saw me again. Also, there's not much of a difficulty curve. You can easily demolish every foe in each area the game leads you to, but the side and story quests that are presented to you in those same areas utterly crush you unless you spend time grinding. The game makes believe you are prepared for the challenge, only to pull the rug out from under you.
As if the game weren't already embarrassing enough, Valhalla Knights 3 tries to add some spice to the experience by attempting to be "sexy." Several of the higher-class stores and facilities in Carceron employ scantily clad, attractive women whom you pay an upfront fee to before you do your regular shopping. Besides buying items and upgrades, you can give presents to the ladies serving you. If they happen to like your gift enough, you enter a Sexy Time minigame where you use the Vita's touchscreen to rub the girls' bodies, stopping every so often to make sure nobody's catching you trying to get to first and second base. Succeed, and you go to the Inn in Carceron, and receive potential recruiting and item rewards. Sexy Time is accessed by both male and female main characters, but only female non-player characters can receive your affections; there are a few male NPCs you can give gifts to, but you're going to be sorely disappointed if you want equal opportunity Sexy Time. Sexy Time isn't fun--it's just sleazy and embarrassing.
Valhalla Knights 3 is a far cry from being any sort of enjoyable. The setting and class system, while great in theory, are attached to a game that is ugly, grind-heavy, laughably animated, and just plain unpleasant on numerous levels. When you've got a game that lacks an option to alter its obnoxiously slow text speed in favor of numerous options to change some characters' panty patterns, that's a good sign that its priorities aren't in the right place. Even if you're starved for Vita RPGs, Valhalla Knights 3 isn't worth your time.