Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume Hands-On

Valkyrie Lenneth becomes the hunted in Tri-Ace's upcoming role-playing game.

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From the maker of Star Ocean, developer Tri-Ace's Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is the third game in this series, which is based loosely on Norse mythology. The original game, Valkyrie Profile, was rereleased as Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth in 2006, followed by Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria later in the year. Covenant of the Plume on the Nintendo DS takes a different approach in terms of gameplay and story. Instead of taking on the role of one of the beautiful angels reporting to Odin, this time you play from the perspective of a mortal, fueled by anger over the loss of his father.

Surround your enemies in battle for an advantage.
Surround your enemies in battle for an advantage.

A fantastic cinematic opening introduces you to Wylfred, a silver-haired boy who is out for revenge. Lenneth, also known as the Battle Maiden, stands solemnly next to a dead soldier whom she has chosen to become an Einherjar. For a soldier, there is no greater honor than to be picked by a valkyrie, but from the perspective of the family who has been left behind, death brings nothing but pain and emptiness. You play as the young man Wyl, whose sole purpose is to find the valkyrie that claimed his father's brave soul, which left his mother stricken with grief. While he's on his quest, you have control over his decisions, which can alter his personality as well as change the outcome of the game. The story is dark and deals with morbid themes, but that's to be expected when the material is based on Norse mythology.

Instead of 2D platforming, Covenant of the Plume is set up like a strategy role-playing game in which you move from one battle to the next, with pit stops in between to stock up on items and upgrade equipment. Once you're on the battlefield, the gameplay becomes turn-based, and your characters have limited movement each turn, indicated by colored squares. Your attack range is also marked by squares, which can change depending on what you're wielding. How you approach your enemy is crucial, though, because these battles can be incredibly tough. Surrounding your enemies or pinning them in between two characters will yield greater drops and increase your damage. Once you've engaged an enemy, you'll enter another screen in which you press the face buttons that correspond with a particular character--similar to the previous games. By having your party members attack together, you'll be able to land more hits in succession, and when the attack is timed correctly, you can unleash a powerful Soul Crush that can easily take out an enemy. Dealing additional damage, even after the target's hit points have reached zero, will let you accumulate sin. There's a certain amount of sin you need to collect for each battle, and it is vital that you hit or exceed this target or else your subsequent battles will become harder, to the point that they're virtually impossible to win. We found this out the hard way, so bear in mind that you not only need to plan strategically how to approach your foes, but you also need to find the best way to whittle their hit points down and then pound on them with all you've got so you can go into overkill and rack up as much sin as possible. The reasoning behind this is that Wyl struck a deal with Queen Hel, and to please her, he must meet these goals.

Another unique feature is the ability for Wyl to use the Destiny Plume, which he receives early on in the game when he forges a covenant with the queen. This mysterious feather can be used only on an ally and only when the bond between the ally and Wyl is strong. This grants allies an unimaginable amount of power, letting them single-handedly plow through the entire battle solo. Wyl will also inherit special abilities each time you decide to use this ability. The catch is that after a battle is over, your friend's life is forfeited. That's a heavy price to pay to make your life easier for one fight and learn a new skill, but that's your decision to make, and it will ultimately affect the ending of the game.

Wyl can't hide his true feelings.
Wyl can't hide his true feelings.

Although battles will take up most of your time, the in-between cutscenes and character portraits are extremely well done and give the game a more serious and realistic look and feel. Voice acting adds another dimension to the characters, who would otherwise be nothing but text and lightly animated portraits. The vivid melodies and rock themes will sound familiar and conjure up memories if you've played Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. Motoi Sakuraba does an excellent job of providing a musical score that is haunting and memorable, making the soundtrack worth hunting down.

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume looks to be another great addition to this series. An unlockable bonus dungeon and more than 20 allies to recruit give it plenty of replay value if you want to see all the endings. Strategic and challenging battles give the game more depth, which will be a perk for strategy role-playing fans. Help Wyl on his tortured journey when Covenant of the Plume is released on March 17.

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