Valkyrie Elysium is unsure what kind of game it wants to be. At the outset, Square Enix and developer Soleil position it as a reboot of the Valkyrie series, whose last main entry was Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume released in the US back in 2009 on Nintendo DS. But Valkyrie Elysium is not a traditional JRPG in any way. In an attempt to modernize the series, it instead emphasizes action to such a degree, challenging you to purify waves of enemies with swift weapon combos, that the gameplay will be largely unrecognizable to fans of the Valkyrie series. It’s still about Ragnarok and recruiting Einherjar to your Valkyrie’s side, but the game genuflects to the Soulsborne series so often that it impairs its own identity. As a result, Valkyrie Elysium is a confused mess, a middling adventure with a predictable story, repetitive quests, and adequate but tedious combat.
For heaven’s sake…
Valkyrie Elysium’s plot stumbles right out of the heavenly gates. The protagonist is the titular Valkyrie, created by Odin and ordered to prevent Ragnarok by killing monsters and undead in Midgard, but her absolute faith and lack of human emotion makes it difficult to connect with her. This isn’t too much of a surprise, though, as prior games in the Valkyrie series follow the same trope and generally use the chosen Einherjar to bring a much-needed human perspective and a more grounded source for dramatic tension. That said, the tutorial has you try out combat with a few Einherjar, but they’re immediately ripped away once it’s over, and you’re forced to get through the first few chapters alone.
This slow-burn approach can work well in games, but here it takes too long to simmer. In the first third of the adventure, you’ll add several Einherjar to the team, meet a strange man named Armand who’s looking for a woman he has forgotten, and encounter a mysterious Valkyrie who challenges your character’s naive convictions for Odin. The opening cutscene explains that Fenrir and Odin started a civil war that destroyed the realms, while Odin has no problems sitting on his throne and commanding you to do what he wants. Put all these clues together, and it’s not too hard to guess where the story goes from there. Despite that, the narrative puts you at arm’s length and refuses to reveal anything substantive until the last few chapters, at which point it’s difficult to care or it’s too obvious.
To boil it down, the story makes two main mistakes. First, it buries the Einherjar characters for too long, and tucks away their backstories in optional side quests and a bunch of audio files under the Collections tab. This isn't to say that their personal journeys are terribly original or anything we haven't seen before in JRPGs, but they at least give some important human context to the somewhat dry and emotionally distant proceedings of the core plot.
Second, it scatters numerous blossoms throughout every region that are meant to drop lore through random left-behind thoughts of humans caught in the apocalypse, but most are dull and uninteresting. The green Harvest Blossoms are important to collect for a cutscene near the end and in comprehending the real reason behind Ragnarok, but it will likely only serve to confirm your suspicions. At the very least, doing so will put you on the path toward the best ending.
It would have been more dramatically relevant to add cutscenes featuring the Einherjar and their memories of the world. The game unfortunately skips over the "descent from heaven" phase of the prototypical epic tale, so you and the Valkyrie are left to imagine what the human kingdoms were like before they became all the dilapidated ruins strewn throughout every map. As it is, the name of the kingdoms are merely words without much meaning: Lucarda, Ronalu, Be'else. Flashbacks revealing the past vibrancy of the world would have provided clarity on why the Einherjar care in the first place and supported the Valkyrie's continued understanding of humanity, which is the undercurrent that drives the story.
Rushing in where angels fear to tread
The combat, despite some issues with precision and the camera, is effectively the game’s saving grace. With a double jump for aerial assaults and attack strings that only use two buttons, similar to a Musuo game, the Valkyrie can usually lock onto an enemy and end it with no problems. Foes that try to run away can be simply chased down with a flick of the Soul Chain. Bolstering the arsenal are a set of weapons that you can switch on the fly, upgrade using materials, and become more efficient with over time, as well as magical spells that can blast elemental damage and heal you without interruption. Once you get into a groove, the fluid animations, pretty particle effects, and pleasant music make combat easy to appreciate.
After you unlock the ability to summon an Einherjar, combat becomes more manageable. The first few chapters reveal how annoying groups of enemies can be as many will attack you from behind or off-screen. Einherjar will not only distract some of them, but they have abilities of their own and provide an elemental bonus to your strikes. Their power and movesets also improve over time depending on how many times you summon them and how many of their personal sidequests you complete. Choosing the right Einherjar, spells, and weapons to take advantage of enemy weaknesses is essential in every fight, including bosses who have a lot of health but will be temporarily paralyzed upon being struck enough times by their opposing element.
Sometimes, however, several technical issues can make fighting more difficult than it needs to be. The camera, notably in tight corridors or during finishers, can zoom in so tightly that you can’t see what’s happening on the field. The lock-on system can be unwieldy too, especially if there are multiple targets or enemies with weak points, and the high number of particle effects occasionally blurs the blue lock-on target from view. It also didn’t help that the game twice failed to spawn several enemies, which meant that the black walls surrounding the area failed to drop and forced me to restart the game.
In general, Valkyrie Elysium has trouble figuring out whether it wants you to be deliberate and methodical like a Soulsbourne game, or fast and furious like Bayonetta. The game grades you at the end of each segment, deducting points for taking damage, and wants you to think about each swing since you can’t cancel out of attack strings in mid-animation. If you’re pushing buttons and an enemy telegraphs a charged move, there’s a good chance you won’t have time to parry, evade, or block. But if you do time things correctly, the Valkyrie can effectively go into a burst of slowed time where you can counterattack.
On the other hand, you don’t really have time for measured attacks and parries since Einherjar summons only last a limited amount of time, and by the midgame you’re faced with so many enemies at once that your best defense is really your best offense. Thinning the horde one enemy at a time as quickly as possible is key. And even if you do get damaged severely, you have access to healing spells and plenty of elixirs. There were a few times in my playthrough on Normal where I got dangerously close to death, but I reached the end without dying once.
A crisis of faith
The references to the Soulsbourne series are almost shameless, to the point that it’s not so much a love letter as it is rote copying. You explore vast castle ruins with large imposing doors that open slowly, encounter steel gates that require levers to pull, fight undead soldiers who fire arrows from wooden platforms, and seek to destroy monsters born from corrupted souls. And you can destroy barrels, crates, and church pews littered about every map. Sound familiar? Even the few elevators in the game are ripoffs. It’s as if the original design started off as a Souls-like before Soleil decided midway through development to go in a different direction but kept all of the environmental assets anyway.
Regrettably, the rudimentary level design hampers and wears out combat with unnecessary padding. Despite how complicated a map can look, it's pretty much linear with a few side branches for blossoms or chests, and if you happen upon a curiously open area, you can expect monsters to spawn. Near the midgame, main chapters and side quests have these open areas that spawn three or more waves of enemies. This pace is excruciating and quickly exhausts what would normally be a fair number of enemy types. Some exploration and a few Einherjar puzzles attempt to break things up, but they are so brief that it pulls you right back into more battles. On top of that, maps are reused multiple times, with some back-to-back chapters repeating the same areas over again.
Also more or less linear are the skill tree upgrades for attack, defense, and support, which give you several options along the way, though there’s little stopping you from learning every available skill. If you complete all the side quests, which you may want to do anyway to extend your various meters, unlock your Einherjar’s moveset, and gain a wider arsenal of weapons and spells, you’ll earn enough gems to complete every node. Each skill has a CP cost too, but it seems as though the game either forgot or decided to ignore this system altogether by giving you enough max CP to learn everything right from the very beginning. It just should have been edited out.
Falling from grace
Valkyrie Elysium is a disappointing, befuddled, and mistimed return for the Valkyrie series. Its Einherjar-supported combat system only takes the game so far when it’s saddled by an underwhelming story and artificially extended by crude level design. It falls into the trap of chasing trends, turning classic JRPGs into action games and copying other successful titles like Dark Souls without adding much new to the genre, when many fans would have been more than satisfied with an updated version of a standard Valkyrie game. While the main Final Fantasy series took a while to convert its audience over to the action RPG genre, Square Enix needs to be reminded that it also had success with Octopath Traveler. Something similar to that would have been more appropriate for a Valkyrie revamp. At the same time, the game is also in the unfortunate position of releasing after Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and the God of War reboot, which are both better action RPGs and more interesting reinterpretations of Norse mythology. By comparison, Valkyrie Elysium is not worth the full asking price and should be, heaven forbid, quietly forgotten.
This review is based on a PS5 copy supplied by the publisher. Valkyrie Elysium is available now on PS5 and PS4, and will release on PC on November 11, 2022.
- Good music and somewhat pretty graphics
- Passable combat that emphasizes Einherjar and elemental weaknesses
- Hiccups with camera and lock-on system
- Uninspired, predictable story that buries Einherjar
- Overly padded and unremarkable level design
- Linear, bleak, empty, and repeated environments
- Copies Soulsbourne series in unoriginal ways