Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume
  • Genre:
    • Strategy
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo DS
  • Developer:
    • Tri-Ace
  • Publisher:
    • Square Enix
  • Released:
    • JP 11/01/2008
    • US 03/16/2009
    • UK 03/16/2009
Score: 70%

This review was published on 04/27/2009.

Valkyrie Profile was a nice gem on the PlayStation console, with its unique battle system and well written plot. A few years of obscurity and one PS2 sequel later, we find ourselves at a side story on the Norse mythology inspired universe, released for the Nintendo DS handheld. Unlike all the others, this is a turn-based strategy RPG, in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics. How does it hold up? Well, you're about to find out.

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Whereas the other Valkyrie Profile games had you play as a sometimes rebellious valkyrie, this one follows a youth bent on killing one. Being that valkyries take the souls of worthy warriors to fight for the gods as Einherjar, one decided to take the protagonist's father. Wylfred was none too happy about this turn of events, and decided that he should kill that particular valkyrie for the woes caused to him. He somehow acquires one feather from the valkyrie's wings, bizarrely deciding to have it as a valuable keepsake. Then, um... he joins a mercenary group to earn his wages, probably because he realized the stupidity of his plan. Mortals can't go up against ethereal beings, after all. Not after leveling up a bit, at least.

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In a game like this, it's really all about the battle system. You will guide your characters along a grid with an isometric perspective, so that you may get close enough to beat up your next victim. The main draw: you'll beat up on an enemy with four of your characters at the same time, each character's attack controlled by one of four buttons. You sort of need to time your button presses to make sure that all of your attacks hit their target. Every hit will boost your Soul Crush meter, and once it reaches the top, you'll be prompted to use a Soul Crush move from any character that took part in the skirmish, provided they are able to use these moves. If you've played any of the previous Valkyrie Profile games, then you should be intimately familiar with the explanation I've just provided. The big difference here is the fact that your characters need to be close enough together on the battlefield to enable these unfair gang attacks. If you arrange your characters in certain formations, they will receive a sometimes significant boost in damage. All this will sound like fun, and it is, but it doesn't work as well as you'd expect. Battle maps are huge, with enemies spread out on all corners, so you'll find yourself wasting most of your turns in positioning your characters. Matters tend to become increasingly repetitive as you realize that you'll be repeating the same process over and over, on every single foe you come across, in the same exact manner each time.

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Wylfred dies in the line of duty, to an embarrassingly weak monster. In exchange for bringing him back to life, Queen Hel of Niflheim binds Wylfred in an evil covenant to stain the plume with "sin," and supports him on his mission to slay the valkyrie. It escapes me why this keepsake plume of his becomes a catalyst of sin, considering where it came from. At the beginning of each battle, a sin quota will be announced. It is your task to reach a bare minimum of sin, or else you'll have to face impossibly strong foes on the next fight. If you exceed the quota, you'll get fabulous prizes. Gaining sin can be done in one of two ways: over-killing your foes, or permanently sacrificing one of your unique characters. It's pretty obvious which one of these the best option is.

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Over-killing, as its name implies, is when you kill an enemy so thoroughly that you kill them when they're already dead. This was possible in all the previous Valkyrie Profile games, but the rewards were few and often unclear. In this game, any extra damage you inflict on an enemy whose HP has already reached zero will add to your sin quota. If you get double the amount of sin sought, you will obtain the best possible rewards for the given battle. These rewards are extremely good, almost a little too good. This may ultimately ruin the fun of the game for you, as you'll constantly worry about whether you've got enough sin to get the juicy bits at the end. If you don't, then you have no choice but to restart the fight, or press on without the helmet of ultimate invincibility or sword of ultra ruination that you could have added to your arsenal. Another downside to ignoring the sin quota is that the game will be far too easy. Enemies are really just walking targets with "kill me" written on them; the challenge is not in just killing them, but over-killing them.

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I briefly touched on the "Destiny Plume," how you can sacrifice one of your most cherished (or useless) party members to Queen Hel in exchange for sin. What I did not mention is that this is hardly the true purpose behind this odd game mechanic. The character you sacrifice will remain for the duration of the battle, only with extremely high stat ratings. So high, that this character will probably single-handedly slaughter everything on the field. In other words, it's a guaranteed win for those times when you find yourself in a pinch. Wylfred will also learn a new ability for any character you sacrifice. Some of these abilities can be particularly potent, like one that paralyzes all enemies except the boss. Still, the cost of permanently losing a character, coupled with the fact that this will directly influence what ending you get, will probably deter you from ever going down this route. At least, it will if you only plan on playing through the game once; there are multiple endings and alternate paths to take within the story, granting the pseudo new game + feature some attention. You may not keep your levels, but you do keep your equipment, and that is enough to make you god-like on your second or third time through. Abilities from sacrificed characters are retained, as well. The downfall here is that you may not even be interested in completing it once, let alone twice.

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Covenant of the Plume is not a bad little diversion, but that's all it is: a diversion. It's not the game Valkyrie Profile fans have been waiting for, nor is it a good way to introduce newcomers to the series. It seems more like a quick cash-in than anything else, really.

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