Imagine the worst thing a video game has ever done to you. What games did you invest time and money in only for them to pull some dick move on you, probably leaving you swearing at the top of your lungs at the TV screen? If you finish Jurassic Park for the SNES, you get a delightful little non-ending that consists of the loading screen playing in reverse, which after a team of friends and myself spent an entire night of caffeine, headaches and dial-up internet walkthroughs to do, left me with an empty feeling, much like waking up next to a prostitute hungover and broke, except without the exciting evening to balance it out. Or one of Anne’s favorites; spending hours early on in a game going through side-quests, leveling up to the ultimate attacks, finding the ultimate weapon, and then the game murdering the character and taking with it all the equipment, experience, and precious moments of your finite life span along with it. Final Fantasy, Legend of Dragoon, take your pick. This one happens often enough. How about forced stealth, babysitting missions, or quick time events?
Full disclosure: I might give away some integral plot points of Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, but I refuse to call them spoilers. See, to spoil something implies that it began with a certain level of freshness, but this game holds the record for most rotten-to-the-very-center-of-its-being of any game I’ve ever played. If Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Jesus and Buddha collaborated to breath life into this game to make it human, it would still back over your cat with a humvee and then try to console you by saying, “At least it wasn’t a dog.”
The first time I played this game, I swore I’d never do so again. I lived in a studio apartment and had to apologize to my neighbors for regular disturbances as I screamed profanities that would offend sailors at the top of my lungs. Hours upon hours of my life spent leveling up to plow through impossible enemies would vanish into oblivion as a clunky game mechanic would have my party trip over a blade of grass, leaving the nearby monsters to drive them into the mud like lawn darts. After figuring out from Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth that the game innovated RPG combat to stress set-up and strategy over power-leveling and high stats, I realized I simply didn’t know how to play the game right before. As it turns out, I rather enjoy the games combat system and find it highly engaging, much like the system for The World Ends With You, which I’ve found amazing ever since hoisting myself to the top of the learning curve with a few crampons and a good length of dental floss to use for rope.
No, to get to the real, black, shriveled prune of a heart of why this game laughs in the face of all who dare to play it, you have to examine the things the game designers did intentionally. For starters, for a game that claims to profile a Valkyrie, it spends very little time doing so, in favor of constantly introducing new characters with no relevance on the plot in the least. I didn’t often appreciate the half-hour long snooze-fests that introduced einherjar in VP: Lenneth, but Silmeria swung the opposite direction, introducing dozens of playable einherjar with no backstory whatever except for an entry in the status screen. They have no effect on the plot, but the game expects you to play with them and level them up anyway for the sole purpose of transferring their souls…well, maybe not to Valhalla due to Silmeria’s war with Odin…but to somewhere not nearby your party. Yes, by transferring them you get an item that permanently increases any characters stats, but it seems like time spent leveling up useless characters would help more if you spent it on the main characters of the story.
Speaking of which, you only really get two. Well, maybe one and a half, since the protagonist spends half the game possessed by the spirit of Silmeria. See, at the critical act one climax, you lose all your main characters–permanently–except for two, except Silmeria’s spirit goes on to bigger and better things. So you better hope you have some einherjar left over, especially a mage, because you never get them back! Sure, the plot gives them back to you, but the game has changed their stats and attack patterns enough that you can’t call them the same person once you get back into combat, sort of the games way of saying, “Sorry I ran over your cat with a humvee, but I’ll give you a coupon for a free pizza to make it up to you.” Without Silmeria, you have no power to call einherjar, so if you had set them all free–like I did the first time I played–you may find yourself drastically shorthanded for the rest of the game. Then, for whatever reason, the game gives you a slew of playable characters literally in the final dungeon. In fact, by the time you actually get to see and play as Silmeria, you’ve already explored 74% of that level.
But perhaps the worst offense of all, VP: Silmeria reunites you with your trusty mage, a major playable character, a powerful magic user, and a Harry Potter impersonator, for one dramatic battle with Odin…and then leaves your party permanently to become the game’s end boss. Also, his lust for Lenneth, a character mentioned only once before, motivates everything he does. So…really, I don’t entirely know what Silmeria has to do with anything.
But really, the story lacks the cohesiveness of a wet post-it note, surpassing its predecessor for scattered, irrelevant, and unexplained plot points. It seems like Enix intended to make this sequel as they wrote the original, and they do connect a number of plot points and locations together, even if they don’t feel compelled to include explanation or reasonable motivation for characters’ actions. I could have connected with and found interest in the villain, had they ever decided to explain his obsessive crush on Lenneth, but they don’t even give us as feeble a reason as “has a thing for platinum haired vixens.” Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely that anyone crazy enough that Hannibal Lecter, Jack Torrence and the Joker want to keep a healthy distance would have the wits to put up an intelligent, rational and friendly facade for the majority of the story. Several characters from VP: Lenneth make appearances here, but the game never bothers to explain how they exist in both the Ragnarok-era of Lenneth and the ancient past of Silmeria. Near the end of the game, they throw some very elegant prose at you that I may have found slightly more moving had they ever bothered to establish some sort of theme or direction for the story. Then they try to explain some stuff about an alternate history, how these events happen after Ragnarok for Lenneth and the villain who have traveled through time, but before Ragnarok for everyone else and…honestly, they lost me.
For all its flaws, I don’t want to condemn the game to the coldest, darkest region of Hel quite as much as I did the last time I played it. As I mentioned before, I feel they revolutionized RPG combat–or would have, had anyone figured it out. Rather than focusing on fighting enemies, gaining experience, buying stronger weapons, and fighting more enemies, the monsters throw challenges at you. You have only a few menu options, and can’t use more than a single spell or item every so often, but it gives you choices to make that you don’t commonly find in these games; do you want to split up your party into two groups to distract an enemy? Would magic or physical attacks do more damage here? Do you need to take out smaller enemies, or can you go directly to killing the leader? While the main maps, oddly enough, give the player only two dimensions to work with, combat maps switch to a 3D perspective where monsters and players alike move across terrain, trying to avoid getting taking hits.
Furthermore, the care they neglected when writing the story obviously went into rendering the characters, cut scenes, and scenery. You’ll have plenty of eye candy for those moments your attention wanders off of the vapid plot.
And, thankfully, they got rid of the sushi bars. Influenced by Norse myth or not, that just didn’t make sense.