[Disclosure: This review is based on a downloaded copy of the game provided by the publisher. ]
Featuring some pretty deep character and party customization, a large world to explore and more loot than you can shake a stick at, Valhalla Knights 3 has all of the trappings you would expect out of a modern RPG. Unfortunately, many of the game’s systems and mechanics are stuck in the past and, while VK3 is certainly the best game in the series, it still manages to devolve into a tedious slog.
Put simply, Valhalla Knights 3 is a clunky game. From the graphics and character animations to the combat controls, menus and the various systems used to upgrade characters, recruit new party members and purchase goods, little about this game is intuitive. Much of it, in fact, can feel like a chore to get through.
The game opens with a character creation system that, as I said in the opening, is decently robust. You can alter all sorts of your character’s physical features, give them some tattoos, smear a bit of dirt on their face, pick a starting class and even tweak a few initial stats. From there, you and your first AI partner, Carlos, are dropped into a large castle prison that’s grown so populous that the inmates have quite literally taken over the asylum. You soon discover that you are actually a spy working for a faceless “Empire” that wants you to retrieve an all-powerful magical item said to be hidden somewhere within the prison. Known as William Flockhart’s Legacy, this item is said to grant any wish of the person who possesses it which, obviously, could help turn the tide of a long and blood-soaked war that’s brought the surrounding kingdoms to their knees.
Within three minutes of booting the game up, one member of your “fresh meat” prisoner party is kidnapped to be sold into servitude as a hostess. Don’t worry! Her eventual mistress is really nice to her, so it’s not such a bad life, right? That sort of plot development is par for the course in Valhalla Knights 3, a game that features a mini-game focused on watching jiggly body parts, a dating sim that boils down to “give her enough presents until she sleeps with you” and a whopping five options within the configuration menu related to the characters’ panties.
While that sort of fan service is pretty much front and center throughout the entire game, much of the less savory bits are there as an option. You don’t have to interact with the hostesses, for instance, but you’ll have a hard time equipping your party in the best gear without it.
So, the plot is paper thin, the game looks like a smoother version of a PSP title and much of the social interactions are a bit on the repulsive side, but what makes or breaks a portable RPG is the gameplay. That’s something Valhalla Knights 3 has in spades. Unfortunately, this is a case of quantity over quality.
At its core, VK3 features everything I dislike about an MMORPG, minus all of the stuff I enjoy. The online component boils down to PvP arena battles. While the Japanese version of the game required players to be sitting in the same room to enjoy this particular feature, the team at XSEED was kind enough to include an online mode for US and European crowds. I was only able to get in a couple of online matches early on and actually delayed this review by a day in order to experiment more once the game finally released to the masses. Fans of the game’s combat will adore this option, as playing against another human being is infinitely more satisfying and the rewards are pretty nice to boot. My problem is that I don’t find the core combat to be all that rewarding in the first place.
Like most MMO’s, Valhalla Knight 3’s missions system boils down to your standard “kill X number of creature Y,” “go to V and talk to K,” and “seek out S within location L.” While you’ll eventually get items and abilities that allow you to fast travel back to the castle, most of your time in the field will be spent running through pretty linear and sparsely inhabited locales, seeking out the occasional treasure chest or random shining item and mashing on the attack buttons to kill enemies.
Once you engage in combat, a single enemy may multiply to reveal the true party size. If the odds are against you, the rest of your party will then jump into the fray. From there, combat typically evolves into a series of button mashes, trying to get the timing right in order to dish out more damage and earn more bonuses. You can shout to your teammates to have them behave in a certain way, alter the course of battle with some abilities, or switch between your party members at the push of a button.
That all sounds pretty decent on paper, but it’s extremely rough around the edges in action. Partner and enemy AI appears to be completely random. I often found myself whacking on a bandit only to have him suddenly lose interest in the fight and run off to attack one of my other team members mid-swing. While orchestrating a decent attack against another player in online feels a lot less arbitrary, you’ll be competing in a lot of these clustermug melees in the game proper. And I mean A LOT.
That’s one of Valhalla Knight 3’s other major downfalls: The sheer amount of grinding. As I was saying earlier, you’ll be doing a lot of running in this game, most of which will likely be back and forth between a few respawning groups of enemies in order to level up your party enough to take on the next boss. Battle, run, wash, repeat. Every now and then you’ll level up, resulting in a very involved form of character management. You’ll need to distribute new skill points to each of your members, choose which new abilities each of them learns and try to find some decent gear for each of them to wear. I usually waited for a few levels to go by before dipping into this exercise as, like most everything else in the game, I found it to be quite monotonous.
When you aren’t running around and battling endlessly, you’ll occasionally need to return to the prison to revive a fallen comrade, sell and buy goods and, for those of you who wish to pursue those aspects of the game, try to court some hostesses. You can go to the slums and find party members and gear much easier, but it’s always of an inferior quality. On the main level, known as the Light District, you have to pay a fee and wade through some nonsensical flirting just to get to take a look at an items menu.
To cap all of this off, there’s quite a bit of loading in Valhalla Knights 3. I didn’t mind this at first, as a bit of flavor text and tips are provided on loading wallpapers while you wait, but those start to cycle rather quickly, leaving you twiddling your thumbs constantly as you dive further and further into the game.
Fans of endless stat management, party optimization and repetitive combat will find a lot to love in Valhalla Knights 3. That sounds more negative than it is intended, as I know there are gamers out there who absolutely eat that type of gameplay up. There’s loads of content for those folks to sink countless hours into. For anyone who was hoping for a deep, entertaining RPG on the PlayStation Vita, however, you’re going to want to look elsewhere.
Platforms: Playstation Vita
Developer: K2 LLC
Publisher: XSeed Games