Looking for a JRPG that’s a bit different? A look at the Valhalla Knights series

7 mins read

Looking for a new JRPG to play? Here’s one you could well have missed – have you tried the Valhalla Knights games? They’re readily available – Valhalla Knights and its sequel are available quite cheaply on the PlayStation Network for download to PSP, and Wii owners can pick up Eldar Saga.

Despite having a bad reputation, these games are actually very addictive and quite open JRPGs. Budget, yes, but the largely negative press these games get is unjustified – though they’re not perfect, they have a unique soul that means they’re worth a look.
Valhalla Knights 2 – one of the most underrated PSP RPGs
The PSP games first:
Of the two, Valhalla Knights 2 is the more refined game, and can be played easily without knowledge of the first.
Essentially, it’s a giant dungeon hack RPG. Towns offer a hub where you accept quests, get magic items identified, and improve the character’s equipment, but the bulk of the game takes place in a variety of environments that all share a similar trait – they’re labyrinths of winding corridors and challenging enemies.
There’s no random encounters, but enemies pop up on the overworld at random, at quite a fast pace. Running into them triggers a battle, which plays out as a very, very fast action RPG. For this reason, new players are advised to start playing a martial class. Being an effective magic user takes significantly more practice. While that side of the game might test some people’s patience, you only need to control one person in battle at a time, and the computer’s AI gets the job of magic users done fine.

You start the game as a party of one, and need to slowly fill up the team by hiring additional classes. There’s a small range of races to choose between, but a great number of possible character class combinations – this game has been designed to feature fluid classes and levelling in a very MMO-style fashion.
The game world itself is quite downbeat, with a muted visual style and soundtrack to match. Because of that, there’s little in the game that stands out and wows, but that same muted visual aesthetic becomes more powerful the longer you spend in the game. It’s a relatively unique approach to RPGs, and as someone who enjoys games where you feel like you back is against the against the wall, I appreciated this approach.

See? So many stats to manage and tweak. It’s awesome

There’s a great deal of variety in the enemies, and a surprising level of depth from the levelling up and extensive equipment management (seriously, there are *pages* of statistics to track for each character). This makes the game an OCD gamer’s paradise.

Eldar Saga on the Wii:
This game was unfairly billed as an “inferior Monster Hunter” clone, when really it has nothing to do with that game. It’s got a large overworld and the fighting happens in real time, but in every other way it’s more like Final Fantasy XII’s combat system.
This time around, rather than build a large party, the game is largely a solo experience. You can recruit one mercenary to help you out (though his AI is not very intelligent this time around, and often more trouble than they’re worth), or play with a buddy online if you can navigate the silly Friends Code system.

In every other way it’s similar to other games in the series. There’s a lot of stats to navigate (this time unfortunately dealing with the pages of data is a somewhat clumsy process). There’s plenty of subquests to play around with. And there’s a lot of grinding to be done. Levelling up is a slow process in this game. It artificially extends the life of the game, but it does also mean that, once again it’s an attractive game for the OCD.
It’s worth noting that some people struggle with the visuals, which are apparently “too dark.” I didn’t find that to be the case. I actually found the visual aesthetic appealing, in a dark and gloomy fashion. It creates a definite mood.

It doesn’t look like much, but in motion it’s a moody, dark kind of fantasy

The sound effects are a different matter, and much harder to resolve. The limited music is pretty and effective, but your character has a terrible habit of making a lot of noise when he/ she wanders around. That ‘clunking’ becomes quite irritating after a while. You learn to tune it out that, but it a definite downside to the game.
This series is destined to be quickly forgotten in the west (it actually has a strong niche in Japan), which is a pity, because there’s a lot to like about these games. They’re not for everyone, but JRPG fans looking for something a little different would do well to try these out. 

The spell effects can be pretty cool

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