Since playing through Sky Destroyer, I have been interested in seeing what kind of innovative games were coming out on the Famicom that never made it overseas. This search led me to a game that seemed familiar at first. Those who played Hydlide may look at The Legend of Valkyrie and think they know what it’ll be like, but rest assured that there are surprises in store for you yet.
The story for this game is all in Japanese and mostly condemned to the manual, which provides a standard fantasy story about a peaceful land being torn apart by the return of an ancient evil. Players take control of Valkyrie, a female warrior looking to save Marvel Land from the evil wizard Zouna.
What caught my attention when I began playing is that the game features character creation. Players are asked to pick a blood type and star sign, which dictate your starting stats, combat preference, and your level progression. You can choose to play as a magic focused Valkyrie that will gain levels quickly at first before slowing down later on, maybe a warrior-type with a lot of power that progresses steadily, or an all-rounder that will have to grind a lot early on, but will eventually settle into a speedy progression in the end game. It reminded me of Kingdom Hearts, which also had such game settings dictated by symbolic questions.
Once you have made your character, you are dropped on the first continent with no direction to work with. You are free to explore the island and seek out secrets and enemies to battle with. It might be useful to keep a guide with you, as there really is no indication of where to go or what you should do to make any amount of progress.
Like Hydlide, The Legend of Valkyrie is a top-down RPG, though this one has more of an action focus. Your attacks are actually animated and the game controls well. It’s easy to move around and deal with enemies that spawn in to battle with you. This is vital, because the early game is characterized by a lot of grinding. Even if you go for a sturdy warrior type, you have very little health and attack power to start with. Basic enemies take two hits to kill and projectile-throwing foes can overwhelm and kill you in seconds. Casters also don’t start with good offensive magic and run out of MP for their healing spell quickly.
I must have spent two hours just fighting enemies and gathering money before finally dealing with the game’s first real challenge, after which it opens up more and you gain the ability to sail around and explore an even larger landmass. However, once there, the game dives straight back into grinding. I spent another few hours fighting monsters and seeking out equipment, leveled up several times, only to dive into the first dungeon and die in two hits from a projectile-throwing enemy that spawns in groups of four. There was literally a part I could not cross because it was a 1-tile hallway where two foes spawned on both ends and both threw unavoidable projectile attacks that were a guaranteed kill.
The game utilizes a save system with a lengthy password, but dying also respawns you on the first continent with some money and experience deducted. However, important defensive items can also be lost, meaning you get weaker the more often you fail. I ended up in this spiral of grinding enemies to get money to pay for sleeping at the inn so I could recover health and grind more. And after all that, I went back into that cave and still died in two hits.
I will say that the game has some good controls for item usage. You have a limited inventory where you fit your weapons, tools, consumables, and keys into. Using these is easy and you can map weapons to one button and spells to the other for quick access without having to pause.
Still, the game is a slow boil. Those who really want to sit down and grind out this RPG will find that it has satisfying combat and a lot of charm. I find the Valkyrie a cute character and the monsters you fight are quite creative. However, this comes at the cost of the game being hellish to get into while playing casually.