A Valkyrie clad in gleaming white armor descends from the heavens, sword in hand, ready to mete out justice and shepherd the souls of brave warriors to Valhalla.
That could honestly describe a scene from a dozen upcoming Norse-themed video games, but in this case, we’re talking about Valkyrie Elysium, a new action RPG from Square Enix. Ahead of Valkyrie Elysium’s September 29 PlayStation launch, Inverse had the opportunity to play a roughly two-hour demo.
If you’ve played the excellent Valkyrie Profile series before, it’s not going to help you much. At this point, it’s not clear what connection Valkyrie Elysium has to its predecessors, but far more has changed than remains the same. Valkyrie Profile’s turn-based combat is replaced with real-time action here, and if this new Valkyrie character is an incarnation of the original’s Lenneth, that’s being kept a secret for now.
Square Enix has turned its attention to real-time combat a lot recently, making even its most beloved turn-based series, Final Fantasy, more of an action affair. That experience seems to have paid off for Valkyrie Elysium. Combat here is far more straightforward than FF7 Remake’s hybrid combat system, but it feels much snappier as a result.
Your strikes and spells feel weighty, so it’s easy to get caught in an attack animation by faster foes, but you’re still maneuverable and have combos that can toss enemies around the battlefield. By the end of the demo, you unlock a second, much faster sword that you can switch to with the press of a button. Combat finds the midpoint between Dark Souls and Devil May Cry, where you need to time your attacks carefully but also juggle enemies and keep combo strings running.
Spells include stalwarts like fireballs and lightning strikes, but you can unlock a magic dash attack and even utility spells for healing and pulling in enemies by the end of the demo. Magic consumes charges that build up through combat, and maintaining combos fills your gauge faster. You’re encouraged to keep moving during fights, which is easy thanks to a swift dodge and your Soul Chain — a lasso that lets you zip to distant enemies or a few predefined spots in the environment.
Using it in combat, I’m happy to report, is fun as hell.
In Valkyrie Profile, you collected souls of warriors called Einherjars to fill out your party. They return in a different form in Valkyrie Elysium as spirits you can summon in combat with the push of a button. They’re a little like Elden Ring’s spirit summons, but you can have more than one out at once and resummon them more frequently. The demo’s tutorial lets you practice with an archer and a swordsman, though oddly you can’t use them in the actual level. Once summoned, Einherjars stick around for a good while, and they’re adept at distracting enemies and dealing damage on their own.
Each Einherjar has an elemental affinity, just as your spells do. Doing enough damage with an element that your enemy is weak against will trigger Crush, momentarily stunning them long enough for you to hack away.
So there’s a lot going on in Valkyrie Elysium’s combat, but at least in the demo, it never feels overwhelming. As long as you use the right weapons and spells for the job, combat flows smoothly with plenty of strategic depth to keep it from becoming a mindless hack-and-slash.
The biggest detriment is the camera. You can adjust its follow distance and choose when it resets itself behind your back, but no matter how I tuned it, it always seemed like the camera was lagging behind or whipping around too much. There never seemed to be a way to keep an eye on a whole battle at once, so enemies kept getting in sucker punches I should have seen coming. Even modest corridors feel claustrophobic once they’re packed with multiple foes thanks to the erratic camera.
It also seems Valkyrie Profile’s overworld map and town exploration are gone. In Valkyrie Elysium, you select stages from a map menu. After a short combat tutorial in the demo, you’re whisked away to the game’s first stage. Starting in a nondescript quasi-European countryside, you’re to make your way to Be’elze Castle, dispatching armed undead and antlered monsters along the way.
The first stage takes you from lush fields through a crumbling hillside fortress, then finally into the depths of the castle itself. It’s all lushly rendered, from trees and flowers to the wooden houses circling the castle, but it’s not the most interesting environment. Trailers have shown more inspiring vistas, particularly for boss arenas, so there’s hope you won’t be in such mundane surroundings for long.
Speaking of boss fights, the demo ends with a battle against a rotting, spider-limbed monstrosity that spews lightning and carries a sword easily twice the size of your Valkyrie. The arena-filling boss gestures again at Dark Souls but doesn’t quite live up to the inspiration. If this first boss is any indication, you’ll need to learn attack patterns and target weak points to bring each down efficiently. But the first boss has animations a little too muddy to read without memorizing sequences. In any case, it seems like you could probably flail your way to victory without too much trouble.
A few faults aside, the Valkyrie Elysium demo is a promising start. Combat is full of interesting mechanics that require just enough finesse without feeling overly punishing, and the Einherjars seem like they’ll add another welcome layer when they show up. The demo contains only the barest scraps of story, namely that Odin wants you to prevent Ragnarok by purifying corrupted souls, so there’s no telling how that will turn out. Trailers at least hint at some intriguing characters in your path.
If the rest of Valkyrie Elysium lives up to the solid foundation seen in the demo, it could have one of Square Enix’s best action combat systems to date. We can only hope its story will live up to the high standard that Valkyrie Profile set.
Valkyrie Elysium hits PS4 and PS5 on September 29, and PC on November 11.