screenshot from Valkyrie Elysium

Valhalla!

Square Enix’s most underrated RPG of the year has a radical combat mechanic

Valkyrie Elysium carries its series into a whole new genre.

Square Enix

Square Enix made its name on the best turn-based RPGs of the ‘80s and ‘90s. While the publisher is still putting out some of the best games in the genre, it’s also on a streak of bringing real-time action combat to its classic series. The latest is Valkyrie Elysium, which transforms Valkyrie Profile’s groundbreaking turn-based combat into a full-action RPG that leaves a surprising amount of the original intact.

Valkyrie Profile was released in 1999, the same year as Final Fantasy VIII, another departure from Square Enix’s traditional turn-based combat. In Valkyrie Profile, you play as Lenneth, a Valkyrie tasked with recruiting the souls of heroes called Einherjar in the lead-up to Ragnarok. In its idiosyncratic battles, each party member is assigned to one controller button, and choosing which order to activate them in is as important as which weapons and skills you equip. The result is an extremely active combat system that still maintains the strategic depth of turn-based games like Final Fantasy.

Valkyrie Elysium’s action combat has more in common with its turn-based predecessor than you’d think.Square Enix

As Valkyrie Elysium producer Takahiro Kondo tells Inverse, that made the shift to fully real-time combat the best way to honor Valkyrie Profile for the sequel without just repeating it.

“Considering the original Valkyrie titles in the context of when they came out, they are pretty action-oriented and have a real-time feel,” Kondo says. “All the same, when considering the action games of today, the speed of the action has greatly increased, and players enjoy this faster pace.”

After Valkyrie Elysium’s first few stages, when you’ve unlocked everything that makes its combat sing, it doesn’t really feel like any other game. The hack-and-slash basics might feel familiar at first, but that all changes when Einherjar come into play. Like in Valkyrie Profile, these lost spirits join you in battle once you recruit them, but they function totally different than before. Einherjar are now summonable allies, more akin to Elden Ring’s Spirit Ashes than the recent Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s constant AI companions.

Lost spirits called Einherjars bring unexpected life to Valkyrie Elysium.Square Enix

With the press of a button, you call your Einherjar to the battlefield, where they instantly deal an opening attack, then stick by your side for a short time. You can adjust how long you want each summon to last, with longer timers depleting more charge from your soul gauge. Einherjar are plenty smart, with melee attackers keeping pressure on enemies and ranged companions keeping the pressure on from a distance.

Since they’re able to act independently, Valkyrie Elysium’s Einherjar are quite different from their Valkyrie Profile counterparts. Despite how distinct the two games are, the sequel manages to keep the original’s soul intact. Kondo says, “Our focus with this game was to return to the series’ roots and to think seriously about what a modern-day Valkyrie game would look like.”

To that end, your Einherjar can do much more than just fight alongside you. While they’re deployed, your own attacks take on the elemental affinity of your Einherjar. You can have two in battle at any given time, and you’re able to choose which elemental bonus you want on the fly. Certain skills even let you call Einherjar automatically. Once these upgrades are unlocked, Einherjar can come to your aid when you evade an attack with perfect timing or when an enemy breaks your guard. You choose which Einherjar is summoned in each circumstance, so you’re able to set up the best combo for any contingency. All these decisions add up to surprisingly strategic real-time combat that never gets bogged down in menus.

Square Enix’s recent action games feel true to their turn-based roots.Square Enix

Just as Final Fantasy VII Remake translates the original game’s combat into its new action-oriented system, Valkyrie Elysium pushes its series’ fast-paced combat into full action-RPG territory. The shift feels like a logical next step of Valkyrie Profile, and Kondo says developing the Einherjar in both story and gameplay was key to keeping the game true to its roots.

The biggest draw of Valkyrie Elysium is its combat, thanks mostly to its Einherjar, but they’re also the best part of its story. Each Einherjar was a person once, so they clash in the way any ragtag gang looking to avert the apocalypse would. Your Valkyrie is an entirely stoic character, but banter with the Einherjar livens things up quite a bit. It’s nothing approaching the character development you’d find in a more story-focused RPG, but knowing the personalities of the spirits you’re calling to your side goes a long way toward making them feel like true companions rather than simple AI bots.

The Valkyrie series is nowhere near as well known as Final Fantasy, so it may be a safer place to test out wildly different combat styles without so heavy a legacy. Kondo calls Valkyrie Elysium part of “a movement within Square Enix to reboot beloved series from the past.” While it looks like a total departure at first glance, Valkyrie Elysium shows Square Enix is able to innovate without losing the core of its classic games. With a new direction ahead for Final Fantasy XVI’s combat and more revivals of classic games likely on the horizon (do Vagrant Story, please), fans of old-school RPGs may have a lot of action to look forward to.

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