Valkyrie Elysium Review: Almost Valhalla
I’m personally fascinated by Norse mythology, so when Valkyrie Elysium was first announced, I couldn’t have been more excited to play as an actual Valkyrie and explore the notable realms of Midgard and Niflheim. The events of Ragnarok have been kicked off, and the titular Valkyrie named Maria, a creation of the all-father Odin, must purify the realms and save the world. Einherjars, warriors who passed away fighting bravely and brought to Valhalla by Valkyries, are a major component of Elysium’s narrative telling and gameplay system. Though the original series of Valkyrie Profile games were developed by tri-Ace, the torch was handed off to the team at Soleil for this particular title. Elysium captures the essence and heart of old-school Valkyrie titles but fails to innovate and push the franchise forward.
Not Valkyrie Profile
Unfortunately, the characters and world presented in Elysium are a bit bland and half-baked compared to the ones presented in games such as God of War or Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. The blandness is further accentuated by the drab visuals and overall lack of narrative content. There’s a severe shortage of characters from actual Norse mythology other than Odin and Fenrir, with the game featuring a few new characters that are not actually canon. However, the major plot characters, along with all the Einherjars you meet on your journey, provide interesting backstories and motivations. The overall story is still competent and features four different endings with a secret true ending as well.
It should be noted that even though Elysium carries the Valkyrie name in its title, it is not related to the previous Valkyrie titles and is a standalone title in the franchise. Elysium also drops the turn-based combat introduced in Profile back in 1999 on PlayStation 1 and uses a real-time hack n’ slash system instead. The slick and intuitive combat system is what truly makes Valkyrie Elysium shine as an action role-playing game. The use of light and heavy attacks paired with aerial maneuvers, blocks, and dodges is only the surface of what the entire system has to offer.
Addictive & Fluid Action Combat
The game takes it up a notch by intuitively integrating the Einherjars you recruit along the way as summonable warriors to aid you in battle. Each Einherjar specializes in a specific element which can then be synergized with your attacks to exploit enemy weaknesses and build up a stagger meter. Once that meter is filled, the enemy is stunned for a brief period, allowing you to get in some extra hits. These summons also stay by your side for upwards of an entire minute before disappearing. Aside from your warriors of light by your side, you also have access to special abilities known as divine arts that act as elemental spells to change up the pace of combat, as well as a hook shot that allows you to close the gap between enemies.
Progression comes in the form of unlocking nodes between three skill trees: attack, defense, and utility, which in return allow you to double jump, double dash, or counterattack. New weapons are acquired at a steady pace and can be upgraded to unveil new combos and maneuvers. The team at Soleil truly did an amazing job with the overall gameplay aspect of the game, featuring a satisfying and in-depth combat system that never feels repetitive or button mashy. The wide array of combo and synergy opportunities keeps the game feeling fresh in each encounter.
Elysium is not an open-world game but instead is split into different chapters and stages. There are a total of nine chapters, with an average playthrough taking between 10-12 hours on normal difficulty. The game does feature a hard and “Valkyrie” mode which kicks up the difficulty quite a bit, but note that it cannot be changed mid-game. Soleil did include two extra bonus modes with the launch of the PC version, that are Hilde’s Vengeance and Seraphic Gate, which adds more overall content. These two modes are available only after you beat the game once, and each provide roughly around an hour of extra game time. It’s not much, but I’m not complaining since it’s free DLC.
Each stage has you visiting different environments that are mostly linear and colorless. There is some exploration to do, with chests and collectibles to be found off the beaten path. Most of the time, exploration comes down to destroying boxes and tables that provide me with some extra upgrade materials. The Hollow Blossom collectibles, in particular, are a huge letdown and are a clear lack of effort from the developers. They are simply flowers you find within each level that provide you some dialogue text to gaze over to provide minor lore and nothing more. Side quests are also hastily put together and have you revisiting the same washed-out areas over and over again to find an item or wipe out some enemies.
Washed Out Visuals
It’s quite baffling to me that the art design is phenomenal and simply beautiful, but the graphics remind me of something that might come out of a PlayStation 2-era game. The characters and environments have this weird blur and muted color surrounding them that look even worse with inconsistent lip-syncing during dialogue segments. Many of the areas you visit look copy pasted as well, with the same assets being used to populate an otherwise already lifeless world. On the other hand, the voice acting is well done, both in English and Japanese, with a fantastic soundtrack that accompanies various narrative sequences.
Valkyrie Elysium could have been something great, with its excellent narrative backdrop built on the basis of Norse mythology. As per usual with Square Enix titles, the art direction and soundtrack are outstanding and leave me wanting more. The fast, fluid, and satisfying combat system is what carries an otherwise mediocre title bogged down by washed out visuals and uninspired level design.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PS4, PS5; Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Soleil; Players: 1; Released: Nov 11, 2022; ESRB: T; MSRP: $59.99 USD
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Valkyrie Elysium provided by the publisher.