Square Enix’s Valkyrie Profile series of RPGs has been dormant for quite a while, with the last full-fledged entry being 2009’s DS game Covenant of the Plume. Now, however, a brand new entry has arrived in Valkyrie Elysium, which brings with it a shift from the franchise’s turn-based combat system to a real-time action one. Unfortunately, while that snazzy new combat system can be fun, Valkyrie Elysium is a bit too generic an action-RPG to be the jolt of new life this series deserves.
Valkyrie Elysium is developed by Soleil, the studio behind the 2020 action-RPG Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time. And like Valkyrie Elysium, that game wasn’t an epic RPG on the scale of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 or Persona 5 Royal. You know, the sort that feature grand, sweeping narratives across time and space along with substantial character development over the course of 100-plus hours. It was a more modest game, and Soleil proved they were up to the task, seemingly making them a rather fitting studio to tackle Valkyrie Elysium. But that more modest scale (along with what was clearly a lower development budget than those of many big Square Enix RPGs like Final Fantasy) hampers the game, making it feel at times like a small-scale adventure straining to convince you it’s an epic for the ages.
Valkyrie Elysium follows a young woman called—you guessed it—the Valkyrie, who goes around purifying souls throughout the land in order to save the world. She follows orders from Odin, the deity who rules over the world. The story is pretty predictable early on, with Odin’s pretentious air a dead giveaway that this arrangement won’t last much longer. You can already tell that there’s something not quite right with the Norse god as he sits on his throne looking down on Valkyrie, as if he’s scheming to stab her in the back at some point. The way the story clearly works to keep Odin’s intentions and methods of “saving” the world cloaked in shadow also clues us in, with no subtlety whatsoever, that something is amiss.
Throughout the story, Valkyrie meets four Einherjars, which are spirits that serve her. The Einherjars become inspired by her quest and join her. The interactions between Valkyrie and her new companions add a lot of personality to the game, whether it’s in the inquisitive Kristoffer asking Valkyrie if she’s warmed up to humans toward the latter half the story, or Eygon blushing as the other Einherjars poke fun at him when he mentions that the most prominent detail of the Valkyrie myth that stood out to him was that they were beautiful.
The vibrant characterizations of the Einherjars are all the more welcome because Valkyrie’s own personality is dominated by one particular, somewhat drab note: her unflinching loyalty to Odin. She develops a bit more as a character when she starts to remember bits and pieces of her past, as well as when she uncovers Odin’s motivations, but it’s the Einherjars that help liven up the mood.
Thankfully, the new combat system Valkyrie Elysium brings to the series is the game’s biggest strength, doing the heavy lifting throughout the journey and picking up some of the slack left by the often-bland story and environmental design.
The star of the show is the Soul Chain, a mechanic that allows Valkyrie to latch onto enemies from afar and close the distance so she can start chaining attacks, Devil May Cry style. The Soul Chain feels incredibly satisfying, not entirely unlike the grappling hook in Halo Infinite. It has no cooldown timer, either, so you can zip around the battlefield from enemy to enemy at your whim. It feels exhilarating.
In battle, the Einherjars act like typical RPG party members. Valkyrie can summon two at a time to fight alongside her. Each Einherjar has a specific element that can strike enemy weaknesses like lightning or ice, so you’ll have to strategize about which two to bring out at once depending on the enemies you’re facing. The mechanic plays out similarly to Scarlet Nexus’ SAS system, allowing Valkyrie to imbue her weapon with an element of whichever two Einherjars are currently deployed.
Progression feels nicely paced, as enemies drop gems that Valkyrie can invest in to learn new skills and upgrade the power of her various weapons. However, there are some issues with the combat. Despite the immense mobility Valkyrie gets via the Soul Chain, she still feels very weighty because once she executes an attack, she absolutely has to commit to it all the way through. There’s really no way to cancel your attack, and this can be a problem when you can see an enemy coming from behind but you’re powerless to stop it due to being locked into whatever attack you’re already doing. Furthermore, when Valkyrie gets knocked down, she takes ages to get back up on her feet.
This sluggishness is compounded by the fact that Valkyrie also can’t switch Einherjar elements or her weapon in the middle of a combo. She can’t even change them while in the air, or when flying toward an enemy using Soul Chain. Having to wait until she’s done with her current action to switch elements or weapons often interrupts the flow of combat.
Fortunately, the boss fights are a highlight. Facing them requires a much more methodical method than standard encounters. Just spamming attacks like you might in regular battles is a recipe for death. Here, Valkyrie has to utilize all of her defensive measures as well, such as dodging right as the enemy hits her to activate a Bayonetta-like slow down period, or blocking it instead and then following up with an devastating automatic counterattack.
As for how you navigate the world, Valkyrie Elysium uses a mission and hub base structure. You select a main quest or side quest and then you’re transported to the corresponding area. It’s too bad that most of those areas start to look repetitive as the game goes on. You repeatedly see similar broken medieval buildings and bridges, with a bit of environmental variation every now and again—this time you might be surrounded by oceans, the next by ice-capped mountains. At least the visuals are nice to look at, particularly the way that blue feather plumes rush out of Valkyrie whenever she runs.
Valkyrie can also come across side quests from souls that haven’t moved onto the afterlife. These offer some interesting side stories, such as one in which you help out a young woman who is unable to move on due to the regret she carries arguing with a boy she loved. She blames herself for his fate, thinking that if she hadn’t argued with him, then things could’ve turned out differently, and she wants to make amends with him before moving on—it’s up to Valkyrie to reconnect them again.
These side quests emphasize the game’s theme of hope, that even when the world and its inhabitants are dying (or already dead), that there’s a glimmer of optimism somewhere out there. Valkyrie is hope. These optional errands offer a nice distraction from the main plot that otherwise can be wrapped up in about 15 hours.
Valkyrie Elysium feels much more like a spin-off entry in the Valkyrie Profile franchise than a full-fledged new main title. Its smaller scope, budget, and design lend it a “PlayStation 2 game” feel. The game’s combat is its saving grace, alongside some fun character interactions. Without the Valkyrie name and branding, Elysium could’ve very well been written off as a somewhat generic action game.