Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga (Wii Review) by Carl B.
Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga
Release: September 29th, 2009, North America
October 31st, 2009, by Carl B.- Released in 2007 and 2008 respectively, Valhalla Knights 1 and 2 failed to wow the PSP action RPG scene. The main complaints of the first two titles primarially were lack of good story telling and lack of side quest explanation. Marvelous is back again with Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga, exclusively for the Wii. Promising a gripping RPG tale, can Eldar Saga fix the problems of the first two games and become that big action RPG the series longs to be?
Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is one of the few RPGs that feature a generational storyline. You can select from Chapter One and Two. Chapter One takes players through the tale of the game's original hero and his quest to prevent the Spirit King, the antagonist of Eldar Saga, from rising again and conquering the land of Eldar. Chapter Two takes place years after the events of Chapter One, where the players take on the role of the first hero's son or daughter as they try to defeat the Spirit King, who was revived and had waged a war on Eldar.
Either chapter is selectable from the get-go. The advantage of playing Chapter One before Two is the ability to choose a wife from one of the four races to marry (human, elf, dwarf, and half-ling), thus making the character in Chapter Two a mixed race. Luckily all items, equipment and money from Chapter One will transfer to your character in Chapter Two, but obviously not if you didn't play through the first chapter before the second.
Character customization is a big part of Eldar Saga. When you first start a new game, you'll be able to edit almost everything pertaining to your character -- face, hair and even his/her voice. Starting stats are also distributed by your choice to a range of different categories. Throughout the game, further customization of the character is available, with a multitude of different weapons, armor, shields, and accessories, all to make your hero look super snazy.
Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is filled with many really cool ideas. The problem though, is that all those great ideas are riddled with extremely poor execution, as you're about to discover.
The first thing you'll notice about Eldar Saga is the land of Eldar itself; it's a very large, sprawling kingdom filled with plains, mountains, forests, plains, and some more plains, all topped off with a wonderful brown filled color palette. In case you couldn't tell where I was going with this, the visuals in Eldar Saga are absolutely horrendous. Textures are very blurry when viewed at up close, and character models are even worse. Every character in the game no matter how big or small, have abnormally huge hands and forearms, along with the apparent obsession with keeping their fists clenched even while they're shaking hands or exchanging items. With a major graphical overhaul these issues could have been fixed, as the land of Eldar is quite big and somewhat satisfying to travel around.
Sadly, Eldar Saga's atmospheric woes don't end with the visuals. In fact, they get worse. Most, of not all RPGs have an engaging and epic soundtrack behind them. Eldar Saga does not. There's barely any music in the game period, with the only tunes playing for about five seconds when the player enters a different area. Sound effects are extremely poor as well. The most notable of them are the character's footsteps -- loud, monotone pounding noises that often times don't match the character's pace. I'm actually glad Eldar Saga doesn't have music because it would be drowned out by the relentless footstep sound effects anyway.
Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga differs from its predecessors in the combat front. In the PSP titles, battles with monsters would take place randomly, with a new screen for the real time combat appearing. In Eldar Saga, all battles take place right on the map and in full real time sequences. For combat there are two basic attacks: fast but weaker, and slow but stronger. The "faster" attack is actually very slow, and the slower attack is even slower than slow. Through my experiences, I could hardly tell a difference between the two types; each one did basically the same amount of damage. Attacking enemies gets rather tiresome, as the combat is clunky and slow. To compensate to a small extent, there is a lock-on system similar to the 3D Zelda series', but for some reason the developers decided to make the character walk extremely slow while locked on.
As I said before, character customization is a big part of Eldar Saga. There are a ton of different swords, bows, axes, spears, shields, and armor, each with a different look and effect on the character's appearance and stats. Each piece of weaponry and armor has a set weight as well. Your character can only hold a certain amount of weight at one time, and there doesn't seem to be a stat that increases the limit. To make things even more confusing, there are just too many stats. The majority of character stats won't even apply to your character as you play through the game. After your character gains experience points by killing enemies and levels up, you'll be able to increase your character's base stats by a small amount. The base stats are things like strength, vitality, defense, luck, speed, and dexerity.
In terms of story length and sheer quality, Eldar Saga is not up to par with recent action RPGs. Both Chapters run at about five hours if you fo just the main quest and some level grinding. That's nothing compared to today's RPGs, which are logging times at about 20-30 hours. Eldar Saga also doesn't feature an epic tale that we've grown so used to RPGs having this generation. The story is often so cheesy that you might even laugh at some of the intended serious moments. Another problem with Eldar Saga's story is that to advance on the main plot, the character must talk to an NPC that gives you your next objective; this essentially makes Eldar Saga a "go do this, come back, and repeat" sort of game.
Even with the disappointing main story, there is actually some replay value in the game in the form of guild quests, assuming you're willing enough to do them. In any of the game's four main towns, you can accept guild quests. Guild quests are little side missions where the player must achieve a certain goal, and the reward is a whole lot of money. There are two main problems with the guild quests, however. The first issue is that when you're taking part in the main story quest, you can't do any guild quests. It's a very weird design choice, and pretty annoying too. For instance, if you're in the middle of a harder main quest and want to make lots of gold to buy better equipment fast, you'll have to complete the main quest you're on before you can accept guild quests. The other problem is considerably worse than the first -- after you accept a guild quest, there are no constant reminders of where you need to go and what you do, even after you meet up with the NPC who gives you further instructions. One particular quest I did made me meet up with a mage and guide him to the top of the Rhianos Mountains. But where was the top? I got lost and ended up killing a dragon, before I finally found the "top", which was a little outcropping edge next to a bigger hill.
To assist the player during main quests or guild quests, mercenaries can be rented from the main town's tavern. The cool thing about mercenaries is that you can pay to rent one and they'll stick with you for the whole game, unless you do a guild quest that doesn't allow mercenaries. In that case, you have to fire them at the tavern and re-rent them later. Mercenaries grow in level just like the player's character, and you can even equip them with different weapons and armor. Even if a mercenary dies, you'll still have them; mercenaries come right back to life if you enter a different area, and they also regenerate health every second. The sad part about the mercenaries is their AI. They're often prone to running to their deaths, and they even have trouble climbing ledges. For the most part though, they're pretty useful, especially against bosses.
There is also an online component to Eldar Saga, and it surprisingly is fairly consistent with the rest of the game. Take it how you will, but Eldar Saga's friend code only wi-fi play allows two players to run around Eldar doing guild quests -- all with the same terrible gameplay mechanics and poor visuals.
2/15- There is hardly any music in Eldar Saga, but the five seconds wirth of some of the songs are actually pretty good. Terrible sound effects also plague this soundtrack-less game, with the incredibly annoying footstep sounds being the worst offender.
4/20- Terrible, terrible visuals. Texture are very blurry when viewed at close, character models have giant forearms and hands, and every color seems to be a variation of brown. The Wii can do a whole lot better than this.
3/25- Eldar Saga's short and poorly executed story won't compel even the majority of hardcore RPGers to play the game. Guild quests are a good idea, but too confusing. Online play is there for those who enjoy spreading misery unto themselves with a friend.
12/40- Combat is slow and clunky, the game is repetitive, and the mercenary AI is dumb -- three things that spell disaster for action RPGs. On top of all those things, the character stats are very confusing. Good luck trying to figure out how to increase your character's weight capacity.
21/100- In truth, I tried to enjoy Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga as I was playing through it. In some ways, I actually like this terrible game. Unfortunately, not even the most hardcore RPG fans will be able to forgive Eldar Saga's shortcomings and ridiculous design choices. If you're looking for the Wii's next big action RPG, be a trooper and wait it out until Monster Hunter 3 releases in North America in early 2010. Don't let Valhalla KNights: Eldar Saga's $40 price tag fool you.