IGN Review of Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume
If you're a DS owner who likes turn-based strategy games, you probably feel pretty blessed. The genre is very well represented on the handheld with fantastic games like Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, and Disgaea. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is another to add to your collection. This is a unique strategy role-playing game (SRPG) that really stands out among the many great selections on the portable. It plays differently than the previous Valkyrie Profile games on PlayStation platforms, but the spirit of the series is retained.
This is a very mature, serious adventure. It's a dour tale of revenge where players make a pact with the devil and are required to "sin" by overkilling their enemies. The script is very well written, full of flowery, high-minded dialogue. Final Fantasy Tactics A2, another SRPG for the DS from Square Enix, was very good, but its premise was a little childish. If you are looking for a mature story to play through on the handheld, this is it. Not to worry if you haven't played the other Valkyrie Profile games -- Covenant of the Plume is a standalone experience.
The story branches into seperate paths, giving players the opportunity to meet and gain different allies. By investigating rumors at taverns you can also open side quests. A handful of different endings await depending on what allies survive to the end.
Like most games in this genre, the flow of gameplay alternates between battles and story sequences. It's the battle system that really distinguishes Covenant of the Plume. You can only take a maximum of four units into battle, which is less than most SRPGs. That doesn't mean combat is less exciting, though. This game is all about the team-up attacks. When one unit engages an enemy, any ally in the vicinity will join in the fun. That means your units can each attack several times during one turn. Each unit is assigned to a DS face button, and when attacking an enemy you must time each unit's button presses to produce the most damage (characters can be assigned to the buttons of your choosing). You also must be mindful of unit placement. Attacking from behind gives a greater chance of stunning the enemy so that they cannot counter attack. As you deal damage you raise the attack gauge. Get it high enough and you'll unleash special "soul crush" attacks that result in flashy, over the top animations a la Disgaea.
It is possible to deal more damage than the enemy has hit points. This is called overkill and produces "sin" points. At the start of each battle you will be given a sin quota to reach. Achieve the goal and you will be rewarded with items when the dust settles. Fall short, and an extra powerful enemy will be waiting for you in the next battle.
But maybe the most intriguing battle mechanic is the titular Plume that players gain early on. It can be used to imbue an ally with god-like powers, making them pretty much invincible for the duration of one battle. When that battle is over, though, the ally is sacrificed, and they're gone for good. Using this ability will affect the ending you receive. After completing the game, though, you can restart and retain all the abilities gained, so it will be easier the second time around in case you want to see all possible endings.
The game provides a nice challenge but the enemy AI isn't very aggressive. Usually they will hang back, just waiting for you to enter their attack range. There are times when the player is outnumbered, and if the bad guys just got off their asses they could make short work of our hero. This is pretty common with these types of games, but in this day and age it would be nice to see some smarter enemies.
Light voice acting is peppered throughout battles and really helps bring these characters to life. Each ally has a few lines they might recite before or after an attack, and they also have a series of grunts and growls for when they take or deal damage. The soundtrack is made up of tunes from previous Valkyrie Profile games which might excite fans of the series, but I didn't find them to be particularly memorable.
No stylus control has been implemented, which is fine. This genre flourished long before we had touch screen controls. Battles unfold on the lower screen while menus and stats are displayed up top. The L and R buttons will rotate the battlefield. Visually, Covenant of the Plume is adequate. It's not on the same level as Square Enix's beautiful Final Fantasy Tactics A2, but you won't want to kick it out of bed, either.
©2009-03-12, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved