Valkyrie Profile Week: An Interview

VALKYRIE PROFILE WEEK 2005 ends today, unless I come up with some sort of clever addendum that makes the whole thing worthwhile. Since I've exhausted my Valkyrie Profile merchandise, here's an interview with some of the game's voice actors.

It comes from one of the last issues of Gamefan—not the scattershot, grandly unprofessional Gamefan that Dave Halverson ran, but the Gamefan that started up after Halverson left in 1998. I never liked that version of Gamefan. While Halverson's publication maintained a good-natured aura in spite of its frequent excesses, the second generation of Gamefan was much the opposite: surly, posturing, and fixated more on dumb in-jokes and homegrown catchphrases than games. You can see it in this interview, where Gamefan wastes time with a potshot at one of the editors when they could ask, just maybe, something about Valkyrie Profile.

In fact, most of the questions have little to do with the game. It's more like a glimpse into the actors' careers circa 2001. But you can read Megan Hollingshead's take on two of the characters she played, and her performance was easily my favorite from Valkyrie Profile.

Valkyrie Profile Week: Valkyrie Fight Tag

For this installment of VALKYRIE PROFILE WEEK 2005, I'm going to plug Valkyrie Fight Tag, a homebrew PC fighter that's probably known to anyone who liked or even played Valkyrie Profile. It's worth mentioning again for the sake of the people who didn't, just because Valkyrie Fight Tag is surprisingly solid, considering that it was likely made by a crew smaller than the PlayStation game's cover design staff.
Like a lot of “doujin” fighters, it's simple in design, with three buttons, easily performed moves, and not much game balance. The programmer(s) replicate the PlayStation game's sprites really well, making them just a bit larger, and the fan-art character portraits look better than some professional game illustrations. It's all a pleasant diversion, especially for Valkyrie Profile fans.

It's not quite a fighting game based on Les Miserables, but Valkyrie Fight Tag's worth whatever download arrangement The Underdogs runs you through. A pity it's not a fully licensed tri-Ace game, or it might've ended up in the PSP version.

Valkyrie Profile Week: Another Comic

VALKYRIE PROFILE WEEK 2005 continues with a look at another Valkyrie Profile comic I own. It's called “Kami to Hito no Tsumugu Uta,” which I think translates to “The Spinning Song of Men and Gods” or “The Song Cycle of Gods and Men” or something like that.

I picked it up at an Ohio anime convention, back when I still went to such things. The dealer's room had a corner entirely devoted to doujinshi. The vendor was a deceptively average-looking guy who had helpfully sorted his selection into the clean publications and the many varieties of pure porn. I walked by and saw a Valkyrie Profile book in the normal section. The art wasn't amazing, but the author had apparently cared enough to use a unique, crinkled, and antiquated-looking cover, and it caught my eye.

Then some preteen girls walked by, and the dealer started yelling HEY LADIES GET YOUR HOT YAOI CREAM-FILLED MAN BUNS COMICS HERE and WE'VE GOT HARRY POTTER AND INUYASHA FOR ALL YOUR YAOI NEEDS and other things that might sound clever if you were a recently paroled sex offender.

I looked at the slim Valkyrie Profile booklet in front of me and realized that it deserved a better home. So I bought it and left. With haste.

I thought that the comic might be horrifying filth in disguise, but it's clean. There are no scenes of Lezard and Mystina screwing in a magical academy's broom closet or Arngrim and Lawfer exploring flowery knight love or the entire cast joining in a massive drunken pseudo-necrophilic Einherjar orgy in the halls of Valhalla. None of that.

Instead, you get two stories: one explores Lenneth and Lucian's relationship just as the game did, and the other deals with Claire, Lucian's common-law wife, as she figures out that, well, Lucian never really loved her. It's a bit on the bland side, and the art, while serviceable, is never all that impressive.

I get the idea that the author, Misuzu Fujimiya, really liked Valkyrie Profile and wanted to do a somber and faithful story about the game. It succeeds there, but I find myself of the opinion that fan fiction is better when it's just batshit crazy. Furthermore, I was disappointed to find a website run by Fujimiya, who's apparently drawing creepier stuff now.

So there's one-third of my vast doujinshi collection: a half-decent fan comic with a nicely textured cover and a reminder to avoid some or all parts of anime conventions.

Valkyrie Profile Week: A Comic

In honor of the recent news about Valkyrie Profile 2, I declare this to be VALKYRIE PROFILE WEEK 2005 and promise daily discussions of the game and its related merchandise until everyone's horribly fucking sick of it.
Today, we look at Yuu Hijikata's Valkyrie Profile manga, published in 2001 by Gangan Comics, for those of you who hunt these things. While a lot of legitimate game-based manga titles are collections of short stories, Hijikata's work tries to span the game's entire storyline in two 175-page volumes. This is not well-advised, yet it's strangely entertaining to watch it all play out.

At first, it all goes well. The first book covers the initial stretch of Valkyrie Profile, introducing Lenneth Valkyrie, the Berserk-inspired warrior Arngrim, bratty Princess Jelanda, and Belenus, who was just sort of boring and got sent to Valhalla first whenever I played the game.

The comic is paced better than the typical tri-Ace story, and though much of it is a line-for-line recreation of the PlayStation game's script, some differences emerge. Lawfer, whose death wasn't shown in the game, buys it in the manga during a big dramatic face-off with Arngrim (there's gay fan fiction in there someplace), and Lezard, who's like Harry Potter grown up and gone bad, appears earlier. Hijikata's art is fairly good, and I really dig the covers, even if they can't match the illustrations that Kou and You Yoshinari did for the game.

Unfortunately, the whole thing pretty much stabs itself in the eye during the second volume. The project's editors apparently stormed into Hijikata's studio to demand that the story wrap up in five chapters, so that's what happens. After a brief scene about vampires and the introduction of Lenneth's past-life boyfriend Lucian, everything shifts into a fast-forwarded account of the PlayStation game's last act, with Lezard and Mystina and Hrist and Loki all running around as the world ends. Granted, the original Valkyrie Profile's big finale is a deus ex machina in truest fictional form, but it was never as rushed and incoherent as Hijikata's version.

The manga's a fun curiosity for Valkyrie Profile fans, although its slavish adherence to the game's plotline means that there's not much to see if you've already been through the story on the PlayStation. But hey, geek merchandise doesn't have to make sense.

Final Fantasy XII Is Still Around

Let’s check in on Final Fantasy XII, seeing as how a demo of it ships next week with Dragon Quest VIII. For one thing, those of you who doubt the ingenuity of the game should note its latest step in bravely discarding series tradition. Observe that Final Fantasy XII’s ostensible villain, Vayne Cardas Solidor, has brown hair instead of white or blond hair!

All joking aside, I really am looking forward to Final Fantasy XII. I remain firm in my delusion that it will be a brilliant change from the franchise’s typical form, that it will have a marvelous story capable of singly vaulting games into the realm of high literature, and that it will be a beautiful, priceless experience such as to leave you gaping in open wonder and regretting that you ever doubted director Yasumi Matsuno for a second, you ungrateful shit. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. At least not until the demo arrives, at which point we'll probably learn that FFXII is much like previous Final Fantasies, only with an MMORPG battle system, a few Shakespearean allusions, and bizarrely realistic bunny women.

The Final Fantasy XII demo is intriguing in other ways, as it’s debuting in America. I’ve heard of no such release for the Japanese market, and as far as I can tell, no U.S. gaming website landed special previews of the demo. Unleashing it on the public at large suggests either Square’s confidence in the game or the fact that they just don’t care anymore because Matsuno has fallen ill or quit or gone stark raving mad, depending on who you believe. The project is now overseen by Saga series creator Akitoshi Kawazu –in other words, the man behind Unlimited Saga. Damning as that may sound, Kawazu’s just the executive producer of FFXII and, in effect, merely the one called in to guide the project’s last leg.

The real burden of proof falls upon co-directors Hiroyuki Ito and Hiroshi Minagawa, who’ve been closely tied to either Matsuno’s past work or earlier parts of the Final Fantasy series. Ito designed Final Fantasy Tactics, directed Final Fantasy IX and helped invent the battle systems on Final Fantasy IV, V, VI, and VIII. Minagawa is a Quest veteran who handled the art direction for Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story. They’re some of the best talent Square has left.

So if Final Fantasy XII is a hideous, embarrassing plane crash of a game, I'll know whose fault it is.

Mine, for getting too excited about a video game.

Gunstarting Somewhere

Gunstar Super Heroes ships to the U.S. next week. I won’t discuss it at length until then, but I can already confirm that it has some great backgrounds.

From what little I’ve played, it’s awesome. Much like the Genesis game, it hits you with lots of different gameplay styles and details, all clever enough to make you sit back and think about them when you’re not even playing, and I’ve always thought that to be the sign of a great game. Yes, there’s no two-player mode and the weapons are down to four from the original’s fourteen, but you won’t notice any of that, especially not when you’re collecting baby chicks.

Attention Treasure employees: you’re all forgiven for Silpheed: the Lost Planet, Stretch Panic, and, hell, any other shitty games you might have made. I’ll even forgive you for canceling Gun Beat –which, I maintain, would have amazing and not the disappointing mess that all available evidence suggests.

Let's Talk About Radiata Stories

Or let's just post some out-of-context screen captures from it.

You People Are Not Well

Far too much time has passed since the last update, but I have good excuses. Not only am I revising the site’s layout, but I also had to move to a new job in New York. The result? I just don’t have much time for my little website.

In lieu of actual new content, here’s a look at the top searches that lead to

Lord, how I hate the Internet.

Change of plans here. I'm going to revise this site so that it’s all about female bodybuilders, because readers would apparently rather see that sort of thing than anything about bad video game artwork or dumb cartoons from Japan.

Game Magazine Memories

Those who read Electronic Gaming Monthly in the mid-90s may remember the “What Ifs” column with which the mag sometimes killed space. This section invited readers to send in witticisms on par with “What if the Little Mermaid was Ecco's Mother?” or “What if Atari decided there weren't enough buttons on the Jaguar's controller?” It was not, in retrospect, the magazine's finest attraction, but the terse banality of “What Ifs” appealed to kids and those older readers who couldn't write full-length letters.

To this day I'm not sure what possessed me to jot down some “What Ifs” of my own in late 1994, though I could blame it on being bored during Christmas vacation and unconvinced that I had outgrown video games. Whatever the cause, I sent off a dozen bon mots to EGM and promptly forgot about them, as I had Final Fantasy VI (then III) to worry about.

About four months later, someone passed the March 1995 issue of EGM2 around fifth-period German class. Once it was in my hands, I flipped to the letters section, for I suddenly remembered those stupid “What Ifs" and was gripped by a hysterical urge to see if I, a humble lad from a small Ohio town, would find my name in print.

And I did.

But you CAN finish the Legend of Zelda in one day, Brian. Really now.

Yes, that's me at the bottom of the list, delivering some comedic misfires about Final Fantasy III, Mortal Kombat II, and a lesser-known, lesser-quality arcade fighter called BloodStorm, which gave rise to the Tempest gag. You see, one of her finishing moves was called the “Exorcism.” It was funny then, dammit.

This wouldn't seem a grand event today, but back in 1995, I was thrilled. With these four “What Ifs” printed, I was now a published writer. Forget that worthless short story in the school's literary magazine. This was E-MOTHERFUCKING-G-M. Yes, I was a stupid kid, and I make no excuses for it. In fact, I still feel some small surge of accomplishment when I look at the column and note that, for example, I received more space than any other contributor. Take THAT, Iain Hend! Where's your precious "Internet" now?

Of course, the issue has points of interest aside from unfounded nostalgia. For one, it's an interesting look at all of the game systems that were desperately vying for attention in 1995. With the 3DO, the Jaguar, the CD-i, the SNES, the Genesis, the 32X, the Sega CD, the slowly building culture of PC games, and the recently announced PlayStation and Saturn, it was an absolute clusterfuck. Though the two newest systems get the nicest previews in this issue (remember when Cyber Sled impressed us?), the 16-bit consoles seem to have the better libraries, thanks to titles like Ristar, Metal Warriors, Ogre Battle, Front Mission, and Comix Zone. But hey, CD-i owners could look forward to Thunder in Paradise, a multi-genre piece based on Hulk Hogan's short-lived syndicated TV series. The CD-i is seldom praised.

The year was also dominated by fighting games, and the issue dedicates an accordingly generous share of pages to Virtua Fighter 2, Killer Instinct, Capcom's X-Men fighter, and, of course, Mortal Kombat 3. The magazine's standout article is an interview with Anthony Marquez, a martial artist who provided motion-capture work for Kung Lao in both Mortal Kombat 2 and 3. It's a standard puff piece, though even Marquez weighs in on the issue of gaming violence when he submits that “parents have to take responsibility and not blame bad parenting on movies or video games.”

Yet the most intriguing thing in this issue might be a preview for a home version of BloodStorm, the mediocre, gore-filled fighter that inspired a “What If” from me. Though the game had a short run in arcades during 1994, ports for the PlayStation and Saturn were apparently announced the following year. EGM2's preview is sloppily vague, and the grainy screenshots suggest either an ugly translation or poor image quality, but it's the only evidence I've seen that BloodStorm was headed for a console. It was canceled, of course, after a Genesis version of Time Killers, BloodStorm's direct ancestor, turned out to be even worse than its arcade original.

That's about it for the April 1995 issue of EGM2. The layouts are only passable and the writing sticks to the same bland, grade-school tone that the EGM offices employed during the mid-1990s, but it has value as a study of an incredibly competitive gaming culture that may never be duplicated. And perhaps it shouldn't be.