Should you trust my opinion of Valkyrie Anatomia? Can I even trust it? Probably not.
Well, here’s what I think anyway: Valkyrie Anatomia, as a mobile-game prequel to the rest of Valkyrie Profile, doesn’t form as well as its predecessors. Yet it has enough of Valkyrie Profile’s finest elements to draw me into whatever it’s trying to do to my spare time and money. For all of its failings, It knows what sets Valkyrie Profile games apart. I have irksomely sectionalized proof.
BLEAK AND MORBID VIGNETTES: Yes, mostly
The three Valkyrie Profile games tell of struggles between Norse gods and mere mortals: the first is about a valkyrie slowly reclaiming her humanity, the second about a rebellious valkyrie locked in mortal form, and the third about a bitter warrior seeking revenge on the valkyrie who spirited away his father. Yet their best moments are often found in the smaller tales about the warriors the valkyries gather, the valiant and doomed souls who earn a place in Odin’s army one way or another. The original game excelled at this while Valkyrie Profile 2 had weak side stories, but the third, Covenant of the Plume, remembered the importance of a strong supporting cast. And I will defend it everywhere I can.
Valkyrie Anatomia remembers as well. It's just not as adept. The overarching story finds a younger (and possibly alternate-reality) version of Lenneth Valkyrie sealed in darkness, summoned out of it only by an equally younger version of Odin. He desperately needs warriors for the Aesir ranks, so Lenneth travels to the mortal realm with two raven familiars at her side. She recruits humans for Einherjar he same way the original Valkyrie Profile presented things: watching them in the days before their untimely demises, and inviting them to accompany her to the afterworld.
My limited knowledge of Japanese leaves me unable to comment on the nuances of Valkyrie Anatomia’s storyline, but I can grasp the tenor of it. It’s fragmented in quality, switching from a generic story about an all-too-perfect warrior to an intriguing chronicle of a homunculus mage’s final days. Most of the time, though, Anatomia strikes the right tone: morose, fatalistic, and yet hopeful for a life beyond. It’s easy enough to sympathize with Chloe, a dragon-hunter forced to save her sister’s life at the cost of her own, or Sena, an aspiring swordfighter who dies in a tavern brawl.
That’s where Valkyrie Anatomia lays down the same rhythm that made Valkyrie Profile so compelling. Each little vignette isn’t just about a pathetic mortal; it’s an introduction to a new archer or magician or broadsword-wielder for you to recruit and develop. Anatomia even goes beyond the introductions. Once drafted, an Einherjar unlocks extra dungeons that explore the characters’ lives after they’re turned into foot soldiers for Ragnarok. It’s an excellent flourish on the original’s formula, which tended to forget about most human allies after they enlisted.
BUTTON-MASHY BATTLES: Yes
Valkyrie Profile’s battle system remains my favorite among RPGs, and I refuse to think it's mere nostalgia. No, it's the mix of action-game reflexes and a typical menu array. Each party member is mapped to one of four buttons, and pressing those buttons makes them attack in all sorts of variable pileups of spells and slashes and arrows. And with a reliable influx of dying mortals, there’s always a new character to fit into the flurry.
Valkyrie Anatomia simplifies that idea. Confined to a touch-screen, it lacks the visceral heights of actually pressing a button, yet the four controllable characters still respond when their portraits are tapped. Then the chaos kicks in, as everyone gangs up on an enemy as fast as you can command. Some strategy remains, of course: get too reckless, and a character’s spell might miss a cave-spider that’s bounced into the air, or Chloe’s vicious aerial multi-hit could whiff over a revenant already downed by Lenneth’s slide.
Characters now share a life meter, and if there’s an option to use healing items in-battle, I haven’t found it. Instead, you’re given the choice of using crystals to bring your entire party back from the ether. This being a mobile game, you have the choice of getting those crystals in small portions with each day played and dungeon cleared…or you can buy them outright.
I'm not sure if I've entirely accepted the game industry's future of smartphone diversions primed to snatch money at your most desperate moments, but without that future, we wouldn't have a new Valkyrie Profile.
COOL PUZZLE-FILLED DUNGEONS: No
Both Valkyrie Profile and its sequel relied on the same narrow complexity. Their stages were side-scrolling challenges, with jumps and ladders and visible enemies, and within that space the designers got exceptionally creative. The original Valkyrie Profile relied on Lenneth’s ice crystals, while Valkyrie Profile 2 used heroine Silmeria’s position-swapping magic for some excellent puzzles. Covenant of the Plume, being a strategy-RPG, had no such gimmicks. But that was fine.
Valkyrie Anatomia has nothing of the sort. Each stage spans a bunch of linked islands, and Lenneth runs from one to the other. Some hold enemies, some hold treasure chests, and some reveal secret paths or items if Lenneth searches them. It’s basic and tiresome, but that’s likely due to the platform. A mobile game really couldn’t work as a simplified side-scroller, and it’s better off as a tap-and-go dungeon hike.
To its credit, Valkyrie Anatomia isn’t as openly avaricious as some mobile games. Lenneth’s story and her Einherjar anthology are all free to play; the weapons and equipable gems are the randomly distributed trinkets, and thus they’re easier to get if you’re willing to pay for them.
GORGEOUS ARTWORK: Nope
The Valkyrie Profile series regularly showed beautiful illustrations from Kou Yoshinari and Yoh Yoshinari, both animators and directors. They drew all of the characters in the first game, provided some promotional art for Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, and returned to design the cast for Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. Even the regular characters designs for Silmeria weren’t too shabby. Shunya Yamashita draws every female character like a cockily postured pin-up, but his illustrations are professional.
Valkyrie Anatomia is roughest here. Hideo Minaba did at least two nice illustrations for the central artwork, but the in-game illustrations, apparently provided by a different artist, are weak. Lenneth wears ridiculous belted half-boob armor, and most of her recruited characters look mundane. Their outfits aren’t so bad, even if Chloe carries on the Valkyrie Profile tradition of women warriors who outfit themselves sensibly except for the upper thighs.
Anatomia also cheaps out by reusing the same artwork for nameless supporting characters. The same vikings from Lucia’s story reappear as bar thugs in Sena’s arc, while Chloe and pirate-turned-princess Riu apparently have twin sisters for mothers. Yeah, RPGs reuse sprite art and even portraits, but Anatomia clearly didn’t have a solid art budget. It’d look better if the identical children and soldiers and old women had no accompanying illustrations at all.
And what about the soundtrack? It leans a lot on older Valkyrie Profile tunes, but Motoi Sakuraba put together some solid new compositions. It’s a lot more consistent than the artwork.
In some inescapably biased way, I like Valkyrie Anatomia. I like it enough to keep playing it, enough to describe it in a bullet-point format that I usually dislike, and enough to hope that Square Enix puts it on the Vita, perhaps with better artwork. That rarely happens, but Chaos Rings eventually saw a Vita release, so hey. Let's hope.
That’s what bothers me the most about Valkyrie Anatomia: it’s ephemeral. A year or two from now it could disappear in a puff of server deletions and app delistings. If Valkyrie Anatomia survives in some physical form, I can add it to my top-shelf game library.
And I’d like that.