Hats off to Square Enix for this game. Downbeat and adult, it’s a long shot from the typical high-fantasy flights of fancy typical of the RPG powerhouse’s mainstream Final Fantasies and Dragon Warriors.
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is a strategy RPG (SRPG) with a twist – the game rewards, and even demands sacrifice. The main character, an angst-and-revenge filled antihero that makes The Crow movie look like a Mills and Boon romance, has an item gifted to him for a pact with Hell. Using this item on another member of his team will super-power that teammate for a single battle – essentially making the level extremely easy (or, on the harder battles, just possible).
At the end of the battle that teammate will die, and is removed from the game. Considering the ally list for our hero, Wylfred, includes a father and daughter, estranged but reunited, you can see the kind of dredge-filled tale of woe Valkyrie Profile offers up when you start eliminating them to fuel Wylfred’s quite selfish quest to avenge the death of his father.
The plot is written well, however, and moves at a snappy enough pace to balance character development and action well, and is compelling from start to finish. For longevity (what else could we expect from Square Enix?) there’s multiple endings which are dependant on the decisions you make in-game, so seeing all the possible endings will take some time.
The other, quite original, element to the game is the concept of “sin”. Because our Wylfred made a pact with hell, he must go over-and-above just defeating enemies – he has to really hurt them, to spread the misery in the world that is high on Hell’s “to-do” agenda. In each battle, Hell places a demand for “overkill” on Wyl – he and his team need to do a certain number of points of damage over the minimum to defeat the opponent.
If successful, Hell rewards Wyl with some powerful goodies to take into the next battle. If not, punishment is severe, and later battles become much, much harder. The sin requirement in some battles is truly intimidating – sacrificing allies to power them up becomes necessary to achieve the overkill points.
Square Enix has built in the typical depth of character, and party customisation and optimisation of their other RPG franchises, and have added in mechanics for flanking and teamwork to give the on-the-field strategy elements more weight. Covenant of the Plume is a reasonably challenging game, and you’ll need to think about what you’re doing to progress through it, but not to the point where it becomes frustrating.
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume deserves credit simply for being different. It’s a more serious tale, and has great atmosphere, and is wrapped in the refined gameplay and production values that we’re accustomed to with Square Enix. One of the RPG highlights for the Nintendo DS.