There's something distinctly old school about Valkyrie Elysium, and we don't mean because it's part of a long-running franchise; a series that started with the turn-based JRPG Valkyrie Profile way back in 1999. This is a game with an almost PlayStation 2 style design philosophy, for better and worse, and what you're here for will determine whether that dated approach is appealing or not.
Set in the midst of Ragnorok — the end of the world in Norse mythology — the dashing king Odin has created beings known as Valkyries to do his bidding in the aftermath of his apocalyptic war against a big bad wolf named Fenrir. You play as one of these Valkyries, and Odin's bidding involves smashing up a lot of monsters with a variety of weapons across nine levels set in various different, but often aesthetically similar locations.
The story is a whole lotta nothing, and if you're here for a ripping yarn about gods and kings and mythical beings then there's not much to sink your teeth into. It only becomes mildly interesting about four minutes before the credits start rolling. Your Valkyrie is cold and one-note for much of the game, and Odin might as well be wearing a tee shirt with "I am actually evil" printed across the chest. There's a soft-spoken villain that's fun, and some of your companions add a little seasoning to the proceedings, but Valkyrie Elysium is a mostly charmless affair.
The lack of flavour extends to level design, too, with the places you'll visit being mostly large empty spaces like in many early 3D games; artificial, drab, and lifeless, like they exist purely for you to fight in. We know it's the apocalypse but it doesn't feel like anyone exists or has ever existed in this world beyond the handful of characters you meet on your journey, and while there are scant collectibles to find and menial side-quests to unlock, exploration is basically non-existent.
And then there's the graphics. There's just something disconcerting about Valkyrie Elysium visually. The characters and certain elements in the environment are accentuated with thick black outlines which might work in a more visually adventurous title, but here it just means that the Valkyrie and her party members look like they don't belong in the same world as the locales they visit. It's like bad CGI in a live action movie, sticking out like a sore thumb, and it can be quite unpleasant to look at sometimes.
If that wasn't enough, cutscenes are hampered by dodgy lip-synching and a few absurd animations. There's some pop-in as you're wandering around the world, and very occasionally the frame rate dips a little during particularly hectic battles. If you told us that Valkyrie Elysium was a PlayStation 3 game remastered for PS5, we'd believe you.
All of that stuff we just said probably sounds quite off-putting, and make no mistake that this game is certainly flawed. But if you don't care about any of the fluff, any of the accoutrements, and all you want is a hackin' an' slashin' action RPG that offers satisfying combat and interesting mechanics, then we think that Valkyrie Elysium delivers in the main.
You've got all of the usual fast and heavy attacks and magic spells and dodges that you'd expect in a game of this ilk, but you can also summon Einherjar — warrior apparitions — to aid you in battle. You'll recruit the spirits of soldiers throughout your adventure and then once they've joined your party you can summon them by holding R1 and tapping a face button. You can customise how long your summoned friend will stay by your side in battle with the offset being that the longer they stay the less often you'll be able to call upon them.
Each summon comes with an added bonus in that when you summon an Einherjar your weapon becomes imbued with the element associated with that warrior. So if you're in battle against a fire monster and that fire monster hates ice, summoning your ice Einherjar means that your ghost friend will do big damage against the creature with its attacks, but you too will have bonus damage applied to your weapon.
Enemies all have a weakness, and if you consistently inflict the damage that they're weak to, eventually they'll enter "crushed" state, which basically means that they're immobilised for a short amount of time allowing you to wail on them until they snap out of it. You can summon any two Einherjar at a time, and knowing which to call upon at what time in order to exploit the weaknesses of your foes is part of the joy of battle.
Another inspired choice when it comes to the combat is the Soul Chain, or in layman's terms, your magical grappling hook. Tapping L2 when you have an enemy targeted allows you to hook onto them and immediately zip to their position. The range of the Soul Chain is quite generous, and so battles become a ballet of attacking and dodging and then zipping to another enemy on the other side of the room, dispatching them, zipping over to the boss and unleashing your Einherjar, and then when you see a big attack coming from the boss using your Soul Chain to zip to another far away enemy to avoid the blast.
Levels are quite short and shouldn't take much more than an hour or so to see through, and we had the whole game polished off in sixteen hours. Brevity, here, is a virtue. Aside from the superfluous feeling side quests there's not really any padding. It's just a series of battles against increasingly difficult enemies and then it's over. Combat is the game's strongest hand to play by far, but with a limited pool of enemies to face it was a wise decision to keep the adventure short and sweet, and end it before it can become stale.
Valkyrie Elysium is a game of two halves. The level design and objectives feel at least two generations old and the characters and storyline are more like placeholders than the finished article. There's no capital F feelings here or much in the way of narrative justification, but if you're okay with that and you just want fifteen to twenty hours of fast, frantic, fluid combat then we can just about recommend this one.