There have been plenty of games in recent years that have tried to capitalize on combining elements from a few different genres into one streamlined package and few have truly succeeded. While A Valley Without Wind 2 (Valley 2, from here on out) does not succeed in every area, it's still a fun and incredibly ambitious project from a small team of dedicated developers. You can check out my interview with three of the team members from Arcen Games right here for some more details on the inspiration and design concepts of the game.
The general premise at hand is similar to "Metroidvania" experiences (combinations of elements from games like Metroid and Castlevania) that have come before it - it's part side scrolling action game, platformer and RPG-lite. However, Valley 2 sets itself apart from the pack by throwing in a whole other piece to the puzzle - a micro-RTS-style game within a game that ties directly into the story and concepts at work. It's an ambitious undertaking, but it works surprisingly well.
You begin the game as a mage that has infiltrated the inner-circle of the evil overlord Demonaica. It's up to you to find out how to overthrow him by using the powers he has given you as his ally. The game alternates between managing your troops and allies in the meta-game where you assign them to fight, collect resources, recruit, etc. across different sectors of the map (all the while Demonaica is in pursuit.) At the same time, you have to go down into the different regions and play out the sequences in procedurally generated side-scrolling action game segments. During these phases you have a whole host of different skills and equipment at your disposal, which lends to the action-RPG nature of the moment-to-moment combat.
Overall this approach works well if you give it some time to sink in. If you're familiar with Act Raiser on the SNES, it actually employed a vaguely similar style of hybrid gameplay on a smaller scale. Valley 2 is a competent micro-strategy game that adds flavor and purpose to the side-scrolling segments, which in turn benefit the strategy segments. While settings can be altered to make one more prominent than the other if you so desire, you should give the hybrid gameplay a chance to get the full worth out of the game.
It could be too much to ask for in a game of this scope with such a small team, but I would have really enjoyed to see each of the two separate gameplay modes fleshed out just a bit more. For example, you must pick from an assortment of character designs and class archetypes - how about allowing more free-form character creation in both appearance and skill-sets It could be really interesting to customize my character in more depth.
It's also worth noting that a lot has changed as well, going from Valley 1 to Valley 2. First off, they tried to make the general default control scheme more even across the boards. In the original game, players moved the cursor to aim and place items in the environment, which made things very difficult for gamers that preferred to use a gamepad for these types of games. Valley 2 tries to find a good middle ground by making it easy to play with only button inputs, which levels the playing field for gamers. They have since added updates that expanded the control schemes.
The art style is also very unique. The player character and NPCs are quite detailed, with bright and vibrant environmental designs everywhere. Nothing really blends in or fades into obscurity, but instead everything has a very sharp and potent design that makes it stick out at all times. The presentation is only amplified by the incredibly score and the main menu music deserves listening to in its entirety - I recommend just watching the main screen and enjoying the music for a few minutes.
After you bask in that glory, I'd also highly recommend finding some friends to play with as the game shines in multiplayer. The action sequences get extremely intense and add an extra layer of strategy with more than one person on the screen. Imagine playing Metroid on co-op as your friend could take the role of another bounty hunter - that's pretty similar to the experience at hand in Valley 2.
While the overall execution and depth is lacking in favor of ambitious design and charming moment of gameplay, A Valley Without Wind 2 is a great choice for gamers after something unique. There really isn't anything like it that's been released in the passed several years and Arcen has done a solid job of updating the formula. It's not quite to the point where it could be, but I can also honestly say I enjoyed my time battling the forces of Demonaica.
This review was based on a review copy of the game for the PC provided by Arcen Games.