A game like Valhalla Knights 3 makes a lot of sense for the Vita. There is a ton of stuff to do that keeps you coming back, you can play it in short bursts without really feeling like you missed out on much and it even has multiplayer to give you a reason to keep the system around often. None of this matters though, when the game as a whole lacks focus, feels unpolished and fails to really succeed at anything it endeavors to accomplish. The game isn’t downright unplayable, but it’s a prime example of how trying too hard can make the final product worse than it deserves to be.
You began the game with a very lengthy introductory sequence. I’m no foreigner to long introductions as I play a lot of RPGs, but in order to keep the player engaged for the 1+ hours of dialogue and clumsy cutscenes, it at least needs to be interesting. The developers do a passable job of setting up the backstory for a world at war, several kingdoms vying for control and you getting caught up in the middle of it – it’s an effective, albeit overused premise for a plot – but that’s where it stops being effective. You’re a prisoner in this massive structure at the start of the game, but it’s anything but a traditional prison.
Merchants line corridors and you are free to roam around and even murder (at least the NPCs do) other prisoners for any reason. You complete dozens upon dozens of quests for random individuals, all for the sake of just having something to do. Before you even learn all of the systems at work in this fairly complex game, tedium quickly sets in. You stop having a sense of purpose, you realize all of the quests are essentially the same thing with a different coat of paint and it feels out of sync.
Gameplay in Valhalla Knights 3 follows a similar pattern. Riddled with complexities that do little more than hamper an already cumbersome experience, it never really seems to gain any traction. You’re tasked with managing your party and switching between characters in this hybrid action-RPG-MMO-style combat system and it’s nerve racking for all of the wrong reasons. It wasn’t intense because of how exhilarating and epic fights were, it was intense because it felt like I was fumbling with the interface more than I was enjoying the game. It’s an ambitious system that could have been introduced much more gracefully, but instead the walls of text do little to engage me in the game or in the story.
The soundtrack is probably the single best thing about the game as it sets the mood very well, but it’s a bit embarrassing when listening to the soundtrack is a more epic and intense experience than any moment of actual gameplay. Graphically it leaves a lot to be desired, although it doesn’t looks bad necessarily for a large portable title. However, after playing visually stunning games like Soul Sacrifice and Killzone: Mercenary, it’s safe to assume that the Vita is out of its grace period for less-than-ideal visuals.
The real nail in the coffin for me, however, was the completely unnecessary sexual undertones. This is the third game in the series and all previous titles were fairly similar to what I’ve described already – the franchise has a dedicated audience of fans, especially in Japan, and they’ve all probably played this game already. However, it’s worth noting that there are several changes this entry brings that were both unexpected and off-putting. An entire district of the town is dedicated to sex, you can bribe just about any female in the game to have “sexy time” with you (it’s actually called that) and entire story-based moments are dedicated to the sexualization of characters in the most needless way. It’s not only unnecessary and adds nothing to the game, but frankly, it’s kind of disgusting.
It would be one thing if one of these things were a blemish on the record of an otherwise enjoyable game, but I seldom experienced any semblance of entertainment while playing Valhalla Knights 3. There is a long list of better action-RPGs on the Vita that are much more worthy of your time (just check out the recommended articles I picked at the bottom) and even more on the PSP that can be downloaded to your device. Valhalla Knights 3 is far from successful and is wholly lackluster in all facets of execution; the game fails to deliver on any of its promises.
This review is based on a digitally downloaded copy of the game for the PlayStation Vita provided by XSEED Games.