Valthirian Arc: HSS
Switch version tested
Review code provided
Valthirian Arc is an RPG series of games previously available on PlayStation and Steam, based around a land of the same name. This Mythical land mostly consists of “knights and wizards” (which I’m presuming nowadays is nondescript when it comes to gender representation) on their journey to becoming a hero. Hero School Story, is where it all begins, showing where said nondescript wizards and knights train to become that very hero. The difference this time, is you play principal at the Hero School itself. Less RPG, more simulation strategy title.
After a very long (albeit extremely well drawn) introduction into the story, you get to name your school (in my case ‘Birabuto Academy’ for those who like subtle nods, although the game didn’t warn me Academy is added anyway, so actually it became “Birabuto Academy Academy”, because I’m a nonce like that), choose your crest and off you go. You don’t start with the overt concept of building your school though, you begin as a student in the middle of a field. From here you Zelda style work your way through a generic grassy land attacking pink blobs with your sword. Sub-objectives such as “find three allies” or “defeat seven enemies” make these segments somewhat interesting but are too easy and button mashing for my liking. A top-down Hyrule Warriors if you will.
Once you make it back to your Academy Academy, you discover that your new project is that run down it doesn’t even have a roof (and they call themselves trained wizards? Pah!) with a limited budget and so needs your help to get the place up to scratch. The next thing you’ll notice is how the staff at your school consist of well-drawn women with impressive cleavages. The manga enthusiast will enjoy this element of the game I’m sure.
For me, the biggest let down isn’t the fights, it is the building of your Academy that makes the game bland and frustrating. A pre-determined landscape where you can only add buildings and facilities where the game wants you to. So no placing classrooms in separate buildings, or offices near the Armory centre. You’ll do as you’re told sadly, which is annoying. The missions don’t seem to narratively make sense either, for example, “improving” the academy, by crafting a knife. What wizard needs to craft a knife, before putting a roof over their heads?
I don’t understand how people manage to get the format and structure of games like this wrong really. It’s a simple premise. You go and complete Zelda style missions to acquire coins, which you then spend on improving the Academy Academy upon your return. And yet it can be implemented in such a dull fashion. The elements that this game is made up of have the potential to be quite fun and engaging. If you took the levels of a traditional Zelda title and rewarded you by building something Happy Home Designer style, it would be incredibly entertaining. But alas it doesn’t end up like that in this finished product.
Visually the game is at its finest in cutscenes and conversation sequences. The artwork is very crisp and looks lovely as you read your way through their dialogue. This sadly changes come the missions you end up on, where the cel-shaded characters you play constantly appear to be floating inches above the ground. Also, the dungeons and fields (sounding more and more Zelda esque isn’t it?) look like Team Freak’s take on Pokemon from the original DS titles. Which over a decade on, should only be seen as a high enough standard for smartphone games really. The soundtrack is fine when compared to other MIDI based soundtracks and doesn’t distract when playing through your missions. The control scheme is incredibly straightforward and works well. Sadly none of this makes up for the simple nature of the game and it comes across so tedious.
Valthirian Arc is a straightforward premise, made simple and dull, where it could have worked very well. Whether other games in the series on desktop and PlayStation have suffered similar pacing and logic options I’m not sure, but if they have done I’m surprised the series is still releasing titles on so many platforms. If only they made more of the narrative, and justified the areas you go to complete your missions before going back to your Academy Academy, it might hook you in a lot more. But for now, I see it as too simple a game to keep my attention for long enough, when other strategy and RPG games are already available or on their way, at a much higher calibre. Great potential, disappointing execution.