Never played a Valkyrie Profile game before? No problem! This is the first time a Valkyrie Profile game has been on a system outside one of Sony's and you need not know a thing about tri-Ace's successful franchise or its history to jump right into the DS's first installment of this 10-year old series.
Valkyrie Profile revolves around Wylfred - a young warrior seeking vengeance against the Valkyrie Lenneth for taking his father's soul to Valhalla. The process is seen as an honor by many, but to the bereaved family, the Valkyrie has stolen their loved one. Wylfred, clutching the plume the Valkyrie left where his father died, makes a dark pact with Hel, the Queen of Niflheim, who promises him the revenge he seeks on the Valkyrie. Not your average videogame plotline it has to be said, and it makes for an emotional rollercoaster of a story.
The game looks and feels very much like a mix of Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. It strikes a familiar scene - the battles take place on a battlefield divided into grids, much like players are familiar to seeing in the aforementioned titles, and are divided up into two phases, the Ally phase and the Enemy phase.
This game is dark however, much more so than some of the past lighthearted titles in this genre on the DS - the premise of each battle is to reap a certain amount of "sin" which is accomplished by inflicting more damage than your target has maximum hit points. This process is known as Overkill. By meeting the sin quota, you gain additional rewards after each battle - fail to meet it however, and there are consequences to be suffered. Also, while dealing damage, your Attack Gauge increases, and when it reaches 100, you're eligible to inflict a Soul Crush - a devastating finishing move.
Your team consists of up to four units chosen prior to the battle, each assigned to a button, A, B, Y, and X (keep your stylus in its slot for this game, because it's not even an option to use). In battles, you are encouraged to gang up on your targets, as each unit that is close enough to attack will indeed do so, even if they have already taken their turn. It's important to be careful however, as the enemy will most certainly crowd around your units as well. You can use the Y button in between turns to cycle through to which unit you want to use next, to plan your attacks to inflict the most damage possible. During battle, you can use the L and R buttons to rotate the battlefield (a feature that was well loved in the original Final Fantasy Tactics), and the Select button zooms out and back into the action.
One of the most interesting aspects to VPCoP is the invoking of the Destiny Plume. The Destiny Plume is an ability Wylfred can use once per battle that unlocks one of your ally's full potential. That particular ally then becomes a crushing powerhouse, inflicting a ton of damage on their foes and typically ensuring your victory. It comes with a terrible price though, as after the battle, that ally's life is forfeit - forever. An even darker aspect of this is that it must be an ally who is in your party, not just a guest, meaning that Wylfred is knowingly sacrificing someone he was more than just acquaintances with. Depending on how you use the Destiny Plume can also impact which characters Wylfred will meet. Each time Wylfred uses the Destiny Plume, he gains new abilities called Tactics that can be used in future battles.
The overworld is traveled simply by using a cursor to go from area to area - no travel time or random battles to be had. There are different shops to be found where you can purchase different gear and items for your allies. There are also taverns where you can read tips on the game, lore and backstory, and unlock side areas to do battle in.
Visually, the game looks ominous and shadowy - I was instantly reminded of Diablo II when looking at the textures and terrain. The character design makes me feel as though I'm playing Final Fantasy Tactics - it's very similar, though maybe not quite as detailed as what was seen in Final Fantasy Tactics A2, but it is still a very good looking game. In addition, the music in VPCoP is reminiscent of Castlevania, adding further to the game's atmosphere. There is a bit of voice acting as well, specifically in victory and defeat, the unit will speak their mind - this adds a bit of realness to the characters, and fortunately it's been done in good moderation.
If you were hoping for some Wi-Fi goodness however, then you'll be saddened to hear that there is no multiplay, local or online, to be had. Which for this title, is actually kind of a shame, because some random 4 versus 4 battles against friends could have proved highly entertaining.
In Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, we have ourselves another DS winner. If you enjoy games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, or Advance Wars, this is one to add to your collection. The battle system is the culmination of many great qualities of past strategy RPGs merged into one. Graphically and musically, this game does not disappoint, but it's worth keeping in mind that this isn't one for the kiddies; the game is dark and brooding and you won't always feel like you're playing the good guy.