Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume DS
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Tri-Ace
It's pretty amazing to think that the DS, above all other consoles, is getting the most attention when it comes to RPG titles. Nintendo's handheld system has certainly been getting the royal treatment from Square Enix with an excellent collection of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles and now it's the turn of the Valkyrie Profile series. However the series doesn't have such an impressive history as the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series but nevertheless the previous games have been fine titles and Covenant of the Plume is no exception.
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is a strategy RPG but unlike some of the previous strategy RPG's we've seen on the DS it has quite a serious edge to its storyline. The game's story is essentially one of revenge. The game's central character, Wylfred, believes the Valkyrie murdered his father and is also responsible for the death of his sister that later followed. Consumed by an obsession to have his revenge on the Valkyrie he makes a pact with Hel, Queen of Niflheim, which sees him getting her support and the Destiny Plume in exchange for him defeating the Valkyrie. Wylfred gets far more than he bargained for however and much more blood on his hands than he could have ever imagined. The storyline won't be regarded as one of the finest you'll find in an RPG. However, there are certain pathways you can take through it and there's plenty of replay value here as a result.
Covenant of the Plume isn't a typical strategy RPG thanks to its rather different battle system. The action is still turn-based and played out on a grid but you can only take four characters into battle and you'll need to make the most effective use of them if you want to avoid making hard work of it. Some might not be thrilled by having such a small amount of units involved in a battle but it really does keep you on your toes. Essentially the idea is for your units to team up during combat to inflict maximum damage on your enemies. During an attack each character will have a specified number of attacks. You'll perform these attacks by pressing the relevant button that's assigned to the character (either the A, B, X or Y buttons). It's not just a case of wild button mashing however as attacks can be timed for more powerful attacks. The Attack Gauge will fill with each attack and should it reach 100, a special attack will be triggered. In the ideal scenario, you'll have four characters surrounding the enemy and attacking together as this greatly increases your chance of a special attack and also increases your chance of achieving an "Overkill," that is to say a powerful attack that is excessive of what is required to defeat an enemy. The battles are actually quite intriguing but if there's a complaint to be made it's that the AI isn't always as challenging as you might have hoped for.
It may seem odd but the game encourages you to attack your enemy with much more might than is necessary. Excessively powerful attacks are known as "Overkill" and accumulate "Sin.," which is demanded by the evil Queen Hel. In short then it's not just about making attacks that are enough to finish off an enemy and prevent them from counter-attacking, you have to make sure your attacks are as powerful as possible. There is another way you can earn "Sin" in Covenant of the Plume. The Destiny Plume can be used on one of your allies making them supremely powerful. The cost for this immense power is extremely high however as the character that has the Destiny Plume used on them will die after the mission. Needless to say then, you're not going to want to use the Destiny Plume very often. That said, there are advantages to using it as you'll gain additional tactics when a party member is sacrificed in this fashion. There are also times when using the Destiny Plume may be the only option you have if you're to be victorious in battle.
Whilst the graphics and the general presentation of Covenant of the Plume isn't as impressive as in Final Fantasy Tactics A2, they are certainly good enough. The maps look decent, the characters are the usual 2D sprites and the character portraits look pretty impressive. I appreciated the ability to rotate the view of the map during a battle. The battle animations are over the top but are actually quite satisfying. The action plays out on the touch screen with the top screen mainly being used to present information such as character attributes and it also shows you which buttons are assigned to each character during a battle. Those hoping to use their stylus in the game will be disappointed to learn that it's not required here. It's not a real problem however and the game plays absolutely fine using the conventional control system that the game employs.
For the most part, Covenant of the Plume is fine for deaf gamers. There are no subtitles for the comments made during and after a battle which is unfortunate. However, all of the important dialogue is subtitled and you'll find character names and portraits accompanying the text, for the majority of the time, making it clear who is saying what. All tutorial information is shown in text. Mission objectives are also shown so you'll always be aware of what needs to be done on each of the game's missions. Like most RPG's the game makes good use of icons to convey information to show what status effects are in effect. The rather useful game manual also does a good job of explaining what all of these icons mean.
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume is certainly quite a different experience from Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift and Disgaea DS. The storyline is certainly interesting, although it's far from being memorable, and there are a couple of paths you can take in the game meaning a variety of different endings and a generous amount of replay value is to be had. The battle system is where the game really differentiates itself however. The limitation of only having four units involved in a battle and the need to use them as effectively as possible certainly makes the game a strategy RPG that stands out. There may be a decent amount of strategy RPG's on the DS but Covenant of the Plume certainly does more than enough to stand out and is easy to recommend to fans of the genre. It may not be an ideal introduction to the genre however.