Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume Review

By Mike D'Alonzo - Posted Apr 15, 2009

'Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume' takes another look at the 'Valkyrie Profile' universe, and X-Play takes a look at this DS game in their review.

The Pros
  • Even balance of action and strategy in combat
  • Grim affecting story
  • Epic soundtrack
The Cons
  • Some very unsympathetic characters
  • Dialogue is a little too eloquent for its own good

Valkyrie Profile - Covenant of the Plume Review

There’s something to be said for a game that can make you feel genuinely bad. Plenty of games nowadays let their players do things that are ugly, unpleasant, and morally reprehensible, but they don’t usually inspire anything like guilt or remorse in the process. One of the keys to Grand Theft Auto’s appeal, after all, is that it lets you murder, rob, and maim without having to feel bad about it afterwards.

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume does a lot of things well, but the most interesting part of both the game systems and the story is the way they conspire to make the player do terrible things. The “hero” of this game is a fairly awful human being, at least at the beginning of his adventure, and what you’re expected to do in order to help him succeed is downright sick sometimes. So far so familiar, but this game doesn’t let its players off the hook – some of the choices here have consequences that will ruin your entire day.

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Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume Review Coming SoonMeanwhile, even if you’re dead to ordinary human feelings, you’ll probably get a lot out of Covenant of the Plume. It retains the feel of the games it’s based on, unlike a lot of strategy-RPG spinoffs. The combat system incorporates all kinds of unique elements from the Valkyrie Profile console adventures – it’s active, fast-moving, and deep enough to reward taking the time to learn its secrets. It also rewards being a heartless bastard, providing you have the stomach for it.

Sympathy for the Devil

Covenant of the Plume takes place in the same world as its predecessors, one loosely based on old nothern European mythology. A Valkyrie, for the unfamiliar, is one of the “choosers of the slain,” a goddess who collects the souls of dead to go fight in the armies of the sky-god Odin.

In the console games, the Valkyrie was the heroine, commanding a party of dead warriors. Covenant of the Plume looks at her from a distance, though, through the eyes of a character who doesn’t see a glorious death as anything to be proud of. Wylfred is a young mercenary soldier whose father was killed in battle many years ago. In his mind, his life was ruined when the Valkyrie took his father. So he’s going to find her and kill her.

The plume of the title is what’s going to help him do it. Early in the story, he gets to strike what amounts to a deal with the devil – Hel, the goddess of death, who has her own grudge against the Valkyrie, gives Wylfred a magical feather he can use to empower his allies in battle. That power has an unfortunate side effect, though, in that it kills whoever it grants that power to in short order.

The Walking Dead

All this plays out against the backdrop of what initially seems like just another turn-based strategy-RPG, something more or less like Final Fantasy Tactics. A couple of key systems make a big difference, though. For one thing, Covenant retains most of the combat mechanics from the console Valkyrie games, where the four members of the party can attack in real time depending on how you choose to trigger their strikes. In Covenant, whenever a character launches an attack, every ally within range can join that attack – they become a sort of ad-hoc party, and they trade blows with the target the same way they would in any other Valkyrie Profile game. By stringing together a perfect combination with the right characters, you can trigger massive screen-filling special attacks and earn rewards for dishing out extra damage.

For another, there’s that plume. As the story progresses, Wylfred meets different allies who join him for different reasons – some of them are temporary acquaintances, while others become permanent members of the party. Once a character joins up for good, you can choose to sacrifice them to the plume. This makes them close to unstoppable and invulnerable for the space of one encounter…and then they die, permanently.

The temptation to use the plume is pretty strong sometimes, if victory is your sole consideration, because using the plume almost guarantees a win in most battles, and there are usually more allies where that one came from. Covenant does a good job of breathing life into its characters, though, which means it’s hard to think of them as nothing more than pawns to casually sacrifice. If you do choose to throw one on the bonfire…well, good luck looking at yourself in the mirror afterwards.

Redemption Of A Kind

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume Review Coming SoonIt’s not spoiling much to say that Wylfred doesn’t have to be a murderous nihilist throughout the entire game. The opening chapters of the story are grim enough, though, that some players are probably going to have a tough time sticking with him for the long haul. Others may find Covenant’s script tough to get through – it’s well-written, but in a very flowery, Elizabethan sort of English. Sometimes the dialogue could stand to get to the point quicker.

Hang in there, though, and Covenant has plenty going for it. For members of the party that actually survive long stretches of the campaign, the character development system includes lots of interesting customization options. It’s easy to take time out and build them up, too. Besides the battles that are central to the plot, different locations around the game world offer a wide variety of side-quests and optional encounters. It almost goes without saying that the game looks and sounds great, just like the rest of the series – in particular, Motoi Sakuraba turns in some stirring compositions, both new music and re-arranged versions of tracks from the other Valkyrie Profiles.

Bringing Wylfred around to the side of the angels has its own appeal, too, if you choose to take him that way. Even if the game didn’t go out of its way to smite your conscience, it isn’t always fun to be the bad guy.

Author: D. F. Smith