Some people like to hurt themselves. It’s just a fact of life. Whether it’s wearing pink sweat pants or actively hammering nails into their skull, there are those out there who live for inflicting pain on themselves for no reason apart from the simple joy of overcoming it. These are the people who will find Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume appealing, because Covenant is a challenging game that becomes outright sadistic toward the end.
Look, it’s a great game, but…
It’s important to say this right off the bat: this game is not for those who don’t love to have the odds firmly stacked against them in every way imaginable. On several occasions in Covenant of the Plume, you’ll be sorely outmatched with nothing but your planning and strategy keeping you alive. Even if you survive, however, toward the end you’ll be forced to play multiple maps back-to-back-to-back without saving, meaning a single mistake can erase hours of work. There’s absolutely no excuse for this, even in a difficult strategy game. There are also moments of outright cheapness, such as in missions where you have to save an NPC across the map. Of course, this NPC is not only weak and being attacked, but they’re actively attacking the enemy during their turn, taking twice as much damage as they could be taking because of the subsequent counterattacks. Sometimes they’ll die (leading to an immediate game over) before you can get to them, even if you rush straight there, ignoring everything else.
This is a hundred times more frustrating when they die in the subsequent cutscene. Absolutely sadistic.
Planning is also a problem
While setting your 4-character team up so that everyone complements each other is definitely one of the best parts of the game, planning for the specific challenges of each stage is impossible because you never see the enemies or map until it’s too late. Planning, then, is reduced to blind preparation until you’ve memorized which enemies are on which stage. This is bearable for most of the game, since you’re able to save between just about every map and reload as necessary. Later on, however, having to play multiple maps in a row ensures that you’re likely to end up inadequately prepared at some point. The game is challenging enough without compounding the difficulty with cheapness like this.
The plume of death and stuff!
The mechanic that the game revolves around is “the Destiny Plume,” a Valkyrie feather that can be used to power up one of your teammates to godlike levels, though at the cost of their life at the end of the level. The number of times you use it (and when) determines the ending you get, as well as how certain events during the game play out. Basically, the more you use it, the worse the game’s ending will be. To get the “best” ending, you have to avoid using it at all. Unfortunately, this is ridiculously difficult on a first playthrough, especially since it leads to one of the cheapest, most ridiculous final chapters ever. However, beating the game with either of the two lesser endings will allow you to import your items and learned techniques over into a new playthrough, greatly helping your chances.
Another thing to note is that using the Destiny Plume too often will result in a game over of sorts; you’ll suddenly be forced to fight a bunch of enemies who you don’t stand a chance against, so using it more than once or twice in a game isn’t recommended. I can’t recall anything ever indicating that this was a possibility, either, making this feel incredibly cheap.
Sin is technically a good thing
Not using the Destiny Plume is made especially difficult by the fact that you’re soon having to gain “sin” during chapters. The more overboard you go killing enemies, the more sin you accrue (to the maximum of 100 per enemy), so you’re not only having to think about how many hit points an enemy has, but also juggling your ability to deal out enough extra damage in the same attack to meet your sin requirement by the end of the chapter. The more sin you get, the better the items you’re rewarded with at the end of the chapter. If you fail to get enough, however, you’re punished with ridiculously difficult enemies in the following chapter. It’s usually better to just reload.
The combat is really creative and unique
There are several interesting elements that make Covenant different (and arguably better) than most sRPGs. For one, getting into combat isn’t just a one-character affair. Instead, any character in range joins in on the attack, even if they’re already acted that turn. Even better, their placement has an effect on combat; flanking an enemy from all four sides, for example, nets you increased plunder and allows your attacks (of which you’re only granted 1-3 of, depending on your specific weapon) to replenish. Actually getting into these formations can be difficult, but they’re usually worth it. This is doubly true because of Soul Crushes, which are easier to achieve in these special formations.
Souls are for crushing
Once you get into combat, you attack in real time. These attacks fill up a bar that decreases if you take too long between hits, so coming up with long combos to get it to 100 is really what you’ll be working toward because of what becomes possible when it hits 100—Soul Crushes. These are essentially special attacks that deal devastating amounts of extra damage, and every character involved in the attack (so long as they’re equipped with a weapon that allows it) is given the opportunity to use their own Soul Crush so long as the meter stays at 100. Since using them is pretty much the only realistic way to attain tons of sin, you’ll likely end up basing your entire strategy on them.
Oh yeah, and it has a story
I usually talk about the story stuff first, but the combat is really the part of Covenent of the Plume that shines. That’s not to say that the story is bad, of course—it’s very dark, and a lot of the dialogue is all fancy-like, with words like “lo” and “thus” being commonplace—but having the ability to sacrifice your party members ensures that characters don’t play much of a role once they join you. That being said, seeing the different results of different paths can allow you to see characters in an entirely new light. For example, seeing things play out between Rosea and Lieselotte in varying ways on different playthroughs really underscored both their personalities and the dynamic between them. Character development, then, is less something that happens during a single playthrough and more something that’s gradually filled in as you go down the game’s several different paths. This gives the game a lot of replay value (which is great, seeing as how it’s a bit on the short side).
Graphics are okay
That’s about all I can say about the graphics, really. The sprites are decent, but for some reason, everyone looks like a female. Kind of weird. All in all, the graphics are passable. That’s about it, though; the 3/4 view is so overused that it’s just annoying now, and though the special attacks are great the first time, you’ll quickly find yourself skipping past them.
The music is apparently from the first VP game
From what I’ve read, a lot of the music in Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume comes directly from the first game. Now, I haven’t actually played the first game yet (though it’s definitely on my list now), but the music is really good in this game. Very old-time Squaresoft in how it perfectly captures the macabre atmosphere that the writing and story create. It all works really well together.
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