Review: Valdis Story – Abyssal City (** stars) (Part 3)

That would all be minor if not for the way enemies tend to function here. Yes, they present patterns to avoid, but their AI seems incredibly strange. In most games of action-combat, enemies telegraph their moves so that the player can see them, and learn to avoid them. Here, they just seem to attack at randomly intervals. I just don’t understand this decision at all. Sometimes an archer on a high ledge (no doubt, most enemies are placed in the most annoying way possible) will do absolutely nothing as you climb up their platform to hurt them; other times, they’ll shoot you down anytime you jump up. The lack of consistency means I cannot plan accordingly in a fight with multiple enemies, which is the lifeblood of any combat action game. If I cannot tell which enemy presents the biggest threat by how often they attack, how can I do anything but take damage for no good reason? The RPG elements transform into a crutch for bad game design, discouraging skill by equalizing the game experience for all…in a game type that does, in some sense, require progression of skill. Again, my mind boggles at these decisions.

Also, getting hit in the air by ANYTHING immediately forces you to drop to the ground with zero recovery options, so you better think about that jump! Almost every enemy follows this pattern of seemingly random attacks, and with no tells you’d be hard pressed to avoid freezes, stuns, grabs, and damage with any consistency. The stunlocking becomes ridiculous if there’s more than three enemies on screen. Energy jet (fire, ice) jets also lock you, and you will take MASSIVE damage from a single mistake. As far as I found, no ability to escape such foolishness exists, so take the hits! The punishment seems incommensurate to the minor nature of the mistake, and plays at odds with the “fast-paced” combat. It forces you to play slow and cautious from afar, hit and run, and that slows the game’s pacing considerably.

valdis-header1

I’m glad the developers like their story. Too bad I have no context to understand it!

So how does Valdis Story want you to avoid damage? By reaction. Like any evasion mechanic, Valdis Story’s Skill Cancel lets you dodge attacks and become invincible for the duration It works on a quick charge system, so you can’t avoid attacks all the time, but it does let you dodge some of the more damaging attacks in the game. Unfortunately, the implementation of said system makes no sense. To Skill Cancel, you press Down, then left or right to dash in either direction. I’m guessing you can see how a split second dodge MIGHT NOT COME OUT because of player error. The obvious question: why not assign this to a button? Plenty of other games figured out that a single button press would work just fine, but Valdis Story apparently lost the memo. Furthermore, jumping and press down will perform a ground stomp once you receive Skill Cancels, so if you press down at any time during ANY JUMP, you will slam into the ground and end up somewhere you didn’t want to go. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating that is; you can, and will, do it by accident. Years of video game design work should tell us that one button and a direction would work fine, so WHY?! Don’t break what isn’t broken, especially in video games. If a platformer cannot give me precision controls, then why bother, really?

Should I even mention the magic system? Sure, why not? Magic comes in six categories, gained over time, and you can equip four spells at any time. To cast spells, you press a trigger button (LT, for Xbox 360 controller users) and then a direction on the d-pad. That means you can equip four spells at once, from about four schools of magic each with their own, completely unexplained effects and abilities. Here is where I just about went crazy – experimentation is one thing, but the game never demonstrated why any of this was necessary or useful. Honestly, I don’t understand why this needs to be so convoluted and weird; a game about platforming, combat, and moving forces me to stop doing those things to cast offensive magic spells. I barely used magic, as most times my brain and the game would not be in sync and I would just waste magic power by accident. Probably the only reliable spells is the Ice Tower, which lets you get up to high platforms and is actually useful. Did I mention that most bosses don’t even drop new abilities that unlock new areas? Or that Valdis Story, in general, never has a time when new abilities unlock new areas? Yeah, forgot to mention that.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.