Valdis Story: Abyssal City ReviewJoe Shaffer
"The wait" is horrible.
It's been ages since I've had to endure it. Now and then I initiate a campaign so enthralling that I end up binging on a nightly basis. After completing the game, I might hit the internet and search for news of a sequel. Mostly, though, I spot vague articles speculating that a follow-up should be imminent. I scarcely find official word from developers or publishers, release dates, or copyrighted titles alluding to future projects, and I thus enter that cold, dreaded period of sitting and wondering if the electronic voyage I had just wrapped up will ever be continued.
Such is my current situation with Valdis Story: Abyssal City...
Valdis Story embarks en medias res, with the protagonist Wyatt and his motley crew caught in the middle of an drawn out war between two goddesses and their respective angelic and demonic troops. Neither side spares humanity during the conflict, as they annihilate scores of innocents to add them to their metaphysical ranks. Wyatt's entourage seeks to put an end to the bloodshed by eliminating both armies, starting with the mid-rank soldiers. The tale begins with Wyatt tailing a demonic sea vessel before peculiar creatures arrive and destroy both ships...
With his boat smashed to smithereens, Wyatt sinks to the bottom of an abyss where forgotten human settlements lie. Unfortunately, Wyatt's adversaries are already invading the sunken civilization, but not without backlash from the local fauna. Another vast contingent composed of wild beasts called "ferals" enters the fray, with Wyatt and company also in their sights. Against the odds, our hero decides to aid the people of the deep sea whilst attempting to escape the ocean.
Valdis Story plays similarly to Metroid. You explore its rich 2D environments by scaling enormous structures and platforms while fighting off beings from the three armies. Basic cleaves aren't going to cut it, though, because unlike other 'Metroidvania' hack 'n slashes, this one places a firm emphasis on action. You'll need to outmaneuver your foes, counter attack when necessary, block as needed, and rely on spells to grant buffs and restore hit points. With each successive slash, you gain "focus points" that fill a meter found in your HUD. Once replete, you can enter "Focus Mode" for boosted speed and damage, or terminate it with a crushing "Focus Finisher" that tears your adversaries to bits. Thankfully, leveling up allows you to exercise more lax strategies, as Wyatt progressively develops into a master swordsman.
...at least until you face the game's collection of insane bosses.
The campaign's standard menagerie of delinquents is well versed in the art of war as it is, so you can imagine how skillful their masters might be. For instance, Magus, one of the angels, sports elevated defense, constant healing linked to a destructible stone, and the ability to summon additional support. However, she's nothing compared to Yeti and Raven, a couple of ferals who excel in both strength and agility. There's also Treu, an angel capable to exuding lightning and balls of concentrated electricity; Shu Gohth, a toxic demon who pollutes the air with poisonous bubbles; and Manawar, a feral jellyfish that periodically shifts its elemental attack, thereby forcing you constantly update your strategy.
You will have your work cut out for you, believe me. Instead of instantly going to town on a boss, you have to watch and wait, discover its weakness, and exploit it as much as possible while mitigating hit point loss. Considering that the game's control response is a bit loose, this can be tricky. If you're not careful, you could end up running headlong into a blast or overshooting your target. Though the game's play control is far from perfect, it is possible to acclimate yourself to it with some practice.
It behooves you to win these battles efficiently, too. Doing so grants you permanent stat increases and barter items, but only if you're talented enough to defeat a boss without having to rely on resurrecting potions (of which you're allowed up to three at a time).
Another gripe I have involves advancing the campaign. Though NPCs brief you before missions, it's difficult to uncover the path leading to the next story event. It's refreshing that Valdis Story doesn't hold your hand, but it's also frustrating if all you want to do is progress. In my playthrough, I often ended up heading the wrong way and battling advanced bosses. Although this is a 'Metroidvania' adventure, there isn't much to prevent you from getting in over your head, besides an area's challenge factor. Sure, the game has its share of regions that are unreachable without particular skills or items, but even then acquiring a new ability unlocks more of the map than it should.
At the same time, that's half the fun. Challenging yourself to push through a complicated region and testing your abilities is part of what sweetens any rough and tumble title. It's deliciously masochistic, but worth the effort if you manage to succeed in the face of soul-destroying adversity.
Sadly, Valdis Story: Abyssal City leaves you wanting more. Its addictive and action-packed campaign combined with a crushing difficulty rating will have any lover of "NES hard" titles thirsting for further travels, while its tale ends with that old "the real story has just begun" trope. Given that the "series" takes place during a war, it's expected that this tiny fragment of what could be a burgeoning epic that's meant to serve as an introduction to future installments. However, developer Endless Fluff has stated that although we can expect more face-shattering goodness, it's not likely to happen any time soon. So again, ladies and gentlemen, I've slipped into "wait mode." If anyone needs me, I'll be scoping out Google every so often in the hopes of obtaining more news on a Valdis Story II. I mean, I get it: you can't expect Endless Fluff to ride the same pony forever. They've got to invent some new material if they wish to remain for any length of time, and hopefully they will...
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.