Valis – the Fantasm Soldier

I really miss Renovation Software.  They never really had a breakout hit in the 90s but they brought out a wide variety of titles.  Some were good, some were bad but at the very least they were interesting.  If you were an early adapter of the Genesis they were one of the few stars of that early lineup.  The Valis series was one of their earliest hits and while it isn’t as good as I remember is still an above average action title.

Yuko was just an ordinary high school girl until monsters invaded her town.  In the midst of all this chaos the Valis sword is bestowed upon her and she is summoned to the world of Vecanti.  Here Queen Valia urges her to use the sword and defeat the evil King Rogles.  That isn’t the only reason Yuko needs to fight however as her friend Reiko has also been summoned to Vecanti…..

This version of Valis is in an odd position.  In its original form Valis was an interesting but heavily flawed game.  The Sega game is a remake of sorts, keeping the same general premise but updating the gameplay to be more in line with its sequels.  In Japan it was released after the second and third entries in the series.  In the US it came first.  Even with the improvements Valis still lags behind similar titles on the platform.  That doesn’t make it bad but far from the first choice when you want an action platformer.

Compared to its Japanese PC counterparts this version of the game has much tighter controls.  The high jump is easier to perform; simply hold up.  The slide has its own button although it isn’t an attack as in the other games.  Possibly the greatest change is a moment of invincibility when hit; it was frustrating to get bounced around when hit in the original game.  This brings it more in line with games of the era.

Valis loses the extensive armory of weapons and items to equip and is all the better for it.  The idea was nice but the execution (you lost health to use special items) was dumb.  Now Yuko can find a variety of different sword power-ups that give her sword projectile attacks.  These range from homing arrows and grenades to laser beams.  These items can be powered up to three times.  You will rarely be without at least one with good reason; the basic melee attack is useless.  New magic is earned after every level but the game is so easy you’ll rarely use it.

This is a very slow paced game and to be honest that is part of the problem.  Yuko meanders through each level without much opposition.  There’s nothing wrong with a slower pace so long as the game has moments of excitement but sadly Valis lacks that.  The level design isn’t especially notable and is serviceable at best.  Even the boss battles don’t do much to get your pulse racing.  There are few cool designs here and there but the fights themselves are pretty straightforward.  It’s disappointing as all the pieces are there for an excellent action adventure but the game does little with them. 

Valis is exceptionally easy, to the point I wonder if the developers were worried about pushing players away.  Your life bar is exceedingly long and nearly every inflicts so little damage it is rarely an issue.  Hearts to replenish are in abundance making the game even easier.  If that weren’t enough extra magic is in such great supply you can spam magic without any cause for concern.  Not that you’ll ever need it.  There were probably two bosses in the entire game that posed any threat and if you possess a modicum of skill will go down in one or two tries.  I realize the computer versions of the game were janky and tough but I think the designers over compensated a bit too much.

The overall presentation has definitely seen an upgrade.  The previously flat backdrops are awash in scrolling although they still retain that low resolution look.  Embarrassingly there is heavy slowdown.  Considering how sparse the levels are this is particularly sad.  Valis is mostly known for its cinematic presentation and that has been kept here.  Amazingly the long cutscenes have been retained in this version.  Although they mostly lack any kind of animation they are drawn better than the computer original.  That being said it is not as impressive as say Ninja Gaiden for NES.  On top of that the dialogue scrolls slowly and there is no way to skip ahead.

In Closing

Time has not been particularly kind to Valis but it is still a decent game.  The mix of action and platforming is still enjoyable but there are better games in the genre I would recommend first. 

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