Replaying games, especially ones that doesn’t have a multiplayer component, usually depend on the game’s replay value. What incentives are there to replaying the game? Are there different paths that you can take through the game? Other factors come into play of course. I’ve never come across one where replaying the game is basically mandatory. That was before I played Covenant of the Plume.
Let’s take a couple of steps back first. The Valkyrie Profile series is an RPG with a very unique combat system. Covenant of the Plume retains the great combat system and the RPG elements but adds a Real Time Strategy game element into it. Instead of a side scrolling platformer to move your character around the world like in the other Valkyrie Profile games, Covenant breaks the game into levels, each of which consist of an isometric grid. When your characters attack an enemy, the game reverts back into classic Valkyrie Profile combat. The RTS elements adds a nice little strategy element to the button-mashy combat that is the Valkyrie Profile Combat system. The fact that certain party members have varying range of attacks makes these battles a nice little exercise in strategically placing your party members around the map so that they can attack multiple enemies without making them vulnerable to enemy attacks. There is a slight hiccup to the formula though. The point of adding a strategy layer to a game is to make it so that you can actually beat the usually numerically superior computer. Unfortunately for Covenant, that’s just not the case.
Although most of the levels involve a fair fight between your band of 4 characters vs an army of usually at least 8 enemy units, you’ll eventually come across a level that stacks the odds against you so much that if you were to play it straight like the previous levels, you will lose. I know this. I’ve tried. On these levels, the opposing army isn’t just numerically superior than you, each individual unit is stronger than your entire party combined. That’s not even counting the leader unit which is even stronger. No amount of strategy or tactics can defeat an army of nigh invincible warriors. These levels were built like this on purpose: to back you into a corner and force you to use the Plume.
Activating the Plume on an ally also unleashes
a special effect on the field.
The Plume enables you to turn any one of your allies into an invincible, unstoppable warrior. Trouble is, that ally dies at the end of the battle, but until then, nothing can withstand their power. The second you use it, you can literally sit back and let it destroy every opposing unit on the map. No planning necessary. No Thinking is even required. Just let it win the level for you. Wake me up when it’s done. That’s the flow of the entire game. You play through some levels that’s at least somewhat balanced so that you can win. You then go up against an army of supermen whereby you’re forced to use the Plume. By the end of the game, you really can’t help but feel like you really haven’t accomplish anything.
The funny thing is, it’s a whole different story the second time through. Covenant offers a New Game + option once you finish the game where you start all over again, but you get to keep all of your equipment and items from the previous play through. Because your equipment is undoubtedly very powerful by the end of the game, the first couple of levels will be a little too easy, but when you get to that impossibly hard level, you actually stand a reasonable chance of winning by planning a strategy and executing it without using the Plume. You know, the way RTS games are supposed to be. It also helps that the game does have a branching storyline, so the second time through, you’re bound to see something completely different. Since you probably won’t be using the Plume, you actually get to feel like you accomplished something at the end.
Finishing Strikes are just as flashy as before.
So is Covenant a bad game for having such an unbalanced experience? It’s not the smartest decision on the part of the developer to force the player to play the game in exactly one way, but the deep combat system is too fun to completely write off the whole game. Also, the New Game + option does make the game fun. Ultimately, my verdict is based on the fact that I played the game twice. Keep that in mind when you see it.
- Great combat system remains intact
- Branching storyline
- Multiple characters with different abilities
- Unbalanced levels leaves little room for different styles of gameplay
- A little too hard, Clunky menus