This is the world, where gods kill one another, and where armies of angels and demons are fighting for forty years after the downfall of titular supreme goddess Valdis. Armies are controlled by her twin daughters, red-tinted Myrgato and yellow-glowing Alagath. And humans are used as foot soldiers and fuel source (a lot of that magic runs on soul power, so yeah, sucks to be human in this world). Obviously this dystopian fantasy world requires a rebel protagonist. And there they are —all four them, plus all their bad-♥♥♥ crew of warriors, magicians, rebellious demons and traitorous angels, travelling on their cool flying magical ship. Pursuing different personal goals they all agree on the subject war, that is must be stopped, and not be either of sides finally winning. And this is unusually large flying beast who tears this ship apart. Crew, separated by strange magic falls underwater to the different locations of legendary Sitheil. Long lost sunken city still contains some breathable air in its caverns, and shelters dangerous beasts, scattered survivors, magical artifacts and old mysteries.
This is where the game begins. Player is prompted to choose main character. Though the developer intends to add two more playable main characters in the future, keep in mind that Valdis Story: Abyssal City was initially announced in 2007, and it took long 6 years before it was finally released with current two heroes, so it might take a while. Red-haired Wyatt wields gigantic sword, was raised by the demons and is in a search of his father. White-haired Reina starts with a bare hands and relies on her monk-training and magic. Their stories share same major pieces, but actually not replace one another, but rather intertwine and meet in the end. And it actually is quite worth noticing. Because, here's the thing, despite the fact, that my brief retell of major facts of this setting may seem like a generalised uninteresting mess, the actual lore and story aren't. Partly because all of that, except the flying beast are not actually told to the player in the prologue, but must be collected piece by piece from dialogues, item descriptions and story development. But mainly because retell presented you rather simplified version. Lack of the actual knowledge on characters' history and state of the world throughout the game creates delightful puzzle, and I'd rather not steal this pleasure from someone who intents to play Valdis Story. Let's just say that there's more than one twist, and the biggest one in the end, so it's more of a first tome in the series, than a closed book. Not all the questions will be answered, but this piece of a bigger story is of an amazing quality.
Two characters have separate sets of talents (three different progression paths for each one) and weapons. They also start with a different armor and two souls each. Souls is the source of magic in Valdis, each provides four spells. With the Soul of Centurion Reina for example can attack foes with divine magic in three different ways and charge her weapon with it. During the game player collects different kind of souls, gaining access to the new types of magic and abilities, which help in visiting previously inaccessible areas. Also there's keys, quest items, armor, different kinds of loot for upgrading equipment. Resulting system feels just right: not too overwhelmingly complex, but not too simple either, being extensive enough to provide means to easier killing another particularly hard boss with choosing another approach, another set of magic, different, magic, armor, trinkets or assisting character.
What stands truly unique here is combat system. You have two types of attack. Each can be used for a limited amount of times, increasing your combo rank before your character kind of feels tired. Here's what happens next, with the timed use of magic assist-attack you can increase the length of the combo. And longer combos deal higher damage. But the actual key here is using a special ability “Skill Cancel”. When used it dashes your hero forward or down, if you was in the air, giving him or her a few frames of invincibility and keeping combo chain on hold. So with this skill an experienced player can avoid damage and keep the initiative in fight. Also there's more boring blocking, and finally giving and taking damage fills your focus meter, which when fully filled can be used to enter focus mode, which heals you slightly, increase your stats and boosts your attacks for a limited time.
Enemies have different strategies, abilities and weaknesses: some of them are nimble, some are heavy-hitters, some even try to poison you. But the true gem here are the bosses, who are challenging and unique. You'll fight lightning-blasting teleporting monk in the room with electrified walls, minion-summoning archangel blocking you from the use of magic with his attacks, and spore-spitting plant in a location slowly filling with poisonous gas. Like in some kind of slasher you can score a different rank for killing a boss, from d through c, b and a to s, with various aspects of battle taken in consideration.
What’s truly amazing for the indie game is the amount of optional content in the game. There are whole areas and optional bosses that aren’t really needed to finish the game. Also some of the quests given by the NPCs are not mandatory, and you can ignore them. But hopefully you wouldn’t. Story actually is a bit non-linear and can be affected depending on player actions. Not of all those actions are really intuitive, some things are hidden well. The secrets of the game go as far as including concealed optional bosses which have to be slain before the timer runs out, or the story can take some unexpected turn concerning the survival of some of the NPC villages. Of course, there’s also more conventional dialogue choices for player to affect the story.
All of those said above is packed with truly amazing visuals and soundtrack, making Valdis Story one of the best-looking 2D games. Characters move flawlessly with smooth and fluid animation. Backgrounds are truly detailed and a pleasure to look at. Design seems to be a true descendant of SNES era with its anime-like cartoon style, but it is executed by true artists who really have a passion for it. Same goes for music.
Valdis Story: Abyssal City is one of the best modern 2D metroidvanias, if not even the best. Made by just two people, it really is an achievement. And what’s more amazing, considering its quality and size (I managed to finish it in 17 hours, while missing some of the areas completely), is that they continue their work on it. Not only they plan to add two more playable characters, who will have much more different stories, but they add all type of stuff like optional bosses, areas and items. They truly deserve your money.