The “Metroidvania” platformer enjoyed its heyday some 15-20 years ago when Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ruled the roost, and eventually found their names lent to the genre’s title. While many games since then have borrowed the tried-and-true mechanics of these classics, Valdis Story: Abyssal City is one that does so while also re-creating the aesthetic of the old-school consoles — its colorful art style would feel right at home on a PlayStation. The hours of engaging gameplay at hand will especially satisfy the nostalgic.
In a world where demons and angels are at war, Wyatt and his crew set sail in order to track down his missing father. During the voyage, their ship is attacked by creatures from below and sunk. Beneath the water's surface, they find a slowly dying ancient city under constant attack from angels, demons and ferals. Separated from his crew, Wyatt must now reunite them while continuing the search for his father. During his journey, he discovers lost secrets and unravels mysteries surrounding him and his friends.
As with its classic inspirations, the bulk of the gameplay in Valdis Story is spent battling enemies and exploring the side-scrolling landscapes. The satisfaction of a good Metroidvania game is intact; you’ll come across many inaccessible doors and return to them hours later with a means of entry, filled with anticipation of what could be behind them. The location of your next task is not always obvious, with a vague line of text serving as the only clue. This lack of hand-holding might frustrate in other games, but it’s a boon to Valdis Story, as revisiting areas to more thoroughly explore only enhances the whole. Valdis Story rewards those who go out of their way to explore; a vital aspect of this Metroidvania-style game. As you leap around the beautiful 2D world, you acquire new equipment and spells that allow access to previously unreachable locations. Summoning ice pillars as temporary platforms, short-range teleports and wall-kicking are just a few of the abilities needed to fully traverse the city. Dozens of hidden items, chests and crew members wait to be found, some of which are extraordinarily hard to find, making it sweeter when you do.
There’s a solid progression system in place, injecting RPG aspects to great effect. Experience is earned through defeating enemies, with a substantial amount of unlockable skills and stat upgrades to choose from as each new player level is achieved. There’s even somewhat of a crafting mechanic — materials collected in the wild can be provided to vendors to increase the effectiveness of armor and weapons, or create new ones outright.
The combat in Valdis Story is fun. Stringing together combos with the aid of unlocked skills is enchanting from start to finish. Magic plays a major part, serving as a gratifying complement to melee swordplay. By the game’s conclusion, you’ll have access to a generous amount of spells ranging from elemental attacks, to stat buffs, to abilities that help you reach otherwise-inaccessible areas. The depth of combat comes to light most effectively while entrenched in the numerous boss fights. Some of these tests are quite stiff, particularly later in the game. Success comes through experimentation, practicing different spells on different bosses, and even exploring the area where the battle takes place. But if nothing’s working out, doubling back for some old-fashioned level grinding goes a long way.
Combat flows smoothly, and stringing attacks together is fast-paced and exciting. The keyboard controls are clunky, but they can be rearranged or a gamepad can be used. You can execute short-ranged dashes that allow you to dodge and move past foes, or employ more than twenty spells to deal damage, heal, boost your own abilities or reach new places. The sound effects that accompany them are appropriate, though a little artificial-sounding at times. Nevertheless, spell diversity is outstanding, and there are dozens of ways to approach combat in any particular battle. Often, you will need to mix up your strategy as some enemies focus on speed and manoeuvrability, while others are heavily armoured or stand back and shoot. There's a solid variety of foes, though their design relies on palette-swapping as the game progresses. On level up you can assign stat points and choose to focus on magic, melee or a mix of the two. It's a fun, flexible system that provides great variety on additional plays.
There are plenty of bosses to test your skills against, both story-based and optional, and you'll always need to be at your best to beat them. Monstrous armoured angels and sleek, agile demons are just a few you'll encounter. Different bosses require you to take down shields, stay above poisonous gas, navigate precarious platforms, destroy healing devices and even beat a time limit in order to destroy them. There's terrific variety, and, even on the normal difficulty setting, they are a real challenge to defeat. Once you do so, you are given a rank based on how soundly you thrashed them, and may be rewarded with extra experience or even additional stat or skill points to assign. At the end of the game you receive an overall ranking too, so completionists have a huge task ahead of them.
I had a wonderful time playing Valdis Story. Time and time again it exceeded my expectations, and it's a privilege that I was able to play and review it. Just when I thought I had seen the greatest boss or most intense challenge, it threw another one at me. One play through, as Wyatt, takes about 10-15 hours, so there's at least twice that to play as Reina and collect all the hidden items. Throw in Gilda and Vladyn, and you can double that play time again! As long as you're prepared for a challenging game, I can't recommend Valdis Story enough.
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