Playing through the Valkyrie Elysium demo was a lot of fun and it's mostly thanks to its Soul Chain grappling hook
When Valkyrie Elysium was announced earlier this year, I was vocal about my concerns about the title. The Valkyrie Profile series is dear to me, despite its ups and downs, so I wasn’t quite fond of Square Enix revisiting the series with some sort of isolated action RPG spin-off or reimagining after all these years, at first. It’s not that I wasn’t open to the idea, but Valkyrie Elysium’s initial showing to me was not promising. My one hope at the time was that I hope it at least played well.
I was given an opportunity to play a demo of Valkyrie Elysium ahead of time before its official release. My playthrough of the demo lasted about three hours, which was enough to familiarize myself with how the game’s combat felt and how the game is structured narratively. Surprisingly enough, I came away pretty impressed once I started getting the hang of things
Sure, Valkyrie Elysium is an action RPG and does away with the battle systems featured in past Valkyrie Profile entries. It shares a few series staple mechanics, such as summoning Einherjar to battle and traveling to locations to purify souls. Valkyrie Elysium is very much its own universe though, from what I can tell, so those concerned about storyline continuation from previous entries don’t have to worry about playing the previous titles to understand this one.
Players take on the role of a Valkyrie that has yet to reveal their name. They are initially armed with a one-handed sword and a standard array of light and heavy attack strings. The combo routing reminds me of the Dynasty Warriors series and other Musou games, with distinct heavy attack finishers ending with air launchers or knockbacks.
The primary mechanic that makes Valkyrie Elysium’s combat system enjoyable is the Soul Chain grappling hook. Outside of battle, players can utilize this to traverse the environment and propel themselves towards a key point to reach a platform. In combat though, they can throw a Soul Chain onto an enemy to close the distance on them instantly in order to perform an attack combo, which oddly does make the Valkyrie feel like Spider-Man at times, honestly. There are even combo routes that allow for an air launcher into a Soul Chain to continue comboing an enemy in mid-air fluidly.
Without the Soul Chain, I think Valkyrie Elysium’s battle encounters would quickly become tedious. A good chunk of encounters in the demo take place in a wide-open space with enemies on different elevations. Having to simply run to each enemy one-by-one every single time would have been dreadful; Soul Chaining between each of them makes players feel a lot more mobile and makes combat feel much more active. It is a simple thing, but it certainly goes a long way.
Plus, the demo introduces people to how Einherjars work in combat. Once recruited, players can expend some of their Soul Gauge to summon an Einherjar to aid them. These summoned warriors do not have health bars and will only last for a limited amount of time. Players won’t have to worry about babysitting their health and can simply resummon them when they need them again, as long as they have enough Soul Gauge to do so.
Only up to two Einherjar can aid the Valkyrie in combat at a time and each Einherjar has an assigned element to them. A thunder swordsman and ice archer aid the Valkyrie in the tutorial. Once an Einherjar is summoned, the Valkyrie’s weapon will be imbued with that Einherjar’s respective element, and players can cycle between different elements on-the-fly if there are multiple Einherjar out at once. Einherjar can also be utilized for some light puzzle solving, such as forming ice platforms to travel across obstacles or breaking a boulder with an Einherjar that can hit hard.
The Valkyrie’s Divine Art magic spells will also be more effective, if an Einherjar that shares the element of that Divine Art is out on the field too. For instance, the Valkyrie is equipped with a chain lightning spell that will do decent damage on its own, but if it’s cast when the thunder swordsman is summoned, it will do far greater damage. Divine Arts consume the Arts Gauge, which are marked as orange diamond pips that will gradually fill up as players combo foes.
Between Soul Chains, Einherjars, and Divine Arts, playing Valkyrie Elysium has just been a ton of fun and made a great first impression for me as far as its battles go. I tried it out on my PlayStation 5 and the game does have some neat adaptive trigger support for the DualSense controller. Firing off the Soul Chain with L2 has the trigger lock into place mid-press and people have to mildly squeeze it a bit more to fire it off. Blocking an attack has the controller emit a slight pop sensation to it that just feels nice.
After the tutorial, Odin gives Valkyrie a task to purify wayward souls in the Be’elzean Territory. There is a stage select in the game that will divide up main quests and side quests that are obtained from main quest stages. This first stage took me roughly half an hour to complete after exploring it thoroughly.
The locations in the Valkyrie Elysium demo are fairly linear, though a few side paths lead to collectibles called Hollow Blossoms, or as I like to call them - lore flowers. These are marked on the map with blue dots, and interacting with them gives some bits of dialogue from people that have passed away in the area. I suppose this is the main way players are supposed to piece together the story of what happened in the region they’re traveling through. A few NPCs, depicted as spiritual wisps, still linger and the Valkyrie can obtain a sidequest from them as well.
Along the way, there are crystal checkpoints that people can interact with to heal themselves and upgrade their weapon with materials they’ve obtained. As a weapon is upgraded, it gains new moves; people can try these moves out immediately by choosing to warp to a training area with an enemy, similar to how Bayonetta goes about it.
These materials can be used for the Valkyrie’s three skill trees of attack, defense, and support. Only a small segment of them are viewable in the demo. I appreciate that all abilities that affect gameplay, even the new moves that weapons get, all have a small video clip displaying what they exactly look like.
Prioritizing what sorts of abilities and maneuvers will be key to finding a preferred playstyle, since all three skill trees have useful abilities even in this early part of the game. The support tree allows the Valkyrie to learn a double jump immediately, while a double evade is learned a bit later. Meanwhile, the defense tree gives players access to a tiny amount of slow-mo when perfectly evading incoming attacks with just-guard counters shortly after.
Although it seems like a genre staple for action games at this point, Valkyrie Elysium does not allow people to cancel their attack swings into a block or evade. I’m not sure if these can be unlocked at a later time in the Valkyrie’s skill trees, but for now, players will have to be a bit deliberate when they choose to do an extended attack string.
Anyway, I probably went on for too long about a demo that people can try for themselves before Valkyrie Elysium’s release on September 29 for PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4; the title will be coming to PC later on November 11. I think it’s one of those games that plays better than you think when you only watch footage of it. The boss of the first chapter felt like something out of Ys and if Valkyrie Elysium leans into that, I’m all for it.
Valkyrie Elysium’s demo supports save data transfer, so players can load up their demo save file in the full release. I've taken a few more non-gameplay screenshots from the demo down below if you're curious to see more of its UI and some settings you can tinker with.