Though most will say that Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night epitomized side-scrolling, action-adventure, Valdis Story: Abyssal City brings enough charm and quality desired from a Metroidvania game. Aside from that, a beautiful score, uncompromising difficulty and some solid mechanics make for a memorable experience.

After pursuit of a demon ship across stormy waters goes awry, you and the surviving crew are brought down as light orbs safely below the depths. A subterranean city awaits on the cusp of a holy war. From there you are cast as Wyatt Goibniu, a swordsman with no semblance of moral integrity, motivated only by the search for his father. In fact, Wyatt’s concern for the abyssal city’s human inhabitants remains bereft, unless their goals align with his own. And though the story often pits Wyatt against angels and demons, Valdis Story doesn’t overplay the cliched good versus evil. Instead, the universe embraces a morally grey framework. And this is largely represented through gameplay.

In a world seething with creatures of angelic, demonic, and feral nature, Wyatt’s search often leaves bodies in his wake after scores of indiscriminate slaughter. But it’s not a complete massacre because enemies allow little room to falter. Simply attacking foes with light and heavy strikes won’t cut it. And that is where the robust skill tree system and an array of magic spells come in. The skill tree is split up into three tiers: Warrior for swordsmanship, Guardian for defense, and Savior for magic. Though skill trees often dictate a degree of specialization, the trees in Valdis Story all have something useful, making a jack-of-all-trades totally viable.

For magic, Wyatt begins with holy and darks spells, but player progression yields standard elemental powers and the void. Like skills, all magic is useful and doesn’t necessarily get better towards the end. Void magic, for example, is discovered late in the game but is far from the best. And players will want to avoid niches because every type of enemy is both resistant and weak to certain types of magic. Though I stuck to a build of varied spells and seldom swapped them, I suspect a stage called the “Frozen Depths” would have been less difficult if I set my foes ablaze instead of peppering them with icicles. But that’s the beauty of Valdis Story. No end-all skill or spell exists, which makes the experience a matter of taste and adaptation. Platforming can require certain spells, but nothing else is forced on you.

Boss battles in Valdis Story, however, deserve a special place in hell. Some take upwards of an hour and dying again and again is common.

Even sword and spell only go so far when faced with relentless enemies and clever boss sequences. The most useful ability is called skill-cancelling. It allows the player to dash out during a combo or a spell. Whether appearing at an enemy’s back, dodging an attack, or swimming through waves of foes, skill-cancelling is a valuable but scarce commodity. Each evade drains a discreet bar of energy that recharges on its own. Since blocking reduces only a fraction of damage and works feebly against magic, evade must be timed and executed skillfully. When deftly done, it makes combat refreshingly nerve-racking and incredibly satisfying. Failure, on the other hand, drains your pool of emergency health potions and death soon follows. The only forgiving element in Valdis Story is that after death you are revived right where you left off with the potions you started with but the enemies re-populated or the boss re-charged.

Boss battles in Valdis Story, however, deserve a special place in hell. Some take upwards of an hour and dying again and again is common. Each boss has a pattern. But memorizing these patterns will only recreate previous miseries unless you have patience, maintain perfect timing, and keep your wits about you. As the most uncompromising segments, boss battles are also the most satisfying. Aside from some essential items, vanquished bosses don’t drop loot or useable items. You will receive experience points, but nothing exceptionally powerful. I first took this as a drawback, until I took pleasure from the experience itself. What I thought was unrewarding became the most endearing quality of Valdis Story: a difficulty that kept me on my toes.

Where gameplay gives Valdis Story its backbone, the visuals and score give it charm. Across cities in the sky, towns dusted by snow, sprawling underground dungeons, electrified palaces and accursed mausoleums, environments feel both distinct and interesting. And some impressively crafted backdrops make it easy to forget the two-dimensional confines. These environments are also accented by a wonderful soundtrack. Even when the start screen has barely queued, the music never lets up. With crescendos of keys and soft strings, Zack Parrish’s work fits right into a story teeming with angels and demons. Context-sensitive tracks breathe emotion and urgency into the world, whether it’s electric guitar during boss fights or organ piano in some of the more disconsolate locales.

Valdis Story has almost everything going for it. Some of the platforming elements are rough and the map is admittedly a little confusing. And even if I have no real gripes with the story I felt seldom invested in it amidst all the carnage. Luckily, this is only nit-picking because these issues never detracted from the experience.

Recently, the game added playable characters boasting a different backstory and a distinct skill. There are also two more characters coming in the next free patch. Valdis Story offers great replay value. And plenty of hidden chests, secrets, and optional lore await an eager wayfarer.

Just shy of perfection, rarely do games offer this much in terms of difficulty, substance and charm. I didn’t know what to expect with Valdis Story: Abyssal City, but I finished awe-inspired. With a unique combination of old-school mechanics and some RPG elements with a modern approach, it is clear that Endless Fluff Games has reverence for Metroidvania and the love to breathe new life into it.

 

Review: Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Embracing both the old and the new, Valdis Story: Abyssal City gives classic Metroidvania fundamentals renewed purpose
Pros:
  • A refreshing challenge
  • Beautiful score and visuals
  • Unique Action-RPG elements
Cons:
  • Platforming can be rough
9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (5 Votes)
8.0

About The Author

Contributor

Since his parents scraped every last penny to put a Nintendo 64 under the Christmas tree of 1996, Adrian has maintained a passion for video games. When his hands aren't sprawled over 'W', 'A', 'S' or 'D', Adrian churns out a few sentences, and sometimes paragraphs, about the games that graze an emotional touchstone.

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