Valkyrie Profile by Tri-Ace is certainly not a traditional RPG. Most of the game takes place in 2-D side scrolling dungeons. You don't really need to explore the world map, and the towns are all pretty small with only a few people in them (most of which have a one sentence dialog if you talk to them). However the game is quite fun. The goal of the game is to recruit recently deceased souls to help the gods during Ragnarok (basically the end of the world). You train these souls then send them up to Valhalla (the home of the gods). In order to train them, there are many different dungeons to explore, and that's where the fun of the game takes place.
This game has 3 difficulty settings, which can help add to the replay value. Personally though, I would consider them complexity settings more than difficulty settings. The Hard setting (with the exception of a few dungeons) really isn't any harder, and in some respects can be a little easier. In the higher difficulty settings you'll gain some new (and very powerful) items, that can make the game easier, plus you have more time to train you characters to make them tougher.
There is a limited amount of time before Ragnarok occurs. The game is divided up into 8 chapters, and each chapter has a set amount of ''periods'', depending on the difficulty setting. Every time you visit a dungeon it uses 2 periods, visiting a town uses 1 period. At the end of each chapter Freya evaluates the Einherjar you sent up that chapter. The better they are the better bonuses you get. Before the next chapter Freya tells you what kind of Einherjar you should send up to Valhalla next chapter.
The world map for this game is 3-D (the only 3-D part of the game). You fly around Midgard visiting cities and dungeons. At first you don't have any places to visit so you need to meditate in order to hear the cries of the dead. This will show you the location of a new city to visit. You'll also find new dungeons to visit in the same manner. Once a town or dungeon has been located you can visit them in any order (or not at all). You really don't spend much time on the world map,as you can quickly fly between destinations, and there are no fights or anything.
The first time you enter a town you'll see a scene of how somebody died, and after that you recruit them into your Einherjar. These scenes show the story behind each character, and are usually fairly interesting, plus they have a lot of voice acting which is pretty cool. You can also enter towns where you have already recruited people, but for the most part there's no need. You can sometimes get an item, but otherwise it's a waste of time (remember you have limited time before Ragnarok occurs), as the people in towns are all boring, and don't say anything worth talking to them for.
The main part of the game occurs in the dungeons. The dungeons are 2-D side scrollers. You can see the monsters before you fight them, but when you touch them you enter a combat. Besides monsters, there are also many puzzles to solve. Some of the puzzles (especially in the hard setting dungeons), can be very tricky to figure out. That's where a lot of the fun of the game comes from though, solving the puzzles in the dungeons, figuring out how to get through the dungeon to the boss at the end.
Combat is also 2-D. On one side is Valkyrie, and Einherjar, the other side has the monsters. Although the combat is turn-based, it's not a menu-based combat. Each character is assigned a button, when you press that button the character attacks (or casts a spell). You can also use items, and do other things through a menu. By chaining together multiple attacks from different characters you can do combo moves, the goal is to get each character to do what is called a ''Purify Weird Soul'', basically it's an extra powerful finishing move. My only problem is that the PWSs are too powerful. Basically your normal attacks do pathetically low damage compared to the PWSs. You'll need to completely concentrate on getting them, or you'll never kill anything.
The game also has a skill system similar to Star Ocean 2. When you go up levels you get points that you can spend on skills. The are many different skills such as First Aid, Tactics, Find Trap, etc. There a lot of different choices. However, I think the Guts skill is unbalanced. With all your characters having that skill maxed they are practically invincible (although this is necessary in the Seraphic Gate).
If you understand the combat system, none of the fights are particularly hard. On the other hand, if you have problems with combat then some fights can be nearly impossible. Overall though, after a little bit of practice with the combat system, the battles are are fairly easily. Although there are a few exceptions, such as those Mandragoras in the Elf Forest, they are extremely powerful.
The puzzles in the game however can be very tricky. If you play on easy setting you won't visit any of the dungeons with tricky puzzles. The special dungeons available only on hard setting are where the extremely hard to figure out puzzles are. Some of the dungeons are simply huge mazes, others require you to do things that you might not ordinarily think about.
Personally, I think this game has a very high replay value. There are 3 different difficulty settings, as well as 3 different endings you can get. You should be able to play through the game multiple times to find everything the game has to offer. There's also a bonus dungeon (the Seraphic Gate), that you can access after you beat the game.
The basic story is rather simple, and also rather boring. You need to recruit souls in order to help fight during Ragnarok. However, there's more to the story than that. Each character has their own story that gets revealed when you recruit them. Some of these stories link together as well, and can be pretty interesting. Also some of the dungeons (especially the hard setting ones), contain advancements to the underlying story of the Valkyries, and the gods. Also if you get Ending A, then there is a fairly interesting story, where you learn a lot about Lenneth (the main character). The game doesn't necessarily follow Norse mythology to a tee, but it has a fairly good story, if you bother to pay attention to all the back stories of the characters (and of course get ending A).
The game has excellent graphics. The 3-D world map graphics are unimpressive, but every thing else is very well done. The dungeons all have a different look to them, and the backgrounds are very impressive. The sprites for the characters and monsters are also very good looking, with a lot of animations. Some of the bosses are quite large, and impressive looking as well. Some people may not like the 2-D look, but I do, as these graphics are top of the line 2-D graphics.
I really like the music used in this game. Plus you have the options of listening to all the tracks in the game, something more games should have. Also the game has very good voice acting, this is something some other games have a serious problem with. Valkyrie Profile has some of the best music I've heard in a video game.
Overall Rating: 9/10
So why didn't I give it a 10? Because I can't give every game a 10 now can I? Seriously though, this game isn't exactly a traditional RPG, and I guess I have always liked traditional RPGs. But no matter how you look at this game, it really is an excellent game, and I definitely recommend buying it.