Valkyrie Profile – 1999 Developer Interview
This Valkryie Profile interview with director Yoshiharu Gotanda covers the design, difficulty balance, and origin of the game as a strategy RPG. I have also appended a small portion of another interview with composer Motoi Sakuraba. These interviews were found at the GSLA, a Japanese website that preserves game developer interviews from older, now-defunct print sources.
Valkyrie Profile began because I wanted to make something with this kind of gameplay system. Specifically, the first part that came to me was having characters you’d raise on the Earth, who you’d then send off to Valhalla to fight. I felt that Norse mythology was the perfect story setting for this idea. No matter how dramatic a life you live, in the end everyone dies. (laughs) That’s basically what the Norse mythology is about. In the end everyone dies, but the important point is how you die. If you live an accomplished life and die in battle you’ll get to go to Valhalla.
The very detailed backstory and plot were all finished after the gameplay system, though. And from the get-go, Valkyrie Profile diverges from the actually mythology in many significant ways. For example, Frey is actually male in the myths, but I thought making him a beautiful woman would work better for my game. (laughs)
For me, if I try too hard to make the story too detailed and fit perfectly together, then I’ll get writer’s block, and nothing will come out. There’s a number of mysteries that remain after you clear the game, but to be honest, I didn’t really try and resolve those myself. The gameplay system, however, is something I refined down to the smallest details.
At the beginning of the development, the fighting in Valhalla was the main part of the game. It started out as a strategy RPG, where you raise up characters and then have them pound away at each other in Valhalla. There were more than 100 characters, and it’s probably more accurate to call them “units” at this point, rather than characters. The special weapon stats are actually a remnant from this period of the development; in this early version of the game, you’d divide your units up on the map, but if a character was carrying something heavy like a “hammer”, then he wouldn’t be able to cross the river.
You’d get to watch over the characters you’d diligently raised up as they fought in Valhalla, and in that regard it was a bit like Derby Stallion. But ultimately, I felt it required too much time to play, and was too hard to get into. And with so many different characters, I couldn’t give them as individual, detailed personalities as they have now.
Endings and Difficulty
Two important things about Valkyrie Profile are the Hero Value and the D Skills. If you max your Hero Value, and level up all the D Skills to level 5, then that character will be very effective. You also need to give your characters artifacts when you send them to Valhalla. To get the A ending, you can’t send too many einherjar to Valhalla, so it’s important that you only send the most exceptional ones. I created the B ending for players who wanted to take a more laid-back approach.
The A ending was conceived for players who wanted to do things their own way and defy Odin. Thinking things through for yourself, and really questioning what the Seal Rate is all about, wanting to explore your past… if you do those things, you’ll reach the A ending. The conditions you have to achieve are really strict, and it may seem like aiming for the A ending from the beginning will be a very limited, confining experience, but it’s not like that at all, in fact.
I think there’s been many games recently that are too kind to the player, and try to explain everything for them. In turn a game is now said to be “unfriendly” or unfair if it doesn’t explain everything for you. But I think the fun part of games comes from thinking for yourself. So if players only see the B ending and think “this game wasn’t very interesting,” well… it can’t be helped. That was a big gamble I took.
In the logo, there’s some small text written: “sadamerareta unmei o kyohi seyo” [[“reject your fate” — but translated in Engrish as “Should Deny The Divine Destiny of The Destinies”]], and that is the one big hint I gave for getting the A ending. (laughs) All of the in-game messages lead the player towards the B ending, so that hint is extremely important.
Basically, Hard mode is the mode that includes all the game’s mechanics, so there’s probably no reason to play Easy or Normal after playing Hard. Personally, if the market had allowed it, I would have released the game with Hard mode only. But today there’s a diversity of players, and for those who are bad at action games, I thought it would be a good idea to include Easy and Normal modes.
Moreover, many of the dungeons require you to use your head. If you don’t get that flash of insight, you won’t be able to solve them, so for players who don’t enjoy solving puzzles, Hard mode is kind of meaningless. I think players who don’t like combat or puzzles, but just want to experience the story, will probably have more fun with Normal mode. In the end, maybe Hard mode is geared more for the slightly masochistic. (laughs) I made it for players who want to take on strong creatures and wickedly tough dungeons.
As for the battles, I wanted a system that wasn’t about players just raising their levels; I wanted something where players could win at low levels if they were crafty enough. So I think the level at which people beat the game will vary widely. To get the A ending you’ve got to defeat Blood Vein, so it might be too hard if you aren’t around level 50. However, for the B ending, I think you could beat it below level 30. With good tactics, I think it could be beat around level 20, so I’m hoping players experiment with that. You’re free to come up with your own chain combos, which is one of Valkyrie Profile’s features.
The Seraphic Gate completely breaks with the setting and story, so I included it as a bonus dungeon for people who had already cleared the game. You can recruit Lezard Vareth and Brahms there too. I think it will be very hard for people who only clear Normal mode, because you clear Normal mode at a much lower level than Hard. However, if you try the dungeon after beating Hard mode, it might be very easy at first. The bosses are a real challenge though. It’s the perfect dungeon for those players who want to fight only the strongest enemies, and really immerse themselves in the joy of pure combat.
Probably few people know about this, but there’s an enemy called Hamster. They’re a hidden monster, with a very low rate of appearance. They’re super strong. Because they’re small, their hit box is tiny. The fights in Valkyrie Profile are real-time, and each enemy has their own hitbox size, so small enemies can be fierce foes. That as something I wanted to do from the start, have small enemies be really strong.
In real life combat, enemies that crawl along the ground are naturally harder to hit. These Hamsters have extremely high HP, and magic doesn’t work well on them. I believe they have around 40,000 HP, and they appear in groups of 4. So if you can’t think of good combos, you’ll never defeat them. Please find them and take on the challenge!
I also included items with over 1000 attack power, and a sword that is the strongest but is unwieldable. Actually, you can use it, but the Attack Trust stat is at 1, so it’s very difficult to use. Basically, that parameter controls how reliable the attack damage is, so the damage has a huge range of values. It might do 1 damage, or it might do several thousand. (laughs)
The second half of the Seraphic Gate dungeon might be a little tough. In the past, though, I think that level of difficulty was considered normal for an action game. There’s nothing particularly novel about it stylistically either; it’s in the tradition of the older sidescrollers. But you don’t see those games very often these days.
In any event, this game has a lot of freedom. You’re likely to get lost or stuck many times, but that’s all part of the freedom I want players to experience. Try all sorts of things out and find your own individual way to enjoy Valkyrie Profile!
Music – Motoi Sakuraba
Usually when I compose game music, the planners and writers give me a document explaining what kind of songs they want for each scene… but for Valkyrie Profile, all 25 songs said “stylish and dark.” (laughs) This is true about all the titles I’ve worked on, but I spent a lot of energy and effort on the battle music. It’s the song you’re going to hear the most so I make sure it’s solid. I think the Playstation has great sound quality compared with other consoles right now. In addition to composition, I also did a lot of the sound sampling myself for Valkyrie Profile, and in that regard too, I think it turned out very well.
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