In the most recent Warning! A Huge Podcast (Stage 019), they talked about lesser known 8/16-bit publishers. One of those publishers was Renovation, which led into conversation about the Valis series. I have always been interested in trying the series, but just recently got around to it. And holy crap, I’m glad I did.
(Genesis, 1991. Developed by Telenet Japan, Published in North America by Renovation)
The game begins with a slightly animated cutscene (think Ninja Gaiden on NES) depicting blue-haired protagonist Yuko noticing some strange weather outside her Japanese high school. At this point I was charmed.
Moments later, demons begin appearing, Yuko is given a magic sword, and the player begins slashing enemies in early-90s Japan. At this point I was enthralled.
At no point in my playthrough did my enthusiasm falter. The game plays like a cross between Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania. Yuko powers up her sword like a Belmont does a whip and gains magic attacks such as a fire wheel just like Ryu Hayabusa.
The combat is cut from the same cloth as those games as well. Unlike Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden however, Valis is not an overly difficult and punishing game. The developer’s intention seems to be focused on players being able to finish the game and more importantly, the story.
To be honest, it’s not a particularly original story, nor is it well told (there are countless grammar and spelling errors, and the text is displayed frustratingly slowly). But Yuko’s tale has an unexpected amount of heart and I was surprised to find how much I cared about characters in what is essentially a hour or so long 2D action game.
Despite its brevity, the game takes the player to a variety of distinct locales far removed from the “modern” Japan where the game begins. The visuals are above what you would expect from a small developer in 1991 (though not as impressive as some of the big-budget games of that era). The game’s soundtrack also exceeded my expectations; the music for the game’s final stage is particularly atmospheric and memorable.
I may have been over 20 years late to the Valis party, but I am glad I eventually made it.
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