When you find out a game was funded through Kickstarter, it will typically elicit one of two very different responses. If the game has not released yet, people usually express skepticism about the probability of the game seeing the light of day, or the legitimacy of the need for crowd funding in the first place. If the game is out, it usually doesn’t live up to expectations, lacked features, or got too ambitious for its own good.
Sometimes though, just sometimes, a game is funded on Kickstarter, releases to critical acclaim, and meets or exceeds all expectations – Valdis Story: Abyssal City seems to fall into that third category. While it is far from a perfect game, this charming indie delight delivers a consistent level of action, adventure, and RPG depth to keep you playing throughout the 10+ Metroidvania romp, with plenty left over content for subsequent attempts.
AESTHETICS = 9
A lot of times indie games get this sort of unspoken “pass” on their visuals, simply due to the fact that the studios often have limited resources available to dedicate the necessary time and effort to create something truly mesmerizing. As a result, a lot of indie games look like something you would see on the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. While Valdis Story definitely does fall into that category on the surface, it’s much more than that. When you take the time to actually look at the visuals, you realize that everything looks like a painting and the techniques used are for more advanced than the simple 16-bit consoles of yesteryear.
The detail within the background scenery alone is completely unique and beautiful to look at throughout the adventure. Levels are smartly designed, animations are fluid and flashy and enemy designs never get old. Even while approaching the dozen hour mark of my journey, I was continually impressed with the variety of enemies. The small indie team really did an admirable job of creating different areas to explore, ensuring that you never feel like you’re visiting the same place twice…unless of course, you literally are visiting the same place again; which tends to happen a lot in these types of games.
GAMEPLAY = 7
I suppose that this is as good a place as any to talk about the story, which is actually one of the most interesting parts of the game. You start as Wyatt, a ship captain that gets attacked by a monster and his crew is spread out, stranded, across the land. The game takes place in a world at war between angels and demons and you’re caught directly in the middle of it all. This adds a really unique dynamic to the story that could have been utilized more fully, to add more depth and layers to the narrative. In the end, it just ends up being little more than an excuse to go complete some quests and kill some bad guys, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when the killing is this fun.
Think of this game as essentially a 2D version of God of War with more exploration, platforming, and RPG elements. Valdis Story in every way is all that is good about the Metroidvania subgenre that’s become so popular lately. Combat is extremely fast and intense and you have a large list of abilities at your disposal. In your first playthrough of the game, you play as Wyatt, a fairly standard sword-wielding protagonist that serves as a solid all-around fighter. He mixes quick sword slashes with heavy attacks, as well as a combination of light and dark magic. As you play, you’ll level up your character with new abilities and statistical upgrades, pertaining to the three traditional buckets of Attack, Defense, or Magic. Most of the truly game altering abilities are found in the environment though, much like Metroid.
While exploring different areas, you will come across treasure chests with all assortments of items inside, from random bits and pieces for use at a blacksmith, to new abilities and upgrades. Your menus have several different item slots for equipping new weapons, armor, accessories, and more to continually customize and develop Wyatt as you play. Thankfully, once you finish the game, you even unlock a new character to play as with a very different fighting style. While the narrative is basically identical, she plays like an entirely different character and it can drastically change the game. Instead of using a large sword, she relies on her fists and attacks even more quickly. Since the game launched, the developers have even added a third character, but I didn’t have a chance to try that one out.
By the end of the game, I started to feel a bit of gameplay fatigue. No matter how flashy it is, how many upgrades you get, or how many things there are to kill, it all boils down to the same fundamental mechanics: mashing your attacks, blocking, and dodging. While that can be said for basically any action game ever made, it grows old far quicker in games of smaller scope such as Valdis Story.
INNOVATION = 6
Unfortunately, Valdis Story doesn’t really do anything new or fresh; it just provides a very well-executed experience on top of existing mechanics. I’ve ran around 2D environments before, I’ve fought enemies in an action game, I’ve upgraded my character on basic stat trees, all of this standard Metroidvania stuff, but it’s all just so pretty and fun that you stop caring once the game starts.
Particularly of note is that throughout this experience, I was constantly reminded of another similar game called Dust: An Elysian Tale. I hate to be that guy that makes comparisons like this, but Dust is essentially a better version of Valdis Story, in my opinion, with much better visuals and gameplay. Valdis Story has more potential in its world and lore, but a lot of that isn’t utilized to its fullest ability.
POLISH = 6
While the game is beautiful, fluid, and engaging to play, a lot is left to be desired. When performing basic movement, character animations appear rather stiff and idle animations are next to non-existent. This is by no means a deal-breaking issue, but it looks strange in contrast to how great everything else is. The game is most definitely best experienced with a gamepad, as the keyboard controls are wonky at best.
I also found it very difficult to make the game work properly in Steam’s Big Picture mode, which could likely be a bug in Steam itself, and often had trouble making the game go full-screen while playing. I’ve played many indie games that are far less optimized and poorly polished, but the little things tend to stand out even more when the rest of the game is so wonderful.
LONGEVITY = 7
Valdis Story does not disappoint in terms of sheer breadth of content to experience. The game has a total of three wildly different characters, each of which will clock you around 10 hours of playtime. For a game in this genre, that’s more than enough playtime for a single playthrough. The ability to play the game multiple times with different characters adds even more replay value to the package. It would have been nice if there was a more structured challenge mode with waves of enemies, a coop feature, or at the very least some time attack style stages. Unfortunately, none of this was really present.
The one gripe I do have, and this is a large gripe for me, is that there is little incentive to play the game again with another character. While they surely play very differently and offer entirely new gameplay experiences, the fact that the core game itself including the narrative, environments, and dialogue are all relatively unchanged, make me reluctant to really dive in more than once. I know it’s a limited indie game, but it would have been nice to have a little more variety for each character.
VALUE = 10
For $15, it would take a lot (or not very much, technically) to feel ripped off. There is a ton of beautifully made things to do and see in this game. There are tons of side things to do and see, repeatable areas, items to acquire, and upgrades to get. Games in this genre are well known for the value they offer on a dollar-for-dollar basis, but the mixture of it being an indie Kickstarter success at a cheap price tag, makes the amount of entertainment all the more commendable.
If you’re a fan of Metroidvania games, or indie games in general, you should definitely check out Valdis Story. With multiple playable characters, an interesting world to explore, and engaging gameplay, there are few reasons not to give this gem a chance. It may not do everything perfectly and it doesn’t tread much new ground, but it delivers a great experience wrapped up inside of a beautiful package for a cheap price. Bust out your PC game pad and take Wyatt on his adventure in the Abyssal City!