Namco Valkyrie Series
Today's mega-corporations realize that nostalgia is pretty big amongst video gaming über geeks, and occasionally take time to pander to them - witness all of the cameos you'll find in Marvel vs. Capcom. But Namco is in a slightly different boat. They have many other recognizable properies besides just Pac-Man - the problem is, only Japanese gamers know about them. Witness the Tower of Druaga, a mid-'80s arcade game that was massively popular... but, of course, only in Japan. This is primarily because Namco never translated it. The same deal goes with the Norse heroine Valkyrie. I bet fans over there totally get mushy when Valkyrie makes an appearance in some modern game, whereas everyone else is like "who's the gal with the winged hat and Swiss Miss braids?"
While the 1989 arcade sequel is the most popular title starring her, Valkyrie's roots stretch back a bit farther, to the days of the Famicom. Walküre no Bōken: Toki no Kagi Densetsu ("The Adventure of Valkyrie: Legend of the Key of Time") is Namco's interpretation of The Legend of Zelda, and it certainly certainly is ambitious. Featuring a scrolling landscape, a day/night cycle and a lifebar for bad guys, Walküre no Bōken unfortunately fails to be even half as good as Nintendo's classic, in spite of these advancements. Why? Well, overly aggressive bad guys constantly appear out of nowhere and gang up on the player, and the extremely shoddy hit detection makes it difficult to fight back. Walküre no Bōken appears on Enterbrain's Top 100 Famicom games, so clearly the Japanese have some pleasant memories of it, but it's pretty much unplayable nowadays. This was also released on the Namco Anthology 2 disc for the PlayStation, in addition to an awesome remake. In 2006, Namco also released a graphically updated version for i-mode mobile phones, while the untouched Famicom version made it onto the Virtual Console for Wii and 3DS.
The series may have started with the Famicom action RPG, but Valkyrie's claim to fame was the excellent arcade game, Walküre no Densetsu, or "Legend of Valkyrie". It may look like an RPG, but it's really an action-adventure in the vein of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, combined with the frentic shooter action of Mercs. And yeah, it's just as awesome as it sounds.
As the fair haired warrior maiden, it's up to you to reclaim the Golden Seed stolen by the evil Kamooz. Two players can join in, as either Valkyrie or her green lizard friend Xandra. In addition to slaying hordes of bad guys, you'll have to do a fair bit of platforming. It's a little bit difficult given the overhead perspective, but falling just deducts from your health as opposed to killing you outright, so it's pretty forgiving. Most impressive are the scaling effects - as you climb the mountain in the first stage, you see the ground shrink in the distance, giving a nifty illusion of depth. Later in the game, you'll find a catapult that slings you across the entire stage, giving a bird's eye view of the level. One of the bosses, a fire scorpion, is so goddamned huge that the game has to zoom out just so you can see it. This is all pretty incredible for a game from 1989. The sound is pretty decent too, even though it lacks variety. The main theme is an incredibly catchy and upbeat little song, but it's played constantly through most of the game.
Walküre no Densetsu isn't just pure action though, and the adventure elements are what really make the game unique. You'll run into a variety of colorful characters who will give you gameplay advice and occasionally reward you with stuff. Alas, not every person is just willing to give away items. Each bad guy you kill nets gold, which allows you to buy a variety of weapons from shopkeepers throughout the land. Each weapon has a set time limit usage of a few minutes, but you can stock up a bunch if you've amassed enough money. Other than a standard array of projectile weapons - three way blades, homing fireballs. bombs - you also have several magic spells, which allow you to summon mini-Valkyrie as options or, per usual arcade game protocol, create a massive explosion to clear the screen of enemies.
Once again, there are no free handouts - you have to earn your magic. Each level usually has more than path, and exploring is something you're definitely going to want to do. If you just take the quickest route through each level, you're bound to miss all of the spells, plus miss a lot of potential cash.
If there's anything wrong with Walküre no Densetsu, it's the same problem that plagues a lot of arcade-style games - to make things super difficult, it will flood the screen with enemies, and without a powerful weapon, there's no hope for survival. Thankfully, you can continue right where you died, at least in the arcade and PSOne versions.
The PlayStation version, on the Namco Museum Volume 5 CD, is the only way to play the game in English. It's certainly nice to understand what everyone is saying, although the translation is pretty half-assed. The logo is still in Japanese and some of the road signs remain in Japanese. Otherwise, it's pretty much a straight port of the arcade game, although the screen has been shrunk to maintain its original resolution. Alternatively, you can activate the "tate" mode to let you play the game full screen, if you're willing to turn your TV on its side.
Prior to the Namco Museum CDs, the only home conversion was for the PC Engine. The graphics took a hit, although they still look okay. The lack of scaling effects on the PC Engine means that certain areas lose their sense of depth, something which actually makes platforming even more difficult than before. The two player mode is gone, although that little green lizard/fish Xandra shows up as an NPC on occasion. The magic spells have been altered a little bit, and some of the levels have some minor alterations as well. Although the volume of enemies has been toned down, dying will send you back to the beginning of the level unless you gained extra lives. A password feature has also been added.
Namco has always been a bitch when it comes to localizing their games, even their more popular properties. They have no problem translating Tekken games as fast as possible but balk at the proposition of bringing out most of their Tales games. But thanks to the Namco Museum - and MAME, of course - we can play a bit of catch up. Coupled with a memorable, upbeat soundtrack, Legend of Valkyrie is a classic that far too many of us have missed out on.
Additional Arcade Screenshots
The star title of the Namco Anthology 2 (released only in Japan for the PlayStation in 1998) is the remake to Walküre no Bōken. "Remake" isn't strong enough of a word, really - it plays almost nothing like its Famicom forebearer and feels more like a sequel to the arcade game. In other words, it plays exactly the same as Walküre no Densetsu, while fixing some of its minor snags. You can actually backtrack through the current level to look for more stuff or gain more gold, and you can store weapons and use them when you want (although they are in tragically short supply.) The quest is also quite a bit longer than the arcade game, so the save game feature is quite welcome. While you'll still face huge hordes of enemies at a given time, your main weapon is powerful enough so you never feel too overwhelmed. Compared to the original, it strikes a much better difficulty balance. Which is good, because you can't resurrect where you die anymore. Valkyrie has a few new moves too, like a defend manuever that lets her aim while standing in place.
Graphically, there's nothing too impressive here, although the sprites have improved quite a bit. Valkyrie's character design has been altered a bit so she wears a gigantic white bow instead of her trademark winged helmet. The music is comprised of slightly enhanced tracks from both titles, and they're just as catchy as ever. There's also a particularly awful, if somewhat humorous, computer rendered opening. It's a fine game, and definitely the best on the Namco Anthology 2 release, which is unfortunately very hard to find (and somewhat expensive to boot.) There are three other games on the disc, both featuring their original version and a remake: Pac-Attack, an interesting combination of Tetris and Pac-Man; King of Kings, a strategy game for the Famicom; and Namco Classic II, a boring golf game.
For some reason, the useless little fish thing Xandra was given his own platformer for the Super Famicom. Other than stabbing bad guys with his trident and bouncing them a la Mario, the only useful thing Xandra can do is jump really high. This leads to many annoying segments where you need to time your jumps just right to hop over obstacles. Atlhough you are gifted with seven lives, one hit kills Xandra and whisks you back to the beginning of the stage. There are lots of cheap deaths too - if you try to stab an enemy from above and miss, you get stuck in the ground, becoming an easy target. Other than the catchy music, some of which sounds very similar to the original arcade game, there's very little interesting about this somewhat mediocre title. Xandra no Daibōken was also released in Europe under the title Whirlo. For some reason, they made the main character look disgruntled in this release by giving him angry-looking eyebrows. Bizarre.
There was yet another spin off to the Valkyrie series, this time an extremely obscure Windows exclusive title starring a little girl named Rosa. The game appears to be a visual novel (screenshots are taken from here).
In 2007, the Valkyrie series was revived in form of a manga series called The Glory of Walküre. The books were accompanied by a mobile gmae with the same title, which mixes things up even more by putting the Valkyrie into a side-scrolling action adventure.
This was followed by a sequel two years later. This was more in line with the rest of the series, but seems to have stronger RPG elements. Namco re-released the first Glory of Walküre for Android phones in 2012, but it has already been deleted from the Google Play store.
Back in 1989, Namco was also working on a direct sequel to the Famicom Walküre no Bōken for MSX2 computers, subtitled Haruka na Toki no Tobira ("Door to a Faraway Time"). A self-running demo program was included in the fourth issue of Compile's Disc Station discmag, which included a text scroll with the story, a whole bunch of enemy art and a few cutscene graphics. No actual gameplay was ever shown, and the game just quietly disappeared by the end of the year.
Valkyrie has frequent cameos in the Tales of series. She is a minor supporting character in Tales of Phantasia, a hidden boss in Tales of Eternia / Destiny 2 (the Valkyrie theme music plays in the dungeon) and the GBA spin-offs Tales of the World: Narakiri Dungeon 2 and 3, as well as a combat support in Tales of Hearts. Other episodes allow certain characters to wear her costume. Images of valkyrie show up momentarily in backgrounds of the arcade title Mach Breakers, and Marvel Land for the Arcade and Genesis. Additionally, she appears in all the Namco crossover strategy games, including Namco Super Wars for the WonderSwan (where she even takes the center position on the cover), Monolith Soft's Namco × Capcom, the mobile title Namco Chronicle and Project X Zone. Her theme song shows up up Taiko Drum Master as the latter half of the song "Taiko March". Soul Calibur II fans will also recognize Valkyrie as Cassandra's third costume.