At this point in the project, the Valis series is one of the few remaining franchises that we haven’t focused any of our attention on yet.We decided today would be a good time to look at the three games (Valis: The Fantasm Soldier, Valis III, and Syd of Valis), and determine if any were worthy of staying on the list.
Valis: The Fantasm Soldier is what you would get if you took the original Castlevania and changed the main character from a bad-ass vampire hunter to a Japanese schoolgirl. The really sad part of that logic is that that actually sort of makes sense – if you’re an anime dork, then its probably the best idea ever, and even if you’re not, it’s still a lot like Castlevania, which is pretty cool.The Castlevania rip-offs – um, I mean “influences” – are pretty obvious:both have similar control schemes, visual styles (they even both have the same “line of little boxes” health bars), and gameplay.The problem is that it also shared many of the flaws of the original Castlevania – slow movement, stiff controls, and some pretty limited enemy AI.Back when the game was first released in 1986 (on the MSX), those were common flaws for a lot of games, so it wasn’t a big deal.But 5 years later, when the game finally made it’s way onto the Genesis, standards had changed, and Valis ends up feeling horribly dated.Probably didn’t help that the series it had been ripping off so liberally had evolved beyond these problems by then.
Valis III doesn’t exactly solve these problems as much as it kind of just makes them less bad.It’s completely playable and even mildly enjoyable at times, although the enemy AI still blows.Back when I used to make ZZT games, there was an AI command called SEEK.SEEK meant that the object would move one step closer to the player.SEEK is an effective, but pretty predictable AI routine, so you would have to mix it up with a few other directions: maybe a little loop of SEEK, SEEK, RANDOM to keep the object from just making a beeline directly to the player.Apparently Valis III’s designers never went to the Brad Lawrence school of AI Programming, because almost every enemy in the game has a bad case of SEEK, making them very predictable and the whole game kind of dull.Still it’s better than most of the AI in the first Valis, which seemed to be stuck on a loop of WEST (in other words, go left no matter what).
Oddly enough, Syd of Valis, which is very obviously a children’s game, ends up being the best of this bunch.The control is better, the gameplay is much faster, and the enemies are more interesting and varied in their attack patterns.The character can now shoot magic across the screen, as well, which makes this feel less like a blatant Castlevania rip-off and more like a blatant Megaman rip-off.It’s not a terrible game, but you can only play as a giant-headed cartoony little girl shooting cute, pastel-colored monsters with a magic wand for so long before you start feeling ridiculous.And by “so long” I mean about 10 seconds.Maybe if it had been really fun, instead of just kind of ok, we could have held off our embarrasment a bit longer for the sake of the project, though I sort of doubt we have that much journalistic integrity.So it was actually kind of a lucky break on our part that the game wasn’t anything great.
Anyway, we’re elimintating all three games today.Syd of Valis and Valis III are ok, and might have been good enough to make a Top 200 list.Maybe.On the other hand, Valis: The Fantasm Soldier is little more than a prettied up NES game and including it on any kind of top games countdown would be a surefire way to establish that the list needed to be a least one game shorter.