Review by Seth0708
The dark horse of the Valis series
While most everyone is familiar with the consoles of Sega and Nintendo of the late 1980s and early 1990s, only those who actively played video games during that time are probably aware of the TurboGrafx-16 (or PC Engine) and its add-on, the Turbo CD. The Castlevania title on the Turbo CD is probably the most famous game from that console, but there are two franchises that stand out to this day. One of these is the Ys series, which sadly is even less known in America today than it was fifteen years ago. The other is the Valis series, which gained some notoriety a couple of years ago when a remake was released called Valis X. This was met with anger from some, and happiness from others, but regardless this review will examine Valis II as it was released on the Turbo CD in 1990. Sadly, Valis II is probably the worst entry in the series, worse even than the Famicom version of the original game.
Valis II is divided into six very linear stages. The action is your standard sidescroller, featuring a small variety of items and the standard enemies you would expect to face. Telenet seems to have thought that cutscenes and voice acting would sell their game, however, as these levels are some of the most uninspired I have ever seen. Each of the six levels is divided into what the manual calls a visual scene, action scene, and a boss scene.
The visual scene features an anime-ish cutscene. These cutscenes are the standard moving lips, still animation of the early Sega CD and Turbo CD titles. These scenes are done as well as can be hoped, although the dialogue and plot make very little sense. Usually they consist of the boss of the level giving Yuko some sort of parting advice, followed by general confusion from Yuko, Megas, or an assortment of characters that appear out of nowhere. None of this actually advances the plot very much as it would be hard for even the biggest Gundam fan to follow the dialogue and figure out what is going on.
The actual levels are a rather uninspired lot. Most involve you guiding Yuko through a predetermined path that, in general, features just an infestation of enemies. The first three levels have very little hazards you would expect to find in a sidescroller, such as platform jumping or major environmental hazards. That is not to say you do not need to jump across platforms, just that they are often very large and easy to reach, and in most cases missing them results in little or no penalty. The second to last level is about the only one to feature major non-enemy threats, and it just seems to throw them about haphazardly. These levels are also extremely easy, with only the fourth and fifth ones providing any real challenge. Granted level five is very difficult, but you will probably shoot to it in thirty minutes without much trouble.
After slugging through a horde of enemies you finally reach the boss of your given stage. This begins with a huge warning flashing on the screen that a boss is approaching. This is followed by some nonsensical dialogue, as mentioned above, between Yuko and the boss. These bosses are a very unimpressive lot. Im pretty sure that even Johnny Bravo could take these guys. What is really weird is many of the regular enemies are harder than the bosses. I beat Shadow Emperor Megas at the end of the game without taking a hit, and it was very easy to do so. The bosses follow very standard attack patterns and can often be beaten by standing still and firing, not even bothering to dodge their attacks. Epic boss battles can at times make up for mediocre level design, but in Valis II we have both mediocre levels and bosses.
That leads me to the basic enemies. I have seen some weird enemies in sidescrollers before, but some of the ones here really make me question what is going on. Each level has unique foes, which is cool, and many of them make sense. The first level features enemies that seem to be alien soldiers, although as it turns out they are interdimensional soldiers. However the first level also features killer ferrets. Those killer ferrets also happen to be harder to kill than the soldiers, which really confuses me. The second level has no real recognizable enemies, instead forcing you to battle through giant amoeba things. Level four, however, takes the cake for weird enemies with flaming men and floating cellular structures that attack you. I guess at the very least the enemies make more sense than the original Metroid where you were ostensibly battling Space Pirates and there were no space pirates to be found anywhere in the game. This is true until the final level, which features enemies that resemble nothing else in the game and seem really out of place. By the same token, the final level has Yuko riding a jawbone up a bone corridor on a set path, which resembles nothing else I have seen anywhere else in the series and offers a truly disappointing final fortress for you to explore.
One nice touch is that the heroine, Yuko Ansho, goes through a total of three costume changes through the course of the game. These do nothing to affect how the game is played, but three different sprites spread across six levels is a nice addition. The first is a standard Japanese schoolgirl uniform for the first level. For the second and third levels, Yuko dons the golden bikini armor that series is known for. For the remaining three levels, Yuko wears a purplish armor similar to the bikini armor, but with a headpiece and some additional covering. Although in many modern games alternate costumes might seem a standard, in 1990 this was something unique.
Ultimately what we have with Valis II is the weakest entry in an otherwise very well-done franchise. Mediocre level design, boring enemies, poorly crafted story, and ridiculously easy enemies all combine to create a disappointing experience. Valis II demonstrates exactly how a video game sequel can be done wrong. Thankfully the series recovered nicely with Valis III shortly afterwards.
Gameplay (30/50): Poor level design and boss encounters take the core of sidescroller action from Valis II.
Story (4/10): Flashy cutscenes and voice acting do not make up for a genuinely hard to understand story, but by the same token at least there was some effort put forth to create a plot in the first place.
Challenge (3/10): Valis II makes even many modern games look hard. Only the second to last level offers any real challenge.
Graphics (15/20): Valis II features nicely done cutscenes for its day and a good sprite for the main character and a wide variety of enemy sprites, but the levels all look very similar and offer little graphical variety.
Replayability (0/10): Not only will you likely beat this game in under two hours, but there is absolutely nothing to be seen by playing it again.
Overall (52/100): Buy Valis III or even Super Valis IV if you want a better treatment of the series in English.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Valis II (US, 12/31/90)
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