Valdis Story: Abyssal City is a 2013 Metroidvania by Endlessfluff Games. It’s better than most.
The game consists of a series of small interconnected areas, many of which can be completed in any order. There are two available characters available at the start (more planned to be added later as DLC, hopefully as free DLC) who play differently enough to satisfy. Both have their own set of abilities to differentiate and increase the player’s options, especially for replays.
The first thing I noticed was the skill trees in the pause menu. The two (currently playable) characters each have a different style, yet both are flexible to your playstyle. Wyatt is a physical fighter and Reina is a wizard, though both can be brawlers or magic-users depending on how you build them. In fact, the game will be significantly more difficult if you don’t use combat and sorcerous skills in tandem regardless of your choice of character. Wyatt needs a healing spell and Reina at least needs some points in Strength or it’s going to be a heavy slog through the early areas. Yet if you want you can go all out in one area and become a juggernaut after you get some skill points in. Lots of choices here.
Valdis Story is hard, but fair. Button mash and you’ll usually die; both regular enemies and bosses have patterns that you need to recognize in order to get through. Enemies can block, dodge, and flank your character if you try to Rambo your way through, and of course no boss is easily beaten. Some of your foes are heavy hitters, some are nimble, some inflict poison, freezing, or other status ailments. Some enemies fit into several of those categories; the irritating fairies that shoot ice and summon an impenetrable shield after taking a couple hits are a particularly memorable opponent. There is a great big variety in the bestiary and that ensures that combat is never boring.
The bosses are even more entertaining. You’ll fight spore-spitting plant monsters in a field of poison, hooded monks drawing energy from huge crystals (break the latter to weaken the former), beefy yet agile knights who shrug off most of your attacks, and of course a bizarre gigantic monstrous final boss. I died quite a few times to most of them, though the game mercifully allows you to continue right at the boss if you don’t feel like going back to your last save point. The health and mana potions made many of the bosses easier than they should be—I would have preferred being forced to adapt to their patterns, to dodge and strike expertly rather than being able to brute force through some of them—but overall they are quite pleasing and rewarding.
Early on I accidentally ran into the optional super-boss (The Eye of Alagath, on the right side of the sewers level) and was incapable of even damaging it. I wish there had been some indication that it was something I was supposed to fight at max level so I didn’t waste an hour trying to find some kind of weak point that wasn’t there. Valdis Story does helpfully tell you where your next plot destination is when you pull up the mini-map, though it remains quite open-ended for the most part.
I admit I had to go to GameFAQs to figure out how to beat the last boss. A certain item makes it much easier and I should have known from the item’s description that it was designed with that in mind, especially since you receive that item as part of the plot and not through item synthesis like others.
The maps in Valdis Story look tiny at first glance—much smaller than Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s, for example—but they pack a lot of material into the cramped space. Some of the areas are comprised of a seemingly puny amount of rooms, but since each room might have a dozen enemies or a puzzle that takes five minutes to figure out, it makes things more thrilling than they’d appear initially. I do enjoy games with gigantic sprawling worlds to explore, but Valdis Story aptly takes to the other extreme with compact levels crammed to the top with cleverly placed obstacles.
Some of the aforementioned puzzles are as simple as get-the-red-key-to-open-the-red-door, but there are quite a few requiring planning and manual dexterity. Oftentimes you’ll see a treasure chest stuck behind glowing blue or solid steel doors, necessitating proper use of dash cancels to operate the switches in the room to get the goods. In Metroidvania tradition, you’ll need extra powers to get some of these.
After beating the game on Normal I went ahead and jumped to the highest difficulty, in which regular enemies would stunlock me to death if I let them surround me and I couldn’t even beat the first boss. I loved it. It felt like I was playing God Hand again. Maybe those health potions were necessary after all…
Aesthetics and Extras
The game is gorgeous. The characters’ animation is smooth and crisp, the backgrounds and settings are lush (especially the jungle area). Even basic enemies have a unique and iconic design, and characters that would normally be uninteresting throwaways (like the warmup boss, a samurai dude with a skull mask) still look clear and recognizable. Every attack from you or enemies has a heft to it that make it feel like it actually does damage. The sound and visuals are all well done.
The story (much like the maps) appears basic and junky at first. If I told you it was about a war between angels and demons but the protagonists are super cool badasses who don’t side with either and prefer to snub both authority figures, you’d rightly think it sounded idiotic. Yet the writing reveals pathos within the characters; you feel that they are truly downtrodden commoners being oppressed by forces impossible to control or understand. It’s not important for the enjoyment of the game, but neither is it an idiotic throwaway plot like you’d see in fighting games or something.
Valdis Story is an exciting, professional, expertly crafted Metroidvania. I look forward to playing future characters when they are eventually added. Konami should take some lessons from Endlessfluff games. Indie developers love Metroidvanias and all evidence shows that they’re the ones who know how to do it right. Buy this game and support them. I want more.