STAFF REVIEW of Xenon Valkyrie+ (Xbox One)

Thursday, March 15, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Xenon Valkyrie+ Box art Normally I’m not into rogue-lite games, you know the genre, the ones where permadeath is a real thing and the difficulty is usually astronomical, but there are a few that reward you just enough to tease you into continue playing, even after the thousandth death. While I enjoy playing the newest games with their graphic fidelity, there’s always a warm spot in my heart for retro inspired games, as that's what I grew up with, much like Xenon Valkyrie+. Originally a VITA game, console owners now get a chance to see if the wait has been worth it to wet their rogue-lite appetite.

As for the narrative, your planet comes under attack from a mysterious moon that has an evil witch buried deep inside of it, so naturally you and your team take it upon themselves to save the world from imminent doom. It’s nothing terribly exciting or involved, though these types of games you generally don’t play for the story anyways.

Rogue-lite’s usually frustrate me. They are generally very difficult, by design, but require you to retry numerous times to learn and hopefully get further each attempt. This premise sets you up for failure and asks you to stick through it, as usually you need to begin at the very start without any progress saved, and that’s no different for Xenon Valkyrie+. I can appreciate that there’s an audience for these types of games, and the great ones have some sort of progression that persists through death to keep you stringed along, constantly working towards a bigger goal, even if you have to constantly restart from the beginning. While Xenon Valkyrie+ does somewhat have this in place, it’s wasn’t enough or substantial enough to keep my interest in the long term.

You begin by choosing one of three characters, each with their own look and special ability. Unfortunately, these abilities aren’t taught to you, nor are the general controls, so you’ll be left to figure them out on your own. It wasn’t until I was an hour or two in that I actually figured out I had a gun, which would have been helpful to know from the beginning. Each character has a sword, gun, grenades and ability, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Renna’s special ability is a radar that will ping special points and enemies on the mini map, Eloen has a bomb she can plant every so often and Nue has a super jump, allowing him to get into much higher areas. Each have different attack, defense and vitality stats, so it’s a matter of choosing whom suits your playstyle best.

Every time you begin your journey, usually after a death, the levels are procedurally created, so the map changes each time you play, placing the goal and enemies in various locations. You’ll always begin at the top of a level, trying to make your way downwards to the randomly placed teleporter to move onto the next stage. You have the ability to wall jump, allowing you to traverse back up if you find yourself in a dead end. Killing enemies earns experience points which levels you up and grants talent points and destroying caches nets you gold to spend. Killing every enemy you see takes time, but the talent points earned will make the rest of your run that much easier.

In between stages if you manage to make it to the teleporter, you’ll be whisked away to a little area where you can spent your hard earned talent points and gold. With your points you can increase your stats like health, damage or defense, and with gold, purchase upgrades, ammo refills and more. Just be prepared to lose it all when you inevitably die, because it will happen over and over. Everything you earned gets wiped when you die and you start all over again in a completely randomized level layout with none of the upgrades you've purchased.

While you’ll generally progress slightly further and further each time as you become more comfortable with the game and its mechanics, there’s not enough that persists through death to keep it exciting and enticing you to continue playing. If you manage to defeat any of the unfair bosses, that for some reason disables your gun use, you’ll earn a random amount of Teamerite currency. This is a special currency that persists through death and can be used to unlock super weapons and other goodies. I don’t want to spoil these, should you actually make it this far, but even after unlocking a weapon it was underwhelming and not enough to keep my interest for many more subsequent runs.

There’s a few other issues too that, with a few tweaks, could be a much more enjoyable game. If you manage to defeat one of the larger enemies in a level, you’ll be granted a key (or choose the character that always starts with one) which can be used for unlocking a super powerful weapon, or a minor upgrade. This is where the randomness comes in, as there’s times where I’ve been given a weapon that does massive damage and kills anything in one hit, and other times where it’s actually been a downgrade. You should always feel as though you’re becoming more powerful, and when permadeath is a constant, being given a weapon that is worse what you're currently wielding is like kicking you while you’re down.

It took me quite some time to figure out that I could use the Right Stick to move the camera slightly in different directions, which came in very handy since you have to constantly drop down from ledges, unable to see if there are any traps or enemies below you. The amount of times I’ve lost health and died because of this exact problem is way too high. Again, this is where the randomness rears its ugly head.

If you enjoy brutally hard rogue-lite’s, then Xenon Valkyrie+ will surely have something for you, as the same goes for speedrunners since there’s a timer always on the screen, teasing you with how short you lived on each run. More often than not, I felt like I died due to unfair randomness rather than my skill and abilities, and I kept wishing that some of my progress persisted through death, but alas, I was stuck restarting very often and only becoming increasingly frustrated each time. Great in short bursts, Xenon Valkyrie+ scratches an itch but is lacking long term appeal due to its randomized difficulty.

Overall: 5.8 / 10
Gameplay: 4.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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