Ah-ha! I bet you thought that with last year's Valis
extravaganza during Genesis Week you'd seen the last of our favorite anime-inspired platformer didn't you? No siree, as it turns out we have yet another chapter in the blissfully mediocre (and at times absolutely fucking rage-inducing
saga to cover.
The fourth game in the Valis
series strangely never saw a release on the Genesis. The series instead, packed its bags and headed for the greener pastures of stronger graphical and audio processing power the Super Nintendo offered for its final outing on the 16-bit consoles (well the "normal" ones, anyway).
I don't remember ever having played this game in my youth. I do remember seeing the box at our local rental stores many times during my weekend excursions into the rental kingdom, but for some strange reason I never gave the game a chance. I liked Valis
and Valis III
enough to rent them on a fairly regular basis and I was clearly a fan of the series at this point. So why I never bothered picking it up for a few days and giving it a whirl is beyond me. It never even crossed my mind to ever buy a copy of the game years later either, even when I was hunting down boxed+instructioned copies of the original trilogy on Genesis. Maybe I had some kinda strange intuition thing going on, or perhaps, I'd just seen enough and the Mighty Maiden no longer interested me.
Whatever the case may be, we're here playing it now, right? So, why not get this final little shindig started and do some MAHOU SHOUJO PLATFORMAN!
Hey...You're Not Yuko!
With a change in consoles, comes a rather unexpected change. Yuko Ahso, the Valis
series canary-armored, career world-saver schoolgirl lady, is no longer the character you play as. Instead, you now assume the role of a new Valis Warrior named Rena (or Lena depending on which translation you wanna trust. I chose Rena, because I'm more partial to the name Rena... I DON'T CARE WHAT THE SCREENSHOTS SAY!) So, how does, Rena come to be the new Valis Warrior? Where the hell did Yuko go? Well, I guess you know what time it is...
Ah well, these games were never known for their ground-breaking or riveting stories or anything anyway, now were they? What I do find strange though, is that even with the SNES' graphical and sound superiority, they really didn't bother doing much with the cinematics in Super Valis IV
at all. There's no animation at all and the music is fairly bad. There are fewer grammatical and spelling errors, but all in all everything's still just as hokey as it's ever been. I must say though, given how cinematic the other games in the series tried to be with the Genesis' limited visual and audio capability, it's really quite a shame that they kinda phoned it all in when moving to the technically-superior console.
On an interesting side-note, should you not want to play through the game as Rena, there's a secret little code that'll allow you to shift the main character's sprite colors to a sort of a lazy-re-worked Yuko. She doesn't operate any differently than Rena, but if you find you're more into that Yellow and Blue thing as opposed to the Red and Blue thing, the option's always there. Just hold L+R while firing the game up and do not let go until you enter Vecanti and your character is on the screen
Hey...You're Not Valis IV!
Nope! The SNES version of Valis IV
isn't really much like the original PC Engine version. Much like Dracula X
got murdered to hell and back when it was re-imagined for the SNES, in the transition to Super Valis IV
this game got butchered up quite a bit too.
As it turns out, two playable characters were nixed, leaving only Rena as the main playable, and some stages were cut for this version of the game. The SNES version did
add a new stage to the game, but cutting as much as they did from this game and adding only one mediocre stage really doesn't cut it.
Since I've never played the original PC Engine version of Valis IV
, I'll be doing the fair thing and judging Super Valis IV
based on its own merits. Can the series finally break free of the chains that have bound it to mediocrity? With all this small introduction crap out of the way, I do believe it's time to dive in, have a look around, and find out for ourselves!
Hey...This Isn't How It Used To Work!
Super Valis IV
gets off to a pretty damn good start out of the gate. Within the first few seconds of gameplay, it's immediately apparent that a lot of the problems I had with the first three games have been addressed. Not only have problems been addressed, but the entire way the game plays has now been overhauled in such a manner that it feels fresh again. Almost like an entirely different game. It's sorta like the progression the series should have had the second time around as opposed to coming this far and finally changing things up.
For one, moving around and controlling Rena doesn't feel slow and clunky. In fact, movement and action is downright zippy. The whole game has a very arcadey-type feel that its predecessors lacked. That in and of itself is a great improvement. Rena also has the ability to sprint by double-tapping the direction you wish to run in. This ability factors into gameplay quite a bit as you'll need it to reach very off the beaten path power-ups (which are actually worth hunting for) and enemies. Strangely absent, though not really all that missed, is the slide maneuver. Sliding in the previous games was always kind of odd and clunky, and hit detection was spotty as hell, so no real loss here if you ask me.
From here is where core gameplay elements you may be familiar with in the previous games are thrown out the window. Let's be boring (This isn't Final Fantasy
so you aren't reading it anyway) and break the game down bit by bit before diving into the adventure, so you'll have a bit of a feel for how things work.
The first new gameplay enhancement is something I actually mentioned in my write-up of the first Valis
game on Genesis - The ability to extend your lifebar. For every 10,000 points you score (up to 30,000), your lifebar gets extended by roughly 1/4 of the starting gauge. See why I say to think of Score as EXP? You're essentially levelling up! Finally, you have a valid reason to actively hunt down and destroy enemies in a Valis
game as opposed to just rushing stages and avoiding them like you could in the previous games.
The really big bummer here, is that when you die and continue (you only get one life) your lifebar gets reset to the original amount. There are typically
enough enemies in a stage to try and get a run going again, but it's still a major pain in the ass to die in this game. On the rougher stages, it's damn-near game-breaking.
I know what you're thinking. "A Boss gauge, so fuckin' what?" If this were any other game I'd completely agree, but Super Valis IV's
boss gauge adds an interesting balance to the level-up mechanic and changes how you may want to tackle specific stages.
At the beginning of each stage, the Boss Gauge is set to a default amount. As you spend time in a stage, the Boss' life gauge builds up in small increments. So, now if a particular boss rocks the shit out of your world you have the option of just getting to him faster without having to deal with him as long. This adds an interesting balance to things and forces the player to decide between urgency and pack-ratting the shit out of a stage's power-ups.
The most interesting bit of Valis'
re-tooling is the way power-ups are handled. Gone are the spells from the previous games, which have been replaced with four special Valis Sword power-ups and a couple of defensive items.
When you collect a power-up it isn't immediately used. Instead, it's stored in one of the six slots in the upper-right portion of the screen. To activate a power-up you press X, and to use it you press Up+Y. Using the L and R buttons allows you to select which power-up you want to use from your cache. The only real issue with this system is that it's dreadfully clunky to try and implement in a heated battle. Thankfully, you can take a bit of clunk out of this process by pausing the game and making your selection.
Unlike previous games where power-ups seemed unbalanced and worthless a lot of the time, Super Valis IV's
selection of power-ups is actually quite stellar. I can almost compare their usefulness to that of the NES Ninja Gaiden
series' power-ups. Each have a specific use and are placed around levels in such a way where you can typically always be prepared for what lies ahead. The only real drawbacks are that each power-up has a set number of times you can fire it off before it's used up and they don't stack. Also, when you choose to activate another power-up with one already active you overwrite the current one you're using, forfeiting all unused charges. All in all though, it's still a fairly balanced system since power-ups are scattered throughout each stage quite generously.
With that said, let's have a look at our Valis Warrior's new arsenal, shall we?
Default Valis Beam
You'll always have access to the default Valis beam. It's a simple fast and forward projectile beam that's equal to about one normal sword slash. Its only real drawback is that it doesn't fire low enough to hit smaller enemies. Pretty useful all around, so even with no power-ups you won't feel completely
The Three-Way beam is great for getting rid of those pesky aerial enemies that just LOVE to dive down into you. It's also great for those annoying hop-around-so-you-can't-hit-me types as well. When this Special Weapon has no immediate use in the stage you're in, it's a pretty good fall-back offensive for getting through stages fairly fast, because it's typically more powerful than your normal sword slashes. Since it's fairly common in most stages and comes with a good amount of charges, you shouldn't be too afraid of using these up and popping another if you wanna just hurry things along.
Pretty much your typical homing-shot. When fired, it quickly locks on to the nearest target and inflicts damage. It's fairly good against nearly any enemy or boss in the game, and a definite choice for enemies you're not overly fond of dealing with at a close range or wish to waste any of the better Special Weapons on. Against bosses it's a decent defensive weapon if you need to focus more on dodging, but don't expect its 10 shots to knock off any significant chunk of their health gauge.
Wolf-Head Ground Thingy
: 20 (10 on Hard)
This Special is suited for both targets that are low on the ground, and taking out enemies at angles on platforms you may need to hop over to in order to progress. The projectile has no airtime, but you can jump and fire it off to give it a bit of a drop to the ground before it takes off. Again, it comes in a nice pack of 20 charges, so it's not a weapon you should feel all that bad about wasting a few of every now and then. I found it to be rather unwieldy and the damage not all that great, but if it's your best option at the time, you might as well go for it.
Super Valis Beam of Boss-Hurtery
: 10 (5 on Hard)
The strongest weapon in Rena's arsenal. It travels across the screen much like the Default Valis Beam, but covers a taller vertical area and packs a mean and nasty punch. Given that it only has 10 charges and that it does a nice amount of damage to bosses, I recommend trying to always keep one or two of these in storage when coming up to a boss fight and trying to make sure you can connect with every one of them.
A Little Heart
: 2 (1 on Hard)
Health recovery is also handled through this new system, and it's probably the one part of the overhaul that doesn't really work all that well. It's a pain to try and heal mid-battle this way and this power-up just feels like it gets in the way. Each charge only recovers a small amount of health. It's still significant if you're getting your ass kicked, it's just not very intuitive at all. I like the idea of portable health recovery and it can be a life-saver on some bosses, but the old way is ultimately better because it doesn't require all the fumbling this method does.
No, it doesn't give you any kind of super strength or new fancy attacks. Instead it functions just like you'd expect a suit of armor to. It looks swish as hell and it absorbs damage instead of damage being lopped off your health bar. How many hits does it absorb? However many or few it wants, I guess. Having been through the game twice now, I still don't know how Valis Armor damage is calculated. Sometimes it'll take four hits, sometimes it'll take 8 or more. It could be that it takes a specific amount of damage from certain attacks, but it's really hard to tell.
Its greatest feature, however, is that when you do
take damage while wearing it, you won't get knocked back like you would in Normal Rena Mode. Extremely vital if you just wanna get to the end of the stage you're in.
You'll find plenty of this power-up throughout the game, but it's still a good idea to play conservatively with them, because there are definitely parts of the game where you wouldn't wanna be caught without its protection.
So now that we're all geared up and ready, let's rock out another magical girl adventure!
Hey...It's A Destroyed City With A Red Skyline!
Just some random nonsense rambling here, but there's just something I've always loved about outside areas featuring red and orange skylines in games. Area 5 in Bionic Commando
, the opening areas of Rygar
, and a few areas in Ninja Gaiden II
just to name a few, are some of my favorite areas in games just because they feature those color combinations. Needless to say, the opening stage set in Vecanti is certainly pleasing to my eyes at least.
The first area of Vecanti is a fairly straightforward affair with a pretty kickin' theme playing in the background as you work forward doing your thing. Enemy resistance in this area isn't much to worry about. You'll deal mostly with little walking upside-down death-skull guys who sometimes jump and swoopy little insect dudes. This area just gets you familiar with the controls and throws some free power-ups your way to experiment with and if you die here, it's a scientific fact that you're clinically braindead.
The second area of Vecanti opens things up a bit, as you have quite a bit of space to explore and a new enemy to deal with. Spear-hucking guards now patrol the ground and narrow platforms up above. They're not too difficult to deal with, but can catch you by surprise sometimes.
There's an entire upper and lower path to this part of the stage and it's worth exploring to rack up easy points toward your first lifebar upgrade and a lot of nice power-ups including a hidden Valis Armor in the upper-left portion of the stage. It's probably not wise to dawdle too much in the area, because the first boss can be a bit of a challenge the first time you face him.
Meet the Vecanti Dominator - DS30...and check it out he has some Kanji left in his name. Strange name for what essentially would be "Death" in any other game, but whatevs, like, ya know!
The ol' DS30 makes for a decent first boss challenge. He's not exactly a pushover, but he won't fuck your shit up too many times if you just pay attention and stay nimble on the controls. He spends the entire battle floating around the screen and firing off little boomerang cutters that have a very minimal homing ability. You can deflect these quite easily with your projectile shots and they're only really dangerous when he goes crack-addict and starts firing them off like a madman. Then more evasive actions are needed. Other than that, just jump over him when he dives down toward the middle of the screen while sticking this guy with constant projectile attacks (don't even try to melee, it's too risky) and establish your dominance over The Dominator.
And just like that we're finished with the first stage and headed off to Castle Vanity.
Wait, what? No cool cinematic? No Valis Theatre
? What the shit? Just a crappy picture?
"Rena just overcame Vecanti?" Is it a disease? A new kinda cancer?
Needless to say, the lack of cinematics is really disappointing. It's pretty much a calling card for the series, and again, there's no reason the SNES couldn't have pulled these off. It's just a whole lot of lazy if you ask me.
Hey...I Think This Castle Is About Me!
Welcome to the not so luxurious Castle Vanity! The new stage added to the SNES version of the game. It features pretty much the same enemy formations from the first stage only now the spear-hucker dudes are gold and the walking skull thingos stop to spit eyeballs at you before scurrying off the screen faster than you can ever hope to catch them.
The first area of Castle Vanity is a good place to collect some tasty power-ups and do some score building for your life gauge. The boss of this area isn't much to be feared, so you shouldn't be worried about his lifebar getting too high or even maxing out. The exit to this area is at the very top-right, but in a bit of crap level-design each floor looks like you could exit to the right. There's nothing there blocking it off. It's just somehow the top-right area is the one that has the magical teleporter tile. A nitpick, but a valid one, I think.
The second area is the one I figured would have been the first. It's just a straight shot long ass hallway that leads to the boss' room, which makes no sense, since the boss' room appears to take place on the roof...
In this area you'll fight more golden spear-huckers and blue-cloaked mage-type enemies that aren't all that threatening. They just harmlessly swoop down at you like the insects in stage one or fly right toward you and fire an eyeball at you as they're about to leave the screen. The Three-Way Beam is an easy way to clear this area without any problems whatsoever.
The Boss of this stage, General Dahlgen...the very definition of what I'd call a "Valis Boss."
To newcomers, Dahlgen could easily seem imposing. He's fast, he's huge, and just touching him can lop off a good 1/4 of your lifebar. He has a standard fireball attack which is easy to dodge, and a sword slash which only pushes you to the other side of the screen. The realissue could be his speed. The fucker never seems to wanna calm down and let you do any decent amount of damage. That's because he reacts to you damaging him. When you damage him, he makes his move to the other side of the screen faster than he normally would.
Now, you could
just fight this guy normally by ducking and running under his leaps around the screen and dodging his attacks or whatever, or you could treat him exactly as a Valis Boss should be treated and exploit the shit out of his dumb as hell programming error.
Let's have a look, shall we?
Yep! Just stick to the extreme left or right of the screen and you'll be a-okay! This tactic does
seem to fail sometimes and I'm really not sure why. But if you find yourself vulnerable on one side of the screen, just make your way to the other between his jumps and you should be good to go.
And with the First General out of the way we make our way to Babylon!
Hey...It's A Lot of Water n' Rocks and Shit!
Babylon is a fairly straightforward stage. It doesn't pull any kinda of punches in terms of level design. It's a straight run across a few screens from point A to point B to the boss room, with the only option being either taking the top or bottom path of the first and last area.
The game finally decides to break out some new enemy types, though they could easily be considered modifications of the few we've seen already. The most common enemies in the entire stage are the Immobile Dragon Turret Thingy Guys and Monkey-Ass Mad Hopping Fucks. The turrets are nothing all that threatening to deal with in the first and third areas, but they get some nasty tricks in the second. More on that in a sec. The hoppy guys are just as annoying as you'd expect annoying hoppy fucks to be. You can take a bit of the frustration out of dealing with them if you have any Special Weapons on stock that you don't mind throwing away.
There's also little Hooded Boomerang Thrower Guys, but they're so weak and pointless that they're not really worth mentioning.
The first and third areas of the stage are easy peasy and shouldn't give you many problems. The second area, however, can be a real mother bitch. The only real change here is that the Turret dudes now fire their beam up toward the sky that causes rocks to rain down directly on poor Rena's head. You'll be dealing with falling rocks on a near constant basis while at the same time trying to fend off hoppy bastards. It's a simple combo, but it definitely makes for some exciting (or possibly frustrating if you can't quite get the hang of it) situations to get your ass out of. I highly recommend using one or two full stocks of the Homing Beam here. You can hit each turret with 2 Homings and a normal sword slash and get through the area pretty fast before the rocks rain down.
All in all, not a bad stage at all, even if it's nothing too flashy.
The boss of this stage is Nornil, a shape-shifting crazy statue, bird, fish lady thing. She's not terribly difficult, save some bullshittiness on the first form, but the length of this battle, regardless of her health bar by the time you get there, is what makes it a pain.
See, you can't even do any damage health bar-wise to her first two forms. It seems to run off of just how many times you hit her until she changes form, so don't even bother wasting any of your Specials here.
The first form is just a simple statue that will sit on the right side of the screen and relentlessly pummel you with fireballs. They're god damned hard to dodge and don't seem to have any kind of obvious pattern. Unless you want to eat up a TON of health here and possibly die, I'd advise you to throw on the Valis Armor, get close and just hack away at her. The Armor seems to be able to withstand more than four of the fireballs, so you should be able to make it through this form without taking any real
damage should you have the armor.
Her second form is Bird Lady Mode and is fairly easy if you know how to exploit her AI. Her main mode of attack is to fire off big energy rings in a circular pattern. Just stay in the middle of the circle, jump up, and keep firing your Default Valis Beam. Should you try and get close to her, she'll dive into you and land a fairly unavoidable hit then retreat to the other side of the screen to try and start the pattern again.
The final form is where this fight just becomes tedious. Not because it's hard or anything, but because of the amount of time it takes to whittle her health bar down. During this final phase, Nornil will swim back and forth across the bottom of the screen and occasionally fire a fireball up at you. Nothing to worry about here. Eventually she'll pop herself out of the water briefly to fire off another fireball. This is when you want to attack, and you want to do it fast, because she won't stay up long. I've never landed more than 3 hits, and mostly you'll only land one or two. If she's got a big ass health bar, you better just get used to the scenery.
The fact that you have so little of a window of opportunity to strike her is bad enough, but sometimes she'll just get stuck in the swimming back and forth cycle for 1782 years at a time. I actaully had to wait over three minutes one time for her to pop up. If anyone's speed-running this game, enjoy having to restart the whole damn thing here an awful lot.
Like I said, not a terribly difficult fight, but I think the background image is forever burned into my retinas.
Thirteen years later, Rena can finally set off to the hallowed halls of Valhalla!
Hey...I Like The Outside Area Better!
As we near the halfway point of the game, we find our heroine making a mad dash toward Valhalla across a grassy field that's really not all that exciting at all.
You got your standard dudes that stand in one place and huck a projectile and, of course, flying enemies that just love to dive at you at break-neck speeds and shitty angles to prohibit your progress through the first two screens of the stage. This game is really starting to suffer from a lack of enemy variety. I mean, yeah, they've been pretty good about giving enemy types new sprites, but they all behave in the same damn predictable patterns and are just retardedly easy to overcome by now.
Needless to say, cruising through the first two screens of this stage should be cake if you've been paying any
kind of attention to how the enemy types work.
Once you finally enter Valhalla is when this stage starts playing kinda rough. Well, maybe annoying is more the word I'm looking for.
For this area Rena will be working her way to the top of Valhalla. There are only two enemy types in this area: The flying Angel enemies from outside and new Mace-weilding Bitchfuck Athena Warriors who are just annoying as all hell, because all they do is walk back and forth hiding behind a shield. They rarely, if ever, attack so that you can actaully land a hit on them and they're always right there on small-ass platforms patrolling back and forth in hopes of knocking your ass back down a few floors.
My suggestion: Pop a Valis Armor and fucking truck it as far as you possibly can trying to just jump over the Athena Warriors. When you're in Valis Armor you can't be knocked backward, so if you do get hit by one, shake it off and just keep moving. This seems to be another instance where the Valis Armor can take more damage than usual and if you end up fully depleting one, there's another one you can collect right on the path to the boss, so no biggie. Try not to waste that one though, because they put it there for a reason...
...And that would be this guy. General Medius. If you have any Homing Seeker shots, get ready to use 'em here, because you don't want this fight to drag on any longer than it has to. It's another signature Valis boss-type known as "Annoying Bullshit."
This boss is different from the others so far because you're not given much room to move around in. You duke it out with General Medius atop the tippy-top of a tower that sits in the middle of the screen. Don't worry, you can't fall off the sides (because one-hit kills in this game would be bull-fuck-shit), but the limited movement is really gonna be a fucking pain to deal with.
If you have a lot of health left entering this fight, you should be able to make it through with only one wasted Valis Armor, which you're gonna wanna use right at the start of the battle if you're not still in one from before. Medius spends 3/4 of the fight creating doubles that fly around the screen to distract you, before flying in from a random direction himself to hit you. This is a real bullshitty attack, because a lot of the time he's simply too damn fast for you to react, his sprite's too damn big. A somewhat effective strategy for this attack is to pause the game when three of his doubles have passed over and you may be able to catch the angle the real Medius is flying in from and try to dodge him effectively.
After four or five of these, he'll land on one side of the platform and fire his very slow moving yo-yo fireball. This is your big chance to unload on him by either slashing him or using specials. If you got a Super Valis Beam or two laying around that you don't need, pop it as he enters this phase and just unload (while avoiding the fireball of course). After two or three rounds of this, the second General falls and Rena's off to the Crystal Pillar.