In the early days of videogames, players controlled plain dots that slid around the television screen. Pac-Man had two poses -- the open mouth, and the closed mouth -- that he alternated between as he glided through his maze. Mario used artistic fakery to shuffle his legs past each other. Sonic (the Hedgehog) finally gave us a videogame character that actually looked like he was moving with two legs. But the animations in Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth are so intricate that simply moving around the screen generates a visual epic. Characters become twitching, breathing realities. Electricity has never moved so well.
The juicy-colored aesthetic of Valkyrie Profile is the bridge between my mind and the game's main character. As a mythical Valkyrie (from some corporate marketing mythology full of lithe anime Valkyries), Lenneth is charged with flying around the world in search of noble souls to send to heaven. The end of the world is coming, there's a war going on, and the gods need some metaphysical cannon fodder.
Made by SquareSoft, the company behind the Final Fantasy games, Valkyrie Profile draws on the type of role playing that has kept millions of players in front of their televisions, participating in 40- and 50-hour stories. Characters go from nothing more than digital names and faces to full-fledged personalities. As the game progresses, I find unique weapons and costumes for each of them. Every character develops different strengths and weaknesses. They change. Stories unfold.
Lenneth fractures the standard long form of role-playing games for the sake of the portable PSP. Instead of tracking a fixed group of characters, I command an ever-changing army. Instead of exploring long dungeons, I pick and choose my way through small swamps, cities and caverns. I watch stories in which little girls break down and pull their hair and cry, or young rebels seek wars. Even if I only have a few minutes to play, and have forgotten where the game's story has gone, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth engages me with new characters, settings and situations. Lavishly and gracefully, it pulls me through my eyes towards the end of the world.
THE GOOD: The dozens of hours that a role-playing game requires are much more manageable when delivered by a pocket-sized videogame system. Even when I've forgotten what I'm doing because I've played Lenneth in bits and pieces, the graphics justify my time in fiddling with the thing.
THE BAD: Almost all of the game's nonstop music is annoying -- a tinny rendition of a generic rock guitar riff being the most commonly overused sound. Unless these are meant to be metalhead Valkyries, something classier would have matched the game's otherwise exquisite design.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Gets the 'video' of videogames exquisitely right.