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Review: Xenon Valkyrie+ (Xbox One)By Gabriel PVJ Jones At 07.03.2018 18:28

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Mankind was not born to suffer, so why does everyone opt to inflict pain upon each other? Forgive the philosophical tangent, but there's just something about roguelikes that brings one to lament the sorry state of society. Videogames can be fun, relaxing, and even inspiring. It isn't necessary for them to be insufferable… Is it? Why is it that an entire genre exists solely to derive pleasure from the pain and humiliation of others? These questions and many more remain unanswered as all are dragged into Xenon Valkyrie+'s fiery abyss.

Roguelikes, by their very nature, are designed around dying and retrying. The only experience that is ever retained is what the player has learned while exploring. Perhaps they were able to figure out a boss' attack pattern, but failed to capitalise. Maybe they got pretty far, but all those minor mistakes they made had finally caught up to them. In a way, the fresh start is welcome. At the same time, however, there's an insidious undercurrent. It's as if the player is being manipulated into behaving a certain way. This change in behaviour is usually hard to notice, except in the case of a poorly-designed roguelike.

Why is this game a poorly-designed roguelike? It's quite simple really. If the harsh penalties for death were stripped away, then there wouldn't be much left. Each area of the Moon, bosses included, is only tough because the player doesn't know what to expect. Once they have an understanding of the opposition's capabilities, then winning is all just a matter of going through the motions. There isn't any emergent gameplay or special conditions that would force one to adapt. There aren't any special items or weapons that affect play-style, nor do the alternate routes offer meaningful encounters.

The only real RNG element in the game is the weapons available in treasure chests. There's one in each area, and they require a key to open. Keys are usually found among the remains of larger "elite-class" enemies. Anyway, since the starting sword & gun aren't good for much of anything, upgrades are necessary. The catch, of course, is that the contents of a chest are completely random. In the very first area, the player might get a weapon so powerful that it trivialises almost everything. Saying that, though, they could also find nothing but pitiful knives that are not even fit to cut through warm butter. In roguelikes, it's normal to receive weapons that aren't exactly ideal for the current situation, but there's almost always some benefit, provided those in control are willing to compromise accordingly. Here? Weapons are a frustrating inconvenience. When the player-character is underpowered, enemies and bosses take far too long to defeat.

Even if managing to luck into a good weapon, this title finds other ways to undermine any efforts, namely the inadequate hit-boxes. Fair fights are, simply put, a waste of time and energy. The key is to never deal with monsters while on even ground. If the opportunity to attack them from one block above, one block below, or from afar presents itself, then make use of it. Otherwise, expect to take tons of damage, just from gently brushing up against a foe. The melee weapon's range is absolutely pitiful. Also, while the heroes receive a short period of invulnerability after taking a hit, there's a chance that damage can "stack." Basically, if they get struck by two or more projectiles at the same time, then the health they lose is the sum of those hits. As a result, instant death is a maddeningly common occurrence.

For long-time players, there are a few half-hearted attempts at concessions. There's a mineral called teamerite that can be used to purchase waypoints, weapons, and AI drones. The waypoints allow traversal to different parts of the moon. The catch is that the hero is sent to a more difficult area without any decent equipment, just a few extra points to buff their stats with. When a weapon is purchased, all that actually means is that there's a chance it will appear in a treasure chest later on. Then there are the AI drones, which are at least semi-useful when exploring, as they can award health or ammo after a number of hostiles are killed. All of the other niceties are just plain worthless.

The bosses are more about trial-and-error than anything else. Admittedly, this critic has always been at odds with the trial-and-error philosophy. When taken to its extreme, this philosophy lays all of the blame on the player, simply because they didn't have any idea of what to expect or do. There should always be sufficient warnings to alert anyone observant enough to notice them. Also, when the immediate threat is realised, the mechanics and controls should be sufficient to make the appropriate reaction. Too often, Xenon Valkyrie+ does neither.

Certain bosses, particularly the last one, will trap the unsuspecting with absurd attacks. One of the final boss's weapons is a spray of curtain fire, for instance, which lasts for several seconds. There are plenty of safe places to stand in-between the bullets, or so it would seem. What the player is actually supposed to do is move to the far right or left side of the screen, otherwise they get blasted by a laser. There aren't any obvious tells, so it's all on them to die several times over before working out the solution. It's almost as if the intention of trial-and-error game design is solely to waste people's time.

In the end, what's stopping someone from realising that there's no point? The thrill of overcoming intense opposition is lost when it all hinges on knowing exactly what to do. The challenge isn't real, and the success doesn't feel earned. The player never learns anything. Their skills don't grow, nor do they gain an appreciation for what the developer was trying to accomplish. Instead, they are going to realise that pure and ugly masochism was the only reason why they put up with the game.

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Final Score
[i]Xenon Valkyrie+[/i] is yet another unpleasant reminder of just how hateful roguelikes can get. This title features a baffling combination of poor hit-boxes, annoying design-decisions, and frustrating RNG elements. Each level is a mundane assortment of enemies and traps, punctuated by boss encounters that aren't any fun. There's nothing here that fans of the genre haven't seen before. If the inexplicable attack patterns and unfair deaths don't drive people away, they will soon discover that there's nothing really compelling or clever about the game. In short, it's not worth the grey hairs.

3

/10

User Comments
#1 Dragon0085 - on 12.03.2018 at 16:41

Ha, dang that was brutal, but I was the one who reviewed the vita version and honestly the game sucked which was sad. Love rogues but this just was bad all around.


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