You’d be hard pressed to find a set of games better suited to a practical retro compilation than Valis: the phantom soldier. The Castlevania-ish hybrid series of the late ’80s and early’ 90s spans at least half a dozen formats, from esoteric Japanese computers to Mega Drive, each version – even when they’re meant to represent the same game. – often remarkably different from the previous one; each deserves to be played in its own right, even if it is only out of historical curiosity.
Unfortunately, that’s not what Valis: The Fantasm Soldier Collection is. Instead, we get a trio of PC Engine Valis with Japanese-only text and speech in the import version we reviewed – the upcoming localization for the West will feature English subtitles on eShop and the physical Limited Run version. In theory, there is nothing wrong with the PC Engine versions (this is certainly the format that comes to mind when most people think of the series), but it is not described as “Valis: the collection of PC engines‘and’ rewriting ‘the story of an entire series just for commercial reasons is not something we should be encouraging. And while PC Engine Valis is all you’ve ever known, wanted, or cared about, there’s still a catch: This collection is incomplete.
We’re not even concerned about the lack of relatively obscure and completely frivolous data. Valis Visual Collection disk either – it is Valis IV it’s missing. All of this, completely. The vastly reworked Super Valis IV for SNES is available for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers, of course, but the PC Engine version is missing here. We were hopeful that it would be a cheeky surprise to appear after deleting the other three (the omission is unlikely to be a licensing issue as the current rights holder is selling it elsewhere), but no. It really isn’t there.
There may be a good reason for all of this. Maybe they chose to include the PC Engine versions just because the emulation a format, well, that takes a lot of skill and dedication, so they felt it was better to focus on one rather than hurt a dozen or so. Maybe the first three games were emulated with such an amazing level of care that they ran out of time and / or budget to include the fourth?
Or maybe it’s just an incomplete selection of games, properly emulated.
There is good news here. Each Valis has its own music player and cutscene viewer, and none of these need you to hit the appropriate part of the game to unlock anything. All retro packs should be like this by default in our opinion, presented as interactive museums for old games. Full scans of the original manuals as well as the back of each case and even the CDs themselves are also available for viewing, faithfully preserving the beautiful illustrations and helpful advice they contain.
In the game it’s a bit more Okay, with sketchy screen options – 4: 3, pixel perfect and full screen – no scan line filters of any quality offered, and some very typical key save state and configuration options. As if to make sure your first impression is a disappointment, menu prompts linger on screen – and even a 4: 3 image – by default, unless you scroll through the menus and find the ‘option to turn them off manually.
With all of that out of the way, there’s one more final hurdle to overcome, and for the first time it’s not the collection’s fault. In the main menu, the games are neatly listed in numerical order and so most people will play the first one, come away largely entertained at a few numbers (the opening cinematic unfortunately chooses to briefly share a photo of a schoolgirl underwear before putting her in a combat bikini, and also contains a quick blink so severe it should come with a warning), then dive into Valis IIâ¦ And then I wonder what happened to the graphics. And the cutscenes. And most of Yuko’s movements. And all the polish you enjoyed just a game ago.
A quick check of the release dates below each game’s box illustration reveals the problem. On PC Engine, the Valis series is released in this order: 2, 3, , 1. Yes, that’s right, the first game debuted on PC Engine almost two years ago. after the third, leaving anyone looking to experience this 30-year-old series for the first time with a weird conundrum: are you playing in story order and hoping you can overcome this drop in quality between Valis and Valis II? Or do you play in order of release, watching the games refine over time, even if that just means going from start to finish?
Despite a myriad of flaws, Valis is a series that’s hard to hate. The soundtracks on CD will appeal to anyone whose favorite anime has a LaserDisc version, all rock synths and catchy drum beats. Steep jumps, gravity-defying horizontal slides, and spirited warriors yelling at baddies in huge capes are reminiscent of happy Saturday mornings spent cross-legged in front of old CRT TVs. Each game plays differently from the last, if not always better than the last, and the save states help smooth out any roughness caused by recoil and difficulty spikes while still allowing those looking for an authentic retro experience to fight from there. the previous checkpoint.
However, with a lot more material available that bears the Valis name, it’s hard not to walk out of this collection feeling somewhat disappointed. It could have been so much more.
If you’re going to release something called Valis: The Phantasm Soldier Collection, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to contain a full set of Valis games, even if it’s just for one format. Unfortunately, those hoping for a one-stop-shop Yuko (and friends) are going to be disappointed. What’s here is delivered in a convenient and usable fashion, and newcomers might just fall in love with the slightly goofy action heroine games … only to find they are missing the latest entry.