Many games these days offer some level of player choice. Mass Effect lets you awkwardly start yelling at jellyfish. The Witcher 3 lets you murder civilians or unleash plague beasts on the world. Even games like Battlefield 1 or Titanfall 2 let you choose which faction or style you support.
While PC games have had player choice for a long time, console games didn’t used to be this way. Even RPGs, a genre literally named for its player interaction, rarely gave the player any meaningful choice. Sure, Dragon Quest let you join the bad guy at the end if you wanted and games like Chrono Trigger offered alternate endings but there was always an obviously canon way of going about things. We’ve even had entire games dedicated to parodying that idea (I’m looking at you, Stanley Parable).
Yet one early title for the Sony Playstation wanted to change all that.
Valkyrie Profile is celebrated for a lot of things but I want to focus specifically on how it influenced player decision-making and choice. I should warn you that this article will spoil certain aspects of the ending to Valkyrie Profile HOWEVER, as someone who has played through the game multiple times, if I’m being honest with you, knowing how the ending works out in advance will probably only improve your experience with this game. Since finding out that you’ve been playing it wrong can really suck after sinking 20+ hours into it. Anyway, in keeping with the theme of this article, the choice to continue is yours.
Valkyrie Profile places you in the role of Lenneth, a valkyrie from Norse mythology. If you aren’t familiar with Norse mythology, let me give you a very quick rundown. Valkyries go across the land looking for strong warriors who they bring up to Valhalla. All the warriors chill in Valhalla, feasting and training and whatnot, preparing for Ragnarok, a battle to end the world. At the beginning of the game, you’re given your quest: you must go across the land, finding the strong warriors, training them and sending them up to Valhalla to participate in Ragnarok. Makes sense.
The game progresses as you use an overworld map to go recruiting people, raiding dungeons and, when they are ready, sending your recruited party members up to Valhalla. You build up strength and then, when your game time runs out, Ragnarok starts. If you got enough strength sent up to Valhalla, you get to play through the last dungeon, fight the final boss and win!
Congratulations! You played the game…
Yeah, that’s right. If you follow the instructions that the game gave you at the beginning, you will get the bad ending for Valkyrie Profile. Now, people have debated for years about the merits of the ending and the near-impossibility of guessing the correct order of events you have to follow to get the good ending and that’s all fine and good for them.
That’s not the point of this article, though. The point is, this is one of the first games in console gaming that gave you clear and explicit instructions on how to complete the game that you are not actually supposed to follow. You are supposed to interpret and analyse the events going on around you to decide for yourself that the people presented as your benefactors are actually not working in your best interests. Not only that, but you have to choose to work against the games instructions not because anyone told you that was a possibility in the game but because you, as a person, wanted to find a better alternative.
Just think about the heaviness of that for a moment. Think about how rare that actually is, even in today’s gaming world, to have a game include a better path that it never even expresses is there. The game trusts players enough to find it for themselves.
I want to get serious here for a bit, if you’ll allow me the time. I truly believe that video games are a form of art. The expression of people wanting to impart a feeling to their audience. Whether that feeling is one of adventure, horror or whatever, it is something tangible and powerful. Every artistic medium overlaps with other artistic mediums to some pretty strong degrees. Films often tell stories much like books do. Paintings give an image to their viewer much like films do. However, each medium has to find what makes them unique before it can become something special in its own right.
Video games offer the player a sense of choice and agency over the world. When done right, a video game doesn’t just tell a story but allows the player to feel like they are shaping the story in the way they wish. I believe this is what makes video games unique. Films can’t take audience suggestions. Books don’t let you give advice to the protagonists. Video games can do this and Valkyrie Profile is one of the very, VERY few games that puts this ability on display.
If you follow the straight line forward, bowing to the whims of the world around you, you will have a complete story but it won’t be your story. On the other hand, you can forge your own path and tell your own tale. It will not be easy and others may work against you. Your path may never be clear or obvious but if you keep trying, you can shape the story to make your own ending.