VR Spotlight: Valkyrie Blade VR is a short hack-and-slash for players in need of a challenge

In VR Spotlight, we feature some of the interesting VR titles we’ve been enjoying around the office. This week, we’re taking a look at Valkyrie Blade VR, a free hack-and-slash title from the developers over at Bluehole for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Slashing, hacking, and generally wielding anything that can bludgeon or slice an enemy into submission is a long-standing tradition in the gaming community, which is why it’s only natural that it’s made its way into the world of VR in a variety of forms. Valkyrie Blade VR represents an interesting take on that genre, and it does a lot of things right. But, like a lot of free VR games, it occasionally commits a few VR faux pas that take some getting used to.

Luckily, these issues don’t significantly detract from the experience unless you let them. Instead, they serve to make the game more challenging, and bring the game closer to some of the more fantastical hack-and-slash titles we commonly see in gaming culture.

The anime warrior you always wanted to be

Valkyrie Blade VR is definitely one of the better looking free VR games on the market, which is to be expected considering it runs on the Unreal 4 Engine. Enemies look great and their animations are relatively fluid and consistent. The combination is aesthetically pleasing and makes Valkyrie Blade a pretty satisfying game to just stop and look around in, if you have time to while you’re dodging swords that are taller than you are.

I say taller than you are because the main character is a tiny anime sprite compared to the warriors she challenges. I don’t have a problem with it, but it was definitely a hilarious moment of realization when I first loaded in and noticed that my arms were much thinner than I was used to, and stretched to almost Slenderman-levels of proportion trying to fit my dimensions.

The full virtual moving arms are a recent addition for me, and although it was a little disconcerting at first, they seemed to move well, if not just a little bit laggy – although that could be because my GTX 970 was struggling to maintain 90FPS in the UE4 environment. If it was laggy, it was by a slight margin, and I never experienced any of the motion sickness you might normally expect from this effect.

As far as the arm-tracking functionality, which is meant to simulate your movements based on the position of the controllers in relation to your headset, it worked surprisingly well, only glitching out on the occasional overhead swing (when I would suddenly get an up close and personal look at the inside of my virtual shoulder). All in all, this happened rarely, and the sense of immersion you get out of being able to actually see a set of virtual arms in-game is an effect I’d love to see work its way into more titles. 

Slashing, Cutting, Fighting

As you would expect, Valkyrie Blade VR is focused around high speed melee combat, with a bit of a CGI anime twist. You’ll literally step into the arms of a Valkyrie, and then go hacking away with abandon at her brutal (totally not Dragonborn) captors.

Gameplay revolves around physically slashing, parrying, and otherwise blocking strikes so that you can whip back around and deliver your own combo of attacks. In general, slashing is a frenzy of swinging your controller back and forth in front of you whenever your opponent isn’t blocking or trying to murder you, which they probably will a few times until you get the hang of the whole system. It’s brutal, fast paced, and extremely satisfying when you nail a parry or figure out the perfect way to move around an enemy and pull off a quick kill before they have a chance to react.

Parrying and blocking involves doing your best to intercept your enemy’s weapon before it swings down and breaks your face, but in general this system is a little finicky and requires paying very careful attention to where your sword is in relation to your opponent's. If you’re even a little bit off, either because your sword is clipping through theirs when you try and parry or because it just decides not to work, you’ll take a significant amount of damage, and because there are no health pickups in the game every hit point matters.

Movement is a form of quick-step locomotion, and here’s where the game seems to show its free VR game flag, because it needs a lot of work. 

Movement involves triggering the quick step with your controller’s directional pad in the direction you want to move. Unfortunately, finding the sweet spot to trigger this motion is a real bear, and it’s hard to tell if it isn’t triggering properly, or if it just has a built-in half-second or so of lag. This makes movement feel more than a little frustrating at times because you often can quick step into an encounter for a quick strike, but there’s no real way to backpedal consistently to avoid an enemy’s incoming slash.

Additionally, slashes will often move you forward a single step like you’re performing a lunge or charge attack, and there’s really no way to control when this occurs. This half-step multiplies over ten or twelve slashes until you’re often face to face with a roaring enemy with no way to consistently block an attack because of how close you are to your opponent. 

If Valkyrie Blade VR ever gets a sequel or a polishing update I would really like to see movement relegated to a snappier system, and both parrying and charge attacks moved to something that can be more easily activated based off of a trigger pull.

That said, it’s hard to tell if these issues are unintentional or if they’re the result of the developer testing a different playstyle on players, one that forces you to play extremely aggressively with a special focus on timing to pull off.

So why is it fun?

Put simply, it’s the challenge of the controls combined with the fast-paced, frenetic sword swinging that make Valkyrie Blade VR a lot of fun, just not for everyone.

Why? Because once you complete the base levels there’s an additional bonus level that includes a series of arena-style boss fights you have to complete on a single health bar to finish. Each of these enemies feels like a significant challenge, and with each win or loss you learn something new about Valkyrie Blade VR’s combat system that makes it a little easier the next time.

Meanwhile, the tension of testing strategies, dying, and occasionally jamming the controls into action while you watch a Minotaur charge across an open field at your tiny (occasionally screaming) little anime princess body makes for some exhilarating moments.

On top of that, the base levels have three separate difficulties that each present their own kind of satisfaction: a quick melee on easy, a calculated series of parries on normal, and an all-out berserker brawl on hard.

Ultimately, the fun is in the challenge of grinding against an enemy despite all odds, and making the controls work in your favor. An hour into the game I learned that I could use the charge attack to sprint across the field to get away from the first boss’ AoE attack. Two hours in I had refined the technique enough to get through the fight only losing half my health, and actually survived long enough to hit the minotaur boss a few times before he turned me into a pancake.

The whole time I was sweating, getting sore, and eventually I had to switch the sword to my other hand, which proved to be a whole new challenge as I learned to properly nail the timing and the strikes I was able to pull off flawlessly with my dominant hand. The more I played, the more fun I had, and the more satisfying it became when I succeeded.

I know not everyone will feel the same way, and for many the game might not even be worth overcoming the controls themselves, but for people that love a challenge despite frustration, Valkyrie Blade VR delivers this on a massive scale, and considering it’s free on the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift there’s little to lose in giving it a shot.

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