The PSP has been starving for a good RPG for quite some time, at least in the U.S. Tales of Eternia and Breath of Fire were both blocked from release in the States by SCEA because they were PSone ports, and the rest of the handheld's role-playing crop has been mediocre at best (see: Popolocrois). Ironically enough, the game that could get the ball rolling for PSP RPGs is a port of Square's ultra-rare PSone RPG, Valkyrie Profile Lenneth. While it's nowhere near perfect, it's a great way to experience a classic RPG without having to shell out hundreds of dollars on eBay, not to mention its newfound status as the best PSP RPG.
And it's certainly unique. Simply put, VP is a very unusual game. The side-scrolling perspective could easily throw people off, and the structure of the game (if you don't manage your stats and playtime right, game over for you) is like no other. The end of the world is upon us, and it's your goal to collect the Earth's fallen to help prevent it. How is this done? Traveling from locale to locale, you'll follow numerous storylines to recruit new characters, and then take them into dungeons in order to strengthen them for battle. Caution is the name of the game, however, and you'll only be given a limited number of time periods for completing each of these tasks. Run out of time, and it's game over.
You won't be fighting just for strength, either. Valkyrie Profile is a game of numbers, plain and simple. In addition to battle statistics, your characters must be in personal tip-top shape as well. That's right, personalities must also be managed. Your character could be a coward, so you'll have to throw points at his courage stat. You'll spend a lot of time managing numbers and sifting through menus in this game, bringing your character up to snuff before you send him off to fight. If your characters don't perform well in the war, you guessed it: it's game over again.
...this is one of the few RPGs where I found myself actually wanting to fight.
You should have an awesome time raising your characters, however, as the battle system is nothing short of awesome. Combos can be strung together through proper timing, dealing out massive damage to your enemies (they also look really cool). Much like the rest of the game, the battle system is nowhere near traditional. Instead of trolling through menus, you'll be fighting your enemies with the face buttons, enabling very precise control of your characters. The enemies are displayed in the overworld, so you can avoid fights, but I wouldn't recommend it; this is one of the few RPGs where I found myself actually wanting to fight.
This brings me to the final gameplay aspect of VP, something that I actually didn't like. As I mentioned before, exploration is done through a side-scrolling perspective with pre-rendered backgrounds. Normally, I don't mind side-scrolling at all (ahem, Symphony of the Night), but with an RPG like this, I find that it takes away any sense of true adventure. The game feels artificially linear and cramped as a result, especially with such a task-oriented game structure. The overworld looks nice and sort of offers a non-linear feel, but it's not enough to provide the grand sense of scale that I look for in an RPG.
Moreover, let us not forget that Lenneth is indeed only a port. As far as that goes, Tose did a very mediocre job. The once-beautiful sprites look terrible stretched to fit the PSP screen, and the loading times are nothing short of ridiculous. The graphics have also fallen victim to extreme ghosting, especially in the darker areas. There also shouldn't be a three-second loading period every time I want to open up the main menu, let alone loading within the sub-menus after that. Without the faults, Lenneth could easily be the best PSP RPG. Luckily, the music escaped Tose's wrath and remains excellent.
Really, though, it all comes down to how much you want to enjoy a great PSone game you probably missed back in the console’s heyday. It's not perfect, but with the new CG videos and the sheer amount of great gameplay already to be had, it's a great value and a great handheld RPG. It's also a great way for fans to catch up on the series before the prequel Valkyrie Profile 2 hits store shelves. Hopefully Square will get everything right the next time they have a go at the PSP.