Beyond Co-op Review: Valis: The Fantasm Soldier Collection
Review by: Paul Acevedo
Back in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming, Telenet Japan released a series of story-intensive action-platformers called Valis on PCs and Japanese consoles. The games are noteworthy not just for their challenging platforming but especially for their complex narratives and anime-style cinematics. Now, thanks to a Japanese crowdfunding campaign, Edia has released the first three Valis games on Nintendo Switch as Valis: The Fantasm Soldier Collection. This collection is both an excellent way to enjoy these classics and an important step towards preserving games that might otherwise be forgotten by future generations.
Valis: The Fantasm Soldier Collection collects the PC Engine Super CD-ROM versions of Valis 1-3. The first game has previously been released in English on Sega Genesis, whereas the PC Engine versions of the second and third games were released in dubbed form on Turbografx Super CDs. This collection strictly features the Japanese versions, so the English dubs of 2 and 3 are not included. All three games are playable with optional English subtitles. The PC Engine versions of Valis are the best ones because of their CD-quality soundtracks and fully voiced, anime-style cinematics. Fans of 80s and 90s anime will certainly enjoy the beautiful, lengthy story scenes.
The first three Valis games follow Yuko (voiced by the prolific Sumi Shimamoto), an ordinary high school girl who gets summoned to the Dream World as its protector. Simultaneously, Yuko’s friend from school joins the villainous Robles’s side as its warrior, leading to a fateful confrontation. In the second game, two warring factions threaten the magical realm, forcing Yuko to once again step in and help. The third game sees a tyrant from the demon realm leading an attack on both the real world and the Dream World. This time, Yuko will have to team up with her long-lost sister and a friendly demon in order to save all three realms.
Although Yuko is the main playable character in all three games, the art style and gameplay evolved from one entry to the next. Our heroine always fights with the sword of Valis. In the first game, she also wields a variety of magic spells and can slide to dodge enemy attacks. The second game ditches the magic system in favor of an expanded arsenal of power-ups. Unfortunately, it also loses the slide move, making dodging a little harder. Valis 3 brings back both magic and sliding while also introducing two additional playable characters.
All three games are deep but very challenging platformers. The first Valis, in particular, is hampered by slow movement and floaty jumping. The level design basically requires players to constantly attack and watch out for surprise assaults, which is stressful. The sequels feel more responsive, slightly lessening the difficulty. Thankfully, the collection adds both a rewind feature and save states. Without these features, the games would be a lot more frustrating. Unfortunately, the buttons for those particular functions can’t be reassigned from L and ZL, making it tough to play with retro controllers that lack those buttons, such as the 8BitDo PC Engine Wireless Gamepad.
In addition to save states and rewinding, the Fantasm Soldier Collection features some impressive extras. Every story scene and song can be played from each game’s main menu, allowing folks to enjoy the narrative without diving into the actual games. Each Japanese instruction manual is viewable in full, and most pages have full English translations as well. The only important presentation features missing here are widescreen borders and scanline options. Oh, and the collection is missing Valis IV, sadly. The Super Nintendo version, Super Valis IV, is separately playable via Nintendo Switch Online, but the much better PC Engine game deserves a re-release as well.
Despite the omission of Valis IV, Valis: The Fantasm Soldier Collection is a truly fantastic collection of classic action-platformers. All three games feature beautiful graphics for the era (even without parallax scrolling), excellent soundtracks, and engaging, well-voiced cinematics. Valis did isekai fantasy before the genre started taking over Japanese animation. If you’re a gamer who lived through the 8-bit and 16-bit eras or an anime fan who can live with super-tough games, don’t miss this collection. Let’s show Edia that there’s demand for more Valis games!
Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5