Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story initially looked to have been bold in delivery, however under-delivered on both RPG and strategy elements. However, upon further play, I realised that my initial thoughts were a tad harsh. If you look past the weakness of the building elements of the game and focus on the RPG side, it’s a much-improved experience.
Developed by Agate and published by Pqube. It is an action RPG, with a dabble into the building genre. Recently launched onto the Nintendo Switch, Steam and PS4. I’ve not played the variations on PC or PS4, however, I can’t help but feel consoles got the raw end of the deal with this game, due to some of the control limitations.
You begin the game being notified that you’re going to become the new Principle of Valthira Academy, as your predecessor is standing down. After a brief dialogue, you are seemingly deployed into your Academy, tasked with the responsibility of enabling the Academy to flourish.
There’s a distinct lack of touch controls on the Nintendo Switch version, which seems strange given that it would have vastly improved the experience, especially when inside the academy and trying to enhance your characters or buildings. You do however have the ability to manage your students from the ‘Manage Students’ option in-game, which took some searching – this is a much better experience for character improvement and definitely advisable, rather than trying to find your students who tend to roam the academy far and wide.
I discussed this with Game Developer, Agate and they confirmed the following: “We too felt that we could improve the UX, both in the Academy and the Character Upgrade. Unfortunately, we were short on time and changing them would require us to delay the release, and so we kept them as it is.”
You’re able to customise the naming of your students, from the interesting default names. I had the likes of ‘Rolfagia’ and ‘Deemon’ within my team, unique to say the least. Character progression will lead to visual changes as well, i.e. the Knight will don formidable armour however, customisation over and above the Promotions are fairly lacking. Character depth is fairly minimalistic, other than the naming or voice acting, there’s not much of an emotional attachment to the Students, they come and they go, as the game progresses.
I also discussed this with Agate and they confirmed the following: “Valthirian Arc was designed with the simulation and combat mechanics as its focus. We realize that in return for this character depth somewhat took a backseat. In hindsight we probably should have added less features but more depth instead of spreading out too thinly.”
Equipment can be crafted with the use of Scraps, which can be discovered during your missions away from the Academy, it’s definitely worth picking these up, as the weapon upgrades will be worth the effort.
The building options available to you initially are fairly limited, however, your Academy, as well as building slots will increase as you level up your Academy. This will bring a range of different building types as well. Levelling in Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story is also improved the more you develop your Academy, in the shape of an experience bonus at the start of the mission.
There are pick-ups available from each of the rooms you have built, at random, which either give you gold, experience or academy experience based on your choice. Despite these being a welcome addition, due to the rate at which they appear, I can’t imagine it being a an efficient way of improving outside of completing missions. Your students will, however, gain random stat improvements during the school day, which is a nice addition to the game, but given that options within the Academy are very limited, I personally wasn’t spending too much time inside.
You’re able to take four students on a mission, but you can build multiple parties. During missions, you’re able to swap between students by either utilising the L or R buttons or using the associated d-pad assignment for the student. I was typically only swapping students to cycle through their special abilities, however on harder battles, you’ll want to cycle through them to avoid any fatal attacks, otherwise, it’ll make the battle more challenging. Any student you’re not currently controlling will attack at will and also utilise their special abilities, which doesn’t seem to be affected by the stance you choose. These students will also destroy barrels for you while you progress through the levels, so you won’t have to focus on these all of the time.
Movement of your characters seems slightly out of sync and not as responsive as I’d have liked – when moving the students around it seems like there’s a slight drift on their movement before it’ll fully register a directional key. There’s also no way to adapt this to personal preference.
You have three styles of combat you can adopt, Aggressive, Defensive and Focus – each of which improve different stats for your characters.
- Aggressive: + Attack, – Defense
- Defensive: + Defense, – Attack
- Focus: + Speed
Typical monsters within each area are easily taken down utilising Focus or Aggressive stances, however, when you reach bosses, it’s advantageous to adopt a Defensive playstyle, as they’ll hit a lot harder and take a lot longer to take down.
At the end of each mission, you’ll need to find the portal and travel back to the Academy. The portal will only open once you’ve completed all of the Objectives though. Once you’re successful you’ll be presented a summary screen detailing all of the loot you’ve gained.
You’ll occasionally be greeted with a message stating that a new student would like to join the Academy. You’ll need to either Accept or Decline this potential student to enable them to be put into a party. It’s not a problem if you have more students than you can fit in your main party, as these students will gain experience in the background of the game while you play missions on your mains. I liked this a lot, as you didn’t feel like you had to keep every student up to the max level at the same time, and dipped the development curve for improving students across board.
It would be useful to have some way to identify when you’ll unlock new building types, so that you can a visual representation of what you need to strive for i.e. Academy level D for Training Grounds etc – right now this isn’t the case, and you’re left unsure on how far you need to progress so you’re able to Promote your characters. Being at max level without understanding what you need to do in order to progress is incredibly frustrating.
I played in both handled (720p) and docked (1080p) modes, which were both visually appealing. The environment for the missions remains largely the same, however, I’m hopeful this will change as your progress through the levels. The battle animations are entertaining and add a nice feeling to crushing your enemies with a clear hit! The experience in congested environments has been exceptional, no notice of any frame rate dips or graphical glitches.
When trying to customise students in the Academy, attempting to select the ‘Manage Students’ button would cause a delay in the menu before the students would be shown, however, this was only a minor issue.
The art style was pleasing to the eye, however, in docked mode, some of the characters looked a little pixelated, especially the portrait picture of the currently selected student.
The audio is extremely reminiscent of the typical RPG, it’s been well thought out between each of the game areas and enhances the playing experience. The voice acting is quite amusing, some of the characters have interesting voices which help add some dynamic to the characters you have at your disposal. The music during missions turns upbeat and the sound effects while battling work well with the characters, as well as their selected weapons.
When I played initially, I couldn’t wait to put this game down. I had no emotional attachment to the characters, there was nothing pulling me into the game, no real sense of progression during the game, as the experience felt clunky and not very well optimised. It took me a second playthrough before I managed to feel connected to the game, and this was much more entertaining. Given my feelings when I first started, I couldn’t imagine I’d be at this point and itching to progress further. I’d urge you to not to what I did, and base your opinion of this game on the first hour of gameplay, as you’ll be missing out on an entertaining game!
Despite the initial slow start, which left me feeling completely detached, Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story turned out to be an entertaining strategic RPG. It does lack character depth, as well as an emotional connection to the characters, however, it’ll prove to be a welcome addition for any fans of the RPG genre. There are an array of areas for character improvement, and the game will leave you wanting more. It’s an entertaining pick up and play game, which is well suited for the Nintendo Switch, however, I don’t feel it will stand the test of time.
Disclaimer: We received a digital code to carry out this review