Norse mythology already proved as a fertile ground for movies, books, cartoons, kick-ass heavy-metal music as well as countless video games. All of them generally respected a fundamental fact that at the very core of Norse mythology lies a strong predisposition towards tragedy and violence, mimicking, no doubt, harsh and unforgiving Nordic landscape and attitude of its tough Viking people. But now Norse mythology had finally reached a bit mellower shores and ended up in capable hands of a renowned South Korean publisher/developer Netmarble Games. That’s why it’s more than reasonable to assume that the familiar order of things will go a bit topsy-turvy and that grim and serious world of Nordic myths will suddenly become a bit more colorful, as well as cuter, cuddlier and…well…fluffier. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but we just wanted to give you heads-up and prepare you for Norse Mythology-inspired adventures unlike anything you’ve ever played before.
If you manage to get over the initial feeling of amazement caused by a bunch of undeniably intentional deviations from the Nordic canon (and if you aren’t too allergic to excessively cute furry critters that come in all manners of shapes and sizes), you’ll find out that Phantomgate: The Last Valkyrie is actually a lovely mash of side-scrolling platformer and RPG, created exclusively for iOS and Android devices. This is the story of young Astrid, a sixteen years old girl, who just happens to be the titular last Valkyrie. The order of these proud and noble half-divine female warriors had been all but decimated by the great Nordic god Odin, at the time when our protagonist had been no more than a newborn baby in her cradle. You see, it seems that this once benevolent and just All-father of Nordic pantheon had one day went into the berserk mode for no particular reason and decided to sow destruction and mayhem just for the fun of it. The only one who was prepared to stand up to his tyranny was Renata of the Starry Eyes, Astrid’s mother and strongest of the Valkyries. Odin demanded that Renata hand him over her child – you. She, of course, refused and had to fight with a very Marvel-looking Thor who sounds like a rather bad Chris Hemsworth impersonator. Unfortunately, Renata soon discovered that it’s difficult to kill someone who’s actually immortal and had to pay the price of disobedience with her life. At least that was what everyone held to be true. However, many years later, just as you’ve turned your sweet 16th birthday, you find out that your mother is actually alive, imprisoned in the enchanted slumber caused by the mad god Odin. Of course, you are the only one who can set her free, which is why Odin frantically searches for you, fearing your still undiscovered powers.
In order to save your mother, you – a proud young Valkyrie in the making – will have to restore destroyed phantom gates, purify misguided phantoms, extract their souls, and collect fragments of your mother’s memories. Essentially, Phantomgate: The Last Valkyrie is a wonderfully designed platformer. Just like in any game of this type, you’ll run, jump, move levers, activate switches, search for secrets and collect valuables across this rich and unusually colorful Nordic world. You’ll easily and smoothly move your character (which, reminds more on some sprightly JRPG fay than on strong Valkyrie shield-maiden) using floating joystick, and you’ll perform all actions by simply tapping on the desired spot on the screen. When you manage to pick up Valkyrie Wings, you’ll move about even more easily by gracefully floating around, which will enable you to reach previously inaccessible locations. Discreet RPG elements can be seen in the fact that your character (as well as your companions) have levels and different skills and powers you can use in combat. You’ll also bump into many NPCs on your journeys who’ll give you different quests – it’s generally always wise to complete all quests, achievements, and challenges each stage has to offer.
In order to move to the next stage, you’ll have to activate ruined Phantomgates by collecting their pieces scattered across the map. And, of course, you’ll have to prepare yourself for the upcoming combat with Odin. To do that, you’ll have to enlist the help of different Phantoms you’ll encounter on your way (more than 300 unique species, according to developers), thus gathering your own small army of followers. By the way, Phantoms are powerful beings which become frenzied for some reason, and when you purify them, you’ll acquire their soul which you then can use to summon new Phantoms or evolve old ones. You’ll start the game with one Phantom – your fateful ever-purring feline friend Mini-ming, which is perhaps the fluffiest of them all – but soon you’ll have bears, unicorns, vampires, and other types on your side. And, no – although purifying sounds like it’s some sort of soothing pacifistic activity, you’ll purify poor Phantoms just like Inquisition did with the infidels in the middle ages – by beating the hell out of them. Defeated Phantoms will leave an Evolution Rune behind them, which you’ll use to train and evolve them into even more powerful – and often cuddlier – versions of themselves. Actually, intentionally or not, this beastie training principle reminds a lot on what you’d do in the Pokémon franchise, except that you’ll store Phantoms that aren’t currently in your party in the house specially built for them.
Combat is also one of the high points of the game and it harks back to battle systems seen in some JRPGs. It’s turn-based and you and your Phantom chums will face the opponents placed the other side of the combat screen. The battle is conducted by simply activating different offensive or defensive abilities which will require a certain amount of stamina. Occasionally, some buff (such as attack increase) will slowly fall across the screen, and you can catch it and use it on you or your companions.
Although it’s perhaps not the first thing you would expect when someone mentions Norse mythology, Phantomgate: The Last Valkyrie is an extremely fun and satisfying game. This cartoonish new-age version of Norse mythology, with a strong vibe of JRPG and Anime sensibility, is simply packed with great moments, exciting situations and breathtaking locations. Of course, you’ll be captivated with the gorgeous visuals of this entrancing, fairy-tale Nordic story, great gameplay and divine soundtrack no less bewitching than its wonderful graphics. Norse mythology purists perhaps won’t like Phantomgate: The Last Valkyrie because of the many liberties developers took with the source material, some of them will even be slightly appalled – the rest of us who like good platformer action will have no other choice but to thoroughly enjoy it.