Valkyrie Profile is a series that has been around for ages and has always been a great experience, yet for some reason it has never garnered itself the success it deserves. Ever since it first appeared back on the PlayStation, it's had a constant stream of critical praise with those in the know quietly, smugly nodding in approval and stroking their beards. Maybe the distinctive brown tint overlaying the stylish graphics is an acquired taste, or maybe the Norse mythology plots were too much effort to crack. It doesn't matter. It's here on DS now, so you can put all that right by getting to know it for yourself.
Yes, Covenant of the Plume is decidedly poo-like in overall colour, and it follows recent RPG trends by having a silly subtitle too. Don't let that put you off. This turn-based RPG offering is a great experience, even though the series' traditional visual grandeur has been reined in for the DS. Another franchise trademark, its side-scrolling adventuring in between battles, has also been cut, in favour of an isometric viewpoint seen in other DS RPGs. It's a shame a fundamental part of the series' character has gone, but it's not enough to derail the game.
With a party of four at any one time, you'll take main character Wyl and his comrades on a journey of vengeance through what is a deceptively adult story. There's a nice contrast between the cutesy sprites and the sometimes demanding plot. No punches are pulled; famine strikes, disease kills and central characters are bumped off. In fact one of Covenant of the Plume's great ideas is having you kill off certain characters. The plume in the title allows you to bestow upon a member of your party a massive stat boost for the duration of a battle, which is particularly useful against larger enemies (and there are plenty of those). The catch? They die when the battle is done, so you must choose carefully who you sacrifice and when. When they kick the bucket, it stays kicked.
Disgaea's idea of having members team up on enemies for powerful attacks is the other key mechanic here. Strategy comes in the form of figuring out where to move your allies on the grid-based field so that all four can attack an enemy. As soon as one ally moves within range of the other, both allies' attacks can be used. Each of the four members is assigned to one of the DS's face buttons, and an attack meter ensures it never gets too random - when you manipulate it to 100 you unleash a super-mega-ultra epic slapdown.
Addictive, grown-up and rewarding, this sits neatly in the gap between Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics. Sure, it sits at the more hardcore end of the gaming spectrum, but this deserves to win a wider audience.