SummaryThrow away your perplexity! Believe Valis power!
The GoodValis II on the Sharp X68000 is, for me, the first truly playable installment of the series, since the first game was really messed-up, and its remake, while overhauling the system and being generally much more accessible, foolishly omitted a save feature, which I will never forgive it. Valis II is a very large step forward compared to its predecessors, and one of the most interesting platform games of its generation.
The game starts like a regular platformer, with jumping and hitting enemies with your occasionally powered-up default weapon. But soon unusual features start surfacing. First of all, Valis II is as close to an RPG as such an early platformer could have ever been. On a separate screen, you can customize Yuko's parameters and abilities. There are all sorts of weapons to be found, each with unique properties and attack patterns. Yuko can also equip various types of armor, and the screen shows exactly what effect they have on the gameplay. Don't think we are talking just about "armor B is better than armor A" kind of upgrades. There are "offensive" and "defensive" armors that increase some of Yuko's stats and simultaneously decrease others, leaving the choice to the player. The selection of weapon and armor really makes a difference.
Yuko's HP also increases as she advances, so you won't be controlling the same wimp in the later stages who couldn't fend off pitiful attacks by mechanical octopuses or whatever other animals you met in the first level. She also has special points, which are dropped by defeated enemies. These points are used for various techniques; granted, I found most of them rather useless, but the unquestionably awesome spell named "Diff" more than makes up for that. Basically, Diff freezes everything on screen except Yuko herself for a short while. It is extremely satisfying to load on special points and then unleash one Diff after the other, clearing whole rooms full of deadly enemies, watching how helplessly they fall victims to Yuko's wrath.
The stages are interesting and varied, some of them being more or less standard Japanese platformer fare, others containing elaborate platform structures with multiple screens, and yet others switching to a side-scrolling shoot-em-up! That's right, in those levels Yuko can freely fly and shoot enemies Gradius-style. While those stages can get a bit monotonous, they are fun to play, and are still built in a platform-like way, i.e. with upper and lower paths that you can explore in different fashions.
Valis II is also a very story-driven game. There are lengthy cutscenes before and after stages. Each level is unique in the way that you know beforehand who awaits you in the end of it, making the stages more than just random platform locations and turning them to boss lairs Yuko enters with a very specific goal in mind. Enemies talk to Yuko, she gains more insight into the story, and there are even plot twists and dramatic moments. It is quite commendable that all this is contained within a representative of a genre that is known for anything but storytelling.
The Sharp X68000 version is by far the recommended one. The graphics are good on the other computers, but positively gorgeous in this version. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn, oozing mystery and unique atmosphere. There are voice-overs (!) in the introduction. And, last but not least, the difficulty level for boss battles is significantly lower than in the nearly unfair MSX release (I haven't actually tried the bosses in the NEC computer versions).
The BadIf all the above is true, then why is this game not popular? Why do Valis games always seem to pass under the radar generally? Well, there is such a thing as "Valis curse", which means that for every good thing those games do there is some irritating flaw that keeps preventing them from reaching stardom. In case of Valis II, the most apparent flaw clearly lies in the controls.
Everything could have been so much better if Yuko could jump smoothly. Instead, she awkwardly hops and bounces, getting caught in the graphics, slowly and jerkily, which frustrates you to no end and makes you want to quit the whole thing. Another reviewer said that everything is great in Valis II except the game itself, and there is truth in this statement. Playing the game is simply not that much fun, since controls are always in your way. You will see the annoying, idiotic "Throw away your perplexity!" game over message way too many times, especially during the first two levels. If you pick the jump booster in the second stage, however, things begin to look much brighter. The game actually gets progressively easier as you advance, the first two stages (especially the first one) being by far the hardest.
I didn't mind this uneven difficulty level that much, but it is a fact that Valis II has serious balance issues. Some of the levels are just too easy, with weak enemies, power-ups conveniently thrown at you on every occasion, wimpy bosses, etc. After the brutal initial stage it almost seemed as if somebody activated a cheat code to turn some of the further levels into cakewalks.
The Bottom LineIn the end, Valis II is an interesting, if flawed, platform game, with outstanding presentation and cool gameplay ideas. Be sure to get the Sharp X68000 version, which is the best of the bunch; by the way, avoid this version, since this is quite a different game with dull stages and dumbed-down mechanics.