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SummaryCham, wham, thank you, ma'am
The GoodValis II was an interesting, but terribly flawed anime-style story-driven platformer. The sequel removes some of its gameplay features (such as armor equipment), but also corrects the predecessor's unacceptable shortcoming: finally the girls jump in such a way that you don't want to reach out and smack them or contact the nearest hospital to cure them from unknown, yet deadly limb decease.
Wait a minute, did I say "girls"? In plural? That's right: in Valis III you don't just control Yuko, but can switch between three female protagonists almost at any time. The good part is that all the three girls are fun to control, and each comes with her own strengths and weaknesses. Yuko is the all-around balanced character, but perhaps the least interesting of the bunch: sword-slashing quickly gets tiresome. Valna doesn't hit hard, but her attack is magical and can spread across a fairly large area, which is perfect for targeting enemies that come at you from strange angles. Finally, Cham is pure Castlevania-style goodness, as she whips her way through hordes of colorful demons and pesky leaping guys.
Each character can also collect colored orbs and cast magic of three elements, which is quite cool, especially the ice magic that freezes enemies. Overall, the ability to play as any of the three characters is a definite highlight, even if the differences between them aren't that pronounced (until later stages, when choosing one character over another becomes much more crucial).
The stages are varied, with interesting enemies all around, and some beautiful locations. The forest with transparent enemies is a short but memorable stage. The slippery ice stage, as insanity-inducing as it was, is also quite good-looking. Valis III is pretty dynamic: just when you begin to think you'd like a scenery change, this change comes, and you are taking to a completely different area with different enemies and challenges.
In a typical Valis fashion, there are anime cutscenes that advance the story. While I was more impressed by the scenes from the previous game, I think it is always a plus when you can relax, sit back, and watch a silly stereotypical anime plot unfold, patting yourself on the back for having completed a particularly agonizing level.
The BadThe so-called "Valis curse" continues in this installment, taking new shapes and liberally affecting almost every aspect of the gameplay. The difficulty level is, as usually, screwed up to the point of driving potential customers away. The balance issues are, once again, almost unforgivable.
You know how hard and unfair platformers can be, with all sorts of devilish traps and maddening enemies they like putting in your way. There is a lot of this stuff in Valis III as well - you'll particularly grow to hate those guys who leap out of nowhere just when you jump onto another problem. More serious, however, is the infuriating "knock back" feature: enemies do not only damage the girls, they push them backwards. Combine than with tiny platforms you'll often find yourself on, and you'll get instant painful death in lava or other unpleasant liquid way too many times.
Jumping is still a problem; even though it controls better than before, there are too many places where the jump has to be pixel-perfect. You also have the ability to slide, which is awkwardly mapped (Start + down button? Who came up with that idea?) and not particularly interesting - except that some platforms require you to slide from one to another instead of jumping on them. Which sane person would choose to slide over an empty space between two platforms? Everyone's normal instinct would be to jump. And yet if you try to do that, you'll miss the jump and will have to start the stage over.
The difficulty of the stages fluctuates widely: some of the levels pose very little challenge, while others belong to the toughest platforming segments I've come across. There is a nightmarish level in which you have to jump on icy, slippery platforms, fending off respawning hordes of flying and leaping enemies. Near its end those platforms suddenly grow wide apart. You know you won't be able to make the jump, yet naturally you try - over and over again. After nearly losing my sanity, I discovered that the only way to jump over those platforms was freeze enemies with ice magic and hop over them. This is a cool puzzle in theory, but in practice you'll run out of magic points after a couple of unsuccessful hits, and there won't be a way to replenish them and finish the level. Which means that the only way to beat that stage is to do this freezing thing perfectly from the first platform to the last. I don't want to imagine the frustration of a person who plays this on a real console and wastes loads of time by replaying the whole stage just to get through that segment.
Lastly, level design in pretty plain, and there is little to distinguish the stages from the usual "move forward and kill everything you see" formula we encounter in too many platformers. There are no interconnected stages, no puzzles, none of those cute secrets Super Mario World is full of. The structure of the platforms themselves is not particularly interesting, either: many stages are too horizontal, a few being just more or less straight lines to the exit. It's just standard platforming fare with aggravating elements.