Valkyrie of Phantasm First Impression – Fast-Paced Combat with a Bullet Hell Twist

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Fans of both the Touhou Project series and mecha action can look to indie developer Area Zero’s latest iteration of the beloved franchise, re-imagined as Valkyrie of Phantasm, a “high-speed aerial versus fighting game” that sees fan-favorite characters from the Touhou series donning mechanical gears and taking to the air, locked in fast-paced combat.

As a spiritual successor to Area Zero’s previous title Touhou Sky Arena Matsuri Climax, Valkyrie of Phantasm aims to iterate the core gameplay mechanics from its predecessor. Taking heavy inspiration from the Gundam EXVS series, Virtual On, and Armored Core, the game very much likes to wear its inspiration on its sleeve. Boost dashes, cooldown-based ammo systems, and snappy camera control all evoke an appreciation for the genre, minus the robots.

As the game gears up for an eventual fully-fledged release, Valkyrie of Phantasm has shown up on Steam storefronts under the Early Access program. In this first impression piece, we’ll be taking a look at what Area Zero has to offer as a 3D fighter set in the mythical realms of Gensokyo.

If you’re interested in trying the game, QooApp is currently having an SNS Campaign and we’ll be giving away five Valkyrie of Phantasm Steam Keys to randomly selected participants! All you need to do is follow our official Twitter and Like & Retweet the specific posts! The campaign will be held until November 14! Don’t miss the chance!

High-Speed Bullet Hell Action that Keeps You on Your Toes

Presented as a one-on-one 3D fighter, a key appeal of Valkyrie of Phantasm lies in the simulation of what a bullet hell battle would look like in higher fidelity. Zipping past barrages of energy blasts and lining up shots of your own is a literal blast, owing to an overall snappy control feel that allows you to dash in four directions and glide at high speeds via the use of Boost Dashing. Valkyrie of Phantasm, while putting great emphasis on fast gracious movements with your chosen character, also demands you to think on the fly as well.

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Each character in Valkyrie of Phantasm is decked out with a regular rapid shot that can be fired on the move, a melee button, and three separate special moves. These three abilities are what would be “spell cards” in the original games, and work off an ammo count that goes into cooldown upon running out.

The ammo reserves vary with each character, with more melee-orientated characters like Youmu having to essentially wait out the cooldown every time she uses her slashes, whereas characters that prefer a keep-away game like Patchouli get five casts on her heat-seeking magic missiles.

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Characters in Valkyrie of Phantasm stay naturally airborne without any input from the player. This means that the energy meter is used only when using the Boost Dash or Boost Step functions on your character. Boost Dash is used mainly for gap closing while the Boost Step acts as your general dodge button.

While Boost Steps’ facilitates the quick maneuvers necessary for evading enemy fire, it doubles as a way to build meters by way of the “Graze” system in play. Like the original bullet-hell games, Valkyrie of Phantasm incentivizes its players to dodge incoming projectiles as late as possible but instead of simply points, you’re rewarded with Drive Gauge gain. The meter is another element thrown into the mix that players must juggle in combat.

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Valkyrie of Phantasm notably offers the ability to block incoming strikes that can ward off hits until the meter depletes, at which you are put in a guard broken, stun state. While it appears that turtling up against hits would be a no-brainer, the simple decision to make guard-only block hits from in front of your character renders the action into a riskier emergency button as enemies quick on their foot can flank you with a directional melee strike.

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The Drive Gauge can be used for offensive and defensive options, where activating the meter increases your character’s stats across the board and allows access to powerful super moves called Accel Spells. Alternatively, you can pop it in a pinch as it allows you to break free from any combo hit stun. While the meter is passively gained whenever successfully striking an enemy, “grazing” bullets racks up the meter the fastest.

The Boost Step also comes into play in more advanced tactics such as Step Canceling. Valkyrie of Phantasm explains that by inputting a boost dash right after an attack you are able to cancel out the animations of attacks that would otherwise leave you open. Step Cancelling on its own opens up the player’s ability to rack up crazy combos when executed properly.

Tinker Your Move sets and Character Stats

As a rather unusual feature, character customization exists as a mechanical way to subtly jigger your character’s stats more favorably in battle, as well as giving you the option to change up your three dedicated Spell Cards.

Acting off of a finite cost system, it would appear that in future builds of Valkyrie of Phantasm, players would be able to choose from a variety of spell cards to find a combination of spells that would synergize together in combat. As it’s presented now, however, there are only four Spell Cards to choose from for your three potential slots.

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Ability Setup is also an interesting option as you as the player get to edit the stats of your character of choice. These can vary in value from simple things like beefing up HP, to incredibly powerful passives such as being able to Step Cancel faster than normally possible by a split second.

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Customizability alone offers a completely new layer of player expression and is a much-appreciated feature in an action game like Valkyrie of Phantasm. Builds and set-ups can be altered wildly dependent on what kind of Spell Cards and Abilities a character might be rocking, and could potentially lead to some interesting counterplays against other players. From a more skeptical perspective, the freedom to be able to alter numbers and stats like better I-frames, cheaper Boost Steps, and faster cancels could very well become a nightmare to balance as a game.

A (Currently) Bare Bones Story Mode

While it’s arguably not its biggest selling point, Valkyrie of Phantasm does make an attempt at explaining the nuances of the intense fighting the girls get themselves in. The story mode currently consists of a series of CPU fights just like the ones in regular VS Mode, with some added exposition in between fights with some quick banter shared by the two combatants.

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Valkyrie of Phantasm begins with a text crawl, explaining that a mysterious meteorite had crashed into Gensokyo, at which point these celestial shards subsequently gave powers to some of its residents and beckoning them to fight each other. The resident problem solver and protagonist, Reimu Hakurei, equipped with the seemingly sentient Valkyrie Arms sets off to find out who’s responsible for this sudden battle royale.

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As the game currently only has four out of the planned eight characters, the story mode ends on an understandable cliffhanger upon completing 5 fights.

The current open-ended nature of the story mode ending only after five fights also supplements the other caveat that lies in the presentation of the game as of now, as the game features no voice acting to speak off. Thankfully, this is probably another delayed feature that just isn’t in the current build, as Area Zero’s previous titles have gone so far as to provide voiceovers for all 18 of its playable characters.

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The Caveats of Being an Early Access Title

Suffice it to say, there’s a certain amount of the meat and potatoes missing in the current version of the game. Released as an early access title, some of Valkyrie of Phantasm’s roster of characters, stages, and spell are missing as of this writing. Though the game is in early access, the game missing out on features as basic as training mode feels rather strange.

Valkyrie of Phantasm currently has most of its game modes intact, though does disclaim the fact that the online matchmaking lobby is still under beta, though personally, I found no particular problems with getting games in.

Aspects of the gameplay feel like they are not ironed out as well as one would’ve liked. A rather strange decision on the part of the game comes from how the melee attacks seem to trip up the targeting in both online and offline matches when spammed.

This may or may not be a consequence of the fact that the game has four separate melee attacks, including one in particular that has your character quickly boost to the side of the opponent and continue their combo. This leads to situations where two players spamming said buttons, can lead to inconsistent hits from both sides especially in online matches.

On a melee-related tangent, the camera work seems to struggle to adjust its perspective to accurate angles at times. This is very much the case for characters like Patchouli, who possesses massive book-shaped units on her shoulders that often obfuscates the view of what’s happening.

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The tutorials go over most of the basic controls of the game, but also fail to explain the more advanced mechanics like guard break and how Drive Gauge must be activated in order to use the Accel Spells. An in-game manual is also available via the title screen, but again, only covers what was mostly stated in the tutorials and plainly states the default button layout for the game and little else.

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Moving right along to controls, the presented default layout shows how the developers want their players to be using a controller for Valkyrie of Phantasm. While the game does accommodate keyboard inputs, it’s exactly just that, keyboard controls. No mouse inputs can be tied to the camera controls here, with any hypothetical player relegated to MS-DOS Doom-like control methods with both hands on the keyboard playing what is essentially a 3D mecha fighter.

Controller players, naturally have a significantly easier time maneuvering their girls of choice, as the game maps out the different movement options and attacks on more traditional layouts. However, even then the default controls seem to have a problem of having too many buttons: 3 spell cards, boost dash, normal shot, guard, ascend, descend, melee, Accel Spell, Spark Drive. That comes out to 11 buttons plus 4 directional inputs. Considering how the spell cards/melee/shot can’t be used simultaneously, it feels like there should be a way to do all these actions using fewer buttons.

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Navigating through the configs and options menus for the game, you might also realize how the game has no video settings to be altered outside of the basics such as fullscreen/windowed options and in-game resolutions.

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I nitpick this particular point of the game’s current lack of graphical configuration, particularly because of how taxing the game appears to be. Through testing the game with a PC significantly beefier than what the store page lists as “Recommended” under their system requirements, Valkyrie of Phantasm appeared to chug and at times even stutter when displaying high amounts of projectiles and/or getting too close to the foliage within the arena.

3D Shooter/Fighter Hybrid albeit Rough Around the Edges

In conclusion, Valkyrie of Phantasm as a game, while unarguably needing more time in the oven is a great recommendation for players looking for a 3D fighter akin to EXVS who have the desire to put rounds in with friends offline or online.

There’s no getting around the fact that Valkyrie of Phantasm is in early access, and it’s missing single-player content, which can certainly be a deal breaker for players looking for more story-driven content. However what Valkyrie of Phantasm can offer, is the scaffoldings of a solid 3D fighting game that puts heavy emphasis on quick engagements that see players going back and forth with dashes, melee strikes, and on-the-fly meter management.

The game now also has a roadmap as of November 1st that lays out some of the finer details as to what we can expect in the future, as the game fixes itself up to completion. Of what is listed, we can see that each update phase will last 3 months with a playable character being added for each phase along with stages and character Spell Cards. Among the listed features is also the addition of more quality-of-life choices like network optimizations, a mini-map feature in combat, easier control schemes for beginners, and many more. These are listed at the bottom of the roadmap and are listed to be “implemented when they are ready”.

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Though the game has some rougher edges in terms of performance and balancing, issues seem to be quickly addressed by Area Zero as they make progress to completing the game. While writing this, a certain infinite-loop combo was discovered, abused, and subsequently patched out when people pointed it out in a community Discord Server. If the developers can keep that kind of consistency in ironing out the wrinkles, then we may very well be looking at a proverbial diamond in the rough.

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Valkyrie of Phantasm is currently available for early access for PC via Steam. The game currently supports English, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese language options.

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