Valdis Story: Abyssal City

A game by Endless Fluff Games for PC, originally released in 2013.
Valdis Story: Abyssal City is an expansive action-RPG with a deep combat system, a robust skill tree, and a unique magic system. The game features a detailed history and setting, numerous towns filled with NPC’s, a wide array of environments to explore, and no small number of enemies and boss encounters along the way.

The story begins with two ships battling each other in an icy sea. On one ship are our four heroes and their crew, and the other is a ship filled with demons. Our heroes board the demon ship to do battle, but are surprised by large whale-like creatures that rise up from beneath the depths and sink the ship. After the shipwreck, the game begins with one of the heroes who discovers that he (or she) has fallen down into a city below the sea and has been separated from his crew.

Our hero sets out to track down his friends and crewmates and to learn more about this strange underwater world. Beyond that, the narrative tosses around more than a few proper nouns and convolutions, occasionally clouding the details of major events. One thing is clear, however: the people below the surface have a different way of viewing the world than those above. These folks believe that anyone from the surface is either an angel or a demon, and their land is filled with wild and dangerous creatures known as ferals. Beneath the surface and away from the sun, these underdwellers have lost the color in their hair, and they rely on ancient “mana heaters” to keep their cities warm, lest they freeze over.

A selection screen shows four possible characters, although only two are available at the start: Wyatt Goibniu and Reina Gaius. Wyatt is the more capable of the two when it comes to melee combat, as he carries a sword with a considerably longer range than that of Reina’s fists, although she makes up for this shortcoming with her proficiency in magic and use of supplemental accessories. Given how tough some enemies and bosses can be, players who favor melee combat will be better served by Wyatt, and even then they must make deft use of their combat abilities if they hope to survive.

Characters begin the game with the ability to perform a 1.5x jump. Combined with their quick movement speed, this allows them to cross fairly large gaps. A traditional wall jump ability is learned later, but players start with the ability to grab ledges and jump away from them by simply pressing in the opposite direction rather than pressing away and jumping. This can lead to some situations where players may inadvertently jump away from a ledge, and more complex situations require that the player alternate between ledge grab jumps and standard wall jumps during a single ascent, altering controls with each type.

The player has a wide array of combat abilities, and learning how to effectively use each ability – and how to use them in conjunction – is key to overcoming the game’s many tough enemies. Players have both a light and heavy attack. The light attack can be strung together into a 3-hit combo, while the heavy attack allows for a slower but more powerful 4-hit combo. Players are free to alternate between light and heavy attacks, although this simply transitions them from one combat string to the other without altering the attack types.

Melee attacks cause the hero to step forward slightly, moving toward his enemy… or sliding off of a ledge if he’s not careful. Additional variations on these attacks occur when used while running, jumping, or dashing. Characters can also perform a heavy downward strike, and can perform an uppercut by attacking and then immediately jumping. Players must frequently change up their attacks to contend with blocking enemies, those that can toss projectiles, and those that can only be attacked from behind.

Players may also take on a defensive posture to block regular attacks coming in from the left or right (players can face either direction while blocking). And yes, this is a game where blocking is required. If you’re hoping to beat a boss by simply hammering the attack buttons until he submits, then you will be sorely disappointed. Combat tends to be fast, requiring you to make decisions quickly, dodge or block at opportune times, and capitalize on openings as they become available.

Early in the game, the player unlocks a dash move, which allows the him to dash by pressing DOWN. This not only allows the hero to dash downward, but to dash laterally by pressing DOWN and then forward. There are numerous time-sensitive environmental puzzles throughout the game – often leading to unique items – requiring players to activate a switch and then move quickly through the area before the corresponding door closes. This dash move can also be employed in combat to dash away from enemies, or to dash behind enemies to get in some hits on their backsides. The move takes a moment to recharge between uses, although you’ll eventually be able to perform multiple dashes in succession.

Magic is employed here as well, although it’s more integrated into the core experience than most games of this type, allowing players to quickly alternate between melee-based combat and one of several spells without hesitation. Throughout the game, the player discovers Power Souls that allow him to cast spells with different affinities, including fire, ice, light, dark, etc. Different spells are more useful against certain enemies, such as using light spells against demonic foes. Each Power Soul can be assigned to one of four slots, allowing for different effects, and players are free to mix and match to have multiple spell disciplines active at once.

Spells are cast by holding the MAGIC button and then pressing in a specific direction or jumping. In this way, players may instantly cast one of four spells during regular combat or while exploring the environment. The directional assignments tend to correspond with the spell type as well, allowing for some logical combinations. For instance, projectiles tend to be assigned to the LEFT/RIGHT buttons, allowing you to press toward an enemy and toss a fireball, ice spear, etc. in that direction. Pressing DOWN tends to unleash ground-effect spells, while the UP and JUMP spells tend toward defense and support.

Players begin the game with two Power Souls, but can collect up to six, eventually allowing the player to make use of up to 24 individual spells, and Power Souls can also be leveled up individually for more potent effects. Spell use draws from a magic meter, which refills slowly over time.

Spells aren't just intended for combat, however; players learn some spells that directly affect their ability to explore the environment, allowing for Metroidvania-style progression. For instance, one of the ice spells allows you to create a makeshift platform to reach higher areas, and one of the fire spells allows you to perform a powerful punch that breaks through certain walls. Backtracking into previously explored areas with these new abilities allows the player to discover hidden treasure chests with potentially valuable items and armor, and even encounter the occasional crew member…

As you discover your missing crew members, you add them back to your party, and you can assign any one of them to an ASSIST button to call them forward at will. These attacks are supplemental and entirely optional, but you can use them to launch enemies into the air, penetrate armor, and even toss projectiles. These assist characters are limited by the fact that they must charge between uses, but they do not drain your magic meter.

Further supporting the combat system is a robust skill tree that allows you to customize your character to match your play style, or to focus on a specific trait. Upon leveling up, your character’s health and mana are fully restored, and the player may assign one point toward the attribute of his choice: strength, intelligence, agility, or luck. Assigning these points increases the associated stats, such as hit points, attack strength, defense, magic points, and the chance to perform a critical hit.

In addition, leveling up allows one point to be spent on a skill. Skills are divided into the Warrior, Guardian, and Savior categories, focusing on strength, defense, and magic respectively. More powerful abilities lie further down the skill tree, but each threshold requires that the player reach a certain level before unlocking them. Additionally, more powerful skills remain locked until you purchase the skills above them on the tree, but the player is free to cycle through all of the slots to see what is available and determine how best to spend his points.

Unlike most RPG’s, Valdis Story has no currency to speak of. Instead, most killed enemies drop items, which in turn can be traded toward more valuable items or upgrades. Upgrades include enhancements to weapons and armor, as well as permanent stat increases for your health and mana.

Enemies occasionally drop health and mana restoratives as well, but healing items in general are fairly rare. There are only a handful of potions to be found across the entire game, and these are used automatically when your health or mana is depleted, making it difficult to store them up for a tough battle. It’s a reasonable design choice to have health restoratives auto-activate when the character is killed, as the player would otherwise be forced to reload his last save (which you can do manually if you want to retain your precious potions). On the other hand, it makes far less sense to have mana potions auto-activate simply because you attempted to cast a spell when your meter was depleted. As such, you’re just as likely to use a mana potion when exploring the environment and fighting regular enemies – particularly if you’re using a magic-focused character – than you are when going up against a challenging boss.

The only other way to restore your health and mana is to find a save point. Most Metroidvania games place save points just before major encounters (or at least just after them), but that is not always the case here. On many occasions, you will find yourself enduring a long section of enemies leading up to a boss fight with no way to restore your health or mana in between, and no indicator that you are about to enter a boss encounter. Sometimes, even after you hobble away from battle, you will find yourself separated from safety by a great measure, hoping you can fight your way to a save point before getting killed and being forced to repeat a difficult encounter.

In general, the game does not give much guidance to the player. The game doesn’t demonstrate anything with tutorial-style messages, which keeps the game from being overly intrusive on the core experience, but it also means that players may bumble around a bit before they are able to figure things out on their own. In addition, quest-givers often direct you toward a particular item or person of interest, but they will not repeat their dialogue when you speak to them again, and there is no quest log. For the most part, however, you can push blindly forward into any accessible area and you will eventually solve the quest.

A Metroid-style minimap is available, but it only shows your current area, surrounded in black. In most Metroidvania titles, doorways leading into the black indicate areas where you have not yet explored. That is the case here as well, but it may just as easily be a door from one geographical section to another, which makes it difficult to keep track of your progress in a given area. Areas are color-coded, making it easier to quickly see which rooms require which keys, so long as you’re in the area and have the required key in your possession.

While exploration is the key to narrative progress, fighting enemies is the true key to progression. Enemies drop items that you need to craft upgrades and they also provide experience points, which allow you to increase your base stats and unlock new skills. Tough bosses not only require a solid execution of the combat mechanics; they also require hearty stats for the most part.

Fortunately, you are rewarded for excellence in combat, with enemies granting experience point multipliers based on the length of your combos. In addition, enemies respawn when you leave a room and return. This design creates some hindrance when it comes to exploration and backtracking, but it also allows you to grind for experience and items if necessary. Also, returning to previous areas does not always mean a return to weaker foes; often, you will find earlier areas invaded by tougher creatures, making it more difficult for you to progress while offering more experience points as a result.

In many instances, you will find enemies fighting one another, as feral creatures are enemies to the demonic and angelic alike. As such, you can hang back and wait for enemies to weaken and defeat each other, or charge in and smash them to bits while they are distracted. Some tougher foes can even summon support creatures that respawn indefinitely as long as the main enemy is alive. Angelic enemies summon forth winged knights using balls of light, while demons use fire to resurrect their allies.

There is a fair amount of variety to the locales, and your adventure will take you through several cities, into ancient structures, across frozen landscapes (with slippery floors, and life-draining cold), down into the sewers, and into the depths of a fiery realm. Eventually, you will open up a fast travel system that lets you move quickly between each of the major cities. And, as you discover members of your crew, you begin to populate an abandoned library, with each character offering their services and allowing you to do things like upgrade your spells.

Aesthetically, the game is detailed and full of color, with solid character designs and backgrounds, and architecture that changes from area to area while retaining an overall cohesive theme. There are many indicators that the structures you are exploring are both ancient and well-worn. Buildings are often majestic but suffering from minor damage, suggesting that the people living in them lack the skills or resources to make repairs. The environmental design also enforces the ongoing theme of a world built beneath the surface of the sea, with the occasional waterfall washing down over the landscape.

Valdis Story was developed by Endless Fluff Games, a 2-person studio based in New York City, made up of designer and programmer Kyron Ramsey and artist Carolina Moya. Music for the game was created by Zack Parrish.

Development on Valdis Story originally started in 2007, although the project was never completed. However, it did lay the foundation for the exploration-based platforming and fast combat seen in Abyssal City. Rather than recreating their efforts, Kryon and Carolina set out to make an entirely new game, taking place after the events in the original project (which explains the somewhat convoluted backstory), and featuring a number of returning characters, including the four heroes.

The studio also developed a game entitled Legend of Fae, which mixes RPG gameplay and color matching puzzles. Solving puzzles allows players to progress through more than 50 levels, and grants spells and abilities when fighting creatures and bosses in turn-based battles. You are also able to upgrade your spells using a skill tree with four major affinities.

The studio also developed a shmup entitled Nimbus Sky Princess, featuring a cast of colorful characters and enemies. As is typical of the genre, players dodge enemy fire and obstacles, while collecting powerups and pew pew pewing their way to victory against waves of ships and large bosses. A combo system awards multipliers for continuous hits, and a recharging shield allows players to defend themselves – and deflect enemy bullets – at a moment’s notice. The game features local 2P co-op.