Runtime Podcast: Valis the Fantasm Soldier Collection
A Classic Trilogy Comes to Switch
Some video games are circular, introspective, winding paths of visionary storytelling, tapestries spun of nuance and subtlety. Others, especially many games inspired by the arcade tradition, are more direct in their approach to entertainment and narrative. Some days, you want all the delicate texture of The Unfinished Swan or the wit of The Stanley Parable. Sometimes, you come home from work and just want to walk to the right and kill things.
That’s the spirit at the core of Valis. Before Strider, before Rolling Thunder, before Shinobi, even before Rastan, there was Valis, the made-for-Japanese-PC side-scrolling hack-and-slash about a schoolgirl jumping around and stabbing bad guys with a magic sword. None of these are perfect analogs, of course, but there’s some of the spirit of each in Valis.
Right now, you can pre-order the best versions of the first three Valis games for Switch at Limited Run Games. They’re the PC Engine versions (that’s TurboGrafx-16 for us Americans) with smooth, refined gameplay and vivid early examples of cutscene storytelling.
Since I’m pretty darn excited about this happening, I asked my friend Mike Drucker, comedian, TV writer, video game guy, and nerd extraordinaire, to join me on a podcast episode to talk about why we think Valis is pretty darn neat. You can listen to it above or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or other places that carry Runtime: The Limited Run Games Podcast.
As opposed to last week’s Windjammers extravaganza, this podcast episode isn’t so much a presentation of expertise as it is an amalgam of reminiscence and raw enthusiasm. We froth, we wax nostalgic, we get sidetracked, and we talk a lot about old anime.
So why play the Valis games today? Well, they’re a pretty delightful time capsule to the evolution of video game storytelling. They introduced a lot of folks to the idea that action games could tell stories the way TV and movies did, with voiced, animated scenes reminiscent of the popular anime of the day.
Valis: The Fantasm Soldier Collection also opens a window into an evolving time in games, when developers were experimenting with the new capabilities of the nascent CD-ROM medium. The PC Engine’s CD drive was only single speed, so slow loading times limited what could be accomplished with the new technology. The developers settled on three advantageous uses: the aforementioned anime cutscenes, implementing voice acting, and killer Red Book audio soundtracks.
The music of Valis is dope. Just in case you’re not familiar with Red Book, back in the day, high-fidelity music compression and real-time decoding were beyond the capability of most home consoles. The Red Book standard allowed a workaround: video games could play raw CD music tracks much as they would on a standard CD music player, bypassing this limitation. The Valis series took full advantage of this to create some truly memorable soundscapes.
The Valis games are also fun. Valis is not going to drain your brain with deep puzzles or nuanced combat. It’s more Dynasty Warriors than Dark Souls. It’s a series about progressing and killing things. In a sense, it’s as much a precursor to Magician Lord as anything else, a series of wide-open areas where the best solution is usually to hit whatever is nearby as fast as you can. There’s something to be said for that.
So if you want to get your finger on the pulse of what makes Valis neat, I hope you’ll give the podcast a listen!
And if you want to go right and kill things, you can pick up Valis: The Fantasm Soldier on Switch physical today. Standard and Collector’s Editions are available alongside a 3LP vinyl soundtrack.
Limited Run Games:
the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games and soundtracks in addition to winning a number of awards for their bespoke Collector’s Editions. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form for casual fans and collectors alike. Visit limitedrungames.comfor the latest offerings, or follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.