Whales fall. You die. At least, that's what would happen if this were real life. In 'sidescrolling exploration platformer' Valdis Story: Abyssal City, however, a chance encounter with the ocean-bound leviathans is what instigates the eventual chain of events.
Endless Fluff's magnificent, hand-drawn magnum opus follows the story of the cantankerous Wyatt and his crew. Unwilling to tolerate the yoke of warring twin goddesses any longer, Wyatt goes on a quest to be rid of them entirely. That plan, unfortunately, gets waylaid by the aforementioned pod of whales. The ship inevitably implodes. Debris goes flying. And everyone, now mystically transformed into balls of white light, ends up drifting languidly towards the ocean floor. Credits roll.
Once all that is wrapped up, you'll get to choose between one of four available characters though only two were available in the demo: Wyatt, who wields a tremendously large sword and an attitude to match, and Reina, a monk(ess?) of more temperate disposition. While it might initially seem otherwise (Wyatt is most often shown with his oversized knife), the characters don't appear bound to their signature equipment. Though I never did find a secondary weapon for either character, Wyatt's aptitude with both unarmed combat and big-ass swords was a big hint in regards to what we can possibly expect.
As is customary with such things, much of your initial ten to twenty minutes will be spent acclimatizing to the controls. It's mostly standard operating procedure (which is great, because the tutorial is still ramshackle at best) here: arrow keys for movement, space to jump (if you'd rather not press up for some reason) and the down key to initiate stomps (and dashes). There's a light attack, a heavy attack, a block, an option of calling in assists if you have an NPC friend in tow and magic which, by default, is cast by hitting X in combination with one of the directional buttons. Naturally, all the keys are remappable and the option to switch to a joypad is omnipresent.
Combat in Valdis Story: AC is a deliberate affair; button mashing isn't just an inefficient approach here but one that can be detrimental to your continued health. Though it doesn't quite demand pinpoint perfection the way a game like Dark Souls (boo!) might, Valdis Story: AC makes it clear that an understanding of defensive maneuvers is, if not mandatory, then certainly very much encouraged. Blocking alone is often sufficient protection against many enemies but you will, from time to time, encounter more artful opponents; big, imposing knights stitched together from raw energy, bone-helmed giants with flails almost as big as your avatars, creatures that will easily blink behind your guard. These guys will require some actual strategy; go in without a plan and you might just find your posterior handed to you by cannon fodder which is, in my opinion, a pretty cool notion.
Given that Valdis Story: AC is a project six years in the making, it isn't surprising to see this much attention to detail present in the game. Most impressively, perhaps, it also goes beyond the diverse enemy line-up and the splendid, splendid audiovisual presentation; you can see it in the little things. When Wyatt sheaths his massive blade, his head dips and tendrils of hair sway in tandem. Chandeliers sway and fabrics dance with every motion. There is an entire library of small, subtle touches, each helping to accentuate Valdis Story: AC's already ridiculously attractive facade. What really, really got to me, however, was neither the pseudo-dynamic lighting or the attack animations, but the fact the characters blink. It's a completely unnecessary nuance that Endless Fluff included as the cast's eyes are merely slivers of color under anime-inspired bouffants but, still, they made blinking a thing. It's awesome. and representative of everything I'm talking about.
On the whole, it's readily apparent that Valdis Story: AC isn't just an attempt to bank in on the fact everyone loves Metroidvania-styled games with pretty characters and flashy moves. Those six years? You can see where they went. Valdis Story: AC bristles with all the things that we love about these kind of games. There are skill trees and statistics to obsess over. There is a yet-to-be-seen-but-already-hinted-at crafting system. Valdis Story: AC feels marvelously pliable in a way cash grabs never are. Do you want make a bruiser who takes every punch like a champ, a eldritch glass cannon who rocks at combos, or something else entirely? You're in charge of that decision, man. Similarly, it's entirely up to you to figure out the kind of spells and weaponry best complement your play style. Figure out how you want to play this thing then luxuriate in the experience and so on and so forth. In the immortal words of Tyra Banks: Make it your own. Endless Fluff wants you to.
Glowing endorsement aside, there are still questions that require answering. Combat in Valdis Story: AC, in spite of its apparent resemblance to Dust: An Elysian Tail, is satisfying but nowhere near as liquid. The slight clunkiness isn't a deal breaker, but I'm certainly curious if it'd persist in the finished product. The plot is another point of contention (or would that be contemplation?) Will this be a routine hymn to humanity's superiority or is there more lurking under the well-trodden surface? What about double jumps? Do we get those later? All said and done, however, it's hard not to be taken with Valdis Story: AC. Like that perfect first date, it's smart, oh-so-winsome and more entertaining than your usual clique. Sure, there might be a lack of impeccable table manners but that doesn't stop you from wistfully envisioning a fairy tale future. I'm going to sit on my enthusiasm till the game actually released but hey, it's totally kosher to give the demo a whirl and then, quite possibly, throw a vote at Endless Fluff on Steam Greenlight.
Have you checked out the demo? Let me know what you think in the comments.