There are a couple of ways to go about when making a video game sequel. One can play it very safe and make a game that’s pretty much the same as its predecessor, albeit with minor improvements – think Pandora Tomorrow. Then there are the quintessential sequels which take everything that worked in the first game and dial it up to 11- games like Just Cause 2, Assassin’s Creed 2. The third type is the riskiest, where the developers do a total 180 and make a sequel that’s a big departure from its predecessor. The last time a beloved game underwent such a major genre-shift was in the case of Darkest Dungeon 2 which ruffled a few feathers. Now, developer Steel Mantis trying to pull off one such move. Valfaris: Mecha Therion, the sequel to the acclaimed 2D action-platformer Valfaris is not a by-the-book sequel. Instead, it’s touted as 2.5D sidescrolling Shoot ’em up (or shmup or STG). I’m here to answer your raging questions like “did the genre shake-up work” and “is it a worthy followup to the 2019 original?” Presenting Gameffine’s Valfaris: Mecha Therion review.
Angry Young Mech
Valfaris: Mecha Therion is a direct sequel to Valfaris. After the destruction of the planet-sized citadel of Valfaris, Prince Therion, the vengeful angry young man, is hot on the pursuit of his father, Emperor Vroll. This time, Therion is not just armed with the sword containing the soul of his dead brother and AI helper Hekate, but he has a big, chonky hunk of metal in the form of a mech suit to aid his in his quest. Rip and tear, baby!
The story beats are as the same as the last game. The plot of the game essentially boils down to, “an angry young man with severe daddy issues is now an angry young mech with severe daddy issues”. Therion essentially travels across multiple planets chasing after Vroll and murdering anything that stands in his way in true Valfaris fashion. You don’t expect an apple to fall far from the tree now, do you?
Different Yet Familiar
With Therion being a mech game now, the developers must have felt the need to reimagine the gameplay. Thus, they have opted to make the sequel a 2.5D shmup. While this seems like a drastic change (and it is), the sequel feels both different yet familiar. Similar to games like R-Type and Gradius, Therion, the game is constantly in motion, and fans of the original may feel like they do not have control over the pacing anymore. This also means that the level design is more straightforward, with everything laid out linearly from left to right. Therion is also in flight all the time, so platformer gameplay is out of the question.
Despite this major shake-up, Valfaris: Mecha Therion still feels like a proper sequel. It’s got the same brutal DNA – it’s challenging but not unfair the combat feels as punchy as the last time, there is an overabundance of blood and gore, there are a shitload of enemy types to kill and a bunch of different weapon types to kill them with and finally the game looks good and is accompanied by a killer metal soundtrack. All is well.
The heart and soul of Valfaris, i.e, the combat, is excellent this time around as well. Therion’s arsenal is divided into three – Destroyer (primary ranged), Melee and Auxillary (secondary ranged). There are a variety of weapons to be found in each category, and they can all be upgraded using Blood Metals and Blood of Valfaris at checkpoints. Furthermore, you have two slots for support modules such as an item that lets you throw the melee weapon like a boomerang, an item which marks secret areas, etc. I do wish that these came in the form of permanent upgrades, since choosing between just two vital abilities at a time sucks.
The shield from the first game is gone. Instead, you can counter projectiles with your sword or the mech’s boost (which can also parry the mech-sized bosses). This time around, all ranged weapons and auxiliary weapons require varying amounts of energy to fire at full efficiency, which is signified by a blue bar below your HP. Energy is regained by using the sword on enemies and projectiles. This micromanagement is a big part of the gameplay loop, as you’ll be constantly switching between ranged and melee weaponry to maintain the energy bar. There’s also an interesting gameplay mechanic revolving around keeping the kill count high. The more you kill, the Blood Gauge seen on the right side of the HUD fills up. Each time it fills up, you gain one blood metal and a chance to spawn a champion enemy. Good stuff, all around.
On the downside, the risk vs rewarding system of using resurrection idols to activate checkpoints vs upgrading stats has been entirely removed. Plus, for a Shmup, there are not enough power-ups to be found during gameplay, which kinda makes you stick to a particular loadout throughout the end. The levels are also extremely linear minus a few secret rooms here and there. It would have been awesome if they spiced up the gameplay with a couple of platforming sections in classic fashion, similar to Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, which had both action-platforming and motorbike segments. But, it is what it is.
Grim Dark Future
Valfaris: Mecha Therion is not a huge leap in graphics when compared to the first game, but looks good regardless with bright colors, plenty of particle effects and glorious gibbing. The change to 2.5D does make up for really awesome-looking camera transitions and set pieces. That being said, the game bombs the screen with heaps of colors and objects at times that it affects the visibility somewhat. There’s just too much visual clutter that I prefered playing on the low graphics settings. Speaking of low graphics settings, while the game ran great at a locked 144 fps on my 3070, the Steam Deck has trouble running the game at high with 60 fps. I was able to get a mostly stable 60 fps by dropping the settings to low at 10 TDP.
The sound effects, music, etc. are all top-notch this time as well. Watching the mech headbang to metal riffs when finding a new weapon is a feast for us with tendencies for digital violence. I did find it off-putting that instead of having a dynamic contextual BGM, the music is played on loop in the background. This results in sections where there are plenty of action going on in the screen, but with no music and sections of serene flight ruined by high-octane music. Just something to keep in mind.
Valfaris: Mecha Therion is a blood-pumping, head-banging, monster-bashing sequel to an excellent game. Steel Mantis has graciously transformed Valfaris into a brutal 2.5D Shmup while keeping the identity of the original intact. It’s a different but, ultimately, familiar experience. I’m all up for a Metroidvania threequel now.
FINAL RATING: 80/100
Valfaris: Mecha Therion Review - Daddy IssuesValfaris: Mecha Therion Review - Daddy Issues
- Satisfying combat
- Transitions to 2.5D shmup gameplay graciously
- Colorful visuals and sick soundtrack
- Could have done more with the shmup format
- Plenty of visual clutter at times
- Extremely linear levels