Valhalla Knights 3 is a new Japanese role-playing game brought to us by Marvelous AQL and the folks at Xseed Games. It's the first title in the series to come to the PlayStation Vita, so it has the huge task of starting the franchise off on the right foot after other iterations on other consoles failed to excite.

Valhalla Knights 3 is the story of a group of spies who infiltrate a large prison complex known as Carceron Prison. In this world of spells and swords, Carceron stands as the bastion for the criminally-inclined and the scum of the world. But even though it's a prison, its inhabitants are afforded a very free lifestyle and the prison itself acts like a functioning city, complete with shops, inns, clubs and places of entertainment. If there's one breakout star in Valhalla Knights 3, it's Carceron.

Your character and his or her companions are spies who were sent to Carceron to find Flockhart's Legacy, a treasure which is said to grant the wishes of the person who holds it. This is an item that has been surrounded by years of myths, legends and unbelievable tales, making it an incredibly sought-after McGuffin by all sorts of people in the kingdom. Everyone from kings, brigands, treasure hunters and nobles want their hands on it, but it's your job to find it before anyone else does.

As soon as you step foot into Carceron, the first thing you'll notice is that it's a harsh world. Though it's run as its own little microcosm, that doesn't mean that it is devoid of lawlessness. In fact, upon entering and getting registered, some of the people in your group are immediately kidnapped or killed. Only the strong survive in Carceron, so it's good to remember that there is always strength in numbers.

The key to braving all of the dangers and adversaries that Carceron has to throw at you is by building up your clan. You can have up to six members, depending on your progression in the story, so getting a crew together is of the utmost importance. You'll also want to balance out your team and have a mix of different character classes, such as Fighter, Priest, Thief, Mage, Archer and a whole host of others, including a rough melee class known as the Akatoki.

If you find that you have a lot of the same classes in your clan, you can always opt to change your class and learn a whole new set of skills. As long as you're able to afford skills, you can mix and match as much as you please. This way, you'll have a broad arsenal of attacks to use in combat.

Combat runs on a system of slots. Sure, you have your basic attacks, heavy attacks and blocks, but the real flavor in battle comes from the skills that you've learned. You can assign these skills to different slots on the directional pad. Pressing on the corresponding direction will active a skill or a spell, giving you more options in a fight. A second set of slots can be accessed by holding down the "L" button. You can also assign items to these slots, so you can chug down a potion at just the right time, preventing your death.

Valhalla Knights 3 is funny in that it looks, feels and plays like a PlayStation 2-era massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. You'll run out into a field and see enemies meandering. Going up to an enemy and striking them a few times triggers battles and encloses you in an area which acts as the battleground.

You can switch characters in the middle of a fighter in order to trigger their skills or just leave them to fight autonomously. most times, you'll want to control them by assigning a target for the entire clan to wail on. A little bit of focus fire goes a long way when you're taking on a boss or group with a powerful ranged damage class like an Archer or a Mage. You just have to make sure everyone is properly equipped and that you have enough items to make it through some of the tougher tussles.

You can always pick up random items in the field, but the best way to get great equipment and money to buy consumable items is to complete quests or shop for them. This is where Valhalla Knights 3 gets a little weird and starts really showing the Japanese aspects of its JRPG roots. Going to the item store to shop or a guild to take on quests and recruit new clan members is much like going to a hostess club. You'll pay for the company of a beautiful young woman who will then help you with the process of buying items, selling your wares, accepting quests, reporting completed quests and managing your inventory.

The strange part is the mini-game that pops up after certain actions in which you can try to raise the girl's levels of affection for you. This event is timed and tasks you with filling up the girl's heart meters by touching her in pleasurable areas. Yeah. So you'll have to rub, poke and slide your finger across the touchscreen to find her sweet spots, which will be met with cries of "yes," "right there," or a subtle moan. Each filled heart results in a close-up of a different part of the girl's body until she's in various states of undress. If you're skilled enough to fill up all of the hearts and completely satisfy her, you'll be gifted with a rare item. Please make all attempts to complete these mini-games in private or, if not, at least with the sound turned down.

This feature of Valhalla Knights 3 feels like unwanted fan service that doesn't really fit in with the rest of the game's dark, violent nature. And the worst part is that you have to pay each time to either shop or pick up quests. It's an annoying aspect of a game that is already plagued by slow load times and a dated style of play.

Sure, the criminal world of Carceron may be fascinating, but the way everything is executed is not. I commend Valhalla Knights 3 for having cool class customization options and interesting world-building, but the story is staid, the gameplay is sluggish and there's just not enough here to keep me involved. The fact that it requires you to play party to this whole host thing is a drag and does little to add to my enjoyment of being a spy in a prison-city. You could do worse when it comes to RPGs on the Vita, but this is one gaming crime that isn't worth the time.

This review was based on a digital copy of Valhalla Knights 3 for PlayStation Vita that was purchased for review.


5.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating