Why I'm Avoiding One Of The Main Features Of Valhalla Knights 3

After over 90 hours, I'm still uncomfortable with Valhalla Knights 3. "What is Valhalla Knights 3?"you ask. Valhalla Knights 3 is an RPG for the PS Vita. The basic gameplay is very much similar to an MMORPG, except without the Massively Multiplayer Online part.

You have a central base of operations in a large map sparsely filled with enemies. At your base — or in the case of Valhalla Knights 3, prison — you buy and sell equipment and loot, manage your party, and get quests to gather X number of item Y from enemy type Z for varying rewards. Altogether, it's a very standard RPG.

It's similar to an MMO in that the plot is very flimsy and comes second to the level grinding. You have a number of different character classes you can switch your characters between, each with their own set level. The combat, while there is a bit of a learning curve, is little more than rhythmically pushing the attack button to execute combos and pray you haven't misjudged the enemy's strength.

If it all sounds boring, it probably is, except the game does a superb job of rewarding the player just enough to get them to keep playing. The levelling system is highly addictive and is probably why I've been grinding away for over 90 hours.

So why am I uncomfortable? For that, here's a (very NSFW) trailer showing off one of the game's distinctive features, the Red Light District (seriously, you don't want to watch this while you're at work):

Now, for those who don't understand Japanese, allow me to clarify: Your main base of operations in the game has an upper and lower level. The upper level is the Red Light District, and the lower level is the slums. Each level has shops that allow you to buy/sell items and equipment, guilds to obtain quests, switch around your party members and individual classes, and a "clinic" where you can change your characters' gender and appearance.

The difference between the levels is mostly intuitive; the upper level has better items and more quests, but also costs more. Also, as the name "Red Light District" implies, there are some other "goodies" in store.

Each facility in the Red Light District has multiple vendors, all of whom are female. To conduct a transaction with a vendor, you must pay a cover charge, much like a Japanese hostess club. While there is no difference in the items sold or quests offered by each vendor in the Red Light District, the cover charge will vary. If you spend a certain amount of money at a vendor, you get to partake in what is called "Sexy Time" where according to the game, you can grope the vendor while the facility owner's "back is turned". Touch them in the right places, and sometimes they'll give you a unique item, as well as increase their relationship status with your character.

Repeat this enough times and they'll offer you a quest. Once you clear this quest, they will take you to the local hotel where it is heavily implied that you have sex (no graphics, but I'm pretty sure I know what moaning dialog and the screen shaking up and down before flashing pink means). After that, you can then select that vendor to join your party.

My initial reaction to this game system was immediate revulsion. I've never really found any appeal to Japanese host/hostess clubs, and the way in which female characters are objectified in the Red Light District system felt the sort of thing that Fox News would immediately be jumping on as proof as why games are destroying civilisation as we know it.

Nevertheless, use of the Red Light District is not mandatory and it is possible to clear the game without ever having to utilise those facilities at all. That, added with the fact that the combat/levelling was so addictive, is why I continued to play the game.

Playing the game, but avoiding the portions of the system I found distasteful got me thinking. While it does have a somewhat restrictive rating ("contains materials that may be unsuitable for audiences 16 or younger"), the very fact that games like Valhalla Knights 3 are released to the mainstream is something of a reflection of how deeply the host/hostess club nightlife is ingrained into Japanese culture.

Valhalla Knights 3 isn't the only game out of Japan that contains this sort of pay-to-enjoy-the-company-of-women-in-an-almost-but-explicitly-sexual-manner system. The Yakuza series has had several depictions and side quests in its exploration of the Japanese night life. The Dream Club series is almost specifically about hostess clubs. Heck, Girl's RPG: Cinderellife is a game aimed at Japanese children.

Perhaps this almost silent acceptance of host/hostess clubs as a part of Japanese culture is why when I went looking for reviews of Valhalla Knights 3 written by women, of the few I could find, not only were they generally positive, but none mentioned the Red Light District system at all.

In order to get an outside perspective, I reached across the pond and managed to talk with Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove — a long-standing advocate of equal gender treatment in games — to get his opinion. Upon describing the game, (and after he took his face out of his hands) he remarked, "It's another case, to me, of treating women like a reward for players." Harris continued by pointing out, "These people, sure, they eventually become your party members, but the main reason why they do that is because they're a consumable object for you: They exist solely for your pleasure rather than being actual characters in and of themselves."

Looking for a female perspective, I managed to talk with Allison Murphy, a regular contributor to Rage Select, for her opinion. "I just wish that one person would figure out that teenage boys aren't the only ones who want to look at sexy content." Allison said with a sigh. She went on to state that while the treatment of women in video games is very much a legitimate issue, even more so to her is the fact that a game would rely on what amounts to digital prostitution as a selling point. "The thing that creeps me out more than the gender bias is the sex worker thing."

One thing both Harris and Allison agreed on was that Valhalla Knights 3 did not need the Red Light District system in order to sell. The fact that the game is the 3rd in a series alone is proof of that. While it is not a triple-A franchise like your Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, the games have sold relatively well and are supported by their fans. Neither of the game's predecessors on the PSP incorporated a system like this at all. Perhaps it was an experiment in using the touch screen as part of the game, but in my opinion, there were better ways to do it.

Currently, I've run out the game timer at a hundred hours (they're releasing an update to count up to 999 hours) and the combat and levelling systems continue to keep me hooked. I guess I'll just continue to use the slums for my transactions.

Valhalla Knights 3 is currently available in Japan and is scheduled for a western release some time this year. Whether the western version will include the Red Light District system or not has not been announced.

Note: Kotaku has reached out to the publisher marvellous AQL for comment and we will update this post when we hear back.


Comments

    So... umm... I kinda want to know what that censored part in the video is...

    I can see the point, and won't deny that gender roles are an important issue in modern gaming; however it would be appreciated if you could provide a wider range of opinions regarding the subject matter. Your two quoted sources advocate your point, but there's no counter-point to explore the possible justification of its inclusion. Personally, I would be interested to hear the developers side of the story before expressing my opinion.

      Welcome to Kotaku, where pretty much anything on the subject matter of objectifying women (even if the titles demographic is into that kind of thing) is not ok, but for some strange reason is ok with clearly provocative characters that have racially stereo typical characteristics (ala tiny tina articles).

      As some one who makes jokes about women and aboriginals all the time (I live in Alice Springs, it comes with the territory) I don't give a damn, but I find the recent attempts to shove their agendas down our throat a little silly.

        I agree, it is hypocritical that "Fox News would immediately be jumping on as proof as why games are destroying civilisation as we know it." and yet this article goes on to condemn it in the same manner (one-sided sensationalism). I'm not entirely surprised to see another subjective article on Kotaku; it just frustrates me to see an interesting discussion point be shut down and labelled as discrimination.
        But I guess that's why I'm in the comment section! We are in agreement vaegrand.

    Why is kotaku always ashamed of the sexual part in games. I mean its not mandatory and some players never even play around those modes, and as your source stated ,the girl, teenage boys are not the only ones playing this games there is also adults. I mean sex is a part of life you dont ask for the sex scenes to be removed from movies why should games? I dont know but after the senran kagura review i kind of disliked the site, now this. I mean they review a game that was clearly somewhat obscene and expected it to be something else. Thats not good journalism at all its just reading somebody elses opinion. I do not believe this makes a game better is just that from a dev view point its fun sexy and might bring an even bigger audience than before. As for the objecgifiying part i think it to each his own if thats how you wanna see it its how its gonna affect you. Most girls ive showed senran kagura footage found it funny rather that infuriating and the only women who havent are the same ones that criticize the women who dress sexy or provocative i mean one can see the connection there. Everything bothers them xp jk

      " as your source stated ,the girl, teenage boys are not the only ones playing this games there is also adults."

      You've missed the point. And misread the argument.

      "teenage boys aren’t the only ones who want to look at sexy content."

      Was that she said. What she's getting at isn't that adults also want to, but that girls (of both the teenage and adult variety) want to. Where's the Red Light district that's got a room full of guys that you can grope and bang?

      While it's beyond cringe-worthy, It at least contained females that are of age and no "she just looks like shes's twelve but is really 18!" girls....until that last screen. : /

    I don't believe removing or campaigning for the removal of certain tropes, themes, situations etc. from games or any other form of media is the correct way to go about this.

    Regardless of how it may make an individual feel, it should purely be at the discretion of the ones behind the creative process, if the writer wants a red light district as described in this game then they should be able to include one, I believe this should be the same for any trope, theme, situation. While how they may choose to handle any given situation or topic may cause distress among people that doesn't necessarily mean it's inclusion is a bad thing, or perhaps it does, and that's the point. Characters should be able to do heinous, vile, objectifying, racist, manic, psychopathic things if that's who their character is without the internet exploding in misplaced outrage.

    Without playing this particular game I can't give any opinion on it, but the current state of trying to sanctimoniously push this agenda without any form of discourse is disheartening. I am sure my comment is scattered and bordering nonsensical, but it's early and I am at work. :P

    An interesting side note is the lack of mention of the male host clubs in the Yakuza games, especially since the female ones were mentioned. Sure, you may not be able to spend time in the male clubs the same way as you can in the female clubs, but I would have to assume that's because it wouldn't be in line with the straight main characters as opposed to objectification.

    Perhaps this almost silent acceptance of host/hostess clubs as a part of Japanese culture is why when I went looking for reviews of Valhalla Knights 3 written by women, of the few I could find, not only were they generally positive, but none mentioned the Red Light District system at all.

    In order to get an outside perspective, I reached across the pond and managed to talk with Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove — a long-standing advocate of equal gender treatment in games — to get his opinion. Upon describing the game, (and after he took his face out of his hands) he remarked, “It’s another case, to me, of treating women like a reward for players.” Harris continued by pointing out, “These people, sure, they eventually become your party members, but the main reason why they do that is because they’re a consumable object for you: They exist solely for your pleasure rather than being actual characters in and of themselves.”

    AKA: I couldn't find any reviews that agreed with me, so I went to a source that I was sure would react the way I needed to support my views. Very sloppy.

      "AKA: I couldn't find any reviews that agreed with me, so I went to a source that I was sure would react the way I needed to support my views."

      There's a difference between not finding any that agree with you, and not finding any that even mention its existence.

    Tired of responding to these articles. I'll just leave you with this

    http://thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=sexism_videogames

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