The game has 3 difficulty settings, which also determine your level of access to certain areas, items, and the endings of the game. There is one bad ending, one normal ending, and one special ending, for which one must play on 'hard.'
In this game, one plays the role of Lenneth Valkyrie (and there's some amount of inrigue to be unraveled here which I will not touch upon). Odin has recently recieved reports that lead him to believe that Ragnarok is approaching, so he summons you to Valhalla and assigns you with this task- Recruit suitable human souls from Midgard to become Einherjar who will fight in the last battle.
The world map is a set of locations which you may visit at your whim, without impedance of random encounters. Furthermore, Lenneth is be able to sense which locations have human souls upon the point of death. With Ragnarok close at hand, however, time is limited - and there are a set number of 'periods' (24) in each chapter (8) before the final battle will take place. Visiting an area will take 1-2 periods of time, with towns and cities generally taking 1 period, and dungeons 2.
These areas themselves are sets of 2D platform screens, where Lenneth can walk, run, jump, slash, and use an ice projectile. Battles are not of the HackAndSlash? type, however, but take place in a seperate environment.
The (up to) four characters of your party correspond, in battle, to the four buttons on the right of your playstation controller: You'll have a character on the left (square), a character on the top (triangle), and so forth. The battles are turn-based (your characters, all enemies), but have real-time elements in the combo system. Each character can have between zero and three attacks each turn, and when they use these attacks is up to you. So long as each character is attacking a single enemy, you may use these attacks in rapid succession, or even silmultaneously. On one hand, once an enemy's guard is broken, any subsequent attack will automatically connect, thus the term 'combo.' On the other hand, ill-timed attacking from one character may knock the enemy out of the range of a team-mates attack. Each successfully landed attack will add a certain number to the combo gauge, which will decrease if is not added to within a certain time. If this gauge reaches 100, then any or all characters who participated in charging it (and who are 'ready') may perform their Finisher, Clincher, Special, PurifyWeirdSoul?, or whatever you want to call it. If this move charges up enough on the combo gauge to replenish what it cost, another character may then continue the attack. As an additional incentive to perform lengthy combos, with each additional hit that occurs in a combo, the subsequent hits recieve a bonus to damage. It's a bit difficult to describe all the subtleties of the system, because it is so different from other role playing games in that respect.
The main complaint I have about this game is the voice acting, which has been re-dubbed into english. It could be a lot better. In the japanese release, each character had their own voice actor, whereas in the english release, each voice actor had to take 2-4 characters. And they're not all that.
The artifacts and evaluation rating add an interesting touch. It's often difficult to decide: should I send the spiffy item I just found up to Odin, since he's not too happy with me at the moment? Or should I keep it and become incredibly badass (more so)? Too much theft can get you in big trouble, but some items are so good that it's worth drawing the big guy's ire. It's a hard choice.