|Game Name:||Valkyria Chronicles|
|Big Ups:||Visually stunning - History book presentation - Great characters and story - Unique and engaging gameplay - GIANT TANKS!|
|Big Downs:||Sometimes shot placement is unexpectedly bad - AI has crossfire advantage|
Strategy RPGs have come a long way since the early days of Fire Emblem and Langrisser. And Sega is no stranger to this type of game. Shining Force has several entries into the genre on multiple conosles. This time Sega ventures into Playstation 3 territory with a new IP, Valkyria Chronicles. You may be thinking, “this game came out in November of 2008, why are you reviewing it now?” I bought the game then, played it a bit, then got distracted by something else. Luckily I recently got back to it, and it is definitely deserving of the attention, no matter how late it is.
Valkyria Chronicles tells the story of a little country called Gallia, caught in the middle of a war between the 2 Europan super powers, the Autocratic East Europan Imperial Alliance to the east and the Atlantic Federation to the west. The war is over a precious mineral called Ragnite, of which Gallia happens to have an abundance, so it’s not surprising when Gallia is invaded and dragged to the brink of war!
You take the role of Welkin Gunther, son of well known General Belgen Gunther. A young man from a little town called Bruhl who has an unusual way of complimenting attractive women. He is suspiciously greeted by Alicia Melchiott who is a member of the town watch. Shortly after, they are attacked and Welkin, who wants to be a teacher, is forced to follow in his father’s footsteps and take up arms. After moving your way through the prologue, you’ll be introduced to Welkin’s sister, Isara. She introduces you to a little gift that your father left you, the Edelweiss. A few minor skirmishes later, Welkin and Alicia are making their way into the Gallian militia.
After joining the militia, Welkin is put in charge of a squad and you’re introduced to some of the more robust features of “Book Mode.” Book mode is the very unique way the story is presented to the player. Each scene and battle of the story is called an episode that you view from what looks like a history book. Each story episode is fully voiced and many are fully animated in-engine. The acting is pretty good too. Good enough to make the player really start caring for some of the characters. There are also different tabs in the book that allow you to access skirmishes as they open up, weapon and personal information and, the most important tab, Headquarters. HQ is where you have the opportunity to change out squad members, train your squad, upgrade and equip weapons, etc. However, before you do any of that, you have to actually choose your squad.
There are five different types of squad members to choose from. Scouts have the best mobility and have good accuracy with their rifles. Shocktroopers have high offense and defense, decent mobility and a pretty low accuracy with their machine guns. Lancers are your tank killers. Low mobility, high defense, but if there’s a tank around, you can bet they’ll make it go “Boom.” Engineers are kinda like Scouts, but have a bit lower stats in every area, however they can reload troops and repair tanks. Snipers have the lowest mobility, but fire high damage rounds with the highest range and accuracy. Each of these soldier types will be necessary one battle or another throughout the game, during which you’ll get to choose which squad members join you.
The battles are one of the many places where this game shines. The game uses a turned based system called BLiTZ (Battle of Live Tactical Zones). You start the battle at an overhead map of the area the battle is taking place. From here you position your troops and get a layout of the land between actions. When selecting a squad member to go into battle, the camera will zoom into the map and take a third person perspective behind the character to start your action, where you can move or attack. During movement, enemy units in range have the ability to fire at you. When reaching your destination (if you survive), hit R1 to go into attack mode. Enemies will fire at you until you are completely in attack mode, so as your character is moving into aiming position, the enemies are still pumping you full of lead. The biggest issue with this piece of the gameplay is that when it’s the AI’s turn, it seems that they instantly get into attack mode so it is almost as if your units don’t get nearly as many crossfire shots before the enemy attacks. It’s one of the few things that can be a little frustrating at times.
Once you actually enter attack mode, the enemy units stop firing at you, then you can take your time and aim where you want to hit the enemy. There’s a small circle around your cross hair that indicates where the shots may end up. This piece can be finicky though. Sometimes when you are at point blank range where the entire circle is contained in the target you’re trying to hit, you’ll still miss (WHAT?). This happens to me most with lancers aiming for tank radiators. In aiming mode, you can use grenades and healing items as well.
Unlike many other SRPGs where after you attack with a unit, you’re done, Valkyria Chronicles does not restrict you to just using each of your units only once. You have command points to use which are shown at the top of the map screen. Each time you use a squad member, you use a command point (tanks use 2). Because of this, you can actually use one squad member multiple times. However, each additional time you use the same squad member, they will have slightly less action points so they won’t be able to move quite as far, but they can still attack again as long as they have ammo.
While in action mode with a member of your squad, there is a chance that a “potential” will kick in. There are personal potentials and class based potentials.
Personal potentials can be good or bad (some squad members have a “pollen allergy” that kicks in randomly when you run through grass) and your squad members start with them.
Class based potentials, like “resist crossfire,” are gained by leveling up your squad’s classes through training at headquarters.
Unlike most RPGs where you level up the individual, in Valkyria Chronicles you level up by class. You spend experience points to train each class and level up all of the members of that class. Experience is gained after finishing a battle. The amount of experience you gain after a battle is directly influenced by what rank you get (A-E) and the types of enemies you defeat. You get experience bonuses for defeating tanks, aces and squad leaders.
Of course the most noticeable positive aspect of Valkyria Chronicles is, undoubtedly, its visual style. Not only are the visuals technically sound, but the artistic nature and the sheer vibrance of the ridiculous amount of color will blow you away. The game uses a proprietary engine appropriately called the “Canvas” engine. Many games have done the cell shaded look, but not many have done it like this. The entire game looks like it has been painted on a large piece of canvas. The result is one of the most gorgeous games ever made. An exaggeration? Not a chance. The game won several awards from different game press outlets in 2008, including a couple of best graphics awards. Well deserved. And as good as the game looks in these screens, it doesn’t do the game justice at all compared to when the game is actually in motion.
There have been three pieces of DLC released for Valkyria Chronicles, Hard EX Mode which gives you an expert mode for skirmishes after finishing the game, Edy’s Mission “Enter the Edy Detachment,” and Selvaria’s Mission arc “Behind Her Blue Flame.” Each piece of DLC will run you $5 on the PSN store and I would say they are all worth it. The Hard EX Mode also opens up some new ace weapons that you can obtain. Edy’s mission is just that, one mission. It’s fun, but short. The best value for your DLC dollars is definitely Selvaria’s mission. You take on the role of Selvaria, one of the Imperial Generals who is your enemy in the main storyline, and man is she a bad ass! Gives you some insight on how the imperials look at this war and how they advance into Gallian territory. Pretty interesting stuff. Not to mention you go up against the Gallian Army’s General Damon, which you’ll be happy to do by the time you’re about 4 chapters through the main game.
Add all of this up and what you end up with is a fantastic and challenging Strategy RPG that no Playstation 3 owner should be without. The 30+ hour story is fantastic and will keep you attentive. The characters have distinct personalities that you’ll enjoy and care about (some you’ll get annoyed with). The gameplay is unique, easy to learn but hard to master and will keep you interested and wanting to come back. You may get a bit of replay out of it too since there is a New Game+ mode after beating the game that will let you go back and play the game with your squads leveled. Also, the last skirmish is only available after beating the game, and you can play all of the skirmishes on Hard. And… well, I could keep talking about this game, but I think I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll end on this; Valkyria Chronicles 2 (due out 2010 for PSP) just went on on this gamer’s list of most anticipated games.
About your reviewer:
Chris is not a big fan of Strategy games unless they are Strategy RPGs. He’s jumped into and enjoyed many of the big series like Shining Force, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vandel Hearts and Fire Emblem.