Game Description: Valkyria Chronicles is set in a fictitious continent reminiscent of 1930s, Europe divided in two and ruled by the Empire and the Federation. The Empire has set its sights on invading a small neutral country called Gallia, which is situated in the middle of the two great empires. The game follows a hero named Welkin and his fellow soldiers of the Federation's 7th Platoon that are fighting against the Empire, who is intent on unifying the continent under its power. The Federation discovers that the Empire possesses a secret weapon, known as the "Valkyria"—an ancient race with special powers thought to exist only in legends. With this new discovery, the fate of the Federation's ability to win the war and a hope for a better future hangs in the balance.
HIGH The supremely challenging boss missions.
LOW The horrendously out-of-place "stealth" missions.
WTF Some inexplicable actions by the main character that I can't reveal without spoiling everything.
A unique and innovative system of combat. Inexplicable omissions from said combat system. Some interesting and well-designed missions. Some stupid and pointlessly frustrating missions. A great method of leveling and advancing your squad. A horrible method of upgrading and advancing your tanks. A setting of epic proportions. A group of main characters that are about as interesting as watching dried paint dry some more. All of the above sentence fragments are adequate descriptors of Valkyria Chronicles, Sega's new PS3 exclusive tactical RPG. In my time with the game I had an experience that was at times engrossing and challenging, while at other times I was left completely bewildered as to why certain things were the way they were.
Valkyria Chronicles takes place in a fictional version of 1930s Europe. Due to its abundance of fuel resources the small, neutral nation of Gallia comes under attack from the East Europan Imperial Alliance. The player takes on the role of a small group of Gallians tasked with repelling the Imperial invasion. The backdrop for Valkyria Chronicles (from both a story and an artistic standpoint) is about as good as you'll find in any game, which is why it's maddening that I was given a set of main characters and a narrative that were so cliché and dull.
Without getting into too much spoilerific detail, I was disinterested in the lives and the actions of the characters for most of the game. There were a few moments that made me care about them and what would happen to them as the story progressed, but not often. There is little character advancement on the part of anyone, which is a real problem when there is such an abundance of dialogue. Most of the conversations devolve into overly cheesy diatribes peppered with some generic anime-style humor. The entire narrative felt like an enormous missed opportunity, as I think a slightly darker tone and some rounder characters would have made it a real winner.
The game's artistic direction is absolutely gorgeous, as Sega's CANVAS engine flawlessly gives it the look of a moving watercolor painting with some nice pencil-sketch elements thrown in. While some of the environments could have stood a bit more detail, as the same field/desert combos time after time got a little old after a while, the character, weapon, and vehicle designs are excellent. Mix that in with a superb soundtrack and some great voice work, and we've got one hell of a presentation.
Combat in Valkyria Chronicles is a unique and engaging blend of turn-based strategy and third-person shooter action. Every turn, the player is given a set number of actions to use on their squad, and selecting a unit gives the player direct control over it in the third-person view, allowing me to have them attack, take cover, heal, or perform some other kind of action. The amount of planning that had to be put into each turn was incredibly deep, as every single action had to be thought of in terms of what my goals were, what defensive position my squad members would be left in, and anticipation of the enemy's actions in their half of the turn. The boss missions are where the game truly excels, as they forced me to plan around an enemy that could easily defeat any one of my units alone and usually had a near-endless supply of enemy soldiers backing them up. These levels were nothing short of exhilarating, as most of them (especially later in the game) were extremely difficult and required several trial-and-error attempts before I was able to form a strategy to beat them, leading to a great sense of satisfaction when I finally did.
While the boss missions are the game's pinnacle, the "stealth" missions represent the absolute bottom of the barrel. In some levels I had to avoid a series of searchlights on my way to the objective, which felt extremely awkward and out of place in a game whose primary appeal is commanding tanks and a sizable group of infantry units. Having to maneuver my squad around some little lights seemed pointless (doing so with the tanks seemed especially absurd) and really hampered the fun. Thankfully there are only two levels that do this, which minimizes the damage to the overall experience.
With all the thought that clearly went into the combat system's mechanics, it makes me wonder how its two most glaring flaws made it through to the final product. The game desperately needs some form of "undo selection" functionality for selecting units from the overhead map. There were countless times where my soldiers were grouped very closely together and I would accidentally select the wrong one, and with no way to go back I was forced to waste an action on a unit that I couldn't do anything with. The other major problem in combat is the lack of a "Restart Mission" option, which is absolutely essential when there is so much trial and error in completing the more difficult missions.
While gameplay within combat is smooth and engaging, navigating the game outside combat is like jogging through mud. Wearing metal boots. While blindfolded. The storybook style used for the main episode selection menu is gorgeous just like the rest of the game, but having to select the different tabs I want to view from a menu separate from the main menu defeats the purpose of tabs altogether. The method of leveling and upgrading my units/weapons was sound (thank the maker they didn't force me to level units individually), the ridiculous grid system behind making upgrades to my tanks and the added a layer of frustration where there certainly didn't need to be one. However, the inability to equip my units from the deployment screen before a mission begins was by far the most annoying aspect, and essentially kept me from changing most of my squad's weaponry. The only way to change weapons or other items is to exit the mission briefing screen, go back to the main menu, into the headquarters menu, and then to the squad barracks screen. Why there was no way to simply change from the mission briefing is beyond me.
The game looks fantastic, has a great story background, and features some incredible depth in gameplay—it's rare that such a blend of game types is applied so successfully. Valkyria Chronicles really feels like it should be great, but there are so many stumbles along the way regarding the out-of-game navigation, the writing, and some of the level designs it's as if they went to the trouble of preparing a gourmet three-course meal with all the trimmings and then put it in the middle of a garbage dump—I knew there was something good in there, but I had to step through a lot of crap to get it. I very much enjoyed this game, and the good elements definitely outweigh the bad, but I sincerely hope that a sequel gets produced someday, because with a few changes and some better writing this could be among my all-time favorites.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail purchase and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 35 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time). There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The ESRB has given this game a T (13+) rating for mild violence, suggestive themes, and minimal blood. There was nothing in the game that I would be uncomfortable exposing a child to.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All spoken lines are subtitled, and gameplay is not dependent on audio cues. Sometimes the individual units will say something when they discover an enemy, but there are enough visual cues to compensate if the player is hard of hearing.
HIGH Capturing the enemy flag with a single scout running and gunning within the first turn.
LOW Leaving my own base totally unguarded allowing a lone enemy Lancer to lumber over and capture it unhindered, 10 turns into a battle.
WTF We definitely needed a cutesy flying piglet in our reimagining of WWII, right guys?
It seems like lately gaming has entered it's own Cold War. E3 was a stark reminder that developers seem intent on escalating their respective hype machines, which each year generate more shock and awe than the last. Those games who don't have the undeniable power of hype pushing them forward can rarely hope to attain the reviews, sales and reception of their more fortunate counterparts. Ironic, then, that Valkyria Chronicles, a game about a different war in which a tiny nation fends off an empire, is the one to turn this convention on its head.
Originally released in the fall of '08 to modest success, Valkyria Chronicles has maintained a steady momentum thanks almost entirely to word of mouth, prompting Sega themselves to recognize fans of the game for fighting the good fight. But what about this game drives people to take up the cause this way?
The game has style in spades. CANVAS, the clever name Sega uses to describe the visuals used in Valkyria Chronicles, makes the entire game look like it was hand drawn on parchment, and every part of the game is consistent with this style. The between battle menus are handled in the form of pages in a book about the war, and when selecting units in battle, the camera will zoom high above the action displaying the entire battlefield as if it were a topographical map.
Fortunately, there is more than enough substance to match, and Sega has a word for that too: BLiTZ. Unlike your typical tactical RPG, Valkyria Chronicles isn't entirely turn based. The militia and empire forces do take turns moving units, but both can also attack any enemy units which move into their field of view during the opponents turn. What this means is that the player can't just run into a base and capture a flag in one turn as they'll get torn to shreds by enemy gunfire. This system combined with a variety of units, a tank or two, and quite a spread of upgrades to make to the troops easily sees the game through its 30-hour length.
If that weren't enough, the troops themselves have enough charm to choke a horse. There are plenty of recruits in Squad 7, and each one has their own name, backstory, friendships and unique skills and weaknesses that set them apart from all other units of the same class. I found myself falling back on a crotchety old shocktrooper with a bad back named Coby for much of the game. There's a feeling that comes from seeing this bald 50-something take out an enemy APC all by himself that just can't be replicated by Unit #342 fresh off of the production lines. On the flipside, there were characters like the dopey, scatterbrained Ramsey that I loathed using, and would only deploy in moments of dire necessity. Between Coby and Ramsey existed a spectrum of faces and personalities with which I had wildly varying degrees of love/hate for, and the affinities I built with the various members of Squad 7 through the game only served to enrich the entire experience.
However, like the individual units that make up Squad 7, Valkyria Chronicles has a few flaws of its own. The story, while basically a retelling of WWII, has several heaping helpings of irritating anime conventions common in RPGs. Despite the horrors of war going on around them, characters frequently find time to be sickeningly twee, coming up with cute strategies based on bugs, rambling about delicious baked goods and "aw!"-ing at winged piglets. Furthermore, the squad as a whole has probably one of the most unconsciously hypocritical moralities I've seen since God of War.
Without spoiling much, our intrepid heroes are assisted by a super-powered being in an extremely critical battle. It is obvious both to the player and to the in-game characters that this battle would not have been winnable without such extreme assistance, and the game emphasizes this fact. Immediately afterward, the characters then agree that the use of this power was a "very bad thing" for no real reason, and vow to never use it again. The power is used again, however, and its use inarguably sets the groundwork for yet another victory. In essence, the game has its moral cake and eats it too, using "very bad" power when it is necessary to move the story forward, meanwhile constantly reminding the player that the power is indeed "very bad."
Another point of contention is that despite the general robustness of the BLiTZ system, the game periodically thrusts the player into gimmick missions which are rarely as fun as a straight battle. In one, the player is faced against an opponent on a high wall who wields a machine gun with the power and accuracy of a sniper rifle, that can and will annihilate a unit before they've moved five steps from cover. In another the squad is faced against a tank that is as big as a building, and many turns are spent simply waiting for it to expose its radiators, which are the only weak spot it has.
These battles and the anime contrivances in the storyline stand out starkly as small but significant blemishes on an otherwise fantastic game. Even with these, Valkyria Chronicles, with its refreshing take on the tactical RPG genre, its creative angle on a war that's been done-to-death in the games industry, and its beautiful presentation is an easy game to recommend (again and again, more than half a year out from release) to almost any gamer.
—by Trent Fingland
Disclosures: This game was obtained via purchase and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed one time.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains animated blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence. While this list is mostly accurate, I do remember the game being largely blood free, with gunfire causing little more than sparks of impact, and the most suggestive theme I can recall is one enemy officer's particularly ample bosom. Even an issue as serious as concentration camps are handled with kid gloves firmly on hand. I would say there is little to nothing for parents to worry about here.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All voiced dialogue is presented through subtitles, with the exception of small quips during battle, which aren't significant to gameplay. There are also no serious audio cues to speak of.
HIGH It's great to see more from characters who didn't get enough screen time.
LOW $5 seems a little high for one brief mission.
WTF Edy's the star of this DLC? Who liked her in the first place?
One of three currently-available add-ons to the superb Strategy RPG Valkyria Chronicles, Enter the Edy Detachment! features a single brief mission starring a group of peripheral characters from the main game.
The mission itself (defending a position followed by one character reaching a specific exit point) is somewhat challenging, although the initially-overwhelming odds are quickly overcome after a brief bit of experimentation. Experienced Valkyria players will likely blow through it in an hour or less, although a bit of replay is offered with four different endings possible, each dependent on the player's rank of completion.
Though the mission itself is little more than a morsel, I have to admit that I was quite entertained by the selection of characters. Although it isn't often mentioned, the troops in Valkyria Chronicles actually have very interesting personalities, and some of these lesser-knowns certainly deserved more screen time than they got. In this particular add-on, the squad consists of B-teamers Edy (panicky drama queen), Homer (youthful masochist), Jann (effeminate cross-dresser), Marina (lone-wolf sniper), Susie (pacifist scout), and Lynn (...who seems to lack any distinct qualities.)
I actually used most of these characters during my play-through of Valkyria's main game, so I was pleasantly surprised to see these familiar faces—their chatter is amusing and the ending sequence is certainly worth a chuckle or two. That said, though I enjoyed Edy Detachment! and was glad to support a game that certainly deserves more success than it's had so far, the perceived value of the download will likely hinge on how much the player enjoys the characters—the actual amount of raw content is pretty thin.
Disclosures: This DLC was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately three hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the content was completed two times. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains animated blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, and violence. However, those warnings make the game out to be far more harmful than it actually is. If your child is old enough to play a game where the point is for soldiers to shoot other soldiers in a not-very-graphic way, then consider the rest of it to be quite mild and inoffensive.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You won't have any problems. Subtitles are available for all dialogue, and all action on screen has appropriate visual cues. In addition, this is a turn-based strategy game with only partial real-time elements, so only very small stretches of fast action are required for play.