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As we move into a new console generation I find myself looking back on some of my favorite games to replay as I wait for November to roll around, and at the top of my list was Valkyria Chronicles....
Beautiful Artstyle, Fantastic Writing and Story
Mission Structure Can Often be Easily Exploited
As we move into a new console generation I find myself looking back on some of my favorite games to replay as I wait for November to roll around, and at the top of my list was Valkyria Chronicles. A tactical RPG unlike anything else on the PS3. Unfortunately it released in November 2008, along side many big budget names and was quickly lost in the shuffle, but word spread and it found an audience.
Valkyria Chronicles takes place in an alternate Europe and set in what looks to be the opening acts of a large scale war between the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation over a mineral known as Ragnite which had many uses, from medical to military. The EEIA quickly takes the advantage in the war and turns their attention to the neutral Gallia. It is here we meet Welkin, main character and son of a famous General. When his hometown comes under attack he teams up with the local town watch captain Alicia and his sister Isara (who is adopted) Using his Father's Tank they manage to fight their way out and escape to the capital, it is here that Welkin is given his own squad and the fight truly begins. The entire story is told as if reading a history book, written by a reporter you meet early on.
Valkyria Chronicles is hardly what you would expect going in, given the alternate history and the name, you would think this would be a typical Japanese story of magic and technology, but the themes it explores go far deeper than most games are willing to go. Racism is front and center and is one of the driving elements of the plot. Isara is a Darcsen, a race that is hated for causing a Calamity that scorched the land ages past. This leads to some very touchy subjects being put right out in the open, as not everyone in Welkin's squad is fond of the Darcsen. It is handled incredibly well, the game never bashes you over the head with it's own sense of morality, both sides are well developed and executed. These themes are present right through the final acts.
Main events are fully animated in engine, sub events involve floating heads talking, and battle events. Everything is presented by chapter with each event taking up part of a page. The picture book setup works very well for a strategy RPG. This also allows you to rewatch any scene at will. You also have the option to return to the base to level up your troops, research new weapons and armor, visit the local paper, and pay your respects to fallen soldiers. (yes, this game has perma death if you fail to help fallen comrades in time) Skirmishes are retooled story battles that allow you to gain extra money and experience whenever you need it.
Experience and money are earned based on how fast you complete a mission and how many enemy units are taken out. Each class levels as a group instead of individual soldiers, this makes grinding for experience pretty much unnecessary for most of the game. New recruits come in at the same level as the rest of their class, that way they are combat ready and no additional grinding is needed to get them up to speed. Weapon upgrades are unlocked and purchased as you play and each soldier can be outfitted as you choose, upgrades are automatically equipped once researched for the same product line. The player will rarely find themselves micromanaging their troops thanks to how streamlined everything is.
Battles take place on two plains, one is a hand drawn map overview of the battle with red vs blue symbols telling you who is where and who can see who, it works well to give you the information needed. The other is the battlefield itself in full 3D, taking place in a turn based setup, each side has a set number of command points for issuing orders that offer bonus effects and moving troops. When selecting a soldier you take direct control of them, with each class having their own movement rate and weapon specialty. During this time you can move anywhere on the battlefield so long as you still have movement left in your meter. This allows for some hit and run tactics. When you are ready to attack you are given free control over your aim, allowing for choice in where to target your shots. Just be sure to get used to using the left stick to aim, and X to start shooting. (the characters empty their clips automatically after making your selection)
Soldiers can be used multiple times in one turn, taking a hit on their max movement with each use. Enemies are not going to just sit around and wait to be shot, if you enter their line of sight, they will open fire making strategy even more important as your troops will do the same. Troop placement can be make or break a battle in one turn if you aren't careful. Each character has potentials that can influence how they fight, this can lead to some interesting effects, like being able to resist cross fire, to having higher stats when surrounded by nature to even having lower stats around Darcsen squad mates. These potentials can lead to some game breaking strategies later in the game, and one turn wins if exploited correctly. I would advise you save such strategies for a New Game Plus run as it sucks all the fun and challenge out of the main game. The Skirmishes however are the perfect place to use these strategies.
To avoid looking like every other Cell Shaded RPG under the sun, Valkyria Chronicles employs a filter that makes the entire game look hand drawn. It is a fantastic effect that elevates the otherwise simplistic visuals into something special. The game runs at 720p with zero anti aliasing, which the art style can only do so much to hide. Framerate is solid at 30fps and I never noticed any drops, even in the large scale battles. Comic Style pop ups accompany several actions such as shooting a gun. Every part of the game embraces the art style.
The voice cast is above average and everyone feels their part. (even the annoying guy in R&D...) The music is superb and you will want to own the sound track. Dual Audio is present for those who want the original Japanese.
*Bonus for Sega fans, Vyse and Aika from Skies of Arcadia are both playable soldiers in the game. They are pretty solid units and work well in any squad.
Valkiria Chronicles was one of those hidden gems that got lost in the shuffle, thankfully it is still in print and easy to find online, but this may change as we move into a new console generation. Best to grab this gem while you can before it becomes the next Earthbound.
Cell Shaded 720p with no AA
Lacks Trophy Support
Optional 3372MB Install (reducing load times from an average of 15 seconds to around five seconds)
Played to Completion in 29 hours on a Samsung 52A750 in 2009, replayed partially on a Sharp 70LE732 as a refresher for this review.