Valkyria Chronicles User Review
Valkyria Chronicles tells the story of one Welkin Gunther, a college student, and biologist drafted into the Gallian Militia after his country is swept up into the Second Europan War. The war is primarily being fought by the two superpowers of the Europan continent, the Federation and the Empire over the dwindling supply of the mineral Ragnite. Ragnite is a valuable commodity in this world as it is capable of being refined for a great deal of uses, including fuel for vehicles, explosive purposes for grenades and even medicinal supplies. Gallia is a small country settled between the two superpowers with rich stores of Ragnite ore within its borders, and as a result, the Empire, under the command of Prince Maximillian, has invaded it. Enough of the back story; after being drafted, Welkin is placed in charge of Squad Seven of the Third Regiment of the Gallian Militia and charged with helping to turn back the tide of Imperials. Joining him are a fellow Bruhl native, Alicia Melchiott, Welkin’s sister Isara, Bridget ‘Rosie’ Stark and Largo. These five form the main core of the story, but they are also joined by Captain Eleanor Varrot, the leader of the militia; Ellet, a combat zone reporter and Princess Cordelia, the woman who will be queen (she plays only a very small role, but it’s worth mentioning). You are also shown clips from the Imperial side, following Maximillian and his three Generals: Gregor, Jaeger and Bles.
The story is, thankfully, not over the top. It is a story of real people, and what these characters are going through as the war progresses. To be honest, it is the kind of tale that I really enjoy. It is one of hope, of prevailing against adversity, and of love. Were it a movie, it would be well deserving of being one of the highest grossing of the year. It is that good. Well, maybe not, but it is certainly a movie that I would have gone to see at the cinema.
Now, the graphics are stylistically reminiscent of an anime, and this will understandably turn off many people, myself included had I not persevered. You see, I’ve never liked anime (the closest that I have come to liking is Sorcerous Slayer Orphen, and I missed most of it). It is bright and colourful, and most appealingly, completely unrealistic. The entire game looks like a cartoon, which is something that I would have thought impossible had I not seen it myself. I’m simply so used to seeing all 3D graphics in both games and movies as realistic. I’m repeating myself, but only because it blew my mind.
With that out of the way, all of the characters are beautifully rendered, as are the environments. Everything seems to fit, including the instances of onomatopoeia that are placed throughout the game. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about: the tank engines, besides rumbling indistinctly, are accompanied by the word ‘RUMBLE!!!’ in blue text, next to explosions is the word ‘BOOM!’ in bold brown text, among many other examples, and it is simply charming. If I have one complaint, it is that the enemy grunts are not detailed enough. I mean, it is understandable given that there are so many of them, and so would be impossible to create a different face for each, but it doesn’t take away from the game at all, so it isn’t something to complain about.
The tanks are also very nicely done. The detail on the Edelweiss is very nice, and makes you feel as if this is something that you should be comfortable using, while the enemy tanks, well, at least it’s easy to differentiate between the different classes of them. Let me say this though, when you first glimpse the Marmota, your breath will catch. That is a true spectacle.
Thankfully, my game was not marred by a ridiculous amount of flaws, however I noticed pop-in quite regularly in regards to flowers and rocks that dotted the landscape. It isn’t something that’ll detract from the experience, but it does warrant a mention, as we can’t simply skate over the flaws of the game. The other hitch I ran across were two instances of frame rate slow down. Each of these only had an effect for a single action phase, and so was more than tolerable.
The sound is probably the weakest part of the game, in my opinion, and that isn’t saying much because it is incredible. Each of the main characters has a distinctive voice, and so it is easy to tell them apart, even if you choose to simply close your eyes and listen. All of the ancillary characters (close to fifty people are interchangeable within your squad) is voiced, and most of them are very well done also. Of course, most of them only have voiceovers when you select them for battle, or when they are calling for the medic, but the amount of attention that has been paid to them makes it a pleasure to listen to them. The peculiar thing is that there is often a great deal of complaints levelled at the English dubs of Japanese games, but Valkyria Chronicles suffers from no such problems. It is as good as any American, or European game, and better than many.
The sound effects are also very enjoyable. From the prompt crack of a sniper rifle shot, to the bell chime of a head shot and the explosive resonance of a mortar drop, they are each unique and enjoyable. The fact that almost every sound effect is accompanied by the word that describes it is a lot of fun. The final part of the sound is the music. It is symphonic, as it should be, and although the number of different tracks is relatively small, they are each engrossing, helping to immerse you into the experience of the game. Really, I have nothing bad to say about the Sound factor of this game, but the fact that it really has nothing that stands out is the reason that I feel it is less than deserving of a perfect score.
The set up of the game is quite complex, so I’ll start in the area where you will spend the vast majority of time: the battle system. Taken at face value, it is quite simplistic, but it does feature unexpected depth. First of all, it is both turn-based and real-time. The turn-based aspect is referred to as Command Mode and gives you a view of the battlefield and the positioning of your units, and those units of the enemy that you can see. You start with a set number of Command Points (CP), which are used to select any given unit. Each unit uses one Point, while the moving of your tank requires two. Command Mode also lets you issue Orders. These do all sorts of things from raising the stats of your units to requesting mortar support and healing. They are invaluable in aiding your squad to victory in the battle. Once you have used all of your CP, or elect to end your turn without using all of them, the AI has its turn and is able to do the same as you. Any CP not used in a turn is usually carried over for the next turn.
The real-time combat is called Action Mode and takes place upon selection of a unit in Command Mode. It places you in direct control of your chosen soldier utilising a third person camera. You are free to move said unit as far as its Action Points (AP) allow, which varies depending on its class (more on that in a moment). Once your character is in position, you press the R1 button to enter Target Mode. Here, the camera is moved with either the left stick or the D-Pad to make fine adjustments, then press X to fire. In addition, you can use the Square button to cycle through the available weapons, health items or tools. So yes, the gameplay is really quite simple, but there are extra layers of complexity in the form of team attacks, which are activated when more than one unit is in close proximity to each other. Basically, all of the units listed in the corner fire in unison. It really does add an extra layer of strategy when figuring out how many shots are going to be needed to take down the enemy. Finally, there are the Potentials, which have a chance to activate when your character attains the right conditions. Like Orders, these enhance or impair your characters stats; however, they do not require the use of additional CP.
There are five unit types: Scouts, which are your basic high AP, moderate attack soldiers and will generally be your best friends; Shocktroopers, specialised heavy hitters with lower AP; Snipers, low AP units with an amazing range; Lancers, the anti-tank brutes, and Engineers, who are used mainly to fix your tanks and resupply the expendable ammo of your other units. Together they strike a very nice balance in the way the game plays.
In Action Mode, the enemy units are active and aware, so if you cross their sight lines, they will shoot at you. This works both ways as your units will automatically attack during your opponents turn as well. It may not seem like such an important aspect, but it is really helpful when it comes to weakening the enemy so that it is easier to deal with them when you are given control. And that’s pretty much all there is to the battle system. It is easy to acclimatise to, but quite difficult to master, especially with some of the challenges that are thrown at you throughout the course of the game.
The other major aspect of gameplay is Book Mode, which is mostly non-interactive. It is here that you are presented with the story, shown through two types of cut scenes, one being the standard FMV-like action scenes you get in most games, and the other being face shots where the characters speak with their words in boxes beneath them, and you are required to press the X button to move to the next set of words. It is an old-school approach, and while not really detracting from the experience, it often drew my attention away as I found myself reading the words far more quickly than listening to them speak.
There is more to the menus than just the story segments however, there is also the Headquarters tab, which gives you access to your squad if you want to change the line-up, change their weaponry, or improve them by spending your EXP. You also improve your weaponry through the R&D tab within the Headquarters. The other tabs are Skirmishes, which allows you to play through certain battles on Easy or Normal in order to farm extra EXP and DCT; Personnel, Weaponry and Glossary, which all give you additional backstory pertaining to Gallia, Europa and its history as well as the characters of the game; and Decorations, which are awarded for fulfilling certain battle conditions. Not all of these are unlocked at the beginning of the game, so you must bear with it if you wish to see everything that Valkyria Chronicles has to offer.
As for the battles themselves, there are some remarkably well thought out ideas and concepts, along with a good variety of environments and terrains. It really does give the game a sense of freshness that should be enough to keep you playing long after you start to get tired of the basics of the battle system. One final note: once you have performed a battle in the story mode, you are unable to do over it again, so make sure that you try your hardest to complete them quickly if you want to maximise your rewards.
That’s not to say that the system is without its flaws. As I said, the battle system really is quite basic, but it works well. However, it does get boring after about ten hours, and considering it took me more than thirty five hours to complete the campaign (that’s not including the number of times I quit out after losing a battle without saving, which would probably take it as high as fifty hours), well it’s definitely a bit of a detriment. This is more than made up for by the feeling of accomplishment as you manage to take out yet another chapter, or achieve an A rank on a battle. A minor complaint with the control scheme is that when trying to get your characters to climb ledges, they often get stuck if they are not lined up in the exact right direction, so if you need speed because you’re being shot at, it is not good. Outside that, it’s brilliant.
Now I have given Valkyria Chronicles a high replay score compared to the last two games that I have reviewed here, and I understand if some people disagree with my reasoning. Although it is possible to accomplish everything that the game has to offer in a single play through, the implementation of a New Game + mode, along with the addition of Hard Skirmishes, is enough to make me want to play through it again with a real chance at fully levelling up the units. You are also given the Statistics tab, which records your highest rank in each battle, thus motivating to work harder to attain that difficult ‘A’ rank in each battle. I think that all of these together, along with the sense of accomplishment you get for beating a particularly difficult challenge definitely warrant a second play through.
Valkyria Chronicles is a frighteningly under-appreciated game. Were it not for the support that I had read of it on this very site, I would never have dreamed of picking it up, no matter how little it cost. It did not seem like the kind of game that I would like, but I am forced to recant my original thoughts. Sega have been rather haphazard this generation with quality fluctuating between the extremes of Bayonetta on the 360 (I know they only published it, but still), and Sonic Unleashed. Valkyria Chronicles is definitely deserving of being mentioned not only alongside the best of Sega’s library, but alongside Heavy Rain, Uncharted 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 as one of the best Playstation 3 games, period. It is that good. Even if you do not believe that it is your type of game, you owe it to yourself to rent it in order to form your own opinion.
Finally, Valkyria Chronicles does not support multiplayer in any form, and this is a point of contention for me. I mean, it’s easy to fault a game for not doing something well, but can you really do the same when it hasn’t even attempted to implement it? I think that the chance to play against another human, employing a changing strategy throughout a given battle would have been absolutely amazing. Thankfully, this oversight has been corrected for the PSP sequel, which is set for release in the near future.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.