Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Valkyria Chronicles

Played On: Steam
Release Date: April 24, 2008

I like that PlayStation consoles tend to have really weird games come out for them. I would assume it's their greater relationship with Japanese studios who are slightly more willing to take risks on games and embrace Japanese culture in general. They have a legacy though, all the way back to LSD, Vib Ribbon, and Mr. Mosquito for the PS1.

Some of my favorite games of the PS3 generation were ones that had little hype but then landed in a great way. Demon's Souls, Ni No Kuni, and Valkyria Chronicles.

I bought Valkyria Chronicles on a whim and besides Demon's Souls, I don't think another game won me over as much as Valkyria Chronicles. 

What I Didn't Like

Like a lot of Japanese games, Valkyria Chronicles can be a little obtuse on how to complete certain objectives. Blow up the bridge... yeah I can do that... but like do you want me to throw grenades at it, use a rocket launcher, or is there like C4? 

None of the above, just get over to the bridge and a cut scene will start.

The upgrade tree isn't very fun either. It often feels more like a chore to flip through the different guns to make updates.

At some point, the guns you can upgrade branch out on a few paths based on if you want to have better damage, accuracy, or special ability, but when you upgrade them, unless you remember the name of the gun, you have no idea what to equip on your soldiers.

What was OK

There are five classes of soldier and tanks you can choose to populate the battlefield with. Unfortunately the sniper and engineer class have very little use. The machine gunner / tank class is excellent except they can only move 10 feet before their movement meter is depleted. And the rocket launchers are just about useless against foot soldiers until later in the game when you can outfit them with mortars. 

I wish there was more use for the other classes, cause generally I outfit five of my nine slots with scouts who can move a lot but are average at best in battle. The scout is quick to train up and their large movement speed allows you to run across battlefields quickly. But if they get caught in a firefight, they're probably going down.

There's a little too much to balance outside of the missions. Your headquarters have different sections for training, upgrading weapons, learning commands from an old war vet at the cemetery, the newspaper that gives you more information about what's happening in the world, the squad equip screen, the royal palace where you get medals, and the recruitment center.

And although I like the story a lot, there were around six cut scenes per mission. Sometimes I wanted to just skip them, but I also really wanted to know what was going on. The cut scenes often gave you hints about what your objectives were. 

What I Liked

Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics have never clicked with me. It doesn't make much sense. I love playing tabletop grid based games. I love real time strategy games. But something never clicked with those games. 

Valkyria Chronicles shares a lot of DNA with those games, yet it clicked enough for me to have now played it twice. 

You have to plan out offense and defense with a limited amount of moves. You somehow have to complete objectives, but not leave your soldiers too exposed because after your turn, the enemy gets ten or so turns to ruin all of your plans.

The game is challenging but fair. It's a game that encourages saving on every turn in case you find you made a move that endangers your entire crew, but one where when you finish a battle you feel it was hard fought and a deserved victory. 

The story is incredible. It manages to blend anime without overstepping into hackney kawaii anime ways. It's an alternate universe during an alternate world war where nations are fighting over this unlimited power resource. It deals with racism, humanity in war, and the loss of loved ones in ways you'll care about. 

Part of the reason you care is time was taken writing all the characters. Even solders who don't appear in cut scenes have rich back stories and personalities.

And then there's the art design. Everything looks hand drawn. From the moment the title sequence plays and the scene is literally drawn in, to the comic book style cut scenes, and the game play in motion, Valkyria Chronicles looks like nothing else. The vibrant colors pop against what could've been another gray and earth toned war game.

Final Thoughts

Valkyria Chronicles sold well enough to get a sequel, but not well enough for that sequel to be on a console. It lived on the PSP. And then a third game came out in Japan only.

I don't know a lot of people that played it. It's a hard sell to most my friends. But the remaster has some hype behind it and Sega is desperate to find something people will buy.

I would love to get a full console release for a forth game. It's one deserving of a true sequel. There aren't many games that make you think and invest like Valkyria Chronicles.

Rating: Buy it, the thing is only $20 at most.

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