Valkyria Chronicles (PC) Review
- Beautiful art that hasn't aged a bit
- Ingenious and involved battle system that stands out from all other JRPGs.
- Even your generic soldiers have personality!
Not so much?
- The game can be very unforgiving of mistakes – you can swiftly go from being confident of victory to staring at the dreaded game over screen.
In an alternate version of 1930s Europe, the continent of ‘Europa’ is divided in two – the Imperial Alliance in the east and the Atlantic Federation in the west. When these two superpowers go to war, the tiny nation of Gallia tries to remain neutral and uninvolved in the conflict, but when the Imperials invade, […]
In an alternate version of 1930s Europe, the continent of ‘Europa’ is divided in two – the Imperial Alliance in the east and the Atlantic Federation in the west. When these two superpowers go to war, the tiny nation of Gallia tries to remain neutral and uninvolved in the conflict, but when the Imperials invade, they have no choice but to defend themselves. Conscripted into the Gallian military, Welkin Gunther takes command of Squad 7, a military unit who rise from relative obscurity to become one of the major factors in deciding the course of the war.
Having obtained a quiet but dedicated following on the PS3 some years back, Valkyria Chronicles gets a new lease of life in this PC port. A game that stands out from its fellow JRPGs, Valkyria Chronicles takes elements of the strategy RPG and the third person shooter, and fuses them together to make an absorbing – if sometimes frustrating – gaming experience.
Presented in the form of a history book detailing events and battles, Valkyria Chronicles puts you in command of Squad 7, a team of Gallian conscripts seeking to defend their homeland from the evil Empire. The game is divided into chapters, with each chapter featuring a number of cutscenes framing a central battle. One battle per chapter might sound a bit stingy, but given that each operation is a multi-turn epic of planning, strategy and advancement into enemy territory, there’s more than adequate gameplay.
At the start of each battle, you deploy your units to the field; Welkin and his mighty tank are always central to your plans, but choosing your foot soldiers wisely is also essential. There are five classes available – Scouts, Shocktroopers, anti-tank Lancers, Snipers and Engineers – and learning their strengths and weaknesses are essential. Shocktroopers can pack a punch but have a lower movement and weapon range than Scouts, who can pick off enemies from further away, but are also much more susceptible to damage. Lancers are vital for stopping enemies in their tracks, whilst Engineers are a must for repairing your tank and replenishing other units’ ammo.
Battle is turn-based – each turn, you get a finite number of Command Points (CP). For the cost of one CP, you take control of a unit, moving them around the battlefield and attacking the enemy. It’s here that the game takes on an odd mix of turn-based and real time – whilst you’re running around, enemy units can fire at you in real time, but when you take aim, the action pauses to let you pick your target. This means it’s often prudent to end your turn as quickly as possible after attacking, as once you stop controlling a character, the enemy will stop attacking them (it’s still advisable not to leave them out in the open ready for when the enemy takes their turn, though). You also have a tank at your disposal, but don’t think you can just use it to steamroller the enemy – not only does moving the tank cost a whopping 2 CP, but it’s so difficult to steer that you’ll often end up using its limited movement range to try to manoeuvre round obstacles.
With all this to take on board, combat in Valkyria Chronicles can take some getting used to – even SRPG veterans who have blasted through the likes of Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics will need to pick up some new strategies for dealing with the combat system. And the game can certainly feel unforgiving, even once you think you’ve got the hang of it. Simple mistakes in placing your units, keeping an eye on your ammo supplies can easily waste precious CP, and even if you think you’re on top of battle, the game isn’t beyond throwing a wave of reinforcements at you. Since you can save during battle, make use of this feature – the biggest frustration of the game is to get wiped out near the end of a battle and have to start over.
Outside of battle, you can use the money and experience you earn in combat at your squad headquarters. Money is needed to upgrade your weapons, armour and tanks, whilst experience is used to level up classes. Since all characters of a class level up together, you don’t have to worry about grinding missions with each member of the squad just to get them up to scratch – similarly, new recruits will join at the same level of their class. Within a class, character variation is minimal, but characters do have a handful of individual attributes which can affect them in combat – for example, a character who “Hates Men” will have their status lowered if they’re placed near male characters, whilst “Country Bred” characters will fight better on countryside levels, and worse in towns. Similarly, characters also have affinities for each other – if they get to fight alongside someone they like, they are more likely to perform joint attacks or provide covering fire.
Story-wise, Valkyria Chronicles is built around a pretty standard “underdog fights evil Empire” plot, which is solid if hardly original. What really brings the game to life, however, are the characters, who are largely likeable and down-to-earth – even the generic members of your squad each exhibit their own individual foibles and personality traits.
Valkyria Chronicles uses Sega’s CANVAS graphics engine to give it a unique and beautiful watercolour-painting style look. Whilst the game certainly isn’t as brightly-coloured and in-your-face as most anime-style games, it is nonetheless very pretty, and has hardly aged at all compared to more conventional poygonal graphics. The background music is largely military-themed, and is of a solid enough quality not to become dull or repetitive even during the longer campaigns. The English voice-acting is of a decent standard, with very few of the soldiers having particularly grating accents.
Finally, the PC port contains all the extra missions that were sold as DLC for the PS3 version, ensuring that even after you finish the main campaign, there
Valkyria Chronicles is an SRPG that dares to be a little different, and turns out to be all the better for doing so. With its unique blend of third-person shooter action and turned-based strategy RPG combat, the game proves to be distinctive and absorbing. Yes, it can be tough and even frustrating at times, but even as you stare at the dreaded Game Over screen, you can’t help wanting to play just a little bit more.