Valkyria Chronicles Review (PS3)

Despite its Dogtanian-esque visuals and twee characters, Valkryia Chronicles is, at times, a surprisingly gritty game. Set in Europa in the 1930’s, a small country called Gallia is in the middle of an epic battle between the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation. As Gallia is rich in Ragnite, a valuable resource that the mighty Imperial Alliance would like to get their hands on, this neutral, peaceful land is soon torn apart and fleeing citizens are cowardly shot from behind by caitiff riflemen. Seeing this harrowing event happen in his hometown in front of his very eyes, the unwitting hero of the hour, a nerdy student fond of nature called Welkin, steps in and deals enough damage to the opposing army to buy enough time to lead a small group of people to safety.

This all happens within the first half hour of the game and helps set the scene perfectly. Yes the characters may all be wide-eyed and innocent looking and some of the story is nauseatingly sickly sweet at times (although almost always begrudgingly genuinely heartfelt at the same time), but Valkyria Chronicles tells such an excellent tale of war, love, friendship, family, racism and sorrow, backed up with exceptional gameplay, that every hour of the 40+ hours of the main campaign was as good as the last.

Welkin, the unwitting hero
One of the racial confrontations

While the story may be exceptional, it is presented in a rather disjointed, stop-start way. After every cut-scene (of which there are usually between four and eight in each chapter, each ranging from a few seconds to five minutes in length), you are taken back to the book on the main menu, where you then trigger the next cut-scene. In one respect it’s a relatively important way of delivering the story (it would be a minor spoiler if I divulged further than that), but it could have delivered the cut-scenes more seamlessly, only taking players back to the menu area of the game before a battle commenced.

The visuals compliment the storybook presentation perfectly. The tearing in the cut-scenes does detract from what are otherwise gorgeous, charming visuals, but thankfully the in-game graphics never suffer from it. Even more impressive is the terrific orchestral soundtrack that accompanies the action. Sometimes harrowing, sometimes cheerful, sometimes thought-provoking but always relevant, the soundtrack has to be one of the best I have heard in my 26 years of gaming. Even the voice acting is impressive, with every character having a suitable voice and the lines being delivered with feeling, rather than the typical phoned-in voiceovers we’re so accustomed to in games.

There’s no denying that Valkyria Chronicles is one of the best examples of presentation in recent years, right down to giving every character in your militia squad a personality. Some are allergic to grass, some have a dislike for others, some suffer from bad backs and some fancy the opposite, same or even both sexes. Positioning each individual person accordingly can give your squad a real boost; for instance sticking your gay squad member in with a group of men will do wonders for his attack stat, but sticking your claustrophobic squad member in a trench will see their stats lowered. That said, the game doesn’t hit you too hard if you don’t want to pay attention to these traits; it just makes it slightly more rewarding and a little easier if you do. You can also earn new abilities as you upgrade your squad, which are given out randomly to each member.

It’s also one of the most accessible turn-based SRPG’s I’ve ever played. You don’t even need to have played a SRPG before. The tutorial level and explanations throughout the game whenever a new ability or strategy is added cleverly hold the player by the hand, without ever dragging them to victory kicking and screaming to be let go. The third-person-shooter style undeniably has something to do with this; it will feel instantly more at home to anybody that hasn’t played a SRPG before and could be best described as Full Spectrum Warrior meets Skies of Arcadia.

Forget isometric movements on a grid, as soon as you select a unit from the overhead map you zoom down to earth and take control of that character in third person. You then have full 3D control over that character, although movement range is restricted by a meter, with each different type of unit having a different range. For instance Scouts can travel quite some distance but are generally short on firepower, Shocktroopers cover about half of that distance but are much more powerful and Lancers cover even less distance but can cause the most amount of damage. What makes this system unique is while you can see how much of the movement meter you have used, you’re never really sure whether there’s enough left to make it to the next cover point or not, introducing a risk/reward system. Even more interesting is the ability to move the same unit again, only each time you do their movement range is cut by approximately half.

Largo is more than a little cantankerous
Nice pop socks

You are awarded a pool of Command Points at the start of each turn. Command points are used to move units (one for infantry, two for tanks) or for requesting additional troops to replace any that you may have retired from the field or who have been killed in action, but any that you don’t use are automatically carried over to the next turn. Knowing when to use Command Points and when to carry some over becomes very important later on in the game, where a quick full-scale assault using multiple CP can win you the battle.

Battles can rage on for upwards of an hour, especially during the latter missions, but you can save anytime you want during the battle. In fact this is something I would recommend doing regularly, as it’s frustrating to lose 50 minutes progress purely down to one stupid move (such as selecting the wrong unit by accident). If one of your units are shot down during a battle, you have up to three moves to save them, or you lose them forever. This doesn’t really affect the game itself; you don’t suddenly lose an experienced unit as you level up classes rather than individuals and there are plenty of backups to call upon. Rather you lose a character, one of your squads, someone who you knew whether they fancied men or were allergic to sand. And for once, you’ll actually care, because you’ve invested time in reading their personnel file or listened to them complain in battle about being lonely. If you do manage to get to them in time, you can then call on them again and place them at any of your camps on the current map.

In addition to the huge main campaign, there are also a number of Skirmish maps that are unlocked as you progress through the story. Unlike the main campaign missions, you can replay these as many times as you like in order to earn more credits or gain more experience points. In addition you can also purchase some more missions or additional story cut-scenes from the local reporter.

So with all of the above mentioned positives, you may be wondering what stopped Valkyria Chronicles from being a 10/10. Well for starters there are a few niggling faults, such as not being able to pause the game when you’re controlling a character, which can lead to some annoying deaths and a lot of progress being lost whenever the phone rings. But more importantly, the third-person perspective shows up some of the game’s (and some would argue the genre’s) failings.

For example, you can have a Lancer no more than a few feet away from a gun turret, but until you’ve levelled them up, they’re more than likely going to miss it. Alternatively you can run a Scout right up in the face of a Sniper and choose to unload your gun into their face, only for the Sniper to duck and your Scout to continue to unload their gun into thin air.

Rosie felt like a bit of a melon
They didn’t stand a chance

The AI can also make some very strange movements. On one level the AI continually wastes four valuable Command Points by moving a tank forwards and then moving it backwards again, every single turn. It will also send Scouts directly into a pack of Shocktroopers, or run Snipers directly in front of a tank. Some units will also open fire when you run near them on your turn, whereas others, such as Lancers and Snipers, just stand there and let you unload your gun into them. This is undoubtedly an issue with the genre itself, and Valkyria Chronicles is a SRPG and not a third-person-shooter. But the third person perspective makes these AI/design foibles more prominent than ever. There’s suddenly no reason for your Lancer to have missed that huge tank, and no reason for the opponent to stand there dumbfounded as you run up to them. It hasn’t been such an issue for me before, as most (if not all) SRPG’s I’ve played have been isometric or top-down grid-based affairs. Whether it will annoy you as much is open for debate. It really depends on whether you’re prepared to keep reminding yourself that this is a SRPG and that this is how things work when you’re playing it. It didn’t ruin the game, but there were times where it ruined the experience for me.

But despite the galling AI, for me, Valkyria Chronicles is one of the best games released this year, which was a pleasant surprise. Whether you’re usually a fan of SRPG’s or not it is packed full of so much charm, memorable moments and believable, loveable characters, backed up by a touching story, I would recommend you to go out and buy it now. No seriously, do it.

Top game moment: Less than an hour in to playing it, when it really hit home that I was playing a truly memorable game.

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By hunter612 (SI Core) on Dec 09, 2008
Awesome...its pretty goood...not seen anything lik this in a long time..
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 09, 2008
It is a good game hunter612. I tried it for the Ps3 and I recommend, because it's an inovative gameplay and can get you hooked for a lot of hours.
By RurikGreenwulf (SI Veteran Newbie) on Dec 09, 2008
Its look like a good game good graphics, good game play just need the test of playing!!!
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 10, 2008
Whoa..!! Anime-like graphic combined with unique gameplay. Sounds good to me! I'll look forward for this game, seems promising to me...!!!
By hunter612 (SI Core) on Dec 10, 2008
NOT ON PC?????NOO...................
By Knave (SI Core) on Dec 10, 2008
Yeah, I think I'd like to see this one make it's way to the PC, but i doubt it ever will.
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 11, 2008
These are the moment when I miss a PS3, sound an extremely interesting game! Shame that it doesn't seem to be released for PC.