Valkyria Chronicles Review

Valkyria Chronicles (PS3, PC, PS4)
Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA
Released: November 2008 (PS3), November 2014 (PC), May 2016 (PS4)

Almost a decade ago, Sega released a pretty daring new IP on the Playstation 3 in the form of Valkyria Chronicles. The World War 2 analogue Strategy game release to great critical acclaim and personally was among of my personal favorites at the time. The game however did not perform as well commercially in the West as Sega might have hoped, and subsequent titles were unfortunately relegated to the PSP platform and never moved out of Japan. With its rather popular more recent release on Steam however, Sega has seen commercial value once again in the excellent IP and are currently working on another sequel for home consoles.

The tale of Valkyria Chronicles is presented through a war journalist's history book "On the Gallian Front", detailing the endeavors of Squad 7, a group of civilian militia from the neutral country of Gallia whose country is caught up in the resource war between the more powerful Atlantic Federation and East European Imperial Alliance. The story's main characters of focus are Welkin Gunther, a rather laid-back scholar and son of a war hero from a previous conflict, and the aspiring baker cum local guard captain from his town Alicia Melchiott. They are torn from their peaceful lives when their town is assaulted by soldiers from the East European Imperial Alliance. After successfully surviving the assault, they were eventually drafted into the Gallian militia and lead Squad 7 in defense of their homeland.

When it comes to its story, Valkyria Chronicles draws a lot of inspiration from classic historical war books such as Erich Maria Remarque's excellent "All Quiet on the Western Front". The story focuses more on the life and struggle of a small group of soldiers on the ground instead of any grand strategy of kings and generals, bringing a more personable tale about likable characters and camaraderie. The plot itself it nothing too far above the standard fare for war stories, but as with those stories, it is presented with enough simplicity, small acts of heroism and earnestness that one  can't help but feel charmed by these characters as they grow and interact with one another. Also similar to its inspirations, the game does touch on the less than grand sides of war, dealing with issues like being discrimination, death, loss, prisoners of war and internment camps. These are of course not the most in depth look at the costs of war, and the story does not always handle it with the greatest of grace, but what it does portray is already a step above the usual fare when it comes to gaming filled with depictions of action heroes in their all their grandeur, and I can give props to them for trying. 

What the writing does well however is in its characters. The main story focuses heavily only on a few key players, and they are plenty likable, but similar to games like Fire Emblem, you get to recruit an assortment of other supporting troops, each with their own abilities, perks, personalities and backstory which are all unlocked gradually as you bring them on missions. The supporting casts run the gamut of anime stereotypes, from snot-nosed punks to vain jocks to badass old-men to tsundere idols. Individually they're not deep characters or anything, but you do get quite attached to these charming individuals as they progress through the campaign.

When it comes to gameplay, Valkyria Chronicles is a very solid SRPG. Units are selected from an overview map like the one seen above. Once selected however, the camera then zooms in on the unit to be controlled like a third person shooter, where you move the unit his/her movement points are depleted or when you manually end it, and the character is allowed to attack only once anytime in the process. Character classes are split into the versatile, high-mobility Scout, the midrange damage-dealing Assault, the anti-tank Lancers, the support Engineers, and the long-range snipers.

Command points given at the start of each turn are used for all actions which include moving infantry, vehicles or given orders (power-up buffs). The same characters can move and attack multiple time in the same turn, albeit with diminishing movement points and under constant fire from enemy defenders. Command points not used in a turn will be brought over to the next turn. Smart use of character classes, command points, and orders (OP!) are crucial in ensuring the mission's success and scoring a high grade.

Speaking of grades, this will be my one single gripe about the gameplay. You see, the game will evaluate you and assign a grade to every mission once you complete it, which will determine the amount of money awarded to be used in training, upgrading weapons, armor, and vehicles. This is all fine of course, as players will try to cheese or safely crawl their way to victory otherwise. What is a problem however, is that the only criteria determining the grade is how many turns were taken to achieve the objective, so if a player with slight OCD (like me) tries to achieve an S Rank in every mission, sometimes the mission has to be done in certain hyper efficient ways, which narrows the amount of available tactical options. Realistically though, there isn't  any huge differences between the rewards above Rank B, and to be fair strategizing on how to achieve Rank S on some of the tougher missions can be an enjoyment on its own, so there's that.

Overall I did find the gameplay to be well crafted and highly engaging. The difficulty can be pretty difficult at points but otherwise presents a fair challenge throughout. Map design and enemy placements are varied as they are well thought out. There is always some new challenge to overcome as Squad 7 has to fight it out in close quarters urban environment, storming beachheads into entrenched enemies, fighting through trenches ala World War 1, or even in sandstorm where visibility is highly limited every other turn. The solid strategy mechanics and interesting campaign missions all make it a very solid entry into the SRPG genre.

Presentation wise, one look at Valkyria Chronicles's unique "watercolor-cum-pencil sketch on a brown canvas" look on the CANVAS engine will instantly sell you on how pretty it is, even 8 years after its initial release. The timeless artstyle gives it an attractive, anime-ish look that also doubles as window into a story of an older, simpler time. Character designs are all easy on the eyes without being over-designed, and the uniforms, weapons, and vehicles are all intricately designed with a hint of sci-fi but retain their appropriately period look. Kudos also the composer Sakimoto Hitoshi for the game's excellent symphonic soundtrack.

All in all, I had a lot of fun in my 25-hour-ish play through of them game, not counting the very challenging side missions and DLC stories. The game is a very charming, solid SRPG that I can safely recommend to all fans of the strategy genre, while also being a very accessible entry point for newer players. This game is definitely a keeper, and why not? Its currently available on Steam for a pittance and is definitely not an experience to be missed. I'll see you next week XD


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