Valkyria Chronicles is a six year-old PS3 exclusive Strategy RPG developed and published by Sega, and now it’s on PC.
The announcement of this was shocking, considering how few console exclusives come to PC and how starved the platform usually is of good ole’ Japanese games. When the game was first released, it was praised for its unique tactical combat, story and presentation. Six years have passed, so it’d be easy to assume it aged poorly and isn’t quite as unique or brilliant as it was back then. On the contrary, it is. It really is.
As a combination of turn-based strategy and third-person shooting, your movement is limited, cover is crucial and you need a solid grasp of what your units and the enemies’ units are capable of. Despite its age, it’s still the only game of its kind that takes aspects from both genres. It has all the complexity, strategy and planning of Total War and the more personal, explosive action of the Battlefield series. RPG elements are also thrown in and while all this may seem like a lot to handle, the game was very easy to grasp. This is thanks to an excellent tutorial built-in to the main story. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s never a chore and was actually one of the most exciting parts of the game.
Set in Europa, an alternate version of Europe during World War II, the game tells a tale of love, war and a devastating conflict that forces good people to fight for their homes and their lives. The people of Gallia aren’t saving the world, just their homeland. But if they manage to keep The Empire from taking over, they won’t have the fuel, known as Ragnite, required to take the war to other parts of the world. Ragnite is Europa’s primary energy source and a vital resource for war.
At first it seems like a standard good vs evil story. Not to a cartoonish extent, as a lot of the bad guys do have redeemable qualities, yet they still remain unrelatable enough to be almost, but not quite one-dimensional. Further into the main story of Valyiria Chronicles, players will start to see corruption and compassion from both sides. The men in charge are selfish and deplorable, while the people in between are just following orders. Thus, there are moments that point out the varying degrees of support for the war and the things they’re being forced to do. A George Carlin quote comes to mind; “War is rich old men protecting their wealth by sending lower and middle-class young men off to die.” The story of Valkyria Chronicles exemplifies this, with the only difference being that here, young women are sent too. While the sentiments in the game can sometimes be a bit heavy-handed, it still evokes an overall mature, thought provoking and endearing tale.
It’s easy to get swept up in it the story, but dialogue tends to be a bit exposition heavy and therefore awkward. Fortunately, there’s also a lot of good character development too. By the end you’ll feel like you know these characters and really care about what happens to them. It’s not the most well realized story I’ve experienced in an RPG, or a masterpiece of storytelling, but it’s an enjoyable experience that’s definitely worth your time. Europa is the perfect setting for the hardships of the characters and has a dense history. It mirror’s reality, but is definitely a fantasy story. That isn’t a bad thing as the writers did a great job of making a familiar, but consistently interesting and surprising world.
Characters can be overly simple at times. The writers seem to have forced at least one quirk onto them as their defining feature. Welkin is the leader that knows a lot about flora and fauna, Alicia is second in command that likes baking, Largo is the anti-tank guy that’s obsessed with vegetables. I could go on. Most of them are likeable and if not, they’re interesting, but modern RPG’s, Japanese or not, usually have a lot more depth to their characters.
The last quarter of main story uses everything it has done up to this point as a way to lull you into a false idea of safety, as most things seem to have been going your way. But then the rug is pulled out from under you, a dramatic and unexpected thing happens that shifts the focus of the narrative. For obvious reasons I can’t be specific, but it was expertly done, genuinely shocked me and played with my emotions. Moments like this are rare in an otherwise unambitious story, but when something happens, it’s incredibly well done.
Mission selection and access to headquarters are done through a sort of scrap book, with images appearing as you progress. You select an image to start a mission and then view a conversation or watch a cutscene. Tabs inside the scrapbook can take you to descriptions of all the characters, weapons and a glossary. It’s very thorough and will take a while to get through, but it’s definitely worth checking on it throughout the game to get a solid understanding of the world you’re in. Despite it’s uniqueness, it’s very convoluted and wastes a lot of your time. It’d be nice if the game didn’t feel so segmented.
Combat is split into two sections. There’s an overhead map view that lets you plan your strategy, select units and give orders. Once a unit is selected, players can move to a third-person perspective with an action focused and turn-based view that utilizes shooter moves. Enemies will fire reaction shots if they spot you, but once you enter aim mode, you’re free to spread bullets at your own pace.
Scouts are the most mobile class and still hit hard enough to kill most enemies. A lot of missions can be won by simply charging forward with a scout and gunning down any opposition, due to this overuse of scouts can break the game at times and are a way to simply bypass some of the more challenging parts of the game. Shocktroopers are the opposite. They’re slower, tougher and excellent in combat. Lancers are anti-tank units that can annihilate armored targets and easily stop a tank. Engineers are the support class, they have spare ammo, medical supplies and can repair tanks. Snipers are snipers, they snipe people.
With the exception of characters crucial to the story, if a squad members dies they stay dead, such as characters do in Fire Emblem. Unlike Fire Emblem though, you have a chance to save a squad member if their health drops to zero. To do this you just need to get to them before the enemy can, allowing a medic to extract them and restore them to full health, rather than an enemy soldier finishing them off. Getting to them quickly is vital, as they will bleed out if you leave them unattended for long enough.
It may be too challenging for some. Aside from the side-mission skirmishes, there are no difficulty settings and it’s hard from the start. Expect to lose squad members unless you plan well and advance cautiously. The game does a great job of increasing the difficulty and adding new mechanics, without overwhelming you or being unfair. Tips given throughout the game are invaluable.
The art style has held up remarkably well. At no point did I see ugly texture. It’s all consistently amazing considering its age. I could even go far as to say that it looks far better than many modern games I could mention, even ones made specifically for the PC. However, it’s not perfect. There a few minor glitches, but it’s a perfect PC port and the higher frame, resolution and new control options make the ride all the more beautiful and smooth. The loading times are also incredibly short, loading at around one second, a huge difference from the PS3 version.
While I do tend to use Japanese voice acting options for most JRPG’s, the English in Valkyria Chronicles was actually pretty good in this and I never felt the need to switch. The music soundtrack can get a bit repetitive. Most tracks are calm melodies more appropriate for putting you to sleep, rather than adding to the atmosphere of the war torn world. It does add to the levity of the tale and gives a sense of scale and grandeur to an otherwise personal story. It would’ve been nice to have a bit more variation, but it’s adequate and works very well in some places.
The game holds up exceptionally well after all these years, which has me eagerly anticipating news about the PSP sequels coming to PC. Unfortunately, the third game was never released in the West, but I’m hoping the sales for this game convince Sega to finally do so. Valkyria Chronicles is a hell of a good start.