Valkyria Chronicles PC Review
More often than not petitions are usually worthless in trying to convince someone, or in this case, a publisher, to do something that you feel would be worthwhile for yourself and everyone else who supports that notion. Since January 2014, there has been a petition floating online that is trying to get Sega to bring some of their well-known titles to the PC. These include such hits as Bayonetta, Vanquish and Virtua Fighter 5, but tucked away on this list was a beautiful strategy RPG called Valkyria Chronicles, a title that would feel welcomed to the PC, since that platform is known for having hardcore strategy fans.
It appears Sega was taking note of the petition, as out of the blue, Valkyria Chronicles was announced and released within the space of a few weeks. It was a huge surprise. One that should hopefully work well for Sega and open up the doors for more quality Japanese games for Steam and PC.
Valkyria Chronicles released way back in October 2008 for Sony’s PlayStation 3. It was an unappreciated gem, as sales weren’t great, causing Sega to take the sequel to the PSP, and a third entry, also on PSP, never made it outside of Japan (cries of tears from this here Valkyria Chronicles fan). The game was originally created by Sega WOW, a development studio that consists of Wow Entertainment and Overworks. If you aren’t sure about the development teams, then let’s just say that the people who worked there have designed such games as Skies of Arcadia, Streets of Rage and Phantasy Star, and that’s just naming some of their games from a large, fantastic portfolio.
Set in an alternative fictional version of the 1930s, Valkyria Chronicles is a tale about the second Europa War. The continent of Europa consists of two superpowers, the Empire and the Federation. The Empire desires to rule all over Europa with ultimate supremacy and decides to send a full force to take down the Federation, but stuck in the middle of this fight is a little independent nation that goes by the name of Gallia. This nation is rich in ragnite ore, an incredible mineral that can be refined into powerful fuel. Because of this huge source of energy, the Empire starts an invasion of Gallia to acquire this fuel and use it to get an upper hand in the war.
Stuck in the middle of all this is the game’s main male protagonist, Welkin Gunther, a University student and son of a famous hero of the first Europa War, General Belgen Gunther. After his home town of Bruhl is caught up in the conflict, Welkin and his townsfolk are drafted into the Gallia Militia. After showing potential in battle, he is soon given Lieutenant status and is put in charge of leading Squad 7 as a Tank Commander.
The story manages to keep you entertained, even though at times it can be predictable. One of the main reasons people will find themselves glued to the game is due to how well the writers have built a group of individual characters. Their attitude and characteristics are brilliantly portrayed on screen that people become engrossed in the characters and their behaviours more so than the overall plot.
Valkyria Chronicles tells its story through pages of a book, with each chapter taking up two pages. Each picture on the page is sketched in black and white, but once that scene has been played out the images fill with colour to let the player know the section was completed. Presenting the story through a book is a brilliant idea, and it plays on the strength of the game’s unique watercolour art style that still remains distinctive to this day.
As you play more of Valkyria Chronicles, more tabs open up. Later on you gain access to skirmishes, headquarters and even a database on personnel, weaponry and a detailed glossary about pretty much everything in the game. Someone who wants to learn more about the history and characters will enjoy what there is to read in those sections. Obviously, the bulk of the game is in the Chapters tab. A chapter will consist of a few beautifully rendered cut-scenes then a battle or two before moving on to the next chapter. You’re always briefed about your objectives at the start of the mission, with most objectives aimed at capturing the enemy base.
While the presentation is absolutely wonderful, the more impressive feat is how Sega has managed to blend in real time gameplay with strategy RPG elements. Valkyria Chronicles starts off with the player beginning the turn first, with the enemy following after, and this is repeated until the battle is over. Players pick a unit from the overview map, then the game will zoom the camera in on the unit, making the player control this unit from a third-person perspective. From here on you have free movement, but to restrict this, each class has a limited amount of action bar that they can use per turn. Reusing the same character in the same turn will reduce their movement. This stops people from abusing the system by using the same unit over and over again to get to a place faster.
Once in a good position, you can freely press the right shoulder button to bring up the aiming reticule – also done in real time – to take a shot at the target. Enemies who carry rifles and machine guns can counterattack while a player is in active time. To block this, characters have the ability to hide behind walls and other blockades, but players have to be careful in moving a character, as while you do this the enemy will be firing, so a badly controlled soldier can die in seconds. This adds a believable realism to the gameplay, while also keeping the action alive. Enemy soldiers aren’t going to let the enemy run straight past them, so taking a turn in Valkyrie Chronicles feels like being in the lines of enemy fire. Combat makes the player think about where and how they are going to move their units to keep them alive.
Reading this probably makes it all sound more of a strategy game than a title that falls into the RPG category. The RPG elements come into play with the classes you have available – Scout, Shock Trooper, Lancer, Engineer and Sniper. Normally in a Strategy RPG the selected unit that defeats an enemy would gain experience points, not so in Valkyria Chronicles. Rather than have individually units level up, the classes level up instead. The grade you receive at the end of a mission determines how much experience points are rewarded. Money is also gained in the same way. Most characters can die, permanently, in battle if they aren’t a major character. This is along the same lines as Fire Emblem, but thankfully, Sega came up with the squad levelling concept to stop players losing valuable assets when a person dies. Just replace that poor loss of life with a new unit and watch them be raring to go with same experience.
Levelling up squad types is done in the headquarters tab. This is a very important place to visit, because there’s so much more to do than levelling up the squad. It also allows you to change members or hire new ones if some unlucky soldier was killed in battle. Training up soldiers through the class system means you are free to spend the experience on the class you feel is more important, giving the person control over how their army is developed. Levelling up adds more health, but it also unlocks new potentials for your units. Potentials are incredibly helpful skills that can do more damage or help protect units. One extremely useful potential is double movement, a skill for the scout that allows them to travel twice the distance, which is a huge help later on in the game.
As the tank leader, Welkin has additional skills called commands. These commands should not be overlooked, as they are a godsend when used correctly – scouts can become the ultimate base capturer when used in conjunction with commands. This is also a great way to get some quick experience, as commands can be used to get units to finish the skirmish maps – repeatable optional missions that are used to gain experience – in a couple of turns. This might make them sound overpowering, and in some cases they do make the game easier, but it certainly doesn’t feel like cheating the game for a victory.
All these features in Valkyria Chronicles combine to make an exceptional game to play. It never feels a drag and is always full of action. I said it back when it released and I still think it holds up now – this game has some of the best mechanics to be implemented within a strategy RPG. Improvements could be done on the artificial intelligence side, as the computer can make some stupid turns, but that is the only real issue I found with the game. Some people might not like that Valkyria Chronicles is purely a single player experience, but there is nothing wrong with that. The main game is fantastic and will last around 30 hours, with side quests extending the game. For the cheap price that Sega are asking – plus all the downloadable content is included – this is easily worth your money and your time.
It has been six years since Valkyria Chronicles displayed its luscious visuals on the PlayStation 3, and while that impact is less impressive now, the game still contains a distinctive art style that looks incredibly sharp on the PC. The game is like a canvas watercolour painting that comes to life, with fluid animation running at 60FPS and resolution settings that can go beyond 1080p, which truly make the art shine. The whole presentation, from the book interface to the fighting, is built like a comic book, even including stylised text for sound effects. It’s just a shame that the game’s movies were recorded in 720p, as they can look unclean compared to the crystal clear in-game engine.
New to the PC version is achievements, which range from the easy, such as beating chapters or killing 250 units, to putting your abilities to the test by gaining an A rank on every single story and skirmish battle. It’s a fun distraction for fans that have already played the game and want a new challenge, but I never felt that the game needed them. There is also a new game+ for anyone looking for more once the game is completed.
I had high praise for Valkyria Chronicles when it first came out on PlayStation 3. Even now, I feel that Valkyria Chronicles is a game that deserves to be played by everyone. It’s innovative, refreshing and blends different mechanics from other genres exceptionally well. My statement still stands from all those years ago – this is still Sega’s best game since the Dreamcast era and a great PC port. I hope this opens the door for more classics from Sega, because they deserve to be preserved in history at their best representation for years to come.