Valkyria Chronicles PS3 Review

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After the strong RPG collection the Playstation 2 built up over its years, you would have thought that the Playstation 3 would be following in its predecessors footsteps. At this moment in time, this is not the case. The system has a lacklustre amount of RPGs in its catalogue of games. Thankfully Sega have decided to fill in this void with their take on the strategy RPG genre. Valkyria Chronicles is a game that changes the way we play a typical Japanese strategy role playing games, and it’s for the better too.

Valkyria Chronicles is the child of Sega WOW, the development studio at Sega that consists of Wow Entertainment and Overworks. If you aren’t sure what those names mean then let’s just say that the guys and girls who work 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 portfolio.

Now you’re either thinking “sweet” or just sat there not really caring, shame as you should all be in the “sweet” category because Valkyria Chronicles is a game that really helps spice up the strategy RPG battle systems we’re used to. It takes bits from other genres and splices them together to make a battle system that’s quite innovative and very rewarding.

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Set in an alternative fictional version of the 1930s, Valkyria Chronicles is the tale of 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. A little independent nation that goes by the name of Gallia happens to be stuck bang in the middle of the two super powers. Also Gallia is rich in ragnite ore, an incredible mineral that can be refined into powerful fuel. Because of this the Empire invades Gallia to get an upper hand in the second Europa War.

In the middle of all this is 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 and drafted into the Gallia Militia. He’s instantly given Lieutenant status and is the leader of 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 you will want to stick with it is due down to how well Sega have crafted the characters. Their attitude and character are so well portrayed that you’ll most likely become more engrossed in the characters than the overall story.

Taking over as Welkin, it’s your job to make sure your squad overcomes any situation they are faced with during the story of Valkyria Chronicles. The story unfolds in the pages of a book with the acts as the main content page of what you can access. It features tabs down the sides for topics that deal with different aspects and the first thing you see is the chapters tab that shows off the game’s story. The pages you see at first are in black and white, but once you’ve clicked on the pictures that are featured and see the cut-scene or completed the mission then it becomes colour. It’s a brilliant idea to present the story to you as a book and really suits the watercolour graphical look the game has.

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As you play more of Valkyria, more tabs open up. Later on you get access to skirmishes, headquarters and even database type information on personnel, weaponry and a full on glossary about pretty much anything in the game. Someone who wants to learn more about the history and characters of the game’s world will really enjoy what there is to read in those sections. Obviously the bulk of the game is in the Chapters tab. This is where you are allowed to continue through the story and play missions. Usually 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. Most objectives finish a map by capturing the enemy base.

But what is even better than the presentation and content is the game’s funky battle system. Sega has managed to blend in real time gameplay with the strategic skills of a strategy RPG. The game starts you off with your turn first, with the enemy following after, which you’d normally expect to see. What isn’t normal is after the overview map is up and you’ve selected the unit you want to move, it will zoom onto the unit and you’ll play it from a behind 3rd person view. From here on you have free control the move the unit how you want. Simply move the analogue stick and off your character runs. To limit things certain classes have a certain amount of movement they can take per turn. Reusing the same character in the same turn will reduce her movement. This stops you from spamming the same unit over and over to get to places.

Once you’ve got yourself in a good position, you can freely press the R1 button to bring up the aiming reticule to attack the opposition. Aiming is also done in real time. Once you’ve shot at the opponent, you’ll get a quick animation of your character attacking the adversary. Enemies who carry rifles and machineguns can counter attack. To block against this you can also make your characters hide behind walls and other blockades. As you are doing this the enemy and also your squad will be firing at each other. This adds a believable realism that adds a touch to the gameplay while also making it feel more alive. The soldiers with the opposite army aren’t just going to let the enemy run straight past them. It feels much more like a furious war when you run past them and they start firing machineguns at you, making you think more about where you’re going to move your units to.

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Reading this probably makes it all sound more of a strategy game in general than one to fall into the RPG side of things. The RPG elements come into play with the classes you have available to you – Scout, Storm trooper, Lancer, Engineer and Sniper. Normally when the selected unit beats an enemy they would gain experience points, not so in Valkyria. Rather than have individually units level up, the classes level up instead. This is why you get experience as a reward at the end of a battle rather than during it. The grade you receive at the end determines how much experience points you’ll land. Money is also rewarded in the same style as experience points. It makes much more sense because if a unit who isn’t a major character in the plot dies in battle, and is touched by an enemy or not rescued by you in three turns, they die… for good as well. Think of something along the lines of Fire Emblem and you get the idea. But thankfully Sega have come up the squad leveling up system to combat this.

Leveling 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 just level up your squad as well. It also allows you to change members of your squad or hire new ones if some unlucky member has been killed in battle. Training is the area you go to spend your treasured experience points. It’s a simple method of holding right till you’ve pumped enough experience into the squad type. It also allows you to freely level up which squad you think is more important, giving control of how to go about your game. Leveling up adds more health but it also unlocks new potentials for your units.

Potentials are great helping skills. They are a kind of super move to do more damage or protect against being hurt. One extremely good one is double movement for the scout. It allows you to travel twice the distance, which is a huge help later on in the game.

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Welkin also has special skills called commands. At first when playing Valkyria you don’t have a huge selection, but speaking to the guy in the graveyard or leveling up units gets you more. Commands are really overlooked as they are like a godsend when used correctly. At first I never used them but having got further into the game I started feeling the challenge of the missions. About halfway through I started reading into the commands and when used correctly made some of my characters godlike in some aspects. The scout class can become the ultimate base capturer in Valkyria Chronicles when used in conjunction with commands. It’s also a great way to use the skirmish maps to get some quick experience as you can use the commands to get units to finish the maps in a couple of turns. This might make them sound overpowering, in some cases they do make the game easier, but not always, so I wouldn’t look at it as a “cheating” way to finish the game.

All these features combine to make an exceptional game to play. It never feels a drag and is always full of action. I’ll state right now that this is one of the best systems to be implemented within a strategy RPG game. If I was to be spoil sport then I’d probably say the A.I. isn’t the best to fight against all the time as sometimes it likes to waste turns by moving to pointless places.

There are so many other features like researching weapons, tank upgrades and so on. I could go on but I’d be filling up the pages so fast, so it’s best for you to check them out yourself and have some surprises.

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The game itself is a pure single player experience. There’s nothing wrong with that because the main game will probably last you 30 hours, side quests extend the game as well and these are bought from the news reporter woman. They act as extra pages in the book that fill in more details about the characters. There’s no doubt though that the battle mechanics will make a fine multiplayer game and hopefully Sega will implement it in another game. There’s no way I am marking this game down for lacking multiplayer because it doesn’t need it.

When you first put Valkyria Chronicles in to your Playstation 3, you are met with some luscious artistic graphics. The game shows a view that is like a canvas watercolour painting that seems like it’s come to life in some very fluid animation. The whole presentation down from the book interface all the way up to the fighting, all feels like it’s just a book come to life. Adding even more to this sense of feeling is when you are shooting in battles. The game has comic book style text written for sound effects. You can tell Sega WOW really wanted to make this a living book, and boy have they got it spot on with that. Apart from some little texture clipping in trees, everything is so beautifully spot-on. Last year’s best artistic game is right here ladies and gentleman.

Sound is also just as impressive as the rest of the game. The voice acting is strong and Sega have nicely opted to feature the Japanese audio, allowing all you Japanphiles to have the original Japanese voices. The musical score is just as polished; it never feels out of place and comes up with the goods in being both epic and emotional. There’s especially one scene that it does so well. I felt gripped by the entire thing; you’ll know when you see it.

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There’s no trophy support featured in Valkyria Chronicles, however there is a new game+ mode you get for finishing it. Also the missions are given ranks, so if you want to perfect the missions and get that treasured ‘A’ rank, you’re going to have to think up of some clever and tactical strategies.

Valkyria Chronicles is a game that deserves to be played by everyone. It’s so innovative, fresh and blends different features of other genres so well that you’d think Sega WOW had already done this before. I think a quote from Bruce Almighty tells a lot about this game, “B-E-A-UTIFUL” is what should be slapped all over it. It’s Sega’s best game since… well, the Dreamcast era.

9/10

by

Version tested: Playstation 3

Developer: Sega WOW

Publisher: Sega

Genre: Strategy RPG