The whimsical style of watercolors and anime meets the gritty themes of war over resources and racism in Valkyria Chronicles.
Release: November 4, 2008 (PS3) / November 11, 2014 (PC)
Platforms: PS3 / PC (Reviewed)
Valkyria Chronicles is a turn-based tactical strategy game mixed with a few action elements set in a fantasy version of World War I / World War II Europe. In your turn, you are given a number of action points that you spend to take control of one of your units. You reposition these units and use them to attack the enemy units until you can capture the enemy base or fulfill whatever other objective you are given in each level.
For the most part, this is achieved through making use of the rock-paper-scissors nature of the different types of units. The machine-gun-toting shock troopers beat the scouts, the scouts beat snipers, and the snipers beat the shock troopers. There is another rock-paper-scissors element involving artillery. Tanks beat normal personnel, the normal personnel beat the bazooka-wielding lancers, and lancers beat tanks. Using this strategy, you move each of your troops to eliminate the enemy. There are also engineers that serve as a weaker version of the scout that can repair tanks and disarm land mines.
Valkyria Chronicles has very interesting and well-designed levels as well as fun and unique obstacles throughout each level. Levels are diversely varied, ranging from urban combat zones to forested camps to desert expanses. While the diversity in landscape may not seem to fit in with the fact that most of the game takes place in one small country, it does keep each level feeling fresh and interesting.
Outside of combat, you visit the militia headquarters to upgrade your different types of troops as well as your weapons, equipment, and tank parts using the experience points and money you win from completing missions. Here you can also customize your squad with different characters who each have different traits that affect how effective they are in any given situation. For example, a character might have a trait that lowers their accuracy whenever they are in a desert.
For the most part, Valkyria Chronicles is a very enjoyable game, but there are a few major flaws that make it frustrating. First of all, this game suffers from some very sudden spikes in difficulty by way of enemy units being able to miraculously snipe your units with tank fire from across the opposite side of the map. I once had one of my snipers in my base get blown up by a tank around the enemy’s main base on the first turn. In that same level, my own tank missed another enemy tank at point-blank range three times in a row. While admittedly hilarious and in line with the fact that your troops are the underdogs, this spike of difficulty can prove to be pretty frustrating.
Another annoying feature is that there is no way to look around and see what the terrain looks like without selecting one of your units and thus wasting one of your action points. When selecting your units and placing them in formation before the level begins, you are limited to a drawn map view rather than a view of the actual area. Occasionally you will find yourself wanting to restart after finding out that some of the units you placed end up being useless there.
A good half of Valkyria Chronicles can best be describes as “menu simulator,” as there are a lot of menus to flip through between missions. The story is presented in little video clips that you unlock and select in a book, then there is the headquarters menu that you use to upgrade your units, but there is also a menu that you have to pull up in order to switch from one menu to the other menu. This excess of menus is entirely unnecessary since there are tabs in the book menu that one would think would be selectable without the use of an extra menu. Menus menus menus.
Finally, if you intend to play this game on the PC, you will want to steer clear of using the mouse and keyboard in favor of using a controller. Oddly enough, the menus are not navigable with the mouse, and the default key binds for menu navigation is confusing. More importantly, controlling the tank is laughable with the mouse. The slightest twitch of the mouse will cause the tank to turn wildly, effectively wasting a large amount of your limited movement.
The Story in Valkyria Chronicles is fairly basic, but more relatable than most fantasy games. The basic premise is that the Eastern Alliance Empire is starting a war throughout the Continent Europa in an attempt to gain control of a newly discovered natural resource called Ragnite, very similar to petroleum or coal. The protagonists are the militia of Gallia, a previously neutral country that is being invaded by the Empire. While the use of “the Evil Empire” is a trope that has been beaten to death over and over again, the basic motivation has some real-world relatability. There is also a mildly interesting racism subplot involving a race of dark-haired people called Darcsens.
The storytelling itself is admittedly unimpressive. The story is told through numerous cut-scenes of varying degrees of interest. For example, one high point was a cut scene showing a tank being modified to drive underwater, but then a low point pretty much just focused on a pig with vestigial wings. The worst part is that there are no smooth transitions between cut scenes. All of the cut scenes are chosen one by one via the book menu, so for long stretches between missions, you’ll find yourself clicking from one cut scene to the next while constantly being interrupted by book menu.
Each of the characters themselves is pretty interesting. While many of the troops have little to no active role in the story beyond using them in the missions, they each have their own personality that coincides with the traits that you discover as you go.
The graphics are a major highlight in Valkyria Chronicles. The art style is very anime, but at the same time the character models are all in 3D and everything appears to be colored in by hand, as if by watercolor or colored-pencil. It is a really nice art style that is consistent throughout the game and creates a dynamic contrast against the otherwise gritty story. If there is anything to complain about the graphics, it is that there is constantly a slightly annoying white border around the edges of the screen, as if everything was drawn by an artist who was afraid of accidentally drawing on the table. Even that is excusable, though.
The soundtrack consists mostly of very pretty orchestral and military-ish music that constantly reminded me of one of my favorite Nintendo 64 games, Ogre Battle 64. The music is catchy and pretty and likely to stick with you long after you have turned the game off. Really, it is everything you could reasonably ask for in video game music.
The voice acting is very well done, and you can even choose between English and Japanese voice acting, which I always find to be a plus. I mostly played with English voice acting, and they did a great job of portraying the different characters and given them, well, character.
According to howlongtobeat.com, it takes an average of 30+ hours to finish Valkyria Chronicles, which easily overlaps its $19.99 price tag. In spite of the occasional frustration and an erratically told story, Valkyria Chronicles is worth playing through to the end, so those 30 hours should see themselves used up if you choose to purchase this game. The gameplay and story is immersive enough to make that time fly by.
When all is said and done, Valkyria Chronicles is a very fun and challenging game. I have seen it generate a great deal of hype as being some sort of masterpiece, and this I will have to disagree with. There are a fair amount of flaws that keep this game from being perfect. In spite of that, however, it is very entertaining. While the constantly self-interrupted storytelling and gameplay can get irritating when you want to just keep playing it for a long time, it does give you numerous opportunities to stop and put the game down for a while. Since the game can be difficult enough to require multiple chances at each mission, the ability to stop at any point is actually very useful. This game is great for playing in short bursts, even if you do end up having to replay missions, while still being fun to spend an entire evening on. While not the best game in the world, it is still fun enough to warrant a play through and cheap enough to not feel obligated to spend all of your time on it.
+Great graphics style
+Down to earth story
+Great music and voice acting
+Fun tactics-style gameplay
-Sudden difficulty spikes
-Poor mouse and keyboard controls
-Too many menus
-Frustrating user interface