Developer – Sega
Publisher – Sega
Platforms – PS3, PC
I first played Valkyria Chronicles a few years ago and have been itching to give it another go ever since. The second and third games were a little average when compared to my memory of the first, so the question of whether nostalgia had clouded my recollection has lingered in the back of my mind for the past while also. Thankfully, I can report that the original production is just as wonderful as I remembered, with top-notch world building, storytelling and unique gameplay. While it may not be perfect, I’d be very surprised if you weren’t drawn in by Valkyria Chronicle’s charming mix.
War rocks the foundation of Europa once more. Between the two military giants of the East Europan Imperial Alliance (The Empire) and the Atlantic Federation, smaller countries can only look on as the Second Europan War unfolds. Gallia, a small country in the north and home to plentiful stores of valuable Ragnite Ore, finds itself under attack as The Empire seeks to claim the area’s resources to fuel its war machine. As Gallia’s defences are shattered, Welkin Gunther, son of a great general from the First Europan War, finds himself drafted into the militia and on the front lines of the conflict. Along with the rest of Militia Squad Seven, his goal is to liberate his homeland from the Empire’s grip. As always, however, things aren’t necessarily as they seem, with rumours of the legendary Valkyria surfacing once more.
The biggest thing that draws me into the Valkyria Chronicles series is the world it has built around itself. You can draw a huge number of parallels to our own history (specifically the early twentieth century), for one, though there’s still something special to be said for Gallia and its people. The multi-purpose ragnite ore that pervades every aspect of society, the discrimination against the Darcsens, a race found throughout Europa, the Valkyrian mythology, even the characteristics of the various factions involved in the conflict. All of these things come together to form an environment that is altogether different from our own and yet still very relatable. On top of that, the concept behind the main story, one of regular people fighting to free their home from a greater power, is a comfortable and exciting goal to get behind.
Concepts mean little unless they’re presented well though, right? Thankfully, the first three quarters of the game do a fantastic job of introducing you to characters and Gallia itself while ramping up the story and action at a suitable pace. Opting for a core crew of main characters (unlike its successors, which try to give everyone and their grandmother their own time in the spotlight, literally) with clear motivations and backgrounds, Valkyria Chronicles does a great job of forging a connection between you and what’s going on inside the game. Best of all, each character has a fully-explored story of their own (with varying degrees of detailed, admittedly) that gives them the extra depth that many tales fail to find. Unfortunately, I found the final few chapters of the game to be lacking compared to what had come before in both story and gameplay, almost like the entire development team had swapped to the same mode they had been in during the sequels’ creation. The epilogue made me happy, however, so that was a nice bonus.
Gameplay consists of tactical, turn-based third person shooter segments (known as the BLiTZ System), with a host of options at your fingertips. Each turn you are given a number of Command Points with which to move troops and issue orders, which can either boost the stats of your fighters or attack the enemy. Once you’ve chosen a character to command, you zoom down from map mode and control them directly, using a limited number of action points to move, attack and capture bases. There are five infantry classes available, with tanks rounding out your selection. Scouts can move far and are great for backing up your heavier units, Shocktroopers are the staple of your army and can mow down just about any other ground troops, Lancers are your anti-tank force, Engineers repair, heal and remove mines, and snipers…well, I’m sure you can guess. While many games claim that each of their classes has its own unique and useful role to play, Valkyria Chronicles is one of the few I’ve found that really comes through on its promise; each unit is practically necessary for success, and it’s wonderful to see that kind of balance.
One of the strengths of Valkyria Chronicles is that it keeps things fresh by adding in new features for just about every mission. Whether that be the usual cover system, night-time combat, mines, giant tanks or map-specific transportation systems, there’s never any time for the game itself to get old. It’s extremely entertaining to coordinate your troops to bring them victory and the system itself is a lot of fun to play around with. If I had a complaint it would be that the AI can be very stupid at times, making some wins far easier than they should be. At the same time, I suppose, it’s very easy to make silly mistakes yourself that lose you the match, like rolling your command tank in front of a patch of grass without checking it, only to have an enemy lancer pop up and one-shot its weak spot. I’ve seen complaints that, in order to get the best ranks in missions and therefore the best rewards, you need to rush through scenarios rather than playing it safe and smart, and I would say that shouldn’t be a major concern. In the vast majority of levels I killed just about every enemy troop and had absolutely no problem getting enough experience and money without any grinding whatsoever.
On top of the combat itself, you can visit your headquarters (the capital city) to train your troops, research new weapons and read up on local news. Each unit in your squad has their own backstory and set of “potentials” which can range from taking less damage when running into enemy fire to refusing to act at all if they’re too scared. While it’s nice to have that kind of detail because it makes you really think about who to include in your lineup, I found that my decisions were made more by avoiding bad potentials more than anything else, while the good ones popping up were just icing on the cake rather being truly useful (I mean, you couldn’t plan with them in mind because they were never guaranteed to activate). Each character also has their own backstory that develops in the background as you use them, which you can read up on in their personnel file.
The aspect you’ll hear reviewers up and down the board praising will almost definitely be Valkyria Chronicles’ visuals. Everything except its character models are animated in a hand-drawn style that looks wonderful even seven years after the game’s initial release. There’s something indescribably beautiful about the scenery on display. The animated cutscenes use that same style for their entirety, making them a joy to watch. The character models are also well done in general, with a soft computer-generated feel, though their talking animations do show the game’s age even if they don’t have a major negative impact on the experience. Soundtrack-wise, Valkyria also has a lot of character. From soothing tones reminiscent of the nature scenes they feature in to pounding, patriotic battle themes, Gallia itself is portrayed in the music it is set to. Similarly, the English dub is one of the best I’ve seen in a translated game, with strong talent everywhere you look. For once, I actually preferred the English over the original Japanese voicework.
Summary – Valkyria Chronicles is a magnificent experience in just about every way. For setting, for story, for characters, for gameplay and even for emotion, it has something for everyone. While the final few chapters aren’t of as high a quality as the rest of the production, that is absolutely no reason to avoid the game itself, as they still manage to conclude the story in a good way. The gameplay is unique and well implemented, making for a fun experience that doesn’t get old due to the new concepts that are continually introduced. With all that and a visual style that just about everyone who plays it falls in love with, Valkyria Chronicles is a must-play.
Score: 9/10 – Great