Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valkyria Chronicles

First developed and published by Sega for the PlayStation 3 in 2008, Valkyria Chronicles made the jump to the PC last year (Nov 2014 to be exact) and after playing it, I have to say it is every bit as good as critics says. Valkyria Chronicles is a turn-based strategy game that’s set in an alternate-reality World War II. However calling it just a turn-based strategy game is to do it a disservice. Valkyria Chronicles also incorporate JRPG and third-person real-time shooter in it.

The campaign is presented in a book format with each new chapter showing a significant moment of the war, and each chapter (bar one) has at least one battle you need to fight through. At the start of the battle, you see a top-down map and you need to deploy your forces. After the deployment phase, the game starts and you are given a fixed number of command points per turn from the perspective of the map. You use a command point to select a unit, and the camera will zoom you in over the shoulder of the unit you selected. You move the unit and there’s a bar at the bottom of the scene showing your movement points. You can’t move once the bar reached zero and enemies will also shoot at you if you get too close. When you aim, enemies stop attacking and you are shown a circle cross-hair to line up. Once the shot is done, you can move if the unit still has some movement points left. Then you use another command point to select another unit. Once out of command points the enemy takes their turn.

If this sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is. It took me awhile to get used to it but once I did, I found the gameplay to have a lot of depth. The unique combat system forces me to learn strategies on a few different levels. The map view makes me a commander, having to constantly think of the movement and positioning of my units. Zooming into a soldier offered a different perspective, a more personal one that shows the danger the unit is it.

The gameplay does not only involve the battles. Outside the battles, you can train and equip your squad members at your Headquarters. You will also need to select the members of your squad. There are about 50 to choose from and each member has his/her personality, including which characters they prefer to work along. Each of them also has a full page of back story that is only revealed as they fight.

However what made the squad system works is the threat of permadeath. If a downed character can’t be evacuated in three turns, they are gone for good. So as the battles piled up, the thoughts of keeping the members of your squad alive becomes paramount. You become attached to them. The developers obviously know this because one of the achievements available is for the permadeath of one of your experienced squad member. Those bastards!

The game is also pretty long (coming in at around 40 hours) and difficult. More than a few of the battles require smart deployment of your squad and smooth movement of them. It is challenging and very satisfying when you beat it.

The story is also very good. The entire game is contained within a fictitious book entitled "On the Gallian Front" by Irene Koller and revolves around Welkin Gunther, son of a war hero. Upon returning to his home town of Bruhl, Welkin's life was soon swept away by the invasion of Gallia from its’ eastern neighbor. Gallia has a policy of Universal Conscription and partly due to his father’s past war heroics, Welkin was drafted and given command of Squad 7 of the Gallian Militia. Serving as a tank commander, Welkin and Squad 7 began their campaign to fight the Imperial advance into Gallia.

It’s a story of war and all the heroics and ugliness that comes with it. You see story characters die in the midst of war, fighting the good fight. Characters who comprised their principals in the name of the greater good. Characters who managed to find love and become better people in the ugliness that surrounds them. I will admit the story is melodramatic and heavy-handed at times, but it does works.

Of course no game is perfect but I can only think of one for Valkyria Chronicles. The control for tanks can be a little twitchy at times.  Moving the camera around sometimes means the tank would turn as well and I could never understand why. However outside that, I can’t really think of anything to complain about.

So don’t wait and get this game. With its’ unique gameplay, strong story and good art, Valkyria Chronicles is a game you need to try. Who knows? If sales are good, then maybe Sega will port Valkyria Chronicles II & III to the PC as well. Buy it! 

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