IGN Review of Valkyria Chronicles
Valkyria Chronicles isn't a perfect game. That being said, this strategy RPG from SEGA is one of the richest, most rewarding titles I've played in a long while. Combining a wealth of different genres and gameplay systems together to form a cohesive whole, Valkyria Chronicles documents the struggle of the neutral Principality of Gallia as it's caught up in the conflict between two Europan superpowers that are warring over the precious element Ragnite. Set in an alternate 1930's Europe, Valkyria Chronicles is a game that PS3 owners should be clamoring for.
The main plot of Valkyria Chronicles revolves around Welkin Gunther, son of a hero from the first Europan War and an extremely eccentric intellectual. Upon returning to his home town of Bruhl, Welkin's life is soon swept away by the torrential storm of the Imperial invasion of Gallia. Due to Gallia's policy of Universal Conscription, Welkin is drafted into the militia and gains command over Squad 7 as a tank commander. With his sister, Isara, acting as the tank pilot and Alicia, a fellow Bruhl native, serving under Welkin's command, Squad 7 starts its campaign to fight the Imperial advance into the idyllic countryside.
The first thing you might notice about Valkyria Chronicles is its art style, which is both distinctive and beautiful. A refreshing mix of traditional anime designs and watercolor paintings, Valkyria Chronicles has an immediately charming look that will definitely please anime newcomers and veterans alike. Although the game isn't necessarily pushing the system in any way, especially when you consider the somewhat generic environments, the character models are what really bring the experience to life.
The overall structure of Valkyria Chronicles is incredible. The entire game is contained within the fictitious book entitled "On the Gallian Front" by Irene Koller. In other words, your entire time with Valkyria Chronicles is actually just a retelling of past events as told by Koller, which works extremely well on a number of levels. Being contained within a book, the player can instantly recognize that Valkyria Chronicles is interested in telling a story. There are many cutscenes and character dialogues to watch, but all of them are reasonable in length and work to build the well-told narrative. In light of this dynamic, one might say Valkyria Chronicles isn't quite for your average adrenaline junkie, but anyone interested in watching a powerful story play out in an elegant (albeit delightfully Japanese) fashion will love it.
Accessing the countless features of Valkyria Chronicles is not only easy but also entertaining. Each chapter of the story is presented as a chapter in the book, which typically contain one or two major cutscenes, along with a handful of small dialogues and optional conversations. Then of course, there's a mission to complete which will unlock the next set of cutscenes and subsequent chapters.
The book menu is also home to a number of different game databases, which carefully document almost everything in the world of Valkyria Chronicles that you could possibly be interested in. You can even view the character models of every soldier you encounter and the weapons that they carry into battle. Because Valkyria Chronicles doesn't use a world map as a sort of hub, these extensive databases and encyclopedic entries do a marvelous job of painting the game world and giving the Gallian struggle some context.
Ultimately, the gameplay of Valkyria Chronicles is the most enticing element of the package. As I mentioned before, the battle system combines elements from about three different game genres (RPGs, strategy games and third-person shooters) to form something quite original. After selecting a stage, Welkin is briefed on the task at hand and is assigned a primary objective which -- more often than not -- involves capturing the enemy's base camp. After the briefing, you move on to a deployment screen where you can select soldiers from your Squad and place them in open slots on the field, which usually surround your own base. Once you're satisfied with the pre-battle setup, you hit "Deploy" and the real combat begins.
You view the battlefield as a detailed map and can look over and plan the actions of each of your units, which are categorized into Scouts, Troopers, Lancers, Engineers and Snipers. At the start of your "phase," you're given a pool of Command Points which can be spent to control any of your soldiers on the field, along with calling in reserve troops and performing special abilities called "Orders." Say, for example, you want to move your Scout up the ridge directly in front of you to get a better view of the area. You select your Scout's icon from the map, a Command Point is used and the camera suddenly drops into the map, which becomes a full, 3D world. You now have a full turn to control that unit, which you command directly from a third-person perspective.
Your soldier is governed by a movement gauge so that the further you move across the field, the more the gauge is drained. Once you've moved that Scout up the ridge, you can hit R1 to enter aiming mode and time essentially stands still as you aim. If you aren't currently aiming your weapon, enemy troops are free to open fire on you if you pass through their line of sight, though they can't move during your turn.
The RPG element of Valkyria Chronicles comes in the form of leveling up your characters, which is handled from the aforementioned book menu. By selecting the Headquarters tab, you're taken to a submenu where you can enter the Training Field and distribute experience to each of the character classes, making them stronger and also providing them with access to new abilities. The Headquarters menu also lets you spend money to research new weapons and upgrades for your soldiers and tanks, and you can even read newspaper reports on the war's progression. So much to do, so little time.
I could go on about the many strengths of Valkyria Chronicles, but there's no reason to do so -- this is simply an outstanding game where both the story and gameplay come together to form an incredibly rewarding experience. There are lots of extras to enjoy aside from the main story mode and progressing through the game unlocks Skirmish battles that you can play as many times as you wish for experience and war funds. To make matters even better, Valkyria Chronicles also has great loading times, especially after the optional install (which takes a little over nine minutes) and you can opt to listen to the original Japanese language track, which I always appreciate.
If there's one technical criticism to level at Valkyria Chronicles, it comes up during an enemy's phase. Although it makes sense that you can't skip your opponent's turn as it plays out in real-time, I was surprised to find that you can't even pause it (granted, you can't even pause the game while you're controlling your own soldiers, either). This isn't overly bothersome, but not being able to halt the action if you're distracted can be frustrating.
Also, Valkyria Chronicles can be a tremendous challenge, where one mistake could cost you a lot of time. This isn't necessarily a weakness of the game, but it might discourage RPG enthusiasts who aren't comfortable with intense, bullet-dodging action.
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