Japan and its traditions
In recent years, Japanese game development has received criticism for its strong ties to game development of the past and its limited attempts to break new ground. Especially games in the RPG genre have proven themselves reluctant to change and stubbornly hold on to clichés and old school gameplay. My initial impressions of Valkyria Chronicles confirmed the above. Sure, it looked pretty, but so do most of the games that come out of Japan. The military-focused background story could be deemed ‘different’ but did little to rouse my interest. So how did this game end up in my top five favorite games of all time?
Play ten minutes into the game and you will immediately realize there is something different about it. The storyline is the first to make you aware of this. War has been declared upon the small nation named Gallia. Its citizen’s flee in fear of the imminent invasion. You play the role of Welkin Gunter, son of the late war hero General Belgen Gunther. You have just returned to your home town of Bruhl after spending years away at university and find the Gallian town in shambles. Wait, it gets worse.
Upon returning home, you are arrested under suspicion of being a spy. From your first interaction with local militia leader, Alicia Melchiott, you develop a connection with the female lead. Right from the start, there are hints at the possibility for romance later on. You are quickly rescued from your predicament when Ishara, your sister, who comes to your aid. One of the major focal points of the story is the relationship between Welkin and his adopted sister Ishara, who is of Darcsen ancestry. Easily recognizable by her dark blue hair, she is the subject of much racism despite her loving and soft spoken nature. The prejudice is explained and struggled with throughout the rest of the story. It is a very powerful but heartwarming experience when those prejudices are finally overcome.
Being an RPG, the story is a considerable part of the game. It is something that can only succeed when it is well done and fully and fleshed out, and Valkyria makes it work superbly. The gameplay and storyline are intricately connected and this amazing chemistry drew me in completely. The experience is somewhere akin to Advance Wars which I spent many nights telling myself that this would be the last battle before I went to sleep, but then starting another one as soon as the last one finished.
The elaborate battle system is something that I think is better experienced than explained in words. I have to say Sega did an excellent job teaching the player how to play. Combat is turn based in the sense that you move each character like a chess piece. Depending on their class, each character has a maximum limit on how far they can move on the battlefield. For example, a Scout can move much further than a sniper. You can even move and attack with the same character multiple times at the loss of certain actions and movements. The actual movement and attack phases are done all in real time with enemy characters firing at you while you run for cover or a more advantageous location. Aiming at the enemy is done in a fashion somewhat similar to a Third Person Shooter.
The battle system is introduced to you in a way that there is room for error. You make mistakes but in the early stages of the game, you are not severely punished for them. This allows you to experiment with strategy and tactics. There are multiple units, each with its own purpose and attributes. Planning a battle and using the units correctly are just as much of a priority as leveling and managing those units. You are able to pick through recruits and find personalities that suit your liking. Being partial to females, I opted for an all girl squad, consisting of Aisha the Shocktrooper, Elise the Lancer, Nadine the Engineer, and Marina the Sniper. Each character has its own personality and preference. You may find someone who prefers to work in the squad with another person and gets along poorly with someone else. How deep you care to manage these relationships is entirely up to you, but the more you do, the better the bonuses that come from it. It is just one of those little things that make this game unique over others.
Chance in the spotlight
A few years ago I had Sega dead in the water. In the past, they were way ahead of their time. Games released on the Saturn are now sought after as gems. Yet games such as Valkyria Chronicles make me believe in the talent of the developers working at Sega. It is a shame that Valkyria Chronicles was lost in the mix of the holiday season and poor marketing but perhaps this somewhat late review helps to give Valkyria Chronicles the chance of a place in the spotlight that it deserves.
The rich storyline should satisfy any RPG veteran and the unique battle system is thoroughly engaging. The graphics are inspirational and the game does away with the finger-breaking controls that so many games try to thrust upon the player these days. If you are new to the genre, this is a perfect game to start with, especially since there is no complicated lore and no prequels that you need to know to fully understand the game. Fifteen minutes into the game, and you will know why I recommended this game to you.
No Pros and Cons at this time