So after some confusion with Amazon (and possibly the most amazing customer service experience Iíve ever encountered in my life) I finally got 2008ís critically acclaimed Valkyria Chronicles.
While this game has been reviewed to death, Iíd still like to talk about it, especially for those of you on the fence about playing it.
Very rarely do I get to go so blindly into a major release like this one. I knew that it was an alternate universe World War 2, I knew it was a tactical RPG and I knew that a lot of really different people all want to sex up the disc for a plethora of reasons. That was about it. I had no idea what I was in for.
Starting the game up, youíre treated to the standard demo video, and this is the first time that I truly got to see the game in action... and holy shit. For a game four years old, it looks better than most releases now. The aesthetic, using Segaís CANVAS engine, makes the entire experience look like a living watercolor painting. Paired with the excellently realized anime designs, the developers have made a game that I genuinely canít imagine ever looking dated.
Hardened soldiers? Check. Plucky reporter? Check. Badass tank? Check.
Gameplay is broken into two sections, strategic and combat. In strategic, youíll visit your headquarters, buy upgrades, train troops, select scenes and read through the worldís history. The entire interface is designed to look like a history text, and itís an attractive and functional way to navigate the gameís options.
In combat, the gameplay is turn based tactical combat with slight real-time aspects. You have a limited number of orders per turn, and you can hand them out as you like. If you want to give them all to one soldier, having them shoot the hell out of whateverís nearby, go nuts, though a characterís movement is denoted by a yellow bar that reduces as you move around. Subsequent orders to the same soldier garner less and less movement allowance. Orders that you donít give carry over to the next phase.
Attacking with a soldier pops you into either third person view or, if youíre commanding a sniper, first person view to target wherever you like on an enemy target. Play goes back and forth until either your team is wiped out, your main battle tank is destroyed or you complete your objectives.
The story is deep and vivid and full of fantastic social, historical and political details and itís easy to get lost just reading up on the world. At itís heart, all this aside, is the story of two soldiers, Welkin and Alicia, caught up in defending their small nation and just wanting to go home.
Emotionally, the gameís all over the place, one minute having the characters watching a delirious enemy soldier die before them, begging for his mom, and the next, playing volleyball with their squad and a winged pig. Itís heartwarming, poignant, funny and exciting.
Jesus Christ Iím tripping balls.
All this though fails to convey the flat-out absurd level of detail this game has. I can say how you can read about the histories of the various nations, but until you open the glossary and find pages on native plant life, you wonít realize just how batshit crazy this game gets with itís own world. Perhaps the most impressive feature is the fact that every single character you can enlist has their own voice actors, histories, mannerisms and personality traits that change how they function on the battlefield. Some of these are positive (ĎSadistí is a favorite of mine, the character gets bonuses when shooting people to death.) and some of these are negative (such as being racist or being allergic to, of all things, biomes).
Argh, you make me so racist I canít shoot straight!
Itís a testament to the game that about ten hours in Iíve already started thinking of my soldiers in terms of who and what they like, rather than their stats. And you have to, because theyíre all practically the same besides those traits. A good commander will use this knowledge.
Another thing is the permadeath. Iím not sure how I feel about it in this game. In X-COM, I only play in Ironman, so when someone dies, theyíre gone and thereís fuckall I can do about it. I feel it adds a serious sense of urgency to the game. In VC, you can save all the goddamned time (and you really, really should) so most of the time, losing a trooper is pretty hard to do. The only time I ever considered letting a downed soldier stay dead, it was a 15 year old girl who was drafted into the war. As she lay on the ground, an enemy soldier came up and put his gun to her head. She looks at the camera and says ďI hope I can find my way to Heaven... Iíve never been good with directions...Ē
BANG. ĎSO-AND-SO has been killed in action.í
Fuck that. I reloaded.
Besides this, the game isnít without itís issues. The hit percentages feel wildly stacked against you at times (I swear my anti-tank soldiers graduated from the Helen Keller School of Combat), your troops will waste movement points and get killed because of badly designed geometry or invisible walls and the controls are absurdly touchy for the precision needed at times. Also, sometimes youíll start a mission and due to random mortar targeting will lose either a good chunk of your team or all of your available cover in the first phase.
Tis only a flesh wound!
These are all buried under the sheer brilliance of this title though. If you have even the slightest chance to play this (hell, I donít even own a PS3... Iím just stealing my roommateís) get it. You can likely pick it up for under $20 now and trust me when I say that itís possibly the most stunningly designed and fully realized work on the system. Besides the detail, the lovable characters and the solid gameplay, it also boasts not only a fantastic soundtrack, but the ability to switch between English and Japanese voiceovers.
One word of note though, the translation is probably one of the most interesting, if distracting, parts of the game. The localization teams took a lot of liberties with the text and if youíre using the Japanese voices, what they say isnít always what youíre reading. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, as most people try to translate Japanese directly into English and it usually ends up sounding like the audible equivalent of a gaping stomach wound, but if you speak Japanese, youíll definitely get a different picture of some of the characters than presented by the text.
Has anyone here played it? What are your thoughts on it?