I headed out to the San Francisco Metreon to get my soon-to-be-popcorn-flavored fingers on Valkyria Chronicles. Promise rears its head.
Producer Rytarou Nonaka was present to answer questions, sign copies of the case inserts, and raffle off figurines, and give away a really nice-looking oil painting of a pretty, silver-haired German-ish lady, who I assume is one of the "Valkyria".
Idle thought: why are all German/Prussian-ish characters in anime silver-haired?
While I wasn't able to ask Nonaka why they haven't ported Sakura Taisen yet, Jeremy Parish got him to answer other questions on 1up.
Nonaka was a staffer on the Sakura Taisen games, and influences from that franchise are readily apparent in this one. For one, Valkyria Chronicles also assigns lovely acronyms to its various mechanics. Its battle system is called "BLiTZ" for "Battle of Live Tactical Zones". Sakura Taisen featured "ARMS" (Active and Real-time Machine System) and "LIPS" (Live Interactive Picture System). So adorable!
Anyway, impressions! The demo consisted of a tutorial and a first engagement, and I jumped into the latter, as the kid behind me was being a real dick about my hurrying up.
First, the visuals look GREAT. The little "sketch lines" don't really look like much in trailers and low-res screenshots, but live and in motion, combined with the lettered comic-book style sound effects (like XIII but not stupid), the uniqueness is clear. The dramatic fade-outs from real-time polygons to a 2D paper image are also seamless thanks to that twist on typical cell-shading.
As to gameplay, BLiTZ works a little like Sakura Taisen 3's ARMS system. Enemy and player actions are separated by phases. During your phase you use Command Points (CP) to activate individual units' turns. Different units cost different amounts of CP to activate. A tank costs 3, an infantryman costs 1, and so on. Command points can be saved up by forgoing action during a phase, and the like.
When activated, units move freely, and can attack and switch between weapons in real time. Conversely, they can BE attacked by enemies while on the move, like "interrupts" from Jagged Alliance, X-Com and others. It's not uncommon for you to activate a unit, then begin his turn already under fire and taking damage from nearby foes.
It might have been due to my not playing the tutorial (damn kids!), but I couldn't find a way to pause an active unit's turn to consider his actions. A couple of my scouts ended up KO because they got hit by fire while I was trying to decide what to do. Realistic, sure, but it could be a frustration in larger battles. Perhaps you're supposed to consider all actions from the overhead map before activation, but then again, the overhead map doesn't show firing lines or what cover is most effective.
Sakura Taisen influence is also present in the game's attempt to individualize units via "potentials", which are traits and idiosyncrasies that influence performance. Where one does it through dialog, the other does it in combat.
In the demo, my sniper had "Pollen Allergy". She was KO'd by a mortar blast round before I could check what the hell that meant, but my theory is that her accuracy goes down if she hides in a bush or something. My tank commander also had "Nature Lover". How this sort of hippie thing affects a man driving a gas-guzzling, heavily-armed steel box, I don't know. Maybe it's a subplot.
I learned this from trailers I snagged off the moon-people PSN store, but between battles you can train troops, assign and develop equipment, and other crazy things.
No word yet if there's any kind of relationship-building aspect ala' (you guessed it) Sakura Taisen, but the magic 8-ball points to "no".
Shame, that, since it could be a deal-sweetener. Putting social interaction mechanics into an already-deep "real" game could push that sort of aspect further into general acceptance, as it has with Persona 3, Ar Tonelico and Thousand Arms. Incidentally, all those games are from ATLUS.
Admittedly, Sakura Taisen was heavier on cheesy dating (LIPS system) than tactical depth (battles took up maybe a quarter of total time spent), but Valkyria Chronicles is the opposite, and would be perfectly complemented by that sort of thing's presence. Make War in the day, Make Love at night! The best of both worlds!