Well if anybody noticed (probably didn't) I haven't been here for a while. Part of this was due to Destructoid getting hacked and my password getting changed. Because of that I took a little bit of a sabbatical from the site. Now my main site (Gametrailers.com) is irritating me with it's constant fanboyism and stupid users, so I'm going to be here a little more often, that and I finally reset my password. So enjoy this review (if anybody stops to read it that is).
There’s a lot of talk about how the PS3 lacks JRPG’s, granted this is somewhat true. But there is still the adage of quality over quantity and when you look at it this way it’s pretty true. To help prove this is the underappreciated critical darling known as Valkyria Chronicles. I’m going to admit that when I first saw this game in some brief gameplay trailer from about two E3’s ago I wasn’t interested. This pretty much led me to write it off as something that I would never play. Next thing I know it comes out and sets the Internet ablaze with how good it is. Taking this into account I go to buy the game and the next thing I know I’m in love.
Valkyria Chronicles is set in a fictional recreation of Europe circa 1935. You’re introduced to Welkin “Welks/Welkie” Gunther the son of a war hero and Alicia Melchiott an aspiring baker. Their hometown is about to be over run by the East European Imperial Alliance (yes they’re pretty much like Nazi’s) and instead of doing nothing about it they decide to take up arms and fight. After losing their hometown to “Gerry” they enlist in Galia’s militia. Along for the ride is Gunther’s little sister Isara who later on finds a rather useful niche. They become a part or Galia’s Squad 7 and run into a rogue’s gallery of cool characters…and a pig…with…wings. Seeing everybody eventually bond into something that is akin to a family is actually quite moving. In the beginning you might find a particular character irritating because of her somewhat racist views, but she actually does grow on you and at the same time she grows as a person. There’s so much more that can be spoiled or referred to, but half of the fun comes from watching the story unfold.
At its core Valkyria Chronicles is a strategy RPG, but its battle system blends real time with turn-based elements. You can move and shoot in real time. On top of this you can also aim in real time. This means that headshots are doable and actually preferred. Headshots are critical shots and take off a lot of damage (naturally), but this comes at the cost of accuracy. If you’re able to get close enough a burst of five shots to the head will put pretty much anything down. Apart from this VC uses a turn-based system, which are known as phases. During each phase there are a set amount of moves that you can make, which are known as command points. During each turn you can either use all of them or save a couple, which will carry over for your next phase. This is actually simple, but the gameplay mechanics that you use are actually quite deep. The first thing that you have to take into affect is positioning.
You’re able to take cover by either crouching behind sandbags, trenches or hiding in grass. When you take cover obviously you’re hidden, but this comes with the benefit that the enemy can’t employ headshots (works both ways) and are harder to kill. With the cover like sandbags you have to realize that they can be destroyed. The best for these are grenades and mortar fire. So if you use a grenade to take out some enemies or to expose an enemy you destroy the sandbag. When that happens you wind up losing possible cover for when you make your advance. Eventually you start using your tank as movable cover, but it’s good to use both depending on the situation.
Later in the game when the enemy starts employing snipers you can’t truly rely on sandbags. This is when you start to employ buildings and walls as cover (or hope that your character will dodge the shot). You can’t mount up on it a la Gears of War, but you can stand behind it. But this is when positioning becomes really important. If you leave your character in a vulnerable position you leave them open to attack. If they get attacked from behind they take double the damage. But if you leave them facing forward, or in a position where they have a good chance of seeing the enemy advance on them then they will attack the enemy as they’re trying to advance. This is something that you will rely heavily on actually because you can thin the enemy ranks without wasting a turn. This is also hilarious too, at least for me. There’s just something comical about seeing the enemy running through gunfire trying to get to his objective. You can almost see the determination on his face as he says to himself, “I can make it!” Next thing you know he gets cut down because of your fortress like defenses.
While on the topic of units and advancing let me talk about the units that you have at your disposal. You have access to engineers, shocktroops, scouts, lancers and snipers. Each has their own advantage and disadvantage and one actually gains some serious firepower once you level it up enough. For starters engineers are able to replenish ammo for other units, repair vehicles (important) and disarm landmines (really important). That last one might not seem important, but landmines are a nuisance. When moving around you are able to disarm them, but when you actually want to make an important strike on the enemy, and the land is littered with landmines it would be in your best interest to cleanse the field. Engineers are not defenseless, but they’re the least combat effective. They pack the standard rifle the scout uses, but they don’t have that much health, but their range of movement is second only to the scout. Pretty much they’re best used as a last resort after somebody else has knocked down a good amount of health off the target.
Shocktroops are for attacking fast and heavy. They’re able to soak up a lot of damage and dish a lot of it out as well. Their weapon of choice is a heavy machinegun that can cut anything human down. Their only drawback is they lack range, both weapon and movement wise. Once you level them up to elite level they gain access to flamethrowers, which are good for attacking people behind cover. Lancers are your anti-armor units. They’re slow moving, but are wrapped in armor that can soak up some hits. The armor they wear is much better at dealing with explosives than actual bullets for some odd reason. Their bazookas can take out both personnel and armor, but the unit in general is better suited for tanks. As a Lancer you have to search for a tanks vulnerable spot, which is on the back of the tank or use numerous turns shooting the body. The only problem with the weak spot is that behind the tank you usually have people manning machineguns, but the rare occasion when they actually expose themselves you’ll trip over yourself to hit it.
Scouts are pretty versatile and at least for me seem to be the most used units. I normally do my best to keep two to three on hand per squad with a couple of shocktroops and an engineer for the tanks. Scouts have the farthest range so they’re essentially your eyes and ears when it comes to finding out what you have to deal with. They’re pretty accurate with their rifle shots and once you level them up to elite level they gain access to grenade launchers. This is when they start becoming your bread and butter unit. Every unit can carry a couple of grenades but their range is pretty limited. With this nice grenade launcher the range is greatly expanded and becomes the BFG of the battlefield. This allows for one hit kills, knocking enemies out of cover so they become vulnerable and makes the scout a lynchpin for your tactics.
Snipers are quite good at turning a battle. They have the farthest weapons range, but their mobility is pretty limited. The best thing to do is to put them at a high position and use them to take out anything stupid enough to not be in cover. The only thing that I don’t like about them is that them along with lancers don’t counterattack.
After a couple of missions you get access to a tank and then after a bunch more you get another. The first tank called the Edelweiss is the more important one. If that gets blown to bits the mission is over so make sure you nuke whatever Lancers you see, destroy anti-tank weapons and just make sure that nobody can hit that weak spot (yes for massive damage). The tank should be used sparingly because it eats up two command points. Once you start getting good at farming these points and realize that “I must destroy that tank before it shoots me one more time” you’ll use it more than once (sometimes four times) during one phase.
The management of health and ammo is pretty interesting. You can use the same unit more than once, but every time you use it its range of mobility becomes limited. This won’t fully replenish until you start another phase. After each phase you have a portion of your health replenished if you take damage. On top of this your ammo is replenished by one point. Your basic unit can shoot up to three times from their standard gun, they each carry one grenade, and that gets replenished after every phase. If you’re not that patient then you have to move an engineer to them to replenish the ammo stock. The tank operates differently because engineers can only replenish its health unless it’s in a base or something. It has unlimited shells, but it’s other weapons like the mortar can only be used once per phase. I’m not too sure about its machine gun because I barely use it.
After all this writing I haven’t told you what you’re supposed to be doing with these implements of destruction. For the most part your main objective is to take over your enemy’s base (all your base are belong to us). There is a main base for you to take over and a secondary base. It’s just good to take over both because it cuts off the enemy’s access to reinforcements by taking over the secondary base. The main base can still call for these, but it’s best not to let it get out of hand. Also after capturing the secondary base it makes for a good rallying point. A good trick to use is to have your less mobile units in close proximity to your base.
After you capture the enemy’s secondary base you can have you enemies retreat to your base and then call them as reinforcements at you newly acquired secondary base. It allows them to traverse the battlefield without eating numerous command points, plus they come back fully healed. There are also more diverse missions like destroy this tank the size of the White House or rescue this princess from an armored car. A lot of these missions take a while, but depending on how good your strategy is it won’t take as long. Take that princess mission for example. The first time I did it it took forever and I failed. I got caught up in some sort of bottleneck towards the end of the level and just couldn’t close the deal before he escaped (in my defense I was really close to winning). The second time I did it, I grouped all of my shocktroops in one area and forced him into them. After that I used about three of them to shoot his equipment to pieces and it was all done in about two phases (if even that, don’t remember how short it was). After a mission you’re ranked in how many phases it takes (after 20 it’s a mission fail). And depending on how high your rank is you get a bonus added to your experience.
A lot of this may sound complicated but it’s really not. After about a couple of missions and learning from your mistakes it becomes second nature. Oh yeah about death. If one of your units falls in combat you have to get to it within about three turns (or phases) or before the enemy gets to them. Once you get them a medic evacuates them from the field. In the next phase you can call for them again. I do believe that if a character that isn’t a leader character and they get caught be the enemy you lose them. I’m not too sure because I’m pretty careful and haven’t really lost anybody yet. Once you get a grasp of the basics you start pairing up your characters together because depending on whom they’re next to they will actually attack an enemy with them. There’s also stat boosting and damaging characteristics inherent in your characters called potentials. These can be activated based on anything from environment to what people are around them. It’s quite interesting to say the least.
You’re also awarded money to be spent on upgrading weapons and armor. Also later on you get medals for certain things and when you get these medals you can get new more powerful weapons. You also get new weapons after a mission. Finding out what weapons are best and to whom to give them to is nice especially when you find out how effective the new weapon is.
Valkyria Chronicles is a game that can soak up a good amount of time without you even knowing it. Granted this is for a niche audience so I can’t just recommend it to everybody, but if you’re an RPG fanatic like me and want the best in your collection then run out and buy Valkyria Chronicles, you won’t regret it.
VC has a rather distinct look to it. It looks like a watercolor illustrated manga. Its character design is actually pretty good. Both Welkin and Alicia look like gentle people that wouldn’t dream of going to war, but they get thrown into it. Their cohorts are battle hardened, but they have a softer side to them, which is actually shown nicely in the character designs. The gun and tank design looks post world war one, but pre world war two at the same time. The tanks minus the Edelweiss aren’t as sophisticated as a Tiger tank. When you shoot a gun the sound effects are written out as its happening and give the game personality. There are also animated cutscenes, which are actually quite beautiful. Battlefields tend to take place on plains and cities and they do look serene only to have what might as well be dubbed WW1.5 waging in them. This isn’t really shown because they only show the wars you’re fighting in. You wish for something grander in scope, but that’s what the cutscenes are for. The color palette is quite subdued if you compare it to something like Tales of Vesperia for example, but it does have a beauty all on its own.
Sound is great. The voice-overs are excellently done with each character being portrayed the way they should. No character is annoying (thank god), characters such as Isara (Laura Bailey) sound as sweet as they look, though there is a tint of Henrietta from Gunslinger Girl. Dave Wittenberg (Kakashi from Naruto) does a wonderful job of portraying Welkin as a leader with a heart. Colleen O’Shaughnessey (Yoshi from Digimon Data Squad) is great in her performance as Alicia conveying her innocence, sweetness and determination. The score provided by Hitoshi Sakimoto is both sweeping and majestic. The battle music makes you want to storm Omaha beach with M1 Garand in hand, but it’s also quite soothing. Throughout the game during the cutscenes it will crescendo along with emotions. There is one key point in the game where I just almost cried. Just the music and the weight of what happened made me want to shed a tear.
Isn’t necessarily the strong point of certain RPG’s, but with the way the leveling system is you have to play it a lot to max out your characters. You have story missions, which can’t be played again, but you have access to skirmish missions, which you can play an infinite amount of times for you to level up. On top of these there are other story missions for you to buy. You don’t level up just one person, but the whole class. This is actually pretty smart so if you lose a high rated character you’re not screwed. It also takes away the notion of favoritism and allows you to be attached to the characters. I’m pretty sure that when I’m finally done with the game I’ll start over…hopefully there’s some kind of new game plus option. I read that there’s some kind of DLC, but I think it’s just different missions. I read that there’s rumored to be some that allows you to play as the enemy, but I’m leaving it as rumor.
I was once skeptical, but I was quickly won over. With its captivating characters, engaging plot and addicting battle system I do not regret plunking my hard earned money down on Valkyria Chronicles. Granted this game came out late last year, but a good RPG is a good game forever. So run over to your local game store and buy a copy of Valkyria Chronicles now. If you don’t get it your inner gamer will hate you for it.