Name: Valkyria Chronicles
Genre: Strategy RPG
Platform: PlayStation 3
The PlayStation 2 was never really known for having a wealth of shooters, a stellar online service, or the best graphical power of its era, but it did have one thing in abundance: role-playing games. Whether it was tactical RPGs, action role-players, or just the good, old-fashioned Japanese model with turn-based fighting and boys in belly shirts, the PS2 was the system to own for fans of the genre. Unfortunately, the PS3 hasn’t had the same abundance of role-playing games, with Square Enix turning to the 360 and Atlus seemingly living in the last generation. That just means that when a stellar game in the category comes out for Sony’s current-gen system, it stands out even more. Valkyria Chronicles is such a game.
Though a strategy RPG at heart, Valkyria Chronicles borrows elements from several other genres to give gamers a completely unique and exceptional experience. The game is set in a world not unlike ours, with two Europan (not to be confused with European) nations in the midst of a great war over ragnite, a powerful commodity used in just about everything. While the war story seems a bit generic at first, it quickly gets very interesting. The main focus is on Welkin, the nature-loving son of a former war hero, who finds himself leading Squad 7, a ragtag bunch of fighters; throughout the game, much of the story also centers around Squad 7 itself. Although the voice acting isn’t always great, once you get into the heart of the story, it becomes hard not to grow to love the characters.
Before the battles even start, there are several things to love about Valkyria Chronicles. First of all, the overall aesthetic is beautiful. Instead of going for a realistic look, the game is presented in an animated style, with watercolor-inspired images for still frames and the loading screen. It is obvious that a lot of effort was used to make this game both gorgeous and distinctive in the graphics department, and it has paid off big time. Accompanying the stunning visuals is a layout that works wonderfully. The game is presented as a book, using separate tabs for different aspects of gameplay, and the narrative and major battles are presented in chapters. As a complete package, the presentation of Valkyria Chronicles is fantastic.
Of course, the heart of any strategy game is the battle system. Fortunately, Valkyria also goes above and beyond what you would probably expect from any game in the genre. At the start of each battle, you must choose a certain number of soldiers, ranging from quick-shooting shocktroopers, scouts, tank-killers, snipers, and engineers. Having a well-rounded party is obviously important, but it’s up to you to decide what will work best for each battle. Sometimes, having Welkin lead in his tank is the key to victory, but at other times, you’ll want some scouts and shocktroopers to clear the way. Each fight is unique and requires the player to approach it in a different manner.
Instead of being broken up into a grid of squares, the battlefields of Valkyria Chronicles are fairly open and have many different ways to reach the goal, which is usually the enemy’s main base. Each character has a bar that depletes as he or she moves throughout the area; scouts and engineers are able to move further, while snipers have limited mobility. Attacking is also distinctive, with the game taking on the feel of a third-person shooter when a character goes into shooting mode. Of course, there is far more strategy involved than just running and gunning; and aiming, positioning, and the weapon itself play a big role in how much damage the enemy takes. Weapons can be upgraded in a separate tab for a cost, and each class of characters is leveled up at your discretion using experience from battles. If you so choose, you can use all of your experience to have the highest-level shocktroopers on the battlefield, or make sure everyone progresses at an even pace. The overall battle system gets quite deep the longer the game goes on, as well as being extremely addictive.
Not surprisingly, Valkyria Chronicles is very challenging. You’ll need a lot of patience, and there were a few times when there was a long gap between battles. Rushing through a fight will usually cost you dearly, but since there’s a turn limit on most battles, it’s important to find the right balance. Characters can die permanently, but only if you abandon them on the battlefield after their HP is depleted. Being able to have a character evacuated by having another member of the squad approach him or her was very much appreciated. Anyone who’s played a game in the genre knows how frustrating it is to lose a player just because of one tiny mistake. You can save during battles, which is great because later in the game the fights can go on for hours. However, it can be extremely frustrating to lose a battle near the end because you picked the wrong team in the beginning without knowing it. Losses are very hard to swallow, so each decision carries a lot of weight and can make or break a fight. This may keep some gamers from progressing far into the game without giving up.
The PS3 may not have a lot of exclusives, especially in this genre, but Valkyria Chronicles is an absolute gem that owners of the system are lucky to have. Even in this crowded holiday season of triple-A titles, this one somehow snuck in and stole my heart, and I found myself putting other games on the back burner to spend more time with Valkyria Chronicles. There are times when it can be downright frustrating—once in a while, you’ll want to throw your controller through a TV—but overall, this game is so impressive that you’ll keep going back for more. There’s a decent amount of replay value, and with New Game Plus you can restart with your stats intact and try creating a new challenge for yourself. I didn’t expect to love this game as much as I did, but it’s earned a permanent place in my collection.