Whilst the Xbox360 has recently had a glut of role-playing games released on the format, the PlayStation 3 by comparison has been somewhat bereft of the genre. Valkyria Chronicles (not to be confused with Valkyrie Profile), is a strategy role playing game from SEGA and fills just that gap.
Set in a rather different 1930’s, and in a somewhat skewed looking “Europa”, the story tells the tale of two giant superpowers which are struggling for supremacy in a world with shrinking global energy resources. Inevitably this leads to a war, in this case, the Second Europan War involving the whole of the region. The little independent nation of Gallia, from where our hero Welkin Gunther originates, becomes unwillingly embroiled in the conflict; it’s here the player will begin the quest, defeat the Imperial Army, and restore peace and prosperity to the small idyllic land.
Valkyria Chronicles starts out quite slowly, taking the time to set the scene and introduce the characters the player will interact with along the way. There are a number of cut-scenes to work through until there’s some action, but this gives a few moments for the striking visuals to be soaked up. This is a stylish game with an almost water-colour painted appearance in motion, and it looks stunning. In fact, drop the controller and it's an anime series.
Once the player’s chin has been lifted off the ground, it’s time to work the numerous episodes of each chapter of “the book”; the mechanism through which level selection works. The gameplay is based around an interesting concept known as BLiTZ, a mixture of both a top-down strategic command mode and third-person action sequences; here the player takes direct control of a unit. This sounds like a horrible mishmash, but in reality it works very well and gives a massive sense of involvement in the battles. .
As a general, the overall battle government is taken via the top-down map view. For each round there are a number of Command Points which can be used to control units on the ground. Once a unit is selected, a CP is used up and the view changes to the battlefield, giving control to the player. Each unit has action points that are used up when moving or firing. It’s important to try and save some of these for intercepts on enemy turns, and this is a fun part of the challenge.
Proper use of terrain also makes a difference in battle, although there are few quirks with the system. Sandbags and long grass make for more cover, tanks and buildings can be used as shields, but all objects are not equal. Only specific items in the battlefield will allow for cover, and this is somewhat puzzling, which makes the player ask why a solid stone bench acts like a paper shield. This does sometimes force units along a specific path and can irritate given the world doesn't behave as it physically ought to at times.
At first glance it does seem that the number of different unit types available in a fight is a little bit limited; there are scouts that cover a lot of ground, snipers that have good long range ability, shocktroopers that are great in close-combat and lancers equipped with anti-tank weaponry. Given that the game works around a very stringent Rock-Paper-Scissors arrangement (tanks beat infantry, infantry beats Lancers, and Lancers beat tanks), there’s a somewhat narrow scope in terms of troop deployment. The real strategy lies in using command and action points properly, and being aware of enemy line-of-sight in the field.
Any command points not used carry over into the next round. Given that a unit can be used up to four times, it’s possible to take out several enemies with a single character on each phase, so long as it’s properly planned. Available AP reduces with each subsequent action, so care has to be taken not to run out and leave a unit vulnerable to attack; if a unit is destroyed in battle it’s gone forever unless saved by a medic. If this sounds a little daunting, fear not: unit levelling has a slight and happy quirk.
As with most role-playing games, units gain experience as kills are made and levels are completed. These can be spent in the training field on each different class of unit. The nice thing here is that this experience can be spent on any unit, regardless of which character earned it. Additionally, all units of the same class are levelled up together, leading to increased strengths and special abilities known as Potentials and Orders, actions that are triggered automatically on the battlefield should the right situation be in place.
The great thing of this system is that if a unit dies in the field, and they will, there's no need to level up a new recruit from scratch. Any new member that joins the squad will be the same level as the rest of the units in that class. It means that there's no need to grind and grind and grind away, a bug bear of so many RPGs. Happy days.
Also hidden away is any complexity of having to equip team members. Whilst it is possible to spend gained currency on upgrades, be these on weaponry, armour or tank parts, units are automatically equipped with the best kit available at any time. Valkyria Chronicles takes the worry out of micro-managing the team – this makes the game extremely accessible to the strategy novice, though perhaps may deter the veteran given the lack of tweaking available. However, the fact that the game doesn't overwhelm in terms of statistics is a big positive; it just lets the player get on with the action.
Valkyria Chronicles is a wonderfully presented game which is easily accessible to all. It's not without its quirks, but these can be overlooked simply because the game is so enjoyable to play and watch. For those looking for an easy, fun entry into this genre, Valkyria Chronicles is definitely worth a look.
Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.