It’s turn based anime-style shooting in a World War Two setting. Yea, guess you weren’t expecting that now were you?
Valkyria Chronicles is what World War Two would look like in a Japanese fairy tale, its beautiful, dramatic and is one of the few genuinely innovative titles to hit gaming last year. The setting is based on history book where you play the various chapters which unlock as you progress in the story of protecting your homeland.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Valkyria Chronicles, aside from the deep combat system, is the story. Set during the 1930s gamers follow the story of the militia commander named Welkin, who is called into service after his small neutral is drawn into a continental wide conflict following an invasion from a foreign aggressive power. The geography and names of states are changed and the conflict is set in Europa rather than Europe, but themes are present with stay true to the origins of World War Two such as racial and religious intolerance. All the weaponry and vehicles also are a testament to the conflict but have a distinctly Japanese artistic slant. It feels new yet established and fills in a gap of historical emulation which, frankly I haven’t seen in a game before.
The guilt of losing members of your squad is palpable, each of them have their only back story and personality which heightens the pain of loss. When one of your units are defeated they lie on the ground waiting for you to call a medic, but you can only do so once surviving units are next to them. It leads to frenzied attempts to rescue fallen soldiers at times when you simply can’t risk it due to threat of losing another soldier. As each character in your platoon has their own identifiable personal traits and visual characteristics they become more real to the player, allowing for actual attachment. For example there was a female sniper who didn’t like anyone else in her platoon and she worked better when she was far away from her team mates on the battlefield, alone she was much more effective at dealing with the enemy. There are many subtle personality types and some even work better with certain members of the platoon rather than others. Of course these attributes are dealt with in typical Anime/JRPG style but make each battle that much more personal and engaging.
When you see screen shots of Valkyria Chronicles the first thing you notice is that it looks beautiful, the storybook graphics coupled with the fairytale impressions on world war two make for a very atmospheric experience which sparks with originality. The engine is appropriately named Canvas, which is fitting for a title that visually you can’t help but stop and admire. Every character model, every level environment and cut-scene bursts with vitality and looks absolutely beautiful to behold.
Combat defys JRPG conventions by having complete control of your character yet still subscribes to the one turn per move archetype. Each turn is governed by player credits which are used to move units around the map, choosing to attack or heal up other soldiers as they go. Movement and weapons fire each cost a turn, so you will need your strategy cap on to determine how to most effectively utilise your units. Each unit is controlled directly by the player during the turn, this merging of action and strategy means that it is you which is taking the shots for each of your units not the AI, hence heightening the tension and immersion of combat. The player is in complete control of the battlefield and fulfils both the action and strategy itch with great execution.
Valkyria Chronicles isn’t flawless there are some issues which hold it back from true gaming greatness, such as the constant issue of loading times and drawn out scenarios which you can’t restart until a mission critical unit kicks the bucket. But all these niggles are minor and fail to detract from what is a long and fulfilling gaming experience. In a campaign which easily lasts over twenty hours and has some of the most emotive cut scenes in modern gaming, this title is an experience which is to be cherished.
This week Sega have also released three different episodes of DLC which further pad out this already outstanding story. At most retailers this game is already at a budget price and represents great value for money and is a good change of pace from the other generic titles. Reward innovation, go and play this criminally overlooked title.