Valkyria Chronicles PS3 Review

Valkyria Chronicles fits snugly into the strategy genre, but nonetheless it’s hardly your regular chess like thinking mans game. It requires the forethought of chess, but has the intensity of a shooter, whilst the beautiful watercolour style visuals further give the game its own identity.

Being a strategy RPG, Valkyria Chronicles has quite a substantial tale to tell and it’s quite a story. It stars Welkin Gunthar, the son of a legendary war hero, but Welkin is not a soldier at heart, nor is he hardly your average spiky haired amnesiac that usually feature as the protagonists in these types of games. He’s a very likeable nature loving fellow, and the cast that surrounds him are also an interesting bunch. The story is centred around war and is told with heart that rivals a Suikoden game.

When you actually take charge of Welkin and his army, you’ll discover that Valkyria Chronicles has some key differences to others of the genre that you may have played before. It’s still vaguely a gentleman’s game, which is to say its essentially all about moving soldiers around and then politely (not so when the shooting begins) letting the enemies do the same.

When you do choose a character, instead of moving them around on a grid with a cursor, the camera will zoom to a third person view and just as long as you have the AP (in basic foolproof terms: stamina) to do so, you get to freely move about the chosen character as if you’re playing a shooter. Wandering into the enemies line of fire, will result in them firing on you, which makes for some wonderfully intense and strategic moments, as you dodge bullets and desperately seek the salvation of cover, before the character AP runs dry. This interception fire rule applies to your own units too, so smart unit placement by the end of your phases can often give you control over any given battle even if it‘s not your turn.

Another difference to the norm is that turns are no longer necessarily handed out to your entire squad. Instead you get a set number of command points and it’s left up to you of how you want to spend them. Providing you have the points, characters can have multiple turns, so if you manage to get a character in an advantageous position, where he or she perhaps have the chance to take down two or three enemies, it’s often worth spending the two or three points required to do so.

The earlier battles in the game are fairly simple affairs and one could be forgiven at this point for thinking Valkyria Chronicles is a strategy game that’s a bit short on strategy. But a bit later on the battlefields begin to become more complex, offering up much more scope for tactics, whilst there’s a pleasing amount of variation throughout which prevents repetition from creeping in.

Another aspect that needs taking into account when building strategy is the strengths and weaknesses of each different class. Lancers can blow tanks to kingdom come with little effort. Shock Troopers can deal out and are more resistant to damage than any other units, but can’t move as far and their guns have poor range. Scouts are able to move further than any other unit, but their armour is a bit lacking, snipers can’t move large distances, but obviously make up for it with the sheer range of their rifles, engineers can repair tanks and disarm mines, whilst tanks are as mighty as you’d imagine but greedily take up two of your command points and have a weakness at their rear end, which you should really take care not to expose to the enemies. So they all have their own roles to play then and it’s your job to try and find the most efficient way to use each one.

Characters have their own likes and dislikes, which subtly changes their stats for better or for worse. For instance characters with hay fever should never be placed around fields. There’s even racist characters, gay characters and bisexual characters, whilst most characters have affinity with others. All of which gives the truly dedicated something else to think about when setting up their squad, though it never has enough of an effect so as to make it mandatory.

When characters are gunned down, you have three turns to get to them and call in a medic. If you don‘t get there on time or an enemy gets to them first, the character is dead forever (with the obvious exception of the main characters). This isn’t the disaster it so easily can be in the Fire Emblem series for instance, as all characters of the same class are of the same level. It still isn’t nice witnessing favourite characters dying before your eyes, so this can be reason enough to look after them.

The enemy AI deserves to die, however, and is easily the biggest flaw of Valkyria Chronicles. Its heavily scripted nature, prevents battles from playing out truly different each time and it can be exploited, by those who pay attention to the enemies set actions. Some of their scripts also make for some bizarre behaviour patterns, with some enemies going in circles and others walking backwards and forwards as if they’re in a state of confusion, being just a couple of examples.

In between the story and combat sections, you’re able to set up your squad, spend experience points earned through battle on levelling up the classes, upgrade your tanks and weapons. It’s all a wonderful accompaniment to the battlefield action and its book like menus are as beautifully presented as everything else the game has to offer.

Looking at the depressingly weak European sales, Valkyria Chronicles is a game that very much deserves to be played by significantly more people. It’s a tremendous Strategy game, with strong mechanics, all finely wrapped in delicious visuals and a compulsive story. All of which results in a game that is one of the PS3’s best exclusives and certainly one of the better games released in 2008.