Genre: Role Playing Developer: Publisher: Classification: M15+ Release Date: 31st Oct 2008 Platforms:PS3
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The Good bits
Interesting narrative approach with Book Mode
In-depth customisation of squad and tactics
Great story with righteous anime characters
The Bad stuff
It can start to feel slow after several chapters
Occasionally frustrating and quite challenging
Forget everything you know about soldiers. Hardened men with shaved heads and machine guns screaming orders at each other? Preposterous. According to Valkyria Chronicles, the hardest squad in the military consists of hot teen girls with pigtails and soft-spoken skinny boys who are about two years away from puberty. This is a flamboyant, anime-style tactical RPG all the way to its core, and all joking about the ridiculous characters aside itís a pretty damn good game.
An evil political force (unsurprisingly called "The Empire") is hell-bent on invading The Federation consisting of the western nations and commanding Regnite, a powerful natural resource. The Empire begins its assault at the start of the game by attacking a small town within the nation of Gallia occupied by a few young, hip anime characters who become drawn into the ongoing war by joining the local militia. Alicia and Welkin are the two main characters and leaders of Squad 7, and from there you'll have access to a few extra chapters in Book Mode to help support the team.
Valkyria Chronicles is the very definition of a story-driven game. The chaps at Sega obviously thought the best way to tell a story was to present the game as a book itself (via the creatively-entitled "Book Mode"), and you advance through the game by "playing" each page. The only time you directly control the characters is during battles, and these usually occur once per chapter, which are two pages long. There are no world maps or towns to explore, and no other gameplay aside from battling and customising your squad in the menus.
While the notebook approach is theoretically slower and more methodical, it is a refreshing structure in a game that needs to be straightforward and engaging. With an episode-based tactical RPG, the notebook is a fantastic idea. The narrative needs to be good for that page-turning addiction, and right from the get-go I was drawn into the intense Europan War. Apparently Europan is the new European Ė the letter E is for suckers.
While rifling through the pages, you can also access a variety of menus called tabs, which are listed down the side of each page. The Headquarters tab is used to check status on your squad and their current weapons and abilities, while the Skirmish tab lets you replay various battles to gain extra experience. You can also check the other tabs for goodies like personnel data, story information and a graveyard for visiting soldiers who have fallen in battle.
The experience and money you gain from battles can be used to level up each of the five soldier classes, develop new weapons and power up tank support, and assign members to your squad. Each member possesses their own environment-specific abilities, but classes will level up as a whole. It's a handy system for those not fond of extreme micro-management.
Combat is a hybrid of turn-based strategy and third-person shooting, which results in plenty of incredibly addictive and thoughtful encounters with a wide variety of enemies. To begin your assault, the overhead map shows positions of your party and enemy units. Rather than controlling units via an overhead, tile-based viewpoint similar to Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, you select a unit in Command Mode and the camera swings down to a third-person viewpoint. From there, you are free to move about (while an AP gauge depletes) and execute one attack per turn. Taking controlling of a unit directly costs one Command Point, and you have several Command Points at your disposal before the enemy begins their turn. Welkin, the squad leader, can also issue special orders to boost a unitís abilities and gain an advantage during battle.
The battle system isnít technically flawed in any major way, but one niggling aspect can cause frustration. Because the skill of your soldiers is stat-based, your prowess with real-time movement in battle isnít necessarily going to ensure an easy win. For example, snipers and anti-tank lancers can only shoot once per turn, and based on the skill level of the class and equipped weaponry, their accuracy might be on the low side. This means that even at close range, your rocket or bullet may simply veer off to the left and miss completely, despite the fact that the enemy was smack-bang down the middle of your crosshairs the entire time. Itís not a major issue if you are a half-decent strategist, but having one shot per turn, only to have it randomly miss is enough to cause groans of ill-deserved pain.
Cel-shaded graphics will never show off the technical power of the PS3 as much as a more realistic approach, but as mentioned this is anime all the way, and it looks great. All cinematics, including the spectacular introduction, look fantastic with subtle 3D models and great artistic effects courtesy of Segaís CANVAS engine. The battles themselves arenít as meaty with constant action, but it still looks fine. The soundtrack is suitably epic, as is the case with most Japanese RPGs, and the sound effects are particularly satisfying, especially when pulling off a massive critical hit on one last desperate sniper shot to take control of the battle.
Valkyria Chronicles is a product suitable for anime fans, war fans and a hybrid of the two. The learning curve ensures that anyone new to tactical gaming will get a solid grasp of the basics, and the storybook approach really is just like an interactive anime. The story is great, the teen girl soldiers are hilarious, and itís definitely worthy of a look for those wanting to commit to a lengthy and challenging romp in a war-torn anime world.