By Sarumarine 1 Comments
My roommate introduced me to Valkyria Chronicles when it first came out a few years ago. I got about halfway through before stopping on account that I had a nasty habit of beating his games before he did. But I really enjoyed my time with it. I think it's what Advance Wars should have been if when it was brought to a console, although Valkyria Chronicles is more like a crossover of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem as you fight in a faux World War II with a squad of quirky characters.
Also, if you looked at the box art by now you can probably tell it's got all the hallmarks of anime, for better or worse. I got it for less than twenty bucks, which means I made a killing because I had a great time leading my squad to victory over and over again.
Valkyria Chronicles (Advance World War II Wars: The Game)
I was somewhat tempted to turn this into a Past Expiration (where I talk about lesser known games) but the Valkyria Chronicles series is still kicking around on the PSP. The PS3 debut, however, didn't sell very well which probably prompted them to move the franchise to a handheld. The Valkyria Chronicles I played is a turn based strategy game with action elements and a small (very tiny) dash of cover based shooting. You have a team of guys and gals that you assemble yourself (plus a few regulars who play into the story) and move them one at a time around a battlefield taking shots at enemies, healing allies, and taking cover behind sandbags. You also get to use a few tanks that make a big splash with mounted machine guns, mortar rounds, and the all important tank cannon. Later on you get other fun things like Flamethrowers (tank mounted ones!) Gatling guns and grenade launchers. This game has crazy customization (from weapons to personnel), which is one of the reasons why I love it so much.
Somehow, this sounds Vaguely Familiar...
The story pulls heavily from World War II, mainly the European Theater, but is more of a fantasy version with different countries and technology. You can still draw a lot of similarities what with fancy military uniforms and some major events like a people persecuted to the point they're rounded up for labor camps and executed when they outlive their usefulness. But the fictional spin is less with avoiding stepping on toes and more about getting away with some spectacular scenes by the end game. Like a massive land battleship that can plow through front lines, gates and castles like it's no big deal. This game has an awesome collection of over sized tanks and cannons you couldn't get away with in a traditional World War II setting. Another point is that you don't play as any of the major sides. Instead you focus on a small independent nation caught in the middle of the conflict known as Gallia. To take it further, you don't even play as a the main military. Your team is an old tank and bunch of scrappy volunteers that make up Squad 7 of the Gallian Militia.
Considering the anime styling of this game, it should come at no surprise that there is plenty of melodrama, relationships, and ladies with guns. But extremely skilled ladies. You can find women filling the roles of everything from captains, ace snipers, anti-tank units, and shocktroopers armed with submachine guns. You can make your entire squad women if you want to take it that far. It's not as creepy as it sounds, and characterization does hit about even. For example, on one hand you have Yoko, a middle aged mother who joined up to protect her kids. And on the other hand you have an enemy commander Selvaria, a woman with comically over sized breasts who wields a light machine gun when she isn't blasting your army with ancient artifacts. She would probably be a good character if her design wasn't so terrible. Also, female scouts and shocktroopers wear skirts instead of pants.
But the story is decent, but it probably won't melt anyone's heart. And lets not forget the most important lesson of all- War is bad.
Engaging the Enemy
I wish Giant Bomb had a page for the action gauge. The heart of this game is the strategy and that plays a huge part. Most missions are taken on with a team of 8 or 9 soldiers (plus your tank), but you'll always have 30 or so in reserve if you need reinforcements or your soldiers get killed. That's right. Valkyria Chronicles has permanent death, Fire Emblem style, for characters who aren't critical to the story. If you don't rescue them by 3 turns or an enemy gets to them first, they're gone forever. It's in the best interest that you deploy a well balanced force, as you have five different classes to pull from. Scouts have the largest gauge so they can move all over the map but don't take many hits. Shocktroopers do the dirty work, with submachine guns and decent health. Lancers are your anti-tank soldiers with rocket launchers, but they're unwieldy things and almost never hit people. Engineers are your medics, they can also fix tanks and barriers. Lastly, snipers hang back and shoot from far away (mostly because they have tiny gauges and can't move very far). Winning battles gets you experience, and you can spend it to level up an entire class. This is really nice, so you can swap out soldiers left and right without anyone falling behind.
They nearly have a rock-paper-scissors balance that reminds me of Advance Wars... but due to the mechanics of aiming and shooting. Any class can take out another class if they have a good angle and plenty of luck. It's just usually not a good idea to send a Scout up against Shocktroopers, Engineers against Lancers, etc. Once you aim you have all the time in the world to pull the trigger. Enemy units only shoot at you while you're moving... so the rest is up to the dice rolls behind the scenes. And that's one of the unfortunate parts of this game when starting out new. At the beginning, your militia has zero training and really crappy weapons so completely missing targets is very common. This is especially bad for snipers who will seem, at first, like the worst marksmen in the ENTIRE WORLD... until you buy them better rifles and level them up until they're killing every target in one, clean head shot. That also goes for the other classes, but not as bad since they have machine guns and grenades to pick up the slack.
For that reason, I understand if someone couldn't get into this game. It's kinda frustrating until you level up your squad and get better equipment.
There's also a point system in place for battles that you spend to move your forces around. Troops use one, while tanks use two. When you run out of points, your turn is over until you get new ones the next time around. You can also end turns early and save up points, but that's not really a good idea until later when you get Special Orders that work a lot like CO Powers from Advance Wars. You learn them throughout the game that allow you to do things like boost offense or defense, heal your squad, or call in mortar or artillery strikes. The offensive ones are crazy expensive though, so they're more entertaining than practical. The Artillery Strike hits every enemy on the field... but it's six stars. You could move your tank three times. Or six soldiers with that amount. The best ones I found were the orders that can rescue wounded troops without risking another soldier to save them.
It's like a Book. Hard.
Usually I don't worry about graphics. I'm not that picky. But Valkyria Chronicles does go for some visuals that work toward other objectives than looking pretty. The events of the game are told like a history lesson out of a book. Chapters and menus are like turning pages with graphics that take on a cell-shaded color penciled look. It's a lot like watching an illustration in motion with sound effects popping up comic book style for explosions, tank engines, and gunshots. Characters are very bright and vibrant, which is nice considering this is basically a war game and usually war games get the Next-Gen Brown look complete with smoke and blackness. Even deserts, dry lifeless places, look pretty good with yellow, orange and red shades against black outlines. I'm not very good at this, but there's plenty of screenshots on the Valkyria Chronicles page if you're curious.
My dumb header up there also brings me to the difficulty. When you get near the end of the game, things get shit hard. Part of that is justified as your squad is the militia and treated little more than cannon fodder for the main military, so you get sent on plenty of suicidal missions. But then it just gets really, really hard. The game thinks nothing of starting you on the low ground while the enemy has several levels above to shoot down at you, including a woman who can snipe your troops halfway across the map- with a light machine gun. Or randomly deploy enemy reinforcements that can scurry over and capture your camp before you know what's going on. Or put Lancers in a spot to destroy your tank and cause a game over because Welkin can't die. And when you go up against bosses, it will never be as simple as "Shoot X until Victory." There are always multiple stages that will come down to the wire. Because of that, the last boss in this game is a pushover compared to pretty much everything else you've faced up to that point. Not that it hurts the game. It works toward a pretty satisfying end.
I also bought some of the DLC to check it out only to find that... holy shit. The DLC is also fucking hard. There's one mission in particular "Edy's Detachment" where you're defending an area completely surrounded by tanks and all. If one enemy enters your area, it's over. Oh, and there's also a mortar strike on your position every single turn that destroys the sandbags you use as cover. It's a major bummer... because it's obviously tailor made for people addicted to difficulty so there no choice to just enjoy the content. "Behind Her Blue Flame" is also fucking hard where you play as the bad guys with the worst equipment known to man.
Squad 7, Move Out!
While the DLC is a bummer, the main game is pretty entertaining not to mention long. There's a huge glossary in there that fills you in with all the random trivia of the Valkyria world. Some of it is hit and miss, and the ones I enjoyed most was about the crazy tanks you fight. Like I said before, if Advance Wars ever gets another game on a console, I would want it to be something like this.