Alternate title: ArbitraryWater versus lengthy tactical RPGs and also heavy metal demon murdering.
Oh, what's that you say? A new year and only one blog from famed bloggist ArbitraryWater? Well, that's about to be fixed. Now there are two blogs. Before we talk about a video game, let's talk about a different video game.
A DIFFERENT VIDEO GAME:
DmC: Devil May Cry is successful at being a Devil May Cry game. While, admittedly that isn’t a high bar considering that DMC2 and 4 are also Devil May Cry games, it’s also a good Devil May Cry game and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as DMC3, at least by me. While my attempts to play the first one have fallen flat because of the controls and camera and my playthrough of 4 was halted by the realization that I was going to have to play the entire game again, backwards, as Dante, Devil May Cry 3 remains one of my favorite PS2 games and probably one of my favorite old games that I’ve blogged about. So basically, what I’m saying is that a lot of the vocal opposition to this game is unwarranted. While the controls have been tweaked and the lock-on removed, I can still do the thing where I hit dudes, juggle them in the air, slam them down and then rush them with Stinger/Trillion Stabs. Maybe I’m not hardcore enough or whatever, but I think that DmC nails the gameplay of the series quite well. I’m not going to go as far as to say it’s better than DMC3, but it also makes up for it with visual aesthetic and storytelling flair both of which are lacking in the other games outside of my ironic enjoyment of the kind of nonsense that comes from Dante surfing on missiles or whatever. If I have any qualms, it’s that the game didn’t break my knees and then kick me while I was down. I played on hard and was distinctly not getting horribly defeated like I was with the third game. That probably has to do with the game having fewer bosses and fewer asshole bosses, so I’m hoping that Son of Sparda mode fills that void when I inevitably go for another playthrough. Point is, I like this game and think you should play it if you like this kind of game. Speaking of games I like and think you should play if you like that kind of game…
Some short impressions of other games, if you care:
The original Star Fox for SNES is interesting. As a game, it’s not dense enough for me to be able to write a blog about it (also, I’d have to play through it on the other levels), but as a technical achievement for the SNES it’s impressive. As a game… it’s still totally ok. The controls aren’t quite as smooth as its N64 counterpart, there’s no lock-on, but I’ll be danged if it isn’t Star Fox.
Star Fox 2 is a lot weirder, and not just because it’s a complete game that was never released and then leaked to the public like it was Thrill Kill or maybe that PS1 port of Baldur’s Gate (which is horrendous, by the way). It’s also even weirder in hindsight, with a lot of the mechanics it used being incorporated into the underrated Star Fox Command for DS. That means there’s this whole pseudo-RTS portion with your goal being to intercept enemy missiles and blow up bases, and you can also select from different pilots who have different characteristics. It also probably holds up better, because the draw distance is less of an issue and the controls are a bit more responsive, at least on my Xbox controller (and yes, I have a real one now as opposed to that horrible bootleg one I’ve been complaining about for all of last semester)
Dino Crisis is Resident Evil with Dinosaurs, and being that I could use some more old style Resident Evil in my life, I will attempt to play more.
Now then, our main event:
Being that I don’t own a PS3 and don’t intend to until an undetermined date (On my list of consoles to buy, a 3DS ranks higher. Because Fire Emblem) I haven’t played Valkyria Chronicles. Right next to Demon’s Souls and MGS4 (and maybe like... Ni no Kuni?), it would probably be one of the first games I would buy if when I eventually get one, and thus I decided to go for its sequel instead, which is generally seen as inferior for reasons I’m not entirely sure of because I don’t know enough people who have played both games to give me any sort of valid opinion, other than that the Japan-only 3 installment is of course the best. Luckily for me, Valkyria Chronicles II is pretty dang fantastic in its own right, and if this is what I have to expect from the original, I think I will do just fine. Like the other 75% of my PSP library, it’s some variety of tactical and some variety of RPG, but whereas Final Fantasy Tactics is grindy and slow, and Tactics Ogre is grindy and slow (but I like it far better than FFT for some reason and have played significantly more of it), Valkyria Chronicles II is… less grindy and slow. Hey, it’s tactical RPGs we’re talking about here. If the hour count is less than 40 hours then it’s either in the Fire Emblem/XCOM camp of simple mechanics extrapolated into brutal deathtraps or it’s not actually a SRPG. Also there is crafting, because of course there is.
The best way to describe the gameplay is that it’s kinda like XCOM or maybe Fire Emblem, but with a bit more FFT/Tactics Ogre type of thing going on and you directly control your units when you move them. Also it’s anime WWII, but I’ll get to that later. It also has a branching class system, and as you know from my love of Final Fantasy V and my irrational love of Final Fantasy X-2, I really like class systems, but thankfully unlike all of those games every class in VC2 is actually useful. Ok, to be fair I barely ever used engineers because of my kamikaze style of engagement (which the game encourages by rankings only being based on how quickly you finished any given mission), but I guess if you wanted better healing or universal stat boosts that only last a turn (part of the Anthem Corp sub-class) they’d do the job perfectly fine. The same goes for Mortarers, whom I rarely used because just rushing a dude with a shocktrooper or gunner would usually produce superior results and enemies would rarely group up in a way that would make a mortar worth using. If there were classes which I considered invaluable for most missions, I’d probably go with fencers and snipers, both low-movement units capable of one-shotting most enemies and putting a dent into bosses. I also found little use for the commands features, which are basically CO Powers from advance wars if the CO Powers made it so you couldn’t make as many moves. I don’t care about a nebulous boost to my anti-personnel attack power. It costs 4 Command Points. 4 Command Points I could use to make 4 other units move and be far more efficient with their murder sprees. And really, the only way to beat some boss characters is by bum rushing them with your fencers (or snipers, at least until they run out of ammo) anyways, which is made more annoying by their tendency to dodge your attacks. There’s also a nice variety of missions, most of which can be solved by killing everyone, but there are also escort missions that suck and collection missions that suck less.
Regardless of how much I hated the escort missions due to the fragility of the escort APC, the fact stands that I think VC2’s gameplay is fantastic. Like most games of the genre it starts slow, perhaps too slow, (also it doesn’t help that the mechanics aren’t necessarily explained all that well) but by the 7-10 hour mark most of the systems have been revealed and you can start messing with the advanced classes and building a more diverse squad that suits your play style. I would say it’s a shoo-in for a high spot on my inevitable “Best of 2013 that didn’t come out in 2013” list, except for one thing… The story and characters are really, really, really bad. How bad are they? That’s a good question. While the story of the first game is apparently no masterwork and the story of the third game is apparently pretty good, the story of Valkyria Chronicles II is predictable and generic throughout. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. You all know that I’m fine with generic stories if the gameplay is good, but the problem with VC2 is that there is a lot of story and all of it is the worst anime tropes and archetypes imaginable. The three main characters are a headstrong young guy who’s kind of an idiot but is full of determination and heart, a supportive young girl with a tragic past and a dream, and a cynical fellow who is a foil to the main guy, but still goes along with all of his boneheaded schemes. If you find these characters original or interesting, play a few JRPGs, maybe watch some high-school anime and get back to me. Oh, and don’t worry, the rest of the supporting cast falls squarely into bad archetypes as well. Yes, I am aware that archetypes can be used for good, just look at Persona 3 and how it handles and develops its cast, but the character development is all of the most unsubtle moments of stupidity. I think my favorite is still the part where Avan shoots himself so that Cosette will overcome her fear of blood and whatnot. Then we get into the whole dichotomy between these hilarious anime high-school antics and the part where all of these characters are mass-murderers and it gets a little more… weird, let’s say? I was fine with it in Full Metal Panic, where the entire point of the parts that were good (i.e. everything that they would later put into Full Metal Panic Fumoffu), was that Sosuke’s utter inability to view the world through anything other than the lens of combat was a gold mine for comedy. But I’m ranting again, and falling down the “Talking about Anime” hole. I’ve also started watching Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, and think it is pretty dope, if we’re on the subject.
But enough prattle. I think Valkyria Chronicles II is sort of awesome, in spite of it also being the worst high-school anime ever. I’m glad I sunk my requisite 50+ hours into it, but I also don’t think I’ll be sinking any more, at least not anytime soon (even though it has some postgame content for funsies). I’m nearing the end of World of Xeen, and the only real handicap preventing me from finishing it are the parts where leveling up now costs absurd sums of money, and my characters have a lot of leveling up to do. You can expect that one… soon? Dinosaurs?