Valkyria Chronicles - 4 stars
Valkyria Chronicles is a singleplayer turn-based strategy game with a limited amount of real-time control. The plot unfolds as a storybook, with chapters detailing the exploits of Squad 7 of the Gallian Militia; you play as Welkin Gunther, the squad's leader.
The mechanics of the game are easy to pick up, but are complex enough to offer a large amount of choice and tactical decision-making. The crux of the gameplay involves selecting a unit and controlling them in third-person; utilizing their stamina (distance they can travel in a turn) and performing actions (attacking, healing, repairing a tank etc.) once per turn.
The game takes place in phases; you move your units until your turn is over, then the AI does the same and so on. You can only use a limited number of units per turn, denoted by Command Points or CPs. This means every time you select a unit it is significant, and I often felt the satisfaction of killing a key enemy with my last move - and sometimes the pain of discovering I'd used my points poorly as the AI proceeded to kill me. Having strictly limited CPs and one action per turn (eg. only shooting once) makes battles tense, and effectively rewards/punishes players for their decisions, as every move counts.
Valkyria Chronicles presents multiple ways to tackle enemies, for instance you may slug away at a tank with a Lancer anti-tank troop for a few turns, or flank it with a Scout to shoot the exposed rear radiator for critical damage. You can also bring your own tank into the fray, but it's game over if destroyed, so it's a risky move. Units are class-based, and managing the strengths/weaknesses of each class is an enjoyable challenge, as it's never a case of "X class directly counters Y class".
I do feel the classes aren't quite balanced though. The Sniper class is very restricted; they have a miniscule amount of stamina and aren't particularly accurate until late in the game (and even then only if you have upgraded their rifles), making them a risky option at best. Meanwhile I was able to use Scouts, who have the highest mobility and decent accuracy, for most of the game with limited resistance. I hesitate to call them overpowered, but there were many missions where I barely touched the other classes.
As a strategy game, Valkyria Chronicles provides a solid tactical challenge, though not without its flaws. There are a couple of occasions when enemies will suddenly spawn at X location each AI phase - and I felt cheated to have failed when anti-tank troops appeared behind me midway through a battle and destroyed my tank. That said, the campaign overall is varied, challenging and fair, and I felt I earned most of my victories (and defeats).
Valkyria Chronicles' setting is loosely based on WWII Europe, with an anime twist or two. (I'm no fan of anime; it's not that I dislike the genre, I just haven't seen anything that's grabbed me.) As the Gallian Militia struggle against the East Europan Alliance, we learn about Squad 7's key members and how the war has affected them. Unfortunately the game struggles to strike a balance between reflecting the realities of war, and cute comic foils/embarrassing mishaps. The result is a lack of poignancy in otherwise serious moments, and humour that often seems grossly misplaced. While the story comes across as contrived, its characters have surprising depth at times, and are engaging enough to carry the plot.
The game features a lengthy campaign and a series of skirmish missions. Experience points and cash are awarded for both types of mission, and may be used to upgrade your troops and research new weapons etc. My play time is skewed by playing a lot of the skirmishes, but I'd consider this at least a thirty hour game (my play time is much higher). There is no multiplayer, but some replay value is added by a New Game+ feature, but I haven't started mine yet so I'm not sure what subsequent playthroughs are like.
Valkyria Chronicles is a rewarding strategy game. It isn't perfect, but it's a lot of fun, with memorable characters and challenging missions.