Turning the page on strategy gaming.
I will admit that when first saw Valkyria Chronicles, I was not the least bit impressed. Despite all the positive attention the game was getting, I found myself unwilling to put the disc in my PlayStation 3. Even after venturing to my local game retailer and plunking down the 60+ dollars, weeks went by until I finally took the shrink-wrap off in a fit of boredom. Fortunately, my sheltered existence during winter break saw me through to starting the game; if not, this gem would have been forever lost in my sea of 40-hour-long epics.
Valkyria Chronicles follows the events of the Second Europa War, an escalating conflict between two military superpowers: the Empire and the Federation. Gallia, a neutral and independent country, finds itself in the thick of battle. The Empire, hoping to seize an advantage, attempts at overtaking Gallia and its resource-rich land. With a small army as its only line of defense, Gallia’s final stand seems nothing more than a suicide mission. Yet a group of ragtag militia enlistees found the tactical wherewithal needed to fend off the enemy threat; Lieutenant Welkin Gunther and the soldiers of Squad 7 were just the people for the job.
It’s a stereotypical war story from the start, and the parallels to World War II are glaringly obvious at times. Nevertheless, I have to give the developers credit for, one, not using a realistic World War II setting and, two, presenting a far more mature JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) plot. I was honestly surprised to see women and children getting shot at [during the opening sequences] despite the friendly look of the game. The story covered the horrors of war in ways I never expected it to. Moreover, the entire narrative unfolded from an outsider’s perspective, in much the same way that made me fall in love with the Ace Combat series’ plotlines.
As I said before, Valkyria Chronicles presents itself with a picturesque aesthetic. Since the entire game tells its story from the pages of a book, the sketchbook appearance fit rather well. The only problem I had with the imagery was the thick, feathered border present through most of the gameplay sequences. I knew the game was supposed to look worn and paginated; I did not need a constant reminder wasting precious pixel space. Other than that minor complaint, I must say that the developers at Sega have a fantastic graphics engine powering the seamless visuals.
If there is something that isn’t seamless, it’s the gameplay; and that’s an unfortunate fact. On one hand, the combat is an excellent portrayal of 3D, real-time strategy and, on the other hand, the combat is a mess of mere chance and numbers. The concept is hard to put into words since the gameplay literally operates on two different dimensions. Unit mapping, layout and facing runs on a 2D plane while movement, geography and shooting revolves around a 3D space. The inconsistencies were jarring at times, especially when a couple of missed shots flushed an hour of strategy down the drain. It was a concept that did not make sense until I got my hands on it, and I can do nothing more than relay that message.
However, the gameplay concepts are as innovative as they are indescribable. Ever since the release of 1999’s Final Fantasy Tactics, developers have continually utilized a grid system to organize movement and battle. Valkyria Chronicles is, without a doubt, the most inventive Japanese strategy game to come along in almost a decade; it completely eliminates the grids and allows for high-level strategy with a simple input formula.
In addition, the characters, music and heart that drive the game are top-notch. The personalities come alive through the excellent English voice acting and, surprisingly, each of the game’s 50+ have unique voice work. This made me care about the characters much more than I usually do. Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story, and Odin Sphere) composes the music, and it accurately captures the romantic aspects of war that even games like Call of Duty 4 cannot—and do not—touch. The further I got into the story, my personal enjoyment came less from winning and more from absorbing the artistry. If someone told me that video games were not art, I would gladly exhibit this as a shining example to the contrary.Valkyria Chronicles is a huge anomaly to me, and I mean that in the most positive way. It’s something that’s hard to put on paper, but it’s easy to resonate with. As flowery and whimsical as I may sound, I firmly believe that PlayStation 3 owners should not go without this game. My mild interest evolved into a full-fledged love, something that does not come easy in today’s world of overused space marine shooters and mindless bloodbaths. It doesn’t sport anything like an online mode or realistic physics, but it is a refreshing epitome of “less is more” in that respect. For me, the money I spent many weeks ago was well worth it.