By eroticfishcake 11 Comments
Valkyria Chronicles came to be a surprise hit in back in 2008 when SEGA gave us a turn-based, strategy, Japanese role-playing game on the PS3. General reception was very high with many praising it's interesting mix of genres and beautiful aesthetics. Unfortunately it title didn't sell very well despite the high scores it received and so it's sequels where reduced to the PSP platform, an even smaller audience before it's third sequel, didn't even get a Western release. From past history it would seem that it would forever be lost to the rich archives as SEGA release another terrible Sonic game internationally. But SEGA once more surprised us when they decided to release the original title to Steam, which is apparently an excellent port for the most part (which is even more surprising given how ports of Japanese games go.) Furthermore, a group of freelance translators (the Gallian Liberation Front) have released another update to the translation patch for Valkyria Chronicles 3 which I've just recently finished just shy of 90 hours.
Having immensely enjoyed all three titles it's kind of a wonder why many haven't played the titles due it's aforementioned excellent gameplay, attractive aesthetics and story driven narrative about many an interesting subjects regarding war, camaraderie and friendship. What I find most interesting about Valkyria Chronicles is that it is essentially a World War 2 game. That's sounds perfectly normal but this is a WW2 game developed and published by a Japanese company and given Japan's history at the period it does give an interesting angle to it's existence.
The general set up is set in a fictional 1930's Europe, called Europa. The war is waged by two major world powers, the Atlantic Federation (most likely a representation of the Allied powers) and the Autocratic East Europan Imperial Alliance (commonly referred to as the "The Empire" and very obviously based on Nazi Germany) over the precious resource, Ragnite, a sort of magical mineral that can be used in harnessing power, provide healing or weapons manufacturing. In all three games you fight for the country of Gallia, a neutral nation also rich in Ragnite as it defends itself from the invading Empire hungry for it's rich deposits of the mineral. But those aren't the only targets in this war for the Empire are also actively hunting and killing Darcsens, a race of dark haired humans heavily discriminated everywhere as they are blamed for causing the Darcsen Calamity, a conflict which destroyed many lives and cities all over the continent.
Already we can see that strong resemblance and inspiration of World War 2. One wonders if the fictionalised version of World War 2 is a deliberate choice on SEGA's part as a means of sidestepping Japan's own actions during the conflict (though at no point does the series makes any allusions to it.) Did they have any plans at any point? Did they try only to be denied by the higher ups? In some ways I can't entirely blame them for not trying to address the issues as Chinese-Japanese relations have always been rather tense to this day unlike Europe where such matters of the war are openly talked about and accepted as fact. Japanese nationals and extremists have been known to commonly claim atrocities caused by Japanese soldiers in China as either highly exaggerated or straight up denied they ever happened becoming a sort of Asian equivalent of Holocaust deniers despite overwhelming evidence purporting so. For SEGA to bring more attention to the atrocities would have likely annoyed many back home. Such is the reason why I find the world of Valkyria Chronicles so interesting as a Japanese game or any medium addressing World War 2 in a serious sense is relatively uncommon.
Generally speaking, the Empire as considered the "bad guys" in the series with their motive to slaughter the Darcsens and aggressively take over nations for their Ragnite deposits. Valkyria Chronicles is however, an anti-war game. Despite the actions of the Empire, every side of the conflict has their dark side be it the Atlantic Federation or even those within Gallia. Even those wishing peace must stand up and fight against it's attackers but everyone on all sides have things they lose from family, friends and countries. The sentiment shows in the game play as all the characters in your squad are expendable (at least, only in the first game.) Each and every one of them has a unique back story, voice actor, potentials (which can aid or hinder combat effectiveness) and have friends within the squad that they like. As you play along with them, developing them individually and fighting battles together it's hard not to grow attached to almost all of them. But should they fall in battle, they're gone for the rest of the game. Naturally, there is an incentive to keep them alive as well as the fact that losing soldiers means losing combat effectiveness as they can't be replaced.
If any of this sounds familiar chances are pretty good that you've played an X-COM game before, another turn-based, strategy series that many often make comparisons to (though I personally think Jagged Allliance is a better fit given how similar that game handles it's characters.) I don't know if the developers were inspired by these games but they certainly handle the genre better than any game I know. After all, you're not tied to a grid system and when using weapons you're allowed to take manual aim before firing off the shot. It's a good balance of handling player skill while still maintaining some random number generation (this entire system referred to as the BLiTZ System or "Battle of Live Tactical Zones".) It feels very fair, organic, and fast paced. A problem that often stops me from playing games of a similar genre in the long term.
The series also benefits from a class system. Each character is assigned a different role from Scouts with their high movement ability to Lancers, a slow lumbering class that carries anti-armour weaponry. What's really elegant however is how they handle overall progression. Instead of individually levelling each character you level up the character classes and research new weapons that become standard issue so even soldiers that are rarely used can still benefit from your battles. The sequels do add individual skill levels that require investing but they still retain the global experience you get from training character classes. It's a very streamlined system that fixes a lot of problems with RPGs and considering the large cast it's almost essential to enjoying it.
That isn't to say the series is perfect. Being a JRPG is does suffer from anime clichés and occasional tonal dissonance. It's certainly not the worst offender out there but there are one or two scenes in which you can't help but roll your eyes at. Most of the characters are very young as well as they range from their early teens to early twenties (somewhat justified by the fact that Gallia has conscription starting at the age of 16.) Even Valkyria Chronicles 2 takes place in a high school setting, something that Japanese anime/manga has an obsession with when it comes to youth and school life (it's actually a Militia Academy but for their intents and purposes it might as well be a high school.) Regardless, the writing for the most part is enjoyable without getting too ham-fisted in it's anti-war sentiment and in it's characters.
That aside, if you haven't noticed the screenshots by now, Valkyria Chronicles is a beautiful series thanks to the CANVAS Engine with it's watercolour painting aesthetics. It compliments the storybook motif that original has with it's idyllic view on a fictional Europe or the raging conflict with gunfire and weapons sounding off with a visual "RATTA TATTA" and "BOOM!" that is highly reminiscent comic books. It looks gorgeous and it looks better in motion. Sadly, the PSP sequels lose much of the engine's fidelities due to power differences but it does try to retain it's aesthetics with reasonable success.
All in all it's still a wonder to me why the series hasn't sold so well despite high praise in almost all of it's aspects. Despite moving onto a smaller install base of the PSP they've still scored very well (but not sold enough apparently.) Still, with the recent surprise port of the original onto the PC and SEGA's being more active in the PC space one can hope that it can gain more momentum and spark interest in the series. While unlikely, it'll be amazing if they were to localise and port the PSP sequels to PC or any other platform really. In any case, the original is now on Steam and unsurprisingly I can't recommend you hard enough that you go and play it, even more so that the PC port is better version of the original PS3 version with it's 60 FPS, better resolution settings and other bells and whistles. It is after all, one of the more interesting, beautiful and memorable series I've encountered in a long time and I'd love to see more. Be it another sequel, an RTS in the universe (Relic Entertainment and Creative Assembly are owned by SEGA so HINT HINT LADS) or even a Crimson Skies sort of game.
Have I mentioned the soundtrack yet? It's great!
(Considering that I rarely post here some of the older members might be wondering why I am and to answer that I'm on the ol' Twitterverse a lot so find me there if you need me or if you just want to hurl abuse, whatever floats your boat.)