Valkyria Chronicles

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I’ve had my PlayStation 3 over a year now, and during that time I’ve enjoyed Heavy Rain, Infamous, and Uncharted, but the game that I’ve had the best time with is Valkyria Chronicles. I hadn’t even heard of the game until a friend shoved it in my hands, and it ended up being my First Hour of the Year and now my favorite game on the platform.

Valkyria Chronicles is nearly a perfect execution of all aspects of a video game. The gameplay is a fun and addicting mix of strategy and action, the graphics have a lovely anime-style to them, the presentation is flawless, the story is an interesting riff on World War I, the voice acting is actually great most of the time, and the soundtrack has a grand bluster to it that makes everything else better. And to top it all off, Valkyria Chronicles was developed by Sega. Sega!

I will admit, the game took me quite a long time to beat, over six months with about 40 hours of actual gaming (I’ve put more time than that into Xenoblade Chronicles in the last month). It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the game, but because Valkyria Chronicles seemed to require a certain amount of minimum playtime to really get into it. Even one hour free didn’t feel like enough for one sitting. Weird how that is for some types of games.

Similar to Odin Sphere, Valkyria Chronicles’ story is told through a book called “On the Gallian Front” (unlike Odin Sphere, Valkyria Chronicles isn’t repetitive trash). Each chapter in the game is a new set of pages in the book, and each scene in a chapter appears as an image on the page. I absolutely loved this presentation, cutscenes don’t go on forever as each scene is self-contained on the page, and there are optional scenes and hidden chapters to unlock along the way. You know when you’re about to fight a battle because you can see a map of the battlefield on the page, and you can return to Headquarters at any time to upgrade equipment, change squad members, or learn more about the world.

Battles in Valkyria Chronicles are turn-based with a limited number of characters available to fight, plus a tank. There are five classes available: scout, shocktrooper, sniper, lancer, and engineer; a healthy balance of these are required for nearly every mission, though I found scout to be enormously overpowered for a good portion of the game, one of the few aspects of Valkyria Chronicles that isn’t balanced well.

After selecting which characters you’d like to use for battle (I always selected Vyse and Aika from Skies of Arcadia fame along with the main characters), the action begins. While the game is turn-based, you have a limited number of action points each round to directly control your squad. It’s pretty fun to run around the battlefield looking for that ideal shot while avoiding crossfire. Actually, it’s awesome. Something about this mix between thoughtful top-down strategy and third-person combat made for an unforgettable experience.

The maps are well designed and highly varied. Many of them feature either unique objectives or some sort of story-based event that throws a wrench into your previous tactics. Valkyria Chronicles becomes quite challenging in the last third of the game, mostly thanks to the map designers and their smarts instead of just making the bad guys stronger. I like the fact that I could go back and replay the game a few times and be able to change tactics every time and still come out victorious, the maps exist to generate strategy, not hinder it.

And while I’m usually reserved about a game’s graphics, Valkyria Chronicles’ art is fantastic. Sega’s CANVAS engine manages to render a game that mixes anime, realism, stencils, and watercolors to the fullest effect. Valkyria never looked dull, even when missions called for darkness or drab colors. I especially like the way the uncolored parts of the screen appeared through fog and on the edges. Excellent little touches to a brilliant looking game.

The story was more than tolerable, too. The parallels to our World Wars is hardly veiled, and the writers are happy to spread cutscenes between the good and bad guys. There’s a fun fantasy element layered on the game’s realistic war theme, but it doesn’t overwhelm, something most Japanese RPGs couldn’t bear to resist. Valkyria Chronicles’ plot also covers love, tragedy, and a day at the beach.

Overall: 9

Valkyria Chronicles is a game that requires commitment to both mind and time, but is well worth the effort. It is a beautiful entry into my PlayStation 3 library that is also a joy to play; challenging and fulfilling, Valkyria Chronicles stands tall as one of the best games I’ve played all generation.

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