It may be just over five years old now, but I’ve only just come around to beating Valkyria Chronicles, and I cannot believe what I’ve missed out on all these years.
Set in a fictional universe on the continent of Europa, Valkyria Chronicles is a charming tale loosely based on the early years of World War II. You take the role of Welkin Gunther, son of the late General Belgen Gunther, a highly-regarded war hero. Welkin is a nature fanatic who upon returning to his home town of Bruhl, runs into a young woman named Alicia Melchiott, head of the town watch, as well as his adopted sister, Isara, a genius when it comes to technology and engineering. When Bruhl comes under attack from Imperial forces, Welkin, Alicia and Isara must make their escape to the capital, Randgriz, doing so in Belgen’s old prototype tank, the Edelweiss. The attack on their home town prompts the three to join the Gallian militia, Welkin is promoted to Lieutenant and takes command of Squad 7, and the events of the Second Europan War begin to set into motion.
The first thing that will strike you as you boot up the game is the art style, it employs a beautiful, hand-drawn anime-like aesthetic that has to be seen to be believed. With the game being a 2008 Playstation 3 release, it’s no technical marvel, but the presentation more than makes up for that. With a brilliant score composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, as well as the fantastic theme song composed by Daisuke Kawaguchi, Valkyria Chronicles just oozes beauty. Even when bullets are flying around war-torn streets, you just can’t help to be taken aback by just how stunning the game looks. Individual units are highly detailed, not a single one of the game’s many characters look poor or out of place.
Gameplay-wise, Valkyria Chronicles manages to add innovative little touches to the already solid Strategy RPG genre. Unlike games such as Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, which employ a grid-based system, with everything being controlled from a top-down perspective, Valkyria Chronicles adds a little action to the mix. Like any other strategy RPG, each battle is initially fought from a top-down perspective, with your units being represented by team-coloured circles complete with their class logo and an arrow showing you which direction they’re facing. The twist comes when you select one of these units, the view zooms in and before you know it, you’re controlling your unit from a third person perspective. From there you’re free to move your character around however you see fit, in any direction, just like a third person shooter, the only limit being your stamina bar, which drains as you move around the map.
You also have the option once per action of attacking your enemy, which is done by aiming manually at whichever part of the enemy you like, headshots do more damage, but body shots are more likely to hit. Another twist to the formula is that you can move a single unit more than once per turn. At the beginning of each turn you’re given a set amount of command points, these allow you to move a unit at a cost of one command point, with tanks costing two. The downside to this being the more you move a single unit, the less stamina that unit will have each move, until they have such a tiny amount of stamina that they can barely move at all, they can still attack, however, which makes for some interesting all-or-nothing tactics.
The final component to combat is what is known as orders, these are essentially buffs that you can place on all or some of your teammates in order to increase their combat potential. Unfortunately, these are also potentially the game’s biggest downfall as, while useful, orders can be used to completely trivialise some of the game’s missions, to the point where I completed some in a single turn, or only using a single unit. Fortunately the vast majority of the missions remain suitably challenging, and the exploitation the orders allow is the exception, rather than the rule. My other gripe with the gameplay side of things is the class system, the troops you pick to fight for you will either be scouts, shock troopers, lancers, engineers or snipers, however, and this is especially true later on in the game when you have a good amount of orders, some of these classes just aren’t worth using, which is a great shame and really limits certain strategies and tactical variety.
Story-wise, the game is great, though it falls flat a few times during the first half, thankfully, the second half of the game starts off strong and doesn’t let go until it’s over. It’s a heart-warming tale with love, loss and companionship comprising the key themes that Valkyria Chronicles explores. There isn’t much to say about the story without spoiling things, so I will just say it is certainly one worth experiencing. The characterisation is astounding, each and every character in the game has a personality, from the main characters to even the most obscure and little-used troop in your squad. Each character has a unique personality, a biography, as well as their own voice acting and lines, it’s great attention to detail and really makes you care about the characters to the point I refused to move on if even one died in combat. One big problem with the storyline, however, is that in order to see absolutely everything, you must play through a new game+, which many may not want to do, as the game offers little replay value. However, the entirety of the main storyline is able to be experienced in your first playthrough, so unless you really have to see everything, that’s not a big issue.
Overall, Valkyria Chronicles is a game that anyone with a PS3 should pick up if they haven’t already. The graphics and soundtrack create a magical, storybook feel that grips you until the very end. The characters, storyline and sheer attention to detail are mindblowing at times, especially considering the game is fully voice-acted and even has the option to switch to Japanese voices if you prefer. Gameplay-wise, things aren’t perfect, but they’re thoroughly enjoyable and the bad is far outweighed by the good. Valkyria Chronicles is simply an unmissable experience, and one you owe it to yourself to try.
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