Inside Pulse 12

Review: Valkyria Chronicles (Sony PS3)

Valkyria Chronicles
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega WOW
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Release Date: 11/04/2008


It’s taken me forever to review this game. There have been several reasons as to why. The first is that I wanted to really crank down on this and see how deep the game in. It’s hard to really review an RPG in a timely fashion due to the length, and with VC I definitely wanted to give a thorough review rather than be the first guy on the block to have theirs up. The second reason is well, I was constantly hit with other games to review and it’s easier to beat and review say Mortal Kombat Vs. DCU or Castlevania Judgment than an RPG.

Now here’s the funny. I generally dislike war based games. I like my electronic entertainment to be out of the realm of reality, so games like Advance Wars or the Medal of Honour series never did it for. I also tend to really dislike Real Time Strategies, although there have been exceptions like the nigh perfect Dragon Force or the tongue in cheek Overlord. So knowing that Valkyria Chronicles was a WWII-esque real time strategy with some RPG elements had me a bit pessimistic. That and the fact I haven’t really found a Sega title to be amazing since Panzer Dragoon Orta (Although the Samba De Amigo and HOtD ports on the Wii were fun) had me even more in a negative state of mind when I received my review copy in the mail.

But lo and behold, this is why I always make my staff play games outside their comfort zone, because not only is this the best game Sega has been out since 2003, but it’s getting the highest score I’ve given a game in four years and two months. (The last game to get this high a ranking from me was Bubble Bobble Old & New) This is easily my game of the year as it has restored both my faith in Sega and the PS3. Let’s take a look at why this game won my heart this year.

Let’s Review

1. Story

The year is 1933, but it’s not our 1933. Sure if you look at the map, it’s obviously Eurasia, but make no mistake, this is a fictional story featuring fictional countries and empires. After all, Russia and Germany allies? Ha ha ha…no.

VC’s tale starts with the Second Europa War. The Eastern countries known as the Empire have decided to start conquering the west in an attempt to claim their fuel supplies. I’ll leave the obvious political metaphor out of this one. The Eastern, more democratic countries that are collectively known as the Federation fight back and the war is on. For poor neutral little Gallia however, their attempts to stay out of the war are for naught as the Empire learns how fuel-rich their little country is. Although not joining the Federation, Gallia tries to fight back and yet stay unaligned at the same time.

One of the things I loved about this story is how politically charged it is. Most war scenario games ignore the reality of the politics behind war, issues such as the draft and what motivates people to enlist. Not with VC. Even throw away extra characters that you’ll have in your division have personalities, mannerism and voice actors all their own. This helps you to really care for the characters and feel sorrow when you lose one permanently.

The main character is a young man name Welkin Gunther whose father was a leader of Gallia’s tank corps in the first Europa War. It is Welkin who unifies his village through sheer chance, and by driving the super tank Edelweiss and guiding his 7th division to victory with superior tactics, Gallia just might have a chance to subvert the empire. But then the Empire does have Valkyria, which should probably be Valkyries, on their side…

The most unique aspect of the game is HOW the story is told. The entire game basically takes place in a history book, which each page contains new cut scenes and battles. It’s a wonderful visual and a great way to set the overall tone of the title.

The story of VC is wonderfully told, and with a level of detail and depth beyond other war based strategy games I’ve ever played. There is such an attention to detail and characterizations that you don’t find in similar games like Brigandine. Sega has gone out of its way to make this game seem quite realistic, even with the fantasy elements that do eventually creep in, and yet engaging with a story to keep the RPG diehards glued to their PS3. You’ll laugh, you’ll worry, you’ll find yourself caring about these characters and the more emotional amongst you might even shed a tear when someone dies. This is high drama, but only because of the perfect blend of realism and historical fiction.

Story Rating: Unparalled

2. Graphics

Valkyria Chronicles is gorgeous, but the max visual output is only 720p rather than the full 1080i/p that some high definition fans would have liked. Still, one can’t deny that the game if beautiful and charming in the same way we all fell for the graphics of MYST over a decade ago. Of course, MYST didn’t feature people getting run over by a tank or killed by a flamethrower.

The graphics here are very reminiscent of the cell shading craze that was popular with games in the early 00’s. There is a cartoon/comic book feel to all of the designs in this game, be it character, background or level. That isn’t to say the game is some over the top anime-esque affair. On the contract, all the character look, move and act very lifelike. Combine this with the story and the amazing voice acting, and you start to believe the Second Europa War really happened and that these characters whose lives you are watching unfold are just as real as your own.

The scenery and level designs are breath taking. I have to admit there was one more than one battle where i had to restart because I was too busy gaping at the levels and how beautiful they were rather than paying attention to enemy fire. Oops. But that tells you just what a visual masterpiece awaits you in Valkyria Chronicles

I guess the best way to describe this game would be by saying it reminds me of the old war comics I read as a child. The Haunted Tank or Sgt. Rock. There is something sublime about the visuals of war. Somehow something that should be gruesome is beautiful in its own tragic ways. Valkyria Chronicles does a masterful job of capturing this. There is no gore or graphic deaths, but the visuals instead capture the reality of war and most importantly, the reality of those forced to fight in it. The visuals of VC will leave a lasting impression with you, and hopefully we’ll see its like again.

Graphics Rating: Unparalled

3. Sound

Amazing voice acting, a heart pounding soundtrack and a slew of realistic effects and noises that make you feel as if you are amidst a true wartime setting.

Honestly, if they sold a soundtrack for this game I’d buy it instantly. It’s a wonderful score of classic orchestral instruments. I have heard a strategic RPG score this well done (or as catchy) since Dark Wizard for the venerable Sega CD. Many tracks manager to both majestic and heart-pounding while others are melodic and serne, capturing a sense of innocence one wouldn’t automatically think of during war time.

Then there is the excellent voice acting cast. First of there is Welkin who is played by Dave Wittenberg. Dave has already voiced one of the best characters in gaming for 2008 with Baroque‘s Coffin Man, godammit. He was also Leon Belmont in Lament of Innocence and Cielo in Digital Devil Saga. Colleen O’Shaughnessey plays Welkin’s love interest and the female lead of Alicia. Digimon fans will know her as Sora. My favorite character, Rosie, was played by Hedy Burress who also voiced Yuna in several Square-Enix games and Wyleen Pritchett in “Boston Common.” There’s also Laura Bailey from DBZ and Fruits Basket, Steve Blum who has become the voice of Wolverine in the same way Kevin Conroy has for Batman, and many other amazing actors. A simple trip to IMDB.com will leave amazed by the sheer quality of actors that you might not recognize by name, but you will by their resume.

An unbelievable job through and through. Aurally, this is one of the best games of the year and it deserves to be recognized as such.

Sound Rating: Unparalled

4. Control And Gameplay

This is a bit hard to discuss as it’s the most unique RTS I’ve ever played as one could easily define it as a turnbased action strategic RPG. I know, right? All three subgenres of the RPG thrown into one. Here’s how it works. On your turn you have so many “medals” Each medals represents a turn. Moving a human costs one medal, while moving a tank costs two. You can move a single troop or tank up to four times, but each time your AP gauge is reduced by a significant amount. You might be wondering WHY you would move a troop more than once then, right? Well two reasons. The first is that one of your soldiers might have killed an enemy but was heavily wounded in the process. By taking that second turn you can either use a healing item, get behind cover, or run back to camp. The other reason is that you have a person on your team that can one hit kill several troops from where he or she is currently located, and then you just use them to clear a path for your other soldiers.

When you use a medal (or two for tanks) , you have an AP gauge. You can continue to move until your gauge is depleted. While you are moving enemies can (and will) shoot at you, so you need to be able to avoid enemy fire or sneak along with cover. At any time during this character’s turn, you can press R1 to initiate combat. Once you do this, everything goes out of real time and you have the ability to aim at your enemy without any pressure. Think of it akin to the VATS system in Fallout 3. Once you shoot, things go back to normal. If you have AP left, you can run for cover or end your turn. Repeat until your medals are used up and then it’s the computer’s turn. Repeat until you have accomplished your mission or all your troops are dead.

My only problem here with the battles is well, the camera. This is a third person game, but often times, your character takes up too much of the screen. L2 and R2 are supposed to let you switch viewpoints, but it really doesn’t make enough of a difference. The worst is when you switch into targeting mode as the computer gets one last shot on you. Then when you switch back, there’s a bit of lag before you can move, leaving you a sitting duck. Factor in the bad camera angle and you have a good chance of dying jusy from this rather than your ineptitude or the computer being way too strong. You are probably wondering why I’m not super upset about this, and it’s because for the most part the cameras issues I have are minor and only come up when you try to retreat or backtrack. When you’re moving forward, everything is quite solid and manageable. Plus you can always hit R1 and go into targeting mode, look around that way and move back in order to see where you want to go. Hitting the start button also gives you lines of sight to targets, making it easy to maneuver.

When you win a battle you get XP and money. XP is done in a very different manner than you would usually think of. Here you have group XP and you can divide it up however you want. Each class of soldiers levels up together and so you can have say, level 12 scouts but only level 3 snipers. It’s really your call. Money goes into research and development when you’ll improve your troops weapons and armour. The game lasts for 19 chapters and you can’t replay story battles again until you’ve beaten the game, so make the most of what you have. You do have the ability to replay skirmishes though, so if you want to munchkin or grind, this is the way to do it.

Aside from the minor camera issues, Valkyria Chronicles is an amazingly solid title that is one of the most original and innovative gameplay experiences I’ve had with an RPG or RTS. There are no real bugs to work out which is all the more impressive for this first time engine. I love the battles and it’s such a nice mix of styles that there is something for everyone to love and it keeps the game from every feeling stale.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability

This is a VERY long game. Keep that in mind. If you’re trying to unlock character potentials, Welkin’s order abilities, and all the different items or weapons in the game, you’ll have to replay skirmishes a lot – even if your level is maxed out. There are also medals to collect hidden characters to find and a lot of other things to tool around with and discover. Your troop selection is random with each game, and you can constantly change who is in your division, so no matter how many times you play this game, it will always feel somewhat new.

There’s a lot of variety to VC, but if you’re looking for a ton of endings or divergent storylines, I’d suggest Ogre Battle: Knight of Lodis, as it’s a similar feel in story, but far more fantastical in nature and tactical in gameplay. This is certainly a game you can replay multiple times and still fall in love with thanks to the excellent story, cinematic graphics and amazing engine. It’ll always be the same, but then so is Shining Force 2, and that’s a masterpiece as well.

Replayability Rating: Enjoyable

6. Balance

Valkyria Chronicles is one of the most balanced games I’ve ever played. Even if your troops aren’t as powerful as they should be, you get around this if you’ve quite good with tactical combat. Positioning is just as important as levels in VC, and because you have total control over what type of troops you level up, you’re going to have to think about what will serve you most in the long run.

Battles are generally quite hard the first time you play them, mainly because you won’t know the lay of the land and the in-game map isn’t detailed enough for my liking. Again, by taking things slow and seeing what troops are out there, you can advance on the opponent and ensure you have a type advantage on your opponent in a manner similar to Pokemon. You have five kinds of troops besides your tanks: Scouts. Shocktroopers, Snipers, Lancers and Engineers. Engineers are pathetic in combat and in regards to taking a hit, but their repair ability is greatly needed in certain situations. Don’t bring them out unless you know you will need them, like on stages with lots of landmines or where you need to repair tanks. Lancers are your anti-tank troops. Only bring them out if your opponents have tanks. Otherwise they are too slow and weak against normal troops. Snipers are great for long range combat. Get them up someplace high or behind some cover and pick off the opponent. They suck close up. Shocktroopers are your best overall soldier type, as they have decent movement and the best firepower and defense against other troops. Scouts are fast but weak. Still, they can take a hit and they have grenades which one hit kill things easily enough.

This isn’t a game to rush into haphazardly. Progressing real does require an excellent mix of dodging bullets and proper positioning. If you are as good at games like Gradius as you are at titles like Arc the Lad, this is a game you will excel at.

The learning curve is slight, but each battle presents you with just enough challenge that you’ll need to be as fast with your wits as you are with an analog stick. You will die, and possibly die often, but with each death comes a great deal of knowledge you can use in successive battles. Trust me when I say you will never die the same way twice.

Balance Rating: Unparalled

7. Originality

This is one of the most original engines I’ve ever experienced. I’ve played other games that combine RTS with RPG leveling up like Dragon Force, Goblin Commander I’ve played games that have shaped and changed RPG’s as we know them like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shadow Hearts, Sakura Taisen or Sigma Star Saga, but I’ve never played a game quite like Valkyria Chronicles. The gameplay style is so refreshing and innovative that I worry about Sega every making a sequel, if only because they don’t know when to quit. Poor, poor Sonic.

Valkyria Chronicles is proof that creativity isn’t dead in this, the age of nonstop sequels and barely tweaked yearly roster changed sports games. Whether you’ve played a single RPG or every RPG and RTS to ever come out for a console, this is a game you need to experience.

Originality Rating: Unparalleled

8. Addictiveness

Because VC is so deep, the addictiveness is a double edged sword and part of why this review took me so long to do. I really love this game. When I first got my hands on it, I played it nonstop unless I had other writing to do or a social life to uphold. Then I went on a week vacation and came back to VC. I found I had to relearn a lot of things that were once second nature to me in this game. It’s definitely NOT a title you can pick up here and there if you want to be good at it. This is a game you need to commit some serious time to, to the exclusion of all others. This isn’t like normal RPG games where once you have the basics down, you can play it a year later. There are subtle nuances and positioning tricks you have to keep sharp in your mind. Oh, they’ll come back after you die once or twice, but there’s so much to keep track of here, that the more sporadically you play this game, the less you may want to.

Amazing and enthralling game when you pick it up, but it loses a bit if you let it rest. Keep that in mind and remember that this is a commitment rather than a lackadaisical turn based dungeon crawl or hack n’ slash.

Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable

9. Appeal Factor

This is a great game for both RPG and RTS fans. RTS fans will love the strategic elements, as will Tactical RPG fans. RTS fans and action RPG gamers will also love the realistic gameplay and the lack of seeing a character take two steps, slash a weapon in the air and then moonwalking back to their original position. Fans of third person action games like Devil may Cry or beat ’em ups like Guardian Heroes will appreciate the blending of multiple genres into a game that is even better than the sum of its parts.

The story alone will pull in gamers, as will the graphics. The engine is worth experiencing just to say you have. After playing this and Fallout 3, I have to say that this is the superior RPG experience on the PS3. It has no bugs while the PS3 bugs in F3 are legendary at this point. The story is deeper and better written. Both games are funny although this is a more a Blackadder funny to F3’s Kids in the Hall style. F3 is gorier, but VC is a better game in terms of the engine and overall experience. Of course, I also am one of those wacky guys who played F1, 2, and Tactics on the PC and find Fallout 3 to be a nice homage, but only a shadow of the previous games, so take that for what you will.

This is easily the best RPG/RTS experience for the PS3 and for all of 2008. It’s a sleeper hit though, but if you find the game, pick it up. It the first real system seller PS3 exclusive I can think of. Now let’s just hope the bloody downloadable content comes stateside. I don’t want another Disgaea 3 incident. Jerks.

Appeal Factor: Good

10. Miscellaneous

It’s been a bad few years for RPG’s. Fallout 3 couldn’t live up to the hype, but then what could. At least it was an enjoyable game. When the best RPG’s of 2008 besides VC are Disgaea 3, and Pokemon Ranger II, you know it’s a bit of a stale year. Don’t get me wrong, like Fallout 3, I liked both, but all three are rehashes and pretty paint by numbers where Valkyria Chronicles is no innovative and fresh it easily overshadows the other games.

This is everything I’ve wanted from an RPG or RTS. Wait. Let me rephrase that. It’s all the innovation and creativity I’ve wanted to see in an RPG for years. Of course Cross Edge is also a pretty innovative RPG as well, but it’s also primarily fan service and far more niche than Valkyria Chronicles. That and it Japanese only currently, and just isn’t as solid a title. Still, import Cross Edge The manual has a special English section and you can see Darkstalkers fighting Prinnies.

Valkyria Chronicles has reminded me why I loved Sega for some many reason – their innovative and outside the box RPG’s. I miss real Shining games. I miss Sakura Taisen. I miss Dragon Force and Phantasy Star‘s that aren’t MMORPG’s. For the first time in years, I can feel the passion for Sega that I had as a kid. Playing Eternal Champions on the Genesis, my first taste of Alex Kidd on the Master System, or Typing of the Dead on my Dreamcast. This is a miracle in and of itself and deserves its own special praise.

The best RPG/RTS I’ve played this year. The best PS3 game I’ve played this year. The best GAME I’ve played this year. And it’s by Sega. No, not Sega. Sega WOW. This is the team that gave us Streets of Rage, Sakura Taisen, Shinobi, Skies of Arcadia (which is why Vyse shows up in the game in one way or another) and Phantasy Star IV. With a pedigree like that, is it any wonder that Valkyria Chronicles is the best RPG of this console generation?

Miscellaneous Rating: Unpralleled

The Scores
Story/Modes: Unparalleled
Graphics: Unparalleled
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Unparalleled
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: CLASSIC GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

Valkyria Chronicles is the best game I’ve played this year. It’s innovative and revolutionary engine combines the best aspects of RTS, Action RPG’s and SRPG’s. The game is breathtaking to behold, boasts an amazing soundtrack and offers one of the best voice acting ensembles this year. The story of the game is going to be released as an anime in 2009, so if for some insane reason you’re not interesting in playing the most original RPG engine since Shadow Hearts, you can always go that route. For true RPG and Sega diehards, it’s a game made by the development team that gave us Phantasy Star I , II and IV or the Sakura Wars series. Can you really be surprised by its greatness. This is a title worth buying a PS3 for. It’s the type of game that will make you remember why you fell in love with gaming in the first place. Now if only we could get that classic yell back…