Inside Pulse 12

Review: Valkyria Revolution (Sony PlayStation 4)

Valkyria Revolution
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Media.Vision
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 06/27/2017

Despite carrying the “Valkyria” name, Valkyria Revolution is pretty far removed from Valkyria Chronicles. It’s a different genre, uses different lore, and really only carries over a few names and themes. Sega did a pretty good job of making sure fans knew this game was going to be something different. As such, we’re not going to spend a lot of time in this review comparing the two games. There just doesn’t seem to be a point. We’ll judge VR on its own merits and see where it stands.

The story is told from the perspective of a teacher and student discussing a war that waged between Jutland and the Ruzi Empire nearly a hundred years ago. This discussion takes place at the grave of the five traitors, the resting place of five Jutish (people from Jutland) friends who incited and manipulated the war in order to achieve their own goals. The teacher/student dynamic is not just the lens through which we see the story, but also serves as a main menu of sorts, allowing you to replay sequences and eventually missions.

At its core, the story is about these five traitors and there attempts to get revenge by any means necessary. This includes starting the aforementioned war. As such, you could say the plot is a mish mash of high political drama in the background and battlefield drama in the foreground. The main character, one of the five, even leads an elite group of soldiers designed to fight the Valkyria, a magical being who serves the Emperor of Ruz. So you have the five traitors, the various members of the squad, and also Jutland’s princess who also fights with the squad. It seems like it has a lot of potential, and it does.

The problems arise not from the conceptual level, but the execution of said concepts. The characters all fill basic anime archetypes. You have the shy guy, the girl who can’t cook, the drunken veteran, the guy you known is smart because he wears glasses, the rich snob, the overly optimistic one, and the humorless lead. Until about the last chapter or two, the game doesn’t even try to break these characters out of their shell, and it becomes difficult to care about more than one or two of them at most. If that weren’t enough, the game is filled to the brim with cutscenes. You will often find yourself watching fifteen to twenty minutes of story sequences between main battles, many of which are repetitive or offer nothing of importance. If that weren’t bad enough, you’ll have to sit through several minutes of loading times that pop up constantly, sometimes during the same scene. The game will often load up a five second scene that adds nothing to the story before moving to a ten second scene that loads into yet another scene. And there end up being even more scenes that you can view optionally, some which could have been easily dropped for all the helpful information they give.

Repetition is the story’s biggest problem. Nothing gets resolved in a timely fashion, so instead the game repeats themes and nearly rehashes entire scenes several times throughout the course of the game, down to near identical dialogue. For example, the Valkyria is a recurring boss throughout the story. You end up fighting her multiple times, on the same battlefield, only to have the fight end with the main character unable to land the final blow because he gets distracted. This lets the Valkyria get a clean shot in. This happens no less than three times throughout the story, and it gets cheaper as it goes. There’s even a character who’s entire job in the game seems to be to stand around and have doubts. He then claims his doubts are cleared. Then he has doubts again. This doesn’t stop until the final moments of the game and makes him a completely worthless character.

There’s also plenty of bad writing here. A few of the game’s biggest reveals are not only telegraphed a mile away, but others are just blatantly illogical. The events that lead to the five traitors being branded as such and facing the proper punishment are complete hypothetical nonsense. There were in fact countless legitimate reasons for Jutland to start a war, so the idea that the five are directly responsible just comes off as silly. There are also several plot points that are simply dropped for what appears to be no good reason.

All told, the story is a conceptually interesting, but completely flawed. The game is bogged down by exposition, repeats scenes and plot threads to pad the length, and fails to develop all but maybe one or two characters. There are too many basic questions left unanswered to call this enjoyable.

Visually, the game is interesting, but underwhelming. Basically, what we have here is a generic fantasy RPG with a texture overlay reminiscent of a piece of canvas. At times, it can look stunning, but other times can look hideous. It doesn’t help that the character models are low rent, featuring next to no facial animations and wearing nonsensical clothes. Given the game’s serious tone, the number of outfits designed to give panty shots instead of protection is just strange. The main character is wearing over a dozen belts on his outfit, and only one seems to be holding anything up. Many characters don’t animate their mouths when they speak, and sometimes the camera pans away so you don’t see it. The bulk of the game’s many story sequences are just characters standing around and talking. Little movement to be seen at all. When you load up a battle, nearby enemies are missing most of their animation frame. This may be a budget game, but it actively looks worse than comparable titles. The nifty canvas texture pack doesn’t make up for much.

Music is the game’s saving grace. Not only do a pair of nifty vocal performances anchor the game’s soundtrack, the orchestral tunes throughout are fitting and quite enjoyable. While I hesitate to call it particularly memorable, I don’t have any real complaints. The same can’t be said of the effects and voice acting. For the effects, they’re often just missing. There are awkward silences throughout the game, such as the princess unsheathing her sound soundlessly. There are also awkward moments where the game keeps playing a character singing while the story acts like she’s stopped. As for the voice acting, it’s often not too bad, but it’s also typically emotionless. Part of of this is because the characters are all one note affairs, but that’s hardly a good enough of excuse. There are exceptions of course, such as Violette. She at least seems to be trying.

Valkyria Revolution‘s mechanics are torn between two worlds. It can’t tell if it wants to be an action game or a role-playing game. According to developers, many of the game’s designs where added late in production, and it shows.

For a battle, you have up to four members in your squad. You have direct control over one of them, but can switch between them at will. You can move freely around the map, and always have the option to block, run, or dodge roll. When your action bar builds up, you can attack. Attacking consists of tapping the cross button. Once you’ve done so, your character will perform a basic combo. This combo will be the same every time, can not be altered, and is again done with one button press. If attacking with your weapon isn’t what you want, you can instead spend your action by opening up your “battle palette” by hitting the triangle button. This stops time and lets you select from your various spells, your sidearm, grenades, items, and issuing an order to an AI companion. Every time you want to do any of these things, the game stops. During hectic battles where you need to make the exact right choice, such as throwing up a healing spell, this is a boon. When you’re just trying to burn through a battle or rack up damage, it can make the game feel too slow.

At the crux of this game is your morale meter. This meter lowers as enemies invade your bases, or your squad members get knocked out. It builds as you take down officers and conquer bases. The further to the right this meter is, the faster your action gauge builds. When you have a full meter, there’s almost no delay, allowing you to spam attacks and spells with abandon. When the meter is empty, you’re often running in circles and waiting for things to do. It’s a weird system.

This game’s biggest problem is its repetition. Your limited options in combat combined with few enemy types means constantly spamming attacks to slog through large groups of weak enemies. While there are a few different mission types, they’re glued to one or two maps each outside of story missions. So if you need to play a free battle to level up a bit, prepare to fight the same battles on same map as much as ten times throughout the course of the game, if not more.

The system isn’t incapable of producing good moments though. When your moral meter is up and you are in the mood to play around, you can find efficient and satisfying methods to win the day. For example, you can toss a grenade into a group of a dozen foes, shoot a runner in the back, and then hack away at the front line all in a matter of a couple in game seconds. When score of foes fall this quickly, it’s hard to not be impressed.

Throughout the game, you’ll encounter of number of bosses. These take the form of either an absurdly large tank or absurdly beefy person. For the tanks, you’re often just at the feet of the machines and spamming attacks. For the people, you have to dodge a bit more, but really you’re just waiting for the chance to spam attacks. Either way, the bosses are bullet sponges that drag battles on sometimes for twenty or more minutes without breaking their pattern or even putting up a fight. If it wasn’t for your dumb AI partners refusing the dodge the obvious one-shot kills, the game would be a complete breeze.

There are a number of RPG mechanics for upgrading your team. For starters, you can upgrade your weapons, allowing you to boost some stats as well as equip more powerful spells. You do this by sacrificing a material called “ragnite”. Problem is, you also equip this ragnite to cast spells. So you’re literally ditching spells to upgrade your characters. This process is painfully slow to start off, and you have far too many characters to even hope to upgrade them all. If you maintain a small team, it’s mostly manageable, but you’ll find yourself forced to use the weaker teammates at various story points. This necessitates grinding, which is never a good thing. Beyond that, you can craft up to four different types of gear. You simply order a type of armor, such as boots or gloves, and then add up to three different materials to specialize it. This could boost defense, give you an extra grenade, and so on. Problem is, you equip your entire party with one item. This means you can’t customize your characters or play to their strengths. If you give the main character a pair of boots that raises his speed, everyone has to wear it, even if you’d prefer they had boosted magical power or something. These systems seem under cooked.

Speaking of under cooked systems, there’s the “circles” and permadeath elements to talk about. Circles are kind of like a poor man’s social links. From time to time, you can visit a group of squad mates as they hang out off duty. They’ll talk about fashion, food, and other things while your character just watches. This does provided some fleshing out of characters, but it ends up too limited to be of use. Too often the scenes are shallow, and nothing that happens in them carry on to the main story. As for permadeath, it’s a complete lie. While characters CAN get knocked out and a timer can reach zero, they only sort of leave your party. You’re given a replacement character in that class and with the same stats. If that weren’t bad enough, the supposedly dead character isn’t written out of the game’s plot at all. They’ll show up, deliver their lines, and carry on like nothing happened. It feels like a system tacked on for the sake of saying it’s there.

Due to the lengthy story sequences and need for constant level grinding, the game’s length can bloat up to over thirty-five or more hours. While that might seem short for RPG fans, bear in mind the game has no over world to travel or side quests to discover. This is all main story and skirmish missions. If you want to see everything the game has to offer, you can spend hours more grinding for the final levels and hoping the circles you need trigger eventually. There are even bonus scenes you can access from the menu, as well as free DLC episodes as well. If you do end up enjoying this game, it will keep you busy. If you don’t end up liking this game, it will feel like it takes an eternity to beat.

Short Attention Span Summary

Valkyria Revolution is in a strange place. For fans of the series, the game offers a completely different experience from top to bottom. Gone is the down to earth feeling and in its place is a more typical fantasy story about magic and those who wield it. Gone are the tactical battles and in its place is a slow paced action game. It seems like a game that wouldn’t appeal well to fans of either strategy games or action games. Beyond that, the game is plagued with poor design choices, loading times, a boring at best story, and a system that rewards repetition above skill. All in all, it’s simply not a good game.

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