The Valkyria series has led a rather odd life. The first entry, Valkyria Chronicles, released on the PS3 in 2008 to critical acclaim. Despite this, middling sales meant that when SEGA decided to release a sequel in 2010, it landed on the PSP. A third entry followed a year later, though this was only released in Japan. After years of dormancy 2017 sees the release of Valkyria Revolution, a spinoff seeking to revive the brand with a new action-heavy focus.
Revolution tells the story of a group of childhood friends who – fuelled by a thirst for revenge – conspire to send their country of Jutland to war with the oppressive Ruzi Empire. Under the guise of freeing the country from an economic blockade that has caused a recession, this group known as the Circle of Five are able to sway opinion from the shadows.
The primary protagonist is Amleth Grønkjær, a soldier in the Jutish army and a leading member of the Circle. Joining him in this conspiracy is the politician Solomon, journalist Fritte, espionage agent Violette, and Basille, a businessman dealing in ragnite weaponry. Each member contributes significantly to the war effort, whether it be defeating their enemies on the battlefield, or influencing policy and the public.
Amleth is also the commanding officer of Vanargand, an elite unit tasked with combating the titular Valkyria who serve as the Empire’s most deadly weapon. The members of Vanargand are – on the whole – minor secondary characters of little consequence. The Princess Ophelia and her personal bodyguard Godot are exceptions to this, with their unwavering devotion to Jutland acting as a foil to the Circle’s selfish quest.
While these numerous perspectives are ambitious, there is unfortunately a great deal of wasted potential here. Revolution is awkwardly framed in flashback, with the game opening on a curious history student asking his teacher about the Circle Of Five. He’s convinced the history books don’t tell the whole truth. It’s an interesting starting point, but becomes something of a burden to the story as it removes any tension from proceedings. They are meeting at the collective grave of the Circle, and refer to them as traitors, leaving no mystery as to the characters’ fates.
Another significant issue with the story is the importance placed on the events surrounding the war and the Circle of Five, which comes at the expense of the characters themselves. None of them were developed in a profound way, remaining for the most part static throughout the game’s entirety.
Much of this is because the story is so stubbornly focused on the war, giving little breathing room for characters to talk to each other on a personal level or share a laugh. Without any levity, the entire cast felt incredibly flat. I couldn’t escape the feeling that each and every character seemed to function as a plot device, a servant to the story. There are optional side stories that give a little insight into characters, and the final act has an inkling of emotion, but the main story is fertile ground for an exploration of morality that is sorely lacking.
It doesn’t help that stiff and limited animations are entrusted to bring these characters to life. The gorgeous Canvas Engine that gave Valkyria Chronicles it’s unique appearance returns for Revolution, yet is far more subtle; characters appear as slightly more lifelike than their stylistically cel-shaded predecessors. When characters make a move to walk off screen, they awkwardly shuffle into the direction they mean to walk in before pausing and proceeding in robotic fashion.
The most annoying thing about how the characters are presented however is the near lack of facial expressions. When a character is speaking with anger, determination or joy, and their facial expression is blank, any emotion washes away. Lead character Amleth is the prime example of this, with the entirety of the game going by with only a handful of subtle smiles and frowns.
All of this is in spite of a handful of other design decisions that present far more reason to be positive. Each character features a unique design, with no two protagonists looking alike. There is also an overall bright, vibrant colour scheme that adds a level of polish. A rousing soundtrack and wonderful Japanese voice acting are also on show here to offer redeeming qualities to an otherwise underwhelmingly presented package.
When it comes to gameplay, Revolution features a far different experience than previous games in the series. An action RPG system with a focus on melee weapons replaces the Chronicles’ core tactical RPG experience. This system involves complete freedom of movement, with a gauge that needs to be recharged between actions on the battlefield. Firearms still appear, though as secondary weapons in the form of rifles, rocket launchers, and sniper rifles.
A momentum mechanic during missions allows for the tide of combat to influence how quickly the action gauge recharges. When things are going poorly, recharge time reflects morale with an excruciatingly long wait time between actions. The opposite is also true, with instantaneous recharge and nervous enemies a reward for a strong performance. The net effect of this is a system shifts you between godlike efficiency and a crippling handicap with very little in-between. Both are unnecessary; the concept is interesting on paper, but poorly implemented in practise.
There is also a magic system in the game, with the members of Vanargand using the series’ much valued mineral ragnite to cast spells in one of four elements; fire, water, earth, and wind. Ragnite spells offer a wealth of options in combat, with a healthy variety that damage and debuff enemies, or heal and support allies. My personal favourites were the devastating fire spells that damage and burn opponents, and area of effect healing spells that create safe zones on a battlefield. Rather handily, striking an opponent with a melee weapon refuels Ragnite Points (RP) to allow more spells to be cast.
Ragnite spells are also used to upgrade each character’s weaponry in a grid based system with additional layers unlocked at certain points in the story. This allows for obsolete spells to be recycled to improve each character as newer, stronger alternatives are found in battle. It’s a very welcome feature, as upgrades for secondary weapons and armour require money earned from missions.
Despite advertising for the game asserting the contrary, Revolution lacks any semblance of strategy gameplay. While there are customisable tactics that can be set for each character, I didn’t notice an appreciable difference in the behaviour of my A.I. comrades when altering them. Indeed, I played a large portion of the game without even touching this feature. The game boils down to tapping the attack button repeatedly while mixing in a few shots from a gun and some ragnite spells, without any real thought to how best approach a battle.
This feeling of repetition is a theme to the missions in Revolution. Around halfway through the game new enemy types became rare, with later missions dragging as a result. They become simple cannon fodder, easily dispatched due to both familiarity and an absence of intelligence. A couple of bosses – one of which being the Valkyria herself – also occurred too frequently. The repetition of boss fights can only ever feel like a cynical tactic to pad the length of an experience without contributing anything meaningful.
While the game normally ran at a stable framerate, I did notice a few stutters when enemies were numerous. The only other issue I found was a bug during the penultimate boss fight. After reducing my foe to zero health, I was surprised by the fight continuing. A few additional hits confirmed my fears that I had encountered a bug, which meant I had to restart a ninety minute mission and search for a solution online.
Unfortunately, this frustrating climactic moment is perfectly emblematic of the game; a great deal of time devoted to very little gain. Revolution’s lacklustre action RPG gameplay is matched by a nearly complete disregard for building sympathetic characters, who exist to serve an underwhelming narrative. Valkyria Revolution fails on almost every level to recapture the qualities that made its predecessors cult classics.
Mark received a digital copy of Valkyria Revolution from SEGA for review.