Valkyria Chronicles is an RPG thatâ€™s not an RPG â€“ if that makes any sense. Actually, itâ€™s more a mix of genres all rolled into one: Turn-based, real-time, RPG, Action, Strategy, First-person Shooter and War Tactics. Never the less, whatever genre you feel happy squashing Valkyria Chronicles into itâ€™s still a good game. No. Itâ€™s a great game!
The first thing you notice about Valkyria Chronicles is the graphics. As trite as that sounds, itâ€™s true. The mixture of pencil sketching, cell-shading and water colour painting results in soft, muted colours that are visually stunning and, oddly, fit well with the, often violent, on-screen action. What I did find a little strange though was the almost total absence of blood, given that itâ€™s a war game. That aside, Valkyria Chronicles is captivatingly beautiful.
Valkyria Chronicles is set in a world startlingly similar to our own. The year is 1935 and the setting is the neutral country of Gallia, which is set between two super-powers, the Atlantic Federation and the East European Imperial Alliance, who are battling over ragnite â€“ a mineral that can be used for everything from fuel to medicine, and is exceedingly scarce. When the game begins the Imperial Alliance is poised to invade Gallia, which is ragnite rich. The Imperial Allianceâ€™s initial push into Gallia serves as the tutorial and the first chapter. â€˜Chapterâ€™ isnâ€™t just an aptly used description because the game actually plays out on the pages of the book â€˜On the Gallian Front.â€™ So in effect, the war has already been fought and is in the past. A novel concept and a nice twist. And before you think about asking, no, you canâ€™t look ahead to see what happens.
The Hero, Welkin Gunther, is drawn into the war when he returns from the university where he is studying Animal Sociology to his hometown to help his sister, Isara, evacuate before the war. As soon as he arrives Welken is apprehended as a spy by the gameâ€™s other principal character, Alicia Melchiott, when she finds him sitting beside a stream writing in a small notebook. When itâ€™s realised he is the son of a renown army commander and that he was sketching fish rather than penning coded information Alicia releases him and then gives him a gun to help fight the enemy soldiers that have been spotted nearby.
The initial combat tutorial gives you a good grounding and is reasonably simple. To begin you enter the Command Mode, which is actually a birdâ€™s eye view of the battleground showing where your troops and the enemy troops are situated. Each force has a set number of Command Points, and it costs One CP to move a unit into the designated place â€“ preferably behind adequate cover. When you â€˜spendâ€™ the CP and move the unit â€“ in the tutorial itâ€™s Welkin, Alicia or one of the guards that â€˜capturedâ€™ you â€“ the camera returns to the ground and Action Mode begins. AM is where the unit/character moves to the targeted area in real-time. Movement is limited by the AP Gauge (Action Point) which is shown as a bar along the bottom of the screen that steadily decreases as you move into place. Once there you enter the Target Mode where you take aim and then open fire. Fortunately the action pauses while you take aim, because up until that moment the enemy can, and will, fire at you. When you fire you can choose head shots, with more risk but more chace to kill outright, or you can choose body shots which takes a little longer for a kill but has more chance of hitting the enemy. Once you have fired your volley of shots the enemy gets his turn to open fire on you.
Valkyria Chronicles is more flexible and allows for more choices than the average war game because your Command Points can be used however you wish. For instance, rather than using each unit one after the other you could choose to move one unit two, or even, three times, allowing him to move into position, take aim and fire and then move out of harmâ€™s way. And if you donâ€™t use all your CPâ€™s they will carry over to the next battle, giving you more options. You can also stockpile them for use later in the game when the going gets really tough.
As the game progresses units gain members and consists of various classes of military: scouts, snipers, engineers and assault troops. Each class is allotted different amounts of APs (Actions Points) and therefore have different rates of mobility, in order to balance this some troops have more powerful attacks. For example scouts have high mobility but their attacks are relatively weak, snipers have low mobility but their attacks are strong. The different types of units make up a rock-paper-scissors dynamic. For example: tanks are more powerful than infantry, infantry is more powerful than anti-tank units, and anti-tanks units are more powerful than tanks.
Itâ€™s not all plain sailing in Valkyria Chronicles because sometimes your characters will die. Unlike other games though, once a character is dead, they stay dead. That doesnâ€™t mean, however, that as soon as a character hits the dirt on the battlefield that they will immediately die. If another character can reach the character within three turns a medic will arrive and remove the injured soldier to a safe place. If, however, an enemy reaches the downed character within three turns he/she will die. On the down side, Valkyria Chroniclesâ€™ AI could have done with a tweak as seems more â€˜magicâ€™ than skill directing the bullets, or the enemy will waste Command Points on manoeuvres that have been shown not to work. And occasionally the enemy will move a unit forward and then back for no apparent reason.
The lead characters in Valkyria Chronicles are always the most important, but every other character has his/her own face, voice and personality, and as such they have their own foibles. A character will receive a stat boost when he/she is in the same unit as someone who compliments their personality. For example, a male soldier who is a â€˜ladiesâ€™ manâ€™ will receive a stat boost whenever he is near female soldiers. There are gay soldiers, racist soldiers, angry soldiers, in fact the very kinds of soldiers that make up a real live military, and with the inherent troubles they bring. While the game doesnâ€™t punish you for not taking notice of the members of your squad it will reward you if you do.
On the whole, although Valkyria Chronicles is an excellent game and it gets better the more attention you pay and the deeper you go. Hitoshi Sakimotoâ€™s soundtrack is, of course brilliant. And although the voice acting is above average the sound effects could have been more varied and a little better quality. The graphics, as Iâ€™ve already said, are truly fabulous and although I never felt as though I was in an actual war, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.