Because Mister Adequate is busy being sick, and Pike is busy working on a writing project, we are proud to present you with a guest post from one of our very good friends. Enjoy!
I met Mister Adequate last year, and one of the first conversations we had was about the true definitions of the terms “strategy” and “tactical.” These were both terms he was intimately familiar with, and terms which I have no doubt I will use incorrectly throughout the rest of this article.
Valkyria Chronicles is the first installment in the series of the same name. Categorising this game is a challenge, as it seems to blend elements from JRPG, turn-based strategy and third-person shooter. The resulting mix is an enjoyable, anime-styled tale of a misfit group of soldiers who turn the tide in a war. For a game that is almost 5-years-old, Valkyria Chronicles has not only aged gracefully, but is also an example of how to innovate in an industry that, at times, feels very “samey.”
Plot-wise, Valkyria Chronicles is just a colourful reimagining of World War II. Set in the supposedly-fictional-but-way-too-obviously-inspired Europa, the game concerns a massive conflict (the Second Great War, would you believe?) between the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation, a coalition of allied democracies.
The similarities are painfully obvious, but Valkyira Chronicles makes up for it in other areas. Our heroes are from peaceful and independent Gallia, a little nation rich in “Ragnite,” a material highly prized for its uses in medicine, technology and armaments. The Empire invades and Gallia struggles against them – I’m sure most people can figure the plot based on tropes. It’s presented through a history book, a concept I enjoy quite strongly.
The cast is mostly comprised of stereotypes, all the way from protagonist Welkin Gunther (idyllic country boy rises to the challenge) to the minor squadmate Marina Wulfstan, whose lone-wolf sniper personality is textbook – and the allusion in her name doesn’t go amiss either. The characters are fun and light-hearted, and Valkyria Chronicles goes out of its way to develop the backstories of the squadmates you can recruit in an attempt to get you to care whether they live or die. Some of the racism-related discourse is actually decent quality too, but it tends on the didactic side and it’s almost too in-your-face at times.
The true value in Valkyria Chronicles, the thing that really sets it apart from its rivals, is in the battle-system. Blending turn-based strategy and real-time shooting sounds confusing (explaining it is going to be an absolute bitch), and while it is hardly perfect, it works.
You’re given a set number of units (of varying skills and abilities) as well as a set number of moves. Moving units involves a transition into third-person and real-time, where enemy units will open fire, you can move (up to the extent of your movement points), take fire and attack. Multiple units can be moved on your turn, or you can move the same one multiple times.
After your turn, the enemy follows the same process, giving your units the chance to automatically return fire as the enemy approaches. Battles are simple “capture the flag” type affairs for the most part. It invokes feelings of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, if Fire Emblem had guns and heavy-handed allusions to World War II and Advance Wars had units you were meant to give a shit about. It really is one of those things you have to see to understand.
Conveniently, I have a link. And yes, it takes 2 minutes for the battle to begin; Valkyria Chronicles isn’t for those who love fast-paced action.
It is far from perfect, however. Of the five classes, you only really need one – the Scout – with occasional assistance from the anti-tank Lancer units. After each battle you’re given a ranking. The only way to achieve a decent rating is to throw strategy to the wind and simply rush the objective, hardly an exercise in effective tactical warfare and one that punishes the careful commander.
At the end of the day, Valkyria Chronicles tries something new and half-succeeds. Even though it was far from a commercial hit, it isn’t a surprise two sequels have been made – though Sega really dropped the ball by releasing both on PSP and only one outside of Japan. Valkyria Chronicles is not only decent, it is a shining example of an attempt at something creative. While most innovation in the current day centres around narrative (as if injecting narrative into any game automatically improves it), it’s nice to see that some people are trying to do interesting things with gameplay too.
Today’s post was brought to you by the immensely talented and lovely Dakota “Jiro” Barker, who can also be seen at his own gaming news blog. Don’t forget to imagine everything in an Aussie accent when you read!