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   Valkyria Chronicles - Staff Review  

Chronicles of Originality
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Valkyria Chronicles
PLATFORM
PS3
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
5
STORY
4
MUSIC & SOUND
5
VISUALS
5
CHALLENGE
Moderate
LENGTH
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
4.5/5
+ Highly unique, enjoyable battle system
+ Impressive overall presentation
+ Even optional units have personality
- Positioning could be awkward at times
- Story is rather transparent
- Not long enough, I wanted more
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Valkyria Chronicles didn't start off very well when Sega released it in North America back in November 2008. The game received positive support from the press, but it just wasn't flying off store shelves. Despite its initial problems, Sega recently announced that in April 2009 alone, the game saw a 400% increase in North American sales. So nearly half a year later, many gamers, myself included, are learning exactly what makes Valkyria Chronicles a game to take notice of, but exactly how good is it?

   Set in an alternative spin on World War II-era Europe, Valkyria Chronicles focuses on the story of Welkin Gunther as he returns to his hometown of Bruhl during the middle of the Second Europan War. Upon returning, Welkin is detained for questioning by baker-turned-town guard Alicia Melchiot. Just as they are getting the situation cleared up, the invading Empire attacks the town. From this point the war escalates, and Welkin is soon placed in charge of a small militia known as Squad 7. The story is very well-told and contains solid dialogue, but the overall plot is not the most original aspect of the game. Character development is very strong in Valkyria Chronicles as the main protagonists are fleshed out during optional side missions and the interludes between battles. Even typically generic soldiers have a brief background written about them to help give them their own unique personalities. As for the central plot, it offers a decent amount of development for the main characters, but most of the game's plot twists are transparent and the story is fairly predictable. All in all, the game is a light-hearted tale mixed with some mature themes such as the reality of war, death, prejudice, and sacrifice.

   Complementing the story of Valkyria Chronicles is its unique real-time tactical combat system. Like most tactical RPGs, Valkyria is broken up into missions and combat is turn-based, but that's about where the similarities to other tactical games end. Both the player and enemy sides get command points at the beginning of their turn, and these points are then used up as party members are moved around. Players can chose to use all of their command points in a single turn or opt to store them for use in a later turn. Once a unit has been selected, the most unique aspect of Valkyria Chronicles kicks into gear. Players now have to maneuver the selected unit around the battle field in real-time, meaning that enemies will attempt to gun them down as they get in firing position. Once the unit is ready to attack, the combat pauses to allow ample time for aiming and firing, before going back to the real-time battlefield. This mechanic is a welcome addition that creates a new level of engagement lacked by other games in the subgenre.

Fair? How is this fair?

   Valkyria Chronicles gives players lot of options in customizing their squad. There are five different classes of infantry units available in combat, as well as tanks. Scouts and snipers both fulfill their expected roles, while shocktroopers act as a general melee unit with average movement range. Lancers are tank destroyers with low range and high defensive abilities, and engineers are utilitarian units, being able to disarm mines and repair tanks and sandbags. Players can choose to create a squad with any mix of these units they wish, but only a certain amount can be deployed into battle. Tanks, however, play a part in almost every battle, and the main tank, Edelweiss, needs to be protected at all cost. Though a vast majority of the squad's units will be generic characters, each will have their own pros and cons such as performing better around a specific character or becoming hindered around grass due to allergies. These unique attributes actually give players a reason to use certain non-storyline characters, so it's useful to have Vyse and Aika on the squad for reasons other than the fact that they are from Skies of Arcadia.

   Units do not level up individually, as no experience points are given during combat. Rather, experience is awarded after each combat mission, based on performance. Players then have the decision as to which classes will level up meaning all units of that class type will be improved. As classes level up, Welkin gains different orders to use in battle. These powerful commands will enhance the squad or individual units at the cost of using up command points. While not crucial, orders allow those in a tight spot a bonus that could mean success in an otherwise hopeless situation. Missions in Valkyria Chronicles are almost puzzle-like in their design, as there are a few key aspects that generally need to be completed in order to complete the battle within a certain number of turns and earn the highest rank. For those unable to figure out exactly what to do during missions, repeatable skirmish battles are available for extra experience. Making things even more manageable is the fact that progress can be saved during battles, not just between them.

   The visual presentation of Valkyria Chronicles is one of its strongest areas. Sega's newly created CANVAS graphics engine gives the game a beautiful watercolored look for use in both anime-style cutscenes and comic book-style dialogue exchanges. The fully animated scenes are quite remarkable, a true highlight of the game, but not all story moments take advantage of it. Some of the game's character interactions are limited to animated headshots, and while both of these designs are equally detailed, the fully animated scenes are much more impressive than the others.

You > Tanks Tanks don't really stand a chance though...

   Valkyria's soundtrack and voice acting are also quite remarkable. Hitoshi Sakimoto has crafted a soundtrack for this title that even those who are not diehard fans of his work should be able to appreciate. His battle themes and other pieces for some of the more dramatic scenes all fit very well with the theme of the game. The voice acting is at a similarly high level, which is a good thing as it is very plentiful throughout the game. Not only do the main characters have voiced lines, but each of the optional squad members have their own voice that fits their unique personality. There is Jann, the effeminate male lancer; Hannes, the scruffy shocktrooper who loves "meat and pie," and also Wendy, the overly ambitious explosives lover. The level of detail that went into every aspect of the presentation of Valkyria Chronicles is easy to see, and it is hard not to be impressed.

   An initial playthrough of Valkyria Chronicles should net most gamers between twenty to thirty hours assuming that they don't get stuck in a rut trying to complete certain missions. Most battles can be completed with care and precise tactics, but for those unable to figure out what to do, there is at least the skirmish mode that offers some extra playtime to help them get some extra practice. Regardless of a gamer's skill level, there should be something to enjoy for everyone.

   Valkyria Chronicles is an outstanding game with an original combat system and a brilliant presentation. The unique combat is not without its flaws, but considering that it is a first take on this new style of gameplay, it's difficult to complain too much. The story, while not the most unique or compelling, is told in a way that makes it enjoyable. The characters are charming, even the lowly ones with no direct bearing on the story. All in all, Valkyria Chronicles is thoroughly enjoyable and a great starting point for what hopefully will become a new series. Now, tactical RPG fans just need to do their part and purchase this game to help us ensure that more unique titles like this get made.

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