Valkyria Chronicles – The Imperial Soldier
There are few RPGs from the last twenty years more memorable than Valkyria Chronicles. With its breathtaking watercolor art style and fusion of third-person shooting with strategic combat, it stands out as an amazing and unique experiment in RPG design. As remarkable as the aesthetics and mechanics of the game are, the story is special as well with dozens of memorable, moving scenes. While images of concentration camps, giant tanks, and Isara’s death at the hands of a sniper are still fresh ten years later, hidden among these is a scene that stands out and shapes the way I look at the narrative; the death of a simple Imperial soldier.
At the beginning of chapter eight, Welkin and Alicia are separated from the rest of Squad 7 by a sudden Imperial attack. Cut off from their allies and with Alicia nursing a twisted ankle, they are forced to seek refuge in an abandoned cottage tucked deep in the woods. As the two of them rest and wait for morning to set out to find Squad 7, an Imperial Soldier stumbles through the front door. However, instead of a firefight breaking out, the soldier collapses to the floor, as he was already badly wounded in some other encounter.
Welkin and Alicia rush over and attempt to save him, but their efforts are to no avail as the wounds are too severe to treat. The player is now witness to this poor soldier’s last few moments as his vision grows dark and he begins to wail for his mother. Alicia grabs the soldier’s hand and pretends to be his mother; consoling and reassuring him that everything will be okay. As she does this, the player sees the soldier’s hand go limp as he slowly slips away.
The next morning, an Imperial squad of soldiers captures Welkin and Alicia at the cottage, just as they have finished burying the soldier in a shallow grave. After seeing that the two attempted to save the soldier’s life (we learn his name is Fritz) and treated him with such care, they allow Welkin and Alicia to leave. There is an understanding that they all will be facing each other again on the battlefield, trying to slaughter one another, but for now they leave with respect for one another.
I love this tiny bit of humanity in a game full of warfare. It reminds me of the Christmas truce during World War I, where both sides stopped fighting, came out of the trenches, and shared Christmas together. After that happened, the leadership on both sides made sure it never happened again because dehumanizing the enemy is a key part of warfare. It’s much easier to kill someone on the other side when they are viewed as evil monsters rather than as just some farmer conscripted into fighting for his country.
Valkyria isn’t subtle in its attempts to make the player contemplate the humanity of the enemies. Alicia explicitly states: “I’d always just thought of Imperials as monsters out to kill Gallians… But they are just as human as we are…” Even though I had mowed down dozens of enemies by this point, after Fritz, I was wondering if that next soldier I killed had a wife and kids waiting for him back home. It made the enemy human and gave consequence to the actions of Squad 7.
This scene also highlights the subtly that Valkyria Chronicles treats warfare with. I always saw this scene as anti-war, but Valkyria as a whole certainly isn’t anti-war. It strongly makes the case that your home and family are worth fighting and dying for. Despite this, Valkyria never falls into romanticizing warfare like so many games and other media do; war is awful with steep costs to life. That’s why “Fritz” is so important. Even when fighting a just war for honorable reasons, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t decent human beings on the other side. Even enemies call out for their mothers when their lives are slowly snuffed out.
Spoiler Warning: Memorable Moments from the Past 20 Years