ESRB Rating: T
Review by: Bill Jones
Every once in a great while a stellar game like Valkyria Chronicles comes along – a critic’s delight that sees all the right pieces (beautiful visuals, great sound, engaging story and innovative gameplay) fall right into place, creating a masterpiece of the medium. And then it inevitably comes in under the radar and gets dwarfed by the sales of sequels, usually abysmal licensed titles and otherwise “safe” bets.
But sales figures don’t dictate the quality of a game, and the single-platform (PS3) exclusive Valkyria Chronicles is a gem of the gaming medium. Players assume the role of Welkin Gunther, the son of a war hero, who is more interested in nature than following in his father’s footsteps. But war tears through the land of Europa, and soon Gunther has no choice but to fight for his country, leading Squad 7 against a powerful army.
Gameplay is a seemless melding of role-playing, strategy and shooter that boldly mixes its genres, creating something that is entirely its own. Players first see the map of a given stage, and place different characters types – Scout, Shocktrooper, Sniper, Engineer, etc – in allotted positions. Sometimes enemy positions are visible at the outset; other times the enemy has a few surprises up its sleeves.
Then the battle starts, and players have a limited number of “Command” points to activate certain characters. Once a character is chosen, the gamer controls that person in “Action” mode and has a number of options, including attacking (with crosshairs to aim), while ideally advancing the character to some form of cover, because when Command points are depleted, it is the enemy’s turn to attack.
Every map has win/loss conditions that must be met to advance. Players are forced to consider the strengths and weaknesses of every class, as well as advantages and disadvantages to certain tactics on every single map. The gameplay gets even deeper once the player begins to control and battle vehicles, characters get fatigued or injured, Command points are used on team-wide changes and upgrade decisions become necessary between battles for troops, weaponry and a tank.
Valkyria Chronicles presents gameplay that is incredibly deep, yet simplified to be easily understandable on the gamer’s end. The battles are always fresh, requiring some serious strategizing. And while single fights can sometimes last more than an hour, the battles are so engaging that failing one doesn’t frustrate rather than beg the gamer to jump back in to figure out where things went wrong. And that’s a huge testament to the quality of this game.
The story is exciting, and its characters achieve the difficult feat of truly grabbing the player and demanding sympathy. This goes not only for Gunther, but supporting characters from Gunther’s close friends, to his military acquaintances, even down to the grunts, who are all infused with personality. Everyone has unique qualities, and they all have the opportunity to learn and change based on the world and happenings around them.
And their stories are skillfully told. Valkyria Chronicles presents everything in storybook format, where pages of the book contain cutscenes leading up to the battles, as well as optional side stories that unfold in a number of ways. The cutscenes are an absolutely beautiful watercolor painting come to life that creates a tone somewhere between an Americanized anime and cel-shading.
Valkyria Chronicles is a masterpiece from top to bottom, with incredible gameplay and a story that has the power to evoke real emotions. It is an innovative work of interactive art.
For more info, www.sega.com/valkyria