Every generation of console has specific titles that define their genre to the truest extent. The original PlayStation had Final Fantasy VII, Star Ocean: The Second Story and Suikoden II. Its older brother, PlayStation 2, had Final Fantasy X, Disgaea and Persona 3. Now, finally, PlayStation 3 has its first defining title within the roleplaying genre – Valkyria Chronicles.
Although it may seem premature to make such a bold statement this early in the console’s lifecycle, it should be apparent to anyone who has played this mammoth epic that it is indeed worthy of such praise.
The story follows the heroic tale of the leader of Squad 7 for the Gallian militia, Lieutenant Welkin Gunther. Gunther, who is the son of a Gallian hero from the first Europan War, is ultimately caught up in a second conflict upon returning to his hometown in the heat of an enemy invasion. Due to the Universal Conscription policy, Welkin is drafted into the militia as a Tank Commander over Squad 7. Serving alongside Gunther is his younger sister, Isara, along with fellow citizen Alicia, who hails from the nearby town of Bruhl. Squad 7’s objective is to drive back the invading Imperial force and return Gallia to the peaceful, yet neutral state it has always taken.
The entire world of Valkyria Chronicles plays out through the storytelling of Irene Koller and her novel, On the Gallian Front. This setting demonstrates the desire to have a story-driven title that will immerse gamers within this fictitious environment. Navigating the book is a simple process that utilizes a “Tab” system to find what you’re looking for. There are tabs designated for the main story as well as your Headquarters, Skirmishes (mini-game), Character Information, Weapon Information, Decorations (Medals) and other various details. Of course, you spend the bulk of your time within the story mode and Headquarter aspects of the title.
Following the main story involves going from section to section of the book and witnessing each part of the story in a visual setting. These take place in three different styles. One involves watching characters in full movement discuss a situation and carefully plan it out while another allows you to watch animated heads talk within squares to help push the story along. Regardless of which type you’re watching, both function efficiently in bringing you into the action and making you feel a part of Squad 7. While some gamers may find it a tad boring to sit through conversation after conversation, it is a lot more entertaining that your standard text bubbles without voice interaction. The third and final style is the strategic gameplay.
Each chapter of the book contains one or two battles that you must fight in order to defeat the Imperial Empire. Before the battle begins, your Captain will give you a layout and a general idea of what is expected within combat. Objectives are then listed and you’re required to meet a certain goal without allowing any of the failing situations to occur. Failing situations generally involve taking no more than 20 turns to win a battle or preventing Gunther from perishing in battle. While these objectives may sound relatively simple, they offer challenging experiences that will result in failure from time to time.
The combat revolves around a strategical, third-person shooter style of play that is rare within SRPGs. Each side is given Command Points that are utilized to take actions within your turn. Certain actions consume more CP than others. For instance, maneuvering around in the tank with Gunther will squander two CP while going in with Alicia as a scout only consumes one. Throughout the battlefield there are locations scattered where players can take cover or utilize flanking possibilities to overwhelm and overtake their enemies. Gunther can also issue out “Orders” from within the tank that can be relayed to specific or all soldiers. These can range from increased defense to accuracy boosts.
One of the larger strategy elements involves the Action Gauge. This is a small meter at the bottom of the screen that displays how far a soldier can maneuver before they’re stuck in one place. Each type of soldier has a different meter amount, making it sometimes a critical choice to decide which type of soldier should be utilized at what time. Soldiers can be selected more than once per turn, but each selection will decrease the action gauge a certain percentage until your next full turn. The longest to shortest action gauge follows this order: Scouts, Engineers, Shock Troopers, Lancers then Snipers.
However, when it comes to an offensive attack, the Action Gauge is not affected and each unit is only allowed one offensive/defensive action per Command Point. This involves using health, repairing vehicles, grenades or firing on your enemy. Unfortunately, attacking Imperial Soldiers isn’t based on skill so much as it is based on luck. Gamers have no control over if a shot or burst of shots will hit their intended target. Instead, the game decides for you. While some may argue that this takes a lot away from the gameplay, others may realize how much more realistic this makes the element of war. Characters can also die in battle and be removed from the game entirely.
This does not include your main arsenal of Alicia, Welkin, Rosie or Largo, but it does include the other soldiers of your 20-member family. While this may not seem significant at first, it’s quite easy to grow attached to certain characters and their positive impact in battle. The only downfall within the gameplay, surprisingly enough, is the fact that you can’t do anything during the enemy phase. The game doesn’t allow you to pause, it doesn’t allow you to skip, nothing. Hopefully this is something they correct while developing a potential sequel.
Now that you have a taste of what the gameplay is like, let’s head over to Headquarters to find out what it’s all about. Headquarters is going to be your home away from home, if you get what I mean. This is where you equip your soldiers with the most advanced weaponry, select your squad, train your soldiers in order to gain level upgrades, buy weapon upgrades, purchase additional order commands, receive medals and finally, read the Writing on the Wall. Each section in your Headquarters is important and none should ever be neglected.
During the recruitment process of your Squad, an important element that comes into play is Soldier Personalities. These personalities determine how effective a soldier can be on the battlefield and can lead to certain statistical boosts. For example, Gunther is a big time Nature Lover. Therefore, when he is on a dirt road, he will gain a boost in certain categories that enables him to pose a larger threat in battle. These specifics also help gamers mold their squad to their liking, which adds to the attachment to each character. The roster of recruit’s updates after every chapter, so be sure to check in and see if there is someone new you may want to add.
The Training Field is where the RPG elements of Valkyria Chronicles come into play. Unlike other titles in the genre, Valkyria utilizes a class level system rather than a solo-level system. Instead of watching one soldier continuously level up and become God-like, the entire class (Scout) levels up together. This makes it a lot less difficult to switch soldiers in and out within the barracks if a new recruit comes along that you like. Leveling your classes at the Training Field also brings about the possibility of learning new Potentials. These Potentials include things such as “Undodgeable Shot,” which results in every shot you take connecting during battle.
Visually speaking, Valkyria is no slouch. Its cel-shaded style that looks more water-colored than anything is aesthetically pleasing. With the screen not being filled entirely with the water-color, it leaves uneven edges around the border which only helps imbue the thought that this story takes place on a water board canvas. Surprisingly enough, character detail is superb. I’m not only talking about the main characters either, in fact, all characters are crafted beautifully and show the attention to detail that the designers had when creating this game. Even with roughly 30+ side-characters, each one is unique and has something that sets him/her apart from the others. Whether it’s an accent when they speak, their facial features or just the way they react to certain situation, each character has its own personality that brings them to the forefront of the game. This also leads into the brilliant audio portion of the title.
Each character (including side characters) is given a distinct voice and personality no matter how small of a role they may play in the title. This is something other RPGs should take note, as it makes the game world that much more believable. Valkyria Chronicles also features a soundtrack composed by the same man that scored Final Fantasy XII, Hitoshi Sakimoto. Although Sakimoto’s compositions here are beautiful in their own right, they do tend to get a little repetitive from time to time, though this isn’t really a major issue.
PlayStation 3 owners have been crying, scrambling, petitioning, yelling, moaning and whining for great roleplaying games on their platform of choice – now they have a defining title within that genre. Valkyria Chronicles offers 25-30 hours of gameplay that features tremendous amounts of replayability. Any PS3 owner that loves RPGs and is expecting developers to continue to offer these exclusive titles on the console should go out and purchase Valkyria Chronicles.