Recently, I noticed I have taken a slight interest in strategy RPG games. They are also known as tactics games. These are games that usually have you move multiple units around on a grid-like base, and then attack once, and then hope you don’t get attacked back and die on the enemy’s turn. These games include franchises like Fire Emblem which is Nintendo’s tactics franchise, the Final Fantasy Tactics series which is usually Sony and Nintendo’s handheld tactics series, and other series like Advance War, Military Madness, Suikoden Tactics, the Japan-popular, Super Robot Taisen series, and Saiyuki: Journey to the West. I have recently reviewed a tactics games on my blog. It’s the underrated gem known as Vanguard Bandits, a rather solid tactics game where you pilot giant robots right out of Escaflowne. Its 10 dollars on PSN so I can easily recommend downloading it since hard copies go for 70 or more dollars. However, today’s review is focused on a PS3 underrated gem that just happens to be a VERY unique tactics game, Valkyria Chronicles. I am surprised this game didn’t sell better than it did, due to a very well done story, innovative combat for the genre, and a beautiful artistic and musical presentation. It is one of the best games for the system.
The story starts off in an alternate history of 1935 in a fictional European country called Europa. Two factions, the autocratic East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation in the west dominate this country, fighting over an energy source that powers everything. The Imperial Alliance has slowly been dominating the country with a small area in Europa getting mixed into the war. The story focuses on Welkin Gunther, voiced by Dave Wittenberg. He is just getting back to his hometown from being away at school. As he gets home, he encounters a girl named Alicia Melchiott, voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey, who is part of a small group of people trying to protect this town from the Imperial force that is coming. After getting a tank, and picking up Welkin’s sister Isara Gunther, voiced by Laura Bailey, they leave town after beating an Imperial attack force, and join the Gallia forces, an army that is protecting the small country from the Imperial Alliance. Throughout the story, you meet some interesting characters, like the calm-minded, but hard-headed anti-tank soldier, Largo Potter, voiced by Fred Tatasciore and the spunky and harsh personality-driven shock trooper Brigitte “Rosie” Stark, voiced by Hedy Burress. The villains are also interesting and the story is great. It just made me want to watch films like Saving Private Ryan or Fullmetal Jacket. It’s one of the better stories of recent years you will see in a game. It’s like a well-crafted anime film, but it’s a tactics game.
Like I just said above, Valkyria Chronicles is a more streamlined turn-based tactics game. It basically takes the typical tactics-style gameplay and makes it more energetic, interactive, and much deeper than other Tactics games like Vanguard Bandits or Final Fantasy Tactics. They first ditch the whole grid system and go for a more open map-like battleground, where you can move around mostly wherever you want. You take your turn to move your soldiers around, who range from scouts, shock troopers, anti-tank soldiers, snipers, to mechanics. Each class has their own special strengths and weaknesses, like anti-tank soldiers are slow and have limited ammo, while scouts are all around strong and can move further than anyone. Snipers as another example can’t move far, but can do headshots with brutal accuracy. There is no timer to speak of, but there is a stamina bar that shows you how much longer you can move your specific soldier around. You can move your soldier many times, but the bar doesn’t fill up every time you move them, so you can’t just rely on one soldier to do everything. Another major gimmick is that you can control a tank that can cause massive firepower and can take down other tanks when the anti-tank soldiers aren’t near yet. The main goal is to usually capture the enemy flag, where you can make soldiers retreat and even recruit soldiers to replace fallen soldiers, which means that you won’t be struggling or get outnumbered by the enemy. Each command takes off a command point that you can use to control a single soldier or make commands that could take more than one command point. There is a huge amount of strategy to this game and this one reviewer won’t be able to cover everything, but I will try. Leveling and equipment management is now streamlined with every class leveling up at the same time, which means you don’t have to worry about one soldier or another being too weak to survive in the later parts of the game. Equipment is also all upgraded at once so every soldier will have the same weapon fully upgraded. While you move your character around, you can also stop, aim, and attack the enemy, and while you are in that mode, enemies won’t attack you, which is nice since it would have made this game so much more tedious if they did. During battle, if your soldiers fall, you will need to get to them to call a medic to get them off the battlefield or else they will permanently be taken out of the game for good if you don’t get to them in a certain amount of time or the enemies get to them. In battle, you can give soldiers commands, like more accuracy, better defense, raise attack power, and other commands. There is a lot of depth, and I enjoy how different this tactics game is, compared to other games. There are even parts of the game that will require you to do different kinds of missions, like stealth, or to take down a huge boss.
The graphics are one of the best things going for this game. It has a very soft cel-shaded sketchbook-style look. Every character is brightly colored and well animated with even the minor soldiers having great personality quirks. There are even some fun cameos from two of the characters from Skies of Arcadia due to the fact that some of the people who worked on that game, worked on this game. The English voice cast is great, with some anime voice acting originals like Dave Wittenberg, Steve Blum, and Laura Bailey, while getting some none anime voice actors like John Di Maggio and Fed Tatsciore. You can, of course, have the original Japanese dub with English subtitles, but the English voice acting, just like in Tales of Vesperia, is very well done. The music is another strong point from a regular composer I have mentioned on this blog, Hitoshi Sakimoto, who worked on games like Radiant Silvergun, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, Odin Sphere, and Vagrant Story. The only exception is that someone called Daisuke Kawaguchi composes the main theme of the game.
However, even this gem has its issues and they are somewhat glaring. While the control to each character is fluid and not clunky or awkward, having the stamina meter be different for every character is annoying since sometimes you need to get out of certain situations and some of your soldiers can’t get out of the way fast enough. That results in them getting damaged badly, or dying. About halfway through the game, you will encounter a very unforgiving, unbalanced, and overly powerful boss fight against this behemoth tank and one of the enemy generals who is this powerful ancient race of humans that have amazing powers. It is an overly drawn out and tedious boss fight, and I can’t even remember how many soldiers I had to rescue because of the overly powerful general who can kill you in one hit. I even lost one of my soldiers here because I couldn’t get to him in time, because if I got anywhere near where the soldier died, I got shot up by the super-powered general. The tank itself was also very tedious. You could only hurt its weak spots, which are generators that are also on the tanks in the game that come out ONLY when he blows up a wall using its super cannon. It also doesn’t help that destroying the generators isn’t enough to take the tank down, and you have to attack it while your measly anti-tank and tank attacks do very little damage. It’s annoying, and I almost quit this game after this boss fight. Maybe this is my fault for not tactically being prepared, but not even Vanguard Bandits was this hard with its boss fights, since you could not fight the certain bosses in some of the missions in that game. Another complaint I have is that the AI can be pretty stupid on the enemy side sometimes, since they will from time to time walk right through a heavily guarded area where my soldiers will just waste them. My final complaint is that there is no command or button to use to dodge attacks. It is just random, and it would be helpful if you could do it whenever you needed to. In games like Eternal Sonata and Paper Mario, you could easily press a button to take less damage and that mechanic should have been used here.
Overall, even with its difficult moments, Valkyria Chronicles is one of the best games of the PS3. There are two sequels that are on the PSP, but only one of these sequels has been brought to the U.S. also, the characters from the third game will be appearing in the 3DS RPG/action/tactics game, Project X Zone. I can easily recommend checking out the first game, either by renting it or buying it. It isn’t too expensive now, since it came out in 2008, so if you see it for about $20 or $25, I would pick it up. There is also an anime based on the game, using the characters from the first game. In this day and age of gaming, where it seems like we are just seeing the same thing over and over again, it is nice to see some unique like Valkyria Chronicles.
This game gets an 8 out of 10.