Valkyria chronicles is perhaps the greatest ps3 title ever created, and that is not a claim I make lightly. It’s a wonderfully crafted marriage of storytelling, turn-based strategy, drama and action and thanks to the CANVAS graphics engine it looks like a moving watercolour so it’s beautiful to boot. A touching tale of a peaceful nation ripped apart by the ravages of war and the struggles of it’s men and women, fighting to reclaim their homeland.
Okay so SEGA haven’t always been the best developer out there, they ran Sonic into the ground with nauseating sequels and still haven’t made another Jet Set Radio game but Valkyria Chronicles renews all faith in the once-great videogame granddad and still remains an utterly essential title worthy of pride of place in any gamer’s collection.
Valkyria Chronicles is set on the fictional continent of Europa on the brink of all-out war between the continent’s two superpowers; the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation. Fueling the flames of war is a precious mineral called Ragnite, which possesses many extraordinary properties, mainly that it can be used as a potent fuel to power war machines. Both sides of the conflict need large quantities to put toward the war effort and in a ruthless display of force and greed the Imperial Alliance invade the neutral country of Gallia, hoping to seize it’s bountiful natural Ragnite deposits and thus begins the Second Europan War…
Our story begins with the young student Welkin Gunther (son of the late Belgen Gunther, hero of the First Eurpoan War) as he returns to his childhood town of Bruhl, a picturesque settlement surrounded by flowing hills and punctuated by a great windmill at it’s centre. Upon reaching the town, Welkin is arrested under suspicion of being an Imperial spy by Alicia Melchiott, a member of the town guard. Welkin’s sister, Isara Gunther, confirms his innocence to Alicia just seconds before the town is swept up by an Imperial invasion force who storm throughout the town, killing many innocent civilians. Thrusting a rifle into Welkin’s hands, Alicia commands Welkin to aid in defending Bruhl and thanks to Isara and their father’s ratty old tank “Edelweiss” left over from the previous war, the town guard succeed in driving off the Imperials, if only temporarily.
War had finally come to the peaceful country of Gallia and, like it or not, it is up to Gallia’s simple inhabitants to defend it or die trying. Welkin, Alicia and Isara are hastily drafted into the Gallian military. Pleased with his actions in the defence of Bruhl, Captain Varrott places Welkin in charge of his own squad, “Squad Seven”, with the Edelweiss as their armoured counterpart. Alicia, Isara and a whole band of new and old faces (even two cameos from Skies Of Arcadia characters) are brought under Welkin’s command and it is up to him to ensure that each and every squad member makes it back from each mission alive.
On that note I want to point out that, with a few exceptions, should your actions in any given conflict result in the death of a character then that is where that character’s story ends. Should you lose a sniper to an enemy ambush then their names will be added to your headquarter’s cemetery and they will forever be lost to you, I still remember the only soldier I ever lost, Marina Wulfstan, you will be sorely missed.
Part of the beauty of Valkyria Chronicles is that each and every character is utterly unique and worthy of note. Each one of them is voiced and drawn differently and has his or her own loves and hates. Some are normal citizens of Gallia, others are members of the Darcsen race, a dark-haired people that legend tells brought forth a great calamity millennia ago due to their war with the fabled Valkyria (powerful female warriors with extraordinary strength and agility). Much like people of different races and creeds today, we see prejudice and racism within the ranks of Squad Seven meaning that some of your squad members may well be “Darcsen haters” and will react poorly in battle should they be in proximity of a Darcsen. It’s this touching upon such a taboo subject, as well as preferences we all share such as sexuality, gender, camaraderie etc. that make the cast of Valkyria Chronicles such wonderfully deep people that you simply cannot help but care for.
Even the enemy forces Valkyria Chronicles are characterized magnificently. Leading the invasion force of the Imperial army is Prince Maximilian, a strategical genius eager to win his father’s favour by proving his worth to the Empire. At his right hand is a beautiful woman, Selvaria Bles, a ruthless general said to be descended from the very Valkyria themselves. Selvaria is perhaps the most touching of all of the cast in that she believes in Maximilian whole heartedly and selflessly seeks to do his bidding and give her life on his behalf.
In one scene, darkness falls on a mission, leaving Wellkin and Alicia alone in the woods having been separated from their squad. They happen across a cabin and take shelter when in storms an Imperial soldier. The soldier is badly injured and rather than attack him the pair provide him with medical aid as he poses no threat to them and ,after all, is still human like them. The soldier passes away in his sleep and the two Gallians take the time to bury his body. Suddenly an Imperial patrol happens across them and having seen what they did for their comrade, the commanding officer directs his men to let them go. It’s often that we are shown the enemy in videogames as wholly evil entities that should be thwarted but this humanization brings to mind that on both sides of any conflict are men and women who are simply fighting for what they believe in.
As the plot unfurls, it comes to light that the acquisition of Ragnite is not the true intent of Maximilian, who heads into Gallia’s Barious desert in search of ancient Valkyrian ruins. As his armies lay waste to the country around him, Maximilian seeks to use the ancient power of the Valkyria, and Selvaria herself as weapons to overthrow the Emperor and become supreme ruler in his stead. A particularly heartfelt moment comes late in the game when, ordered to destroy the Gallian stronghold of Ghirlandiao by Maximilian, Selvaria performs the legendary Valkyria “Final Flame”, sacrificing her life on his whim. What still pains me when witnessing the scene is how unmoved Maximilian is about ordering his most devoted servant to her death…
So you may have noticed various real-world similarities between the plot of Valkyria Chronicles and the Second World War. I find that this similarity is a tremendous boon to the impetus given to the story, as many horrors are committed throughout the campaign that shockingly have real-world equivalents. For example at the end of one battle rather than surrender Darcsen prisoners to the Gallian army the Imperials lock them in cabins and set fire to them (I’ll let you picture the real world example that was based on, it’s not pretty). Squad Seven come across the burned remains in the aftermath of the fight and it’s hard not to feel for them. One character, Rosie, is scarred by the event and changes quite dramatically from that point onwards
Wow so it’s taken me this long to even mention the gameplay so you can imagine what a spectacular setting Valkyria Chronicles has to warrant such discussion! The gameplay in Valkyria Chronicles is as shining and unique as the plot as it blends turn-based strategy and real-time action in a way not done before. Each squad member takes their turn much in the fashion of games like Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics, however when in control of a character you direct their actions in real-time. Should you wish to move your engineer through enemy ranks (bad idea-just an example) then you’ll have to control them as they run, climb and crawl through terrain and a hail of oncoming bullets.
When it’s your turn to fire action freezes so that you can line up your shot, accuracy is determined by your character’s class and level in true RPG fashion. Once you have fired you can either end your turn or finish moving your character to safety behind cover but be fast as the enemy will open fire on you as you retreat! There are five classes to choose from; the fast-moving Scouts, deadly Assault troopers, hardy Lancers (equipped with anti-tank weapons), handy Engineers and of course long-ranged Snipers (who are by far the weakest of your troops so keep them away from the front lines). Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses and must be used intelligently during battle. The Lancer’s thick armour, for example, makes them ideal for taking on tanks but due to their slow movement speed and lack of any anti-personnel a well-placed Scout can make quick work of them.
Missions range greatly from simply hunting down all of the enemies on a map to stealth missions and armoured assaults in which you must aid your tank (and later, tanks) in destroying key enemy targets. Boss battles feature heavily and often include the destruction of humongous war machines that require careful planning and teamwork to bring down. Keeping your team in fighting condition is a must so should Squad Seven run low on supplies or sustain injuries you should be ready with an Engineer to hand out munitions and offer first aid (they can also fix tanks and act as a sapper so they’re vital to success). Should a squad member fall in battle you must reach them with a friendly unit or use precious command points to evacuate them from the battlefield before they are killed outright. Battle in Valkyria Chronicles is a careful balancing act of finding your opponent’s weaknesses and exploiting them and one any tactician worth his salt will relish.
Alongside the thrill of battle, Valkyria Chronicles has an intricate micro-management side accessed through your headquarters. Completing a campaign mission or a free-form skirmish rewards the player with experience points (EXP) and money that they can use to upgrade Squad Seven’s abilities and equipment. Upgrading your troops works on a class-wide basis so you needn’t worry about any members being left behind. Upon reaching a certain level, each class unlocks a special weapon or ability such as the Scout’s rifle-launched grenades that have a long range and can strike targets behind cover or the Assault class’ flamethrower attachment.
In Squad Seven’s research lab, the player can purchase a wide selection of weapon and armour upgrades as well as additions to the Edelweiss’ arsenal using funds rewarded for clearing missions. Ranging from extra-accurate submachine guns to poisonous rifles and blast-proof uniforms, there is a great deal of customization available to the player as each individual soldier under you command can have their loadout customized to suit your needs. Should you meet certain conditions in battle such as completing a mission in record time, the player will be rewarded with rare prototype weaponry with bizarre characteristics so there’s plenty of reason to find new ways of overpowering the enemy.
In regards to managing your squads, you should take care to note each squad member’s “potentials” (stats unique to each person that are triggered during battles) and even their friendships, as your troops will perform better when in proximity to their favourite people. As mentioned previously, potentials include “Darcsen hater” which lowers concentration for those affected when near a Darcsen. Other potentials include “lone wolf” which improves stats when the soldier is alone and “lonely” which does the opposite. Other potentials may trigger randomly, adding extra defence when under fire or extra power when attacking certain types of enemy. There are dozens of potentials that become unlocked as each character’s level increases and whilst this seems quite boggling to a new player, you’ll soon grow to understand your units’ needs and desires and even learn something new about the members of Squad Seven (some of the girls in your squad prefer the company of other girls for example!)
At long last I must draw this retrospective to a close, if by now you haven’t played Valkyria Chronicles I urge you to do so, only rarely in a console generation will we come across games that shine so brightly. The story is familiar and touching, hitting very close to home, the characters are intricate and deep, each worthy of their own chapter, graphically the CANVAS engine brings stunning visuals to the table and in terms of gameplay Valkyria Chronicles stands out as one of THE BEST turn based strategies ever. There’s also a great deal of downloadable content to sink your teeth into should you feel the need for more and for those who are interested, Valkyria Chronicles was turned into a successful anime. If you have a PSP then Valkyria Chronicles II is available for download from the PSN and it too is highly recommended.
So that’s it. If I have persuaded but one person to try this absolute gem of a title then writing this retrospective would have been a success. If you are put off, like some, by the “cartoony” graphics then borrow a copy or try the demo and let the gameplay speak for itself. Happy gaming!
You must be logged in to post a comment.