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Episode 18: Valkyria Chronicles

I'm not particularly fond of strategy games. There's a huge amount of luck involved, too many menus, and not enough player involvement for me to get behind them, which is a shame because I feel like I've missed out on so much of the genre. Then, along comes Valkyria Chronicles. Though I reviewed the game earlier in the year, I was worried coming back to it in such a short space of time would discolour my view, or that my opinions may have worsened. Luckily, Valkyria Chronicles was as much of a joy to play again as it was the first time.

Sega's game is a breath of fresh air for the genre even 8 years after its release. The amount of control you have over Squad 7 is fantastic, and even though there's a high degree of luck, you're never more satisfied than getting a clean headshot when you're the one aiming. The combat is delightful, at times challenging, but also disappointingly easy to exploit at later stages. It's a system I'll never tire of. But what really sells Valkyria Chronicles to me is its style. The gorgeous watercolour graphics are lush. I fell in love with them when the game first came out. I rediscovered my love when I reviewed the remastered version. I reaffirmed it playing through the game for Retro. It felt like a storybook, one that Welkin Gunther himself was redrawing and retelling his kids, and stands as the perfect contrast to the death and destruction that war brings.

While the narrative is simple and laden with cookie-cutter characters, Valkyria Chronicles is still a treat full to the brim with charm. Other than its sequels, I can't think of another strategy game like this one. It might not do everything right, but when it gets it right, it's right on the money. Valkyria Chronicles is 30 hours of pure, beautiful, strategic fun, and what more do you need that that? Oh, and this game has Skies of Arcadia cameos — that's got to mean something, right?

Valkyria Chronicles

Returning to a well beloved game years down the line can be either a blessing or a curse: Too many games have a horrible habit of aging poorly, and while only eight years have passed since Valkyria Chronicles first released, I feared the game would fall victim to the passing of time.

Much to my delight that wasn't the case. In fact, time has only solidified Valkyria Chronicles as a wondrous outline to the RPG world. While many of its disparate elements feel familiar, the presentation of VC's world and its combat are just different enough to make the game a bit of a unicorn. I still haven't played anything else quite like this title since its release (no, Im not counting the PSP sequel). The gorgeous water color art style, the comic book-esque sound effect text in battle (gotta love the rumble writing from the tank treads), the hybrid turn based/real time strategy battle system, a beautiful soundtrack, a charming and personable cast... If you can't tell, I kinda like this game.

Even with the shortcomings of its plot and world inspired by the two World Wars (ho boy, that script sometimes...) and the frustrations and annoyances in various battles — Selvaria wiping most of a team in a turn and invisible killer walls, for example — I still cannot be anything but charmed by what Valkyria Chronicles offers.

Jumping back to this adventure of Squad 7 was a true joy, and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking to take the Valkyria Chronicles plunge.

Valkyria Chronicles

Valkyria Chronicles, beyond its pristine cel-shaded graphics, the disjointed yet charming anime trope-laden cutscenes, and that wonderful, wonderful soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto, is Sega's most experimental game of the PS3 era. On paper, a tactical-RPG that combines not-really-but-sort-of-real-time strategy with first-person shooter elements is a masterful and inventive way to create intense RPG military experiences. Valkyria Chronicles is what developers dreamed of making back in the 16 or 32-bit eras, but never could with then-current technology. In this way, it's a dream game, a dream combination of elements.

And it's entertaining to play, certainly, despite the arbitrariness of some of its gameplay elements. Players upgrade weapons because they have the cash to spend, and because the game is balanced that way, not necessarily for any grand strategy. Even when more battle options open up as the game progresses, it still sometimes feels superfluous (upgrade a gun's accuracy, but still seem to miss just as often, etc). But as a whole, simply playing the game is a joy. The character design, sound design, that soundtrack (did I mention how great that is?), and the nature of the narrative structure — with its short bursts of plot here and there, in the form of a "book" — add up to a tight, well-rounded experience.

Valkyria Chronicles may not be the defining RPG of the PS3 era, but it is certainly a shining star among its peers. What it's interested in doing — telling this great story of war, of racism — in a stylish manner, and combining typically at-odds gameplay elements, is quite inexplicable, or at the very least, notable. It's not perfect, and can be frustrating, but it aims high and is ultimately a worthwhile experience.




Final Thoughts Archive
Episode 1: Trails in the Sky Episode 2: Final Fantasy X Episode 3: Final Fantasy Tactics Episode 4: The Last Story Episode 5: Terranigma Episode 6: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Episode 7: Deus Ex: Human Revolution Episode 8: Parasite Eve Episode 9: Pokémon Episode 13: NieR Episode 14: The World Ends With You Episode 15: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask Episode 16: Xenogears Episode 17: South Park: The Stick of Truth Episode 18: Valkyria Chronicles Episode 19: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Episode 20: Child of Light Episode 21: Diablo III Episodes 70 & 71: Shadow Hearts: Covenant Episodes 73 & 75: Chrono Trigger Episodes 79 & 81: Tales of the Abyss Episodes 82 & 83: Darksiders Episodes 86 & 88: Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride Episodes 90 & 92: EarthBound Episodes 95 & 97: Grim Fandango Episodes 101 & 102: Final Fantasy XII Episodes 104 & 106: Digital Devil Saga





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