Valkyria Chronicles Is Awesome And You Should Play It
I reviewed Valkyria Chronicles when it came out in November 2008. I gave it a score of 8.5 (which I consider a very good score), but there was a problem: In a crowded holiday season full of games like Fable II, Resistance 2, LittleBigPlanet, Fallout 3, Guitar Hero World Tour, and Gears of War 2 (all reviewed in the same issue as Valkyria Chronicles), a quirky PS3 exclusive strategy game was easy for many gamers to overlook.
After recently replaying this gem, I feel the need to re-convey my enthusiasm for such an outstanding game. I know how it goes...sometimes games that score in the 8s can get shuffled further and further down the "to play" stack in favor of hotter, higher-scoring titles. Do not let that happen with Valkyria Chronicles! Believe me, this game will surprise you, and if you've ever enjoyed tactical RPGs or strategy games, you will be sorry that you didn't play it sooner.
I'll just say it as plainly as possible: If you have a PS3, you should play Valkyria Chronicles, and here's why:
This game is beautiful. The pencil shading and vibrant colors give the game a sketchbook watercolor feel that is persistent throughout the entire artistic design. Whether you're watching a cinematic or in the middle of battle, the visual style is consistently gorgeous and distinct.
I'm getting sick of rock/paper/scissor style combat in strategy games. I like the idea that certain units have advantages over others, but when it is as basic as the classic triangle, battles just become an exercise in positioning rather than strategy. Valkyria Chronicles throws an interesting twist on this approach, since there are 5 different classes (plus tanks) that allow for more complexity in engagements. There are still elements of "this class beats this class," but since there are so many more variables on the battlefield (as well as innate strengths and weaknesses for individual characters within a class), it never feels overly simplified.
There are two modes to every battle. One is the map, where you see your markers representing your units and visible enemy units. This is where your large-scale planning happens; it's where you see weaknesses in the enemy position, or where a sniper is hiding. From the map, you select the unit you want to use, and then you see the second mode. Taking control of a single unit, you have a third-person view of the battlefield. You control your unit in real time, running for cover, dodging enemy interception fire, and making your attacks right in the heat of combat. All in all, it's much exciting than just selecting how many squares you want a unit to move, then mechanically confirming "attack."
I also want to note that each unit isn't limited to a single action per turn. Moving and attacking with most units costs one command point, and you can use and re-use any unit as long as you have command points remaining for that turn. Tanks cost two command points to move, and you can also expend command points by giving special orders like healing all your troops, or calling in mortar support. However, when you go up against enemy commanders, you'll find that they also have access to special orders, which makes those battles particularly intense and unpredictable.
I don't want to ruin anything, but here are a few reasons why the story is awesome. The characters, which appear to conform to certain archetypes at first, are not what you expect. Rather than being professional soldiers, the members of Squad 7 are people with lives outside of combat, and the game does an excellent job emphasizing this, whether it's through dialogue or the cool profiles that give you backstory on the dozens of potential squad members. On the whole, the tragedy and triumph of war are conveyed in surprisingly believable (and occasionally poignant) ways.
Many strategy games make you micro-manage your individual units' experience. I can't count the number of times I've had to soften up some enemy with a front-line fighter just so I could bring in my mage to land the experience-giving killing blow... all to ensure that my mage doesn't fall behind in levels. That's really just a false kind of strategy...you're worried more about milking the system than you are about sound tactics. I love the way Valkyria handles leveling. After each battle, you get experience points that are funneled into a communal pool. You can then spend those points to level up an entire class. In other words, when you spend XP on shocktroopers, all of your shocktroopers level up, not just one of them. It's up to you to balance the levels of your 5 classes against each other, and if one group gets behind, you can repeat skirmish missions to gain XP outside of the main story arc.
I'm not going to spoil any of the reasons why, but Selvaria Bles is awesome. Easily my personal favorite antagonist of 2008.
Of course, the game isn't without faults...but I'm not to talk about them here. You'll find them when you play, and they will probably do very little to detract from your enjoyment. So, get yourself to the battlefield! Gallia, to arms!