Valkyria Revolution is not the game Valkyria Chronicles fans have been waiting for. It may share some similar themes and terminology with previous titles in the series, but this spin-off veers into distinctly different territory – usually with bad results. Though I love Valkyria Chronicles, I’m not disappointed with Valkyria Revolution because it strays from its predecessors; I’m disappointed because it’s a bland action/RPG that makes serious mistakes with its storytelling and gameplay.
Set in a fantasy facsimile of Europe during the industrial revolution, the plot follows an elite military squad through a war that pits the small-but-noble Jutland against the sinister Ruzi empire. But behind the scenes, five friends in positions of power are fueling the conflict and putting lives at risk solely to get revenge. Are they traitors, even if the war ultimately makes life better for the people of Jutland? Valkyria Revolution wants you to ponder that question, but the narrative is so clumsy and predictable that it can’t bear any thematic weight.
The characters are the biggest problem. The quiet-but-competent hero, the idealistic princess, the hard-drinking veteran – this store-brand squad is composed of generic personalities that fail to pull players into the tale. A story about revenge and the cost of war won’t resonate with players if they don’t connect to the people involved, and the bland cast of Valkyria Revolution fails to forge that connection. They have obvious epiphanies, undergo predictable changes, and are usually far more surprised than you are when the plot twists.
Another way the characters overstay their welcome is though the extended amount of time you spend watching them instead of controlling them. I love narrative-focused games, but having a lot of story to tell isn’t the same as doing it well, and that distinction is where Valkyria Revolution stumbles. It strings long cutscenes together (with a wealth of loading screens between them), but the animations and interactions are so mechanical and dull that it feels like you’re watching animatronic characters from bad angles. You can skip cutscenes, but at that point you’re opting out of the story completely – which leaves only the combat system to entice you to keep playing, and it’s not much of an incentive.
On the battlefield, Valkyria Revolution is a passable soldier, but isn’t winning any medals. You and your squad fight through various maps in real time, completing objectives like capturing bases and eliminating enemy captains. Combat is melee-focused, so you’re swinging magically charged swords and axes while dramatically outnumbered by the Ruzi forces. Battles have more in common with the Dynasty Warriors games than any Valkyria title, but that isn’t necessarily bad – it offers the basic kind of fun that comes from mowing down legions of bad guys.
On the other hand, the missions feel shallow and don’t leave much room for strategy. You have some tactical abilities (like magic and ranged weapons), but the core combat is too simple, and doesn’t change enough as you progress. I had less fun the further I got, because enemies soak up more damage (especially bosses), but don’t give you rewarding opportunities to flex your abilities. You’re throttled by a recharging action bar that limits your actions, and while that isn't enough to make battles truly challenging, it consistently puts the brakes on any momentum you may have built up.
Though its main gameplay and narrative pillars are crumbling, some parts of Valkyria Revolution are worthy of appreciation. I like how your squad members split off into groups and hang out; it’s a clever way to establish their lives and interests off the battlefield, even if I didn’t find the conversations that interesting. I also love the overall atmosphere – the grand alternate vision for 19th century Europe is conveyed well through the art direction and an excellent soundtrack from composer Yasunori Mitsuda. Unfortunately, the unique setting and mood are shackled to the rest of Valkyria Revolution, which makes them feel wasted.
If you dig deep, you can find charming parts of Valkyria Revolution – the thrill of taking down a group of foes with a well-placed grenade, or the rousing music and majestic scenery combining for a memorable moment. But these bright spots are far too rare in an experience that deals primarily in drudgery, from repetitive missions to overlong expository scenes. Even if you find and appreciate the good parts, the prize is too small for the price you pay on the battlefield.