So here’s another semi-old PS3 classic. Guess I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but hey, better late than never. Especially since this is a genuinely fun title that stood the test of time after nearly a decade.
Anyway, I’ll try to keep things brief for this review. Don’t think I have that much to say.
Valkyria Chronicles is basically a turn-based strategy game taking place in anime World War II, and you’re probably wondering if this game is for you even if you’re not into strategy games. Well, take me, for example, I’m not really into strategy games myself and still had a blast with this one. So yeah. Gameplay-wise, some people may be inclined to tell you that Valkyria is “unlike anything else you’ve seen” but that’s not quite true, because this game is basically the anime version of X-COM at the end of the day, although probably not as hard. (Because fuck Terror Missions.) E-Either way, just watch a video on Youtube and you’ll understand, it’s a turn-based game where you control each of your units individually on the field from a third-person perspective while overseeing the map from a bird’s eye view after each move.
So what did I like about Valkyria Chronicles? A lot. I liked a lot of things about it. I liked how pretty much all the story missions were unique, each with a different layout, look, and surprises. While the final objective of “capture the enemy base camp” rarely ever changes, the actual environments you’re thrown into are quite varied and will require a different approach most of the time. I liked how your squad mates weren’t just random nobodies, but each of them were distinct, with their own looks, voice acting, and in-game potentials that reflect their personalities. Potentials are… well, they’re passive abilities that can activate during battle; for example, one girl might get a bonus at night due to being nocturnal, while another character could get a penalty to his stats on desert terrain because he hates sand. Just to give you two random examples. Things like this really reinforced the fact that you’re not just controlling random nobodies, and also made me more attached to them. And by that I mean that if someone shot my precious Marina on the field I would instantly reload the game because how dare they lay a finger on her. And also because the game has a relatively lenient perma-death system; sure, your character only dies after 3 turns or if an enemy walks next to them while they’re downed… but it’s still a perma-death system, and I won’t have any cute girls dying on my watch.
Another cool thing about VC is how (relatively) big the maps are, and it really made me understand the frustration of all the people who grumbled about the sequels being on PSP (and thus having way smaller maps). Anyway, it really gave you a sense of scale, and made it feel like you were on a genuine battlefield, and not some tiny-ass arena. Plus it made snipers fun to use when you climbed up into watch towers and shot people in the head from two miles away. Go go Marina, show ’em who’s boss.
I guess what I’m (also) trying to say is that the maps are the true storytellers of this game, if that makes sense. Let me elaborate. Basically, I’ll remember fondly all the close encounters and hilarious moments I had on this or that map way more than the actual storyline. I suppose the best example I can give you is Skyrim (or any Bethesda game), where people rarely talk about the plot, but rather discuss all their unique little experiences, all the cool moments and encounters they had during their playthroughs. Valkyria is a bit like that in my mind.
You’re probably also wondering about the difficulty. I’ll admit I was struggling quite a bit with my first few missions (aside from dabbling in VC3 a little bit ages ago, this was my first true Valkyria experience), but once I’d gotten used to utilizing both my team members, the terrain and my various other skills (coughabusingthesavesystemcough), I was getting B and occasional A ranks most of the time. And yes, you heard my cough right: you can save at any time during a mission and as many times as you want, so if you fuck up, you can just load and try again, no need to start the whole mission from scratch. I imagine the game would’ve been far more challenging if mid-mission saves were limited to just one, but it would’ve also likely made me quit the game in frustration before finishing it lol. So thank god for mid-mission saves. Seriously, this was a huge crutch for me, and while I sometimes felt guilty about dropping a save after almost every potentially risky move I made like an insecure little bitch, I also hate redoing content with a passion, and I was in no mood to retry a 20-minute mission just because of my gamer pride, haha. It also helps that the enemy AI is not as aggressive as it could be: if the Imperials played like a human player and abused all the same things, I suspect this game would’ve been bastard hard, lol.
Speaking of rankings, the game ranks your performance based purely on speed, which is pretty much the big bleh thing most people bring up about this game. And… well, yeah. The fact that you’ll get a worse ranking for slowly and methodically eliminating all foes compared to just buffing a soldier (read: Alicia) with a defense, etc. boost and making her rush all the way through enemy lines to capture their camp and insta-win the mission… is a bit odd. But there’s also a bit of a perverse satisfaction in finding just the right way to sneak past enemy lines (it’s actually not always that easy since you can be shot down by interception fire) and fuck them in the metaphorical ass, so you’ll probably do it a few times. And also because a higher ranking nets you more XP and money to spend on upgrading your troops, so you kinda don’t want to suck all the time. Either way, cheese or no cheese, the missions are still tons of fun, and a few of them were genuinely tense. Looking at you, Chapter 14.
So somewhere above I said how I got more of a “story” out of the actual missions than the game’s plot, and that’s mostly because the story is very cliché and, uh, “anime”, for lack of a better word. Characters will say all the expected cheesy lines about friendship and whatever, there will be a few twists that felt like they were put in there just to create some drama and tick off items on some kind of a “we need this in the game” checklist. It’s very much tolerable though, mind you. Way more so than the anime, which is something I strongly recommend you avoid, because it decided to add childish melodrama and a love triangle into a story that needed neither. So fuck the Valkyria anime with a spiky dildo, basically.
Anyway, back to the game. It’s also quite bleh how there’s not much ambiguity, the villains are clearly the bad guys (I even remember this one guy with a twirly villain mustache lol) and the only Imperials you’ll probably have some sympathy for is Selvaria and that other dude from the DLC who has a crush on Selvaria. I expected some kind of complexity from the enemy commander, Maximilian, but he’s basically just poor man’s Lelouch with the same voice but none of the charisma. The game also tries to add themes like discrimination and loss (alongside concentration camps), but this is done in such a hamfisted fucking way it’s just going to make you laugh. It basically hits you in the head with the HEY DARCSEN ARE PEOPLE TOO hammer. And there was a twist that sort of just came out of nowhere and was executed so clumsily it made it look like the devs just flicked the “drama” switch and called it a day. (the anime does this bit 1000000 times worse, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much). Anyway, the point I’m making is that if you want clever storytelling with subtlety, nuance and complexity, Valkyria Chronicles is not your game. Play it for the fun missions.
So that’s Valkyria Chronicles in a nuthsell, I guess; a game you should probably only play for the fun gameplay and the cute girls because there are plenty of those. While the story is not bad (it didn’t make me rage, so I consider it not bad), it’s also the very anti-thesis of groundbreaking and relies extremely heavily on anime tropes, so your mileage may vary on that front. But overall, VC is still very much a title I had a blast playing through, with cool, varied missions and a moderate length (25-30 hours-ish?) that prevented it from wearing out its welcome. Recommended even if you’re not a huge strategy buff.