Valkyria Chronicles

Valkyria Chronicles debuted on the PS3 all the way back in 2008, so it feels almost redundant at this point to review it, particularly since the fourth game in the series released for the Switch back in 2018 (which, ironically, was the same year that this game came out).

However, unlike some games, this particular one has held up pretty well throughout the time, albeit with a few little issues here and there.

The story follows a sort of alternate history/fantastical version of World War II. In this version, the continent of Europe is instead Europa, and oppressive Nazi regime is sort of folded together with a variant on the Soviets and just labeled as The East Europan Imperial Alliance (Imperials or Imps), who invade Western Europa, which is loosely presented as the Atlantic Federation. The Imps invaded the Federation for greed over the precious, quasi magical quasi scientific ore known as Ragnite, which powers most of the tech present in this world.

The “Definitely Not Nazis” actually seem to come primarily from not-Russia, actually.

Our story is told through the eyes of a country that starts neutral: Gallia. More specifically it follows a band of scrappy militia fighters, including Welkin Gunther, the son of a previous general; his sister Isara (a Darcsen, the Jew equivalent); his love interest Alicia Melchiott and what amounts to your standard portrayal of a mixture of old army story tropes and anime tropes.

Which makes this plot kind of odd and unique in some ways. It very much echoes World War II and everything that happened there, but at the same time, it follows a lot of anime tropes. There’s an awkward, wide-eyed hero, a gruff older guy, and most of your various soldiers are just variants on characters that you’d see on pretty much any anime. The story is about that plucky group, but it also involves an evil Empire that utilizes some magical powers. Plus there’s these literal god-beings in the form of Valkyria.

All the while, the game tries to handle big ideas like racism and war. I already mentioned Isara, who is the game’s primary representative of this race called the “Darcsen,” a group of dark haired, slender people that stand in for the Jews in this world. They’re previously a group of wanderers who lost their land in a war and now sort of settle where they can. People are prejudice against them, frequently commenting on their smell, and there’s an actual concentration camp at one point (though not nearly as bad as reality). The game even goes so far as to have a racist member of your party, and her growth does feel at least a little realistic.

Your mileage is going to vary on how much this story works for you. If you’re a fan of the anime tropes or can at least tolerate them, then their weird combination with the serious war stuff will mostly work. The main idea of needing peace and growth and war comes off as a bit anime/Japanese, but it’s not incredibly botched or anything. I always felt like they handled it with respect.

Except for the beach episode, which feels weird, anachronistic in a really bad way, and not worth the price for it.

The presentation of said plot is both interesting and annoying. It’s told through the frame of a book, with the author of said book being a reporter that tags along with your crew. Scenes are presented as pictures in the book, sometimes told through talking head pictures (through animated in game models), and sometimes through cut scenes. The graphics have aged pretty well on the whole, though it’s hard not to notice the repetitive animations (particularly one of a character sort of leaning toward the camera). The voice acting works alright.

The issue is that these scenes don’t often flow. They play a scene, then dump you out to the book, forcing you to select again. It would’ve been better to just have a quick “continue scene” button, or just tie several narrative bits together (they’re a few minutes long at most). It can take you out of the game.

What, you don’t love clicking on each and every one of those squares for a short scene?

The actual meat of the gameplay is a unique take on the strategy RPG. Characters are divided into classes: scouts, who are mobile units armed with rifles and grenades; stormtroopers, who are slower infantry with machine guns; engineers, which carry extra supplies and can better heal your party; snipers with long range rifles but weak constitutions and movement; and the lancers, which carry giant lances that shoot rockets which can destroy tanks. You’re also given one to two tank units for most battles.

These battles take place in an interesting fashion. Your army is arrayed by various symbols indicating the characters, and you’re shown this overview of a map. Selecting a character takes you into what amounts to a third person shooter, where you freely control the character for the duration of their turn. While moving, you receive cross-fire from most units. When aiming, however, you take no fire. Headshots deal more damage, and there’s almost no reason not to go for them.

It’s an odd mix, but it’s rather unique and I found myself enjoying it. Probably doesn’t hurt that I play survival horror games from a third person perspective, and these are easier thanks to the forgiveness with the aiming. There is some frustration here and there.

There are a few foibles. The game loves to change overall mission objectives, and often has some intriguing ways of winning a map. Sometimes it’s just kill every enemy. But othertimes it’s about sneaking to a certain point. Or you have to get a certain unit or unit type to a particular location. Or you have to kill certain enemies before they reach certain points. Objectives are flexible and feel realistic to the situation at hand.

I played the game on normal and it rarely felt unfair. There are a few rough missions and difficulty spikes, particularly among the DLC (one DLC mission had me nearly tearing my hair out; I played it eight times), but it all feels appropriately difficult.

Experience and money are granted after each fight. You use the money to upgrade weapons and armor, as well as purchasing add-ons for your tank or sub-missions from the reporter. Experience is banked, then divided among the various classes as you choose.

that’s right: the classes level up, instead of the characters. So instead of having a level 8 Alicia, you’d have a level 8 scout group which includes Alicia. This lets you experiment with characters, and also means that if you don’t use story characters (I don’t know why you wouldn’t), you won’t have to grind them. The game encourages you to use characters by having some hidden characters appear only after a condition with a current character happens (one of the best troopers doesn’t appear until her husband is in danger).

The management can be a bit taxing, but it never feels like a menu management game like some (Disgaea 6).

All in all, the game holds up, even close to 14 years after its initial release. It’s not perfect: there are still some rough edges here and a few quality of life improvements would be beneficial. But it’s one that I bought on the Switch even after beating it on Steam through my PC, and it’s one that I’d encourage Strategy RPG aficionados to at least try, if you haven’t already.

8 solid game with some good replay, but a few unfair moments and clunky interfaces stop it from being as good as it could be (plus that anime inspired storyline may bug some and does produce some awkward moments… like the swimsuit episode)

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