Originally Published 23 August 2010
Last week, I finished my playthrough of Valkyria Chronicles. It is a tactical-ish RPG for the PS3 which is now a couple years old (it’s old enough to not have trophy support). I say tactical-ish because although measured in gameplay, it is certainly a tactical game with RPG elements, but it lacks many of the standard tactical RPG cliches. Of course, I think this is to its credit.
Valkyria Chronicles takes place in an alternate history version of World War II. Although it occurs on the European continent, all of the countries have had their borders redrawn and the fight is primarily between a Western “Allied Federation” and an Eastern “Empire”. The game focuses on the country of Gallia–a state obviously modeled after Switzerland with its complete neutrality and universal conscription and situated about where Lithuania is today. Gallia has rich reserves of the universally useful energy producing ore known as Ragnite and the Empire begins the game by invading Gallia in an attempt to capture this resource to fuel its war machine into Western Europe. The game eventually develops some supernatural elements as the less obvious intentions of the Empire begin to manifest.
I found the plot and characters to be very compelling and I probably would have kept playing to see how it turned out. Of course, I think much of this was due to the obviously rewritten script for the English release. I used the Japanese language soundtrack with English subtitles enabled, and, although I am not fluent in Japanese, I know enough to know that many translations were not at all close to literal. Most notably, the primary female protagonist–who often responds to the main character’s more empassioned moments by simply saying said protagonist’s name in the original Japanese dialog–had many of her lines rewritten so that she said something useful or at least relevant instead. I know that some people may think that translation should be about preserving the original work, but this game in particular may be a case where an adaptation can improve the characterization substantially.
The real strength of the game, however, is the gameplay which is far different than the standard tactical RPG gridmap configuration. The game proceeds in turns in which each side is allocated a fixed number of “Control Points”. Control points are used to command infantry (1 point), tanks (2 points), or issue orders to units (variable). When the player takes control of a unit, the game goes from its standard tactical map view to a third person perspective behind the unit with relative autonomy of movement–no grids to be found. In this mode, each character has a fixed movement rate and can take one action. Actions are usually either healing or firing a weapon with movement and weapon choices determined by their class. While moving, characters are vulnerable to opportunity fire from nearby enemy units, so rushing headlong into an enemy encampment is rightly discouraged, but sneaking around behind cover is often rewarded. Another unique aspect of the system shows in the actual attacking mechanic. Once a player has decided that they are properly set for an attack, they can go into “aiming mode”. This is an over-the-shoulder view from the unit’s perspective that allows manual aim of whatever firearm the unit has. The game will auto-aim at the center of mass of enemy units to help the player, but skilled players can aim for headshots to increase damage potential with a chance of missing outright due to bullet spread.
There is a lot to like in the general configuration of the battle system. By making the limit one of “total action” rather than limiting total units and giving 1 action per unit, more advanced strategies become possible. At the same time, to prevent simply running one unit through an entire mission, the game provides diminishing returns in the form of reduced movements on subsequent actions taken on the same turn and, for certain classes like snipers, limited ammunition. The balance thus struck is remarkably workable.
I have only two complaints about the game. First, it seems to be set up so as to encourage grinding. Leveling is done on a per class rather than per character basis, so it often seemed (to me) like power levelling was a compelling proposition. The extent to which some of this is required to beat the game is unclear to me. I never particularly had serious problems with a level, but this may have been due to being over levelled for much of the game. Second, I found the final level of the game to be somewhat frustrating. Although it was a trick fight and I had immediately figured out the trick, I hadn’t found a way to actually control the battle and win. I ultimately had to go to a faq for a workable strategy which I consider indicative of a problem in the mission’s design.
Notwithstanding those two issues, I would highly recommend this game. It is quite easily the best tactical RPG that I’ve ever played and also one of the best RPGs that I’ve played in quite a while.
Valkyria Chronicles: 1!