Strategy games have proven to be a bitter mistress for me. It is an unfortunate genre because it is home to one of my all-time favorite games, X-Com. When I first boot up a strategy game, especially one that has a similar mechanic to X-Com, I find myself comparing whatever game I may be playing to the venial alien blasting classic. When this happens, almost all games fail and I end up ditching the discs in one of my many binders, never to play it again.
It was with a great amount of trepidation that I purchased Valkyria Chronicles. I loved what I had seen of the game, the story is set in an alternate WWII universe, it is graphically an anime-styled game, and you get to run over people with a big ass tank. I really wanted this game to work out; I strove to fall in love with it. And in the end, I did. It is an event on par with the appearance of Haley’s comet when a video game meets or exceeds all of my expectations but I can safely proclaim to the world that I am in love with Valkyria Chronicles and if the law allows, I may indeed marry it someday.
As I mentioned above, Valkyria Chonicles is set in a Japanized, World War II era Europe. The names are different and topography of the countries are not as they exist in the real world but if I were to guess, you take the role of a strapping young lieutenant from Switzerland. No, the country is not called Switzerland but its politics and country-side definitely remind me of the land of Swiss Miss hot chocolate and Ricolla cough drops.
The story is a pretty traditional war tale. You are a kid coming back from college only to find yourself caught in the middle of an enemy invasion of your pristine alpine homeland. You also happen to be the son of a legendary general who thought it was a good idea to keep his massive tank in the barn as a souvenir…and to keep pesky stray dogs off the lawn. Once you realize the enemy is closing in and you have to do something, you decide to jump in the tank with your sister and start blowing up invading foot soldiers. As the story unfolds you gain experience and become the leader of a ragtag bunch of soldiers who find themselves in the middle of every pivotal battle of the war. Actually, the game is kind of like HBO’s “Band of Brothers” in that sense. The story is presented to the player as a book that the player is reading and each illustration in the book can be clicked on to see a cut scene or fight a battle.
Graphically the game is something to behold…if you like anime. In fact, this game looks so good and the story is such that after Valkyria Chronicles was released in Japan, it was also licensed as a full-blown anime series that will air very soon in the land of the rising sun. The way this game blends still frames into animated ones is slick. This game looks like all PS3 games should. The sound effects are pretty average and what you would expect from a war game. It is worth noting that the voice-overs for all of the characters is pretty well done and I found them all tolerable enough to leave the English language on during gameplay.
Speaking of which, one thing Valkria Chronicles does that I wish all Japanese games did is to give players the option to play with the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles instead of having to listen to a half-assed dub put together by some anime geeks at a convention somewhere. Fortunately, the English audio track for the game is done well enough not to warrant the Japanese one.
Where Valkyria Chronicles really shines is in its mechanics. Gameplay is superb and there is very little I would change about it. Once I started playing the game in earnest, I did find myself comparing it to X-Com and the similarities between the two titles abound. Actually, if you were to play the game and walk away from a battle saying it was basically X-Com with way better graphics and a different story, you would not be too far off base. The one thing I wish Valkyria Chronicles would have done that X-Com did do was to give the player the ability to customized each individual soldier’s weaponry and armor.
Unfortunately, Valkyria Chronicles is set up so each kind of soldier class has their own specific set of weapons. You can upgrade and modify them but if you are working on the sniper class and decide to tweak the sniper rifle, those tweaks apply to all snipers that you have under your command. I am sure that this was done in an attempt to streamline gameplay and when you look at it from that standpoint, it works. However, I am one of those sadistic guys who took great joy in giving all of my rookies in X-Com stun batons and nothing else to take on their initial mission. If they survived the ensuing bloodbath, they were rewarded with pistols. It is creepy how much I catch myself wishing I could do the same thing in Valkyria Chronicles.
The one thing that befuddles me about the title is why it got such a limited release in the United States. It is an excellent game and would appeal to all strategy lovers but when it is all said and done, this will be one of those niche games that only a handful of people know about. Which is good for those who own it because it will keep its value fairly well as it ages, I have already seen it marked higher than MSRP at a couple of stores in my area. If this is on your “get it later” list, bump it on to your “get it now” list.
Valkyria Chronicles is an excellent game that will only get better with the three DLC packs that are coming out for it in the next few months. An “extra hard” mode is being added in which you get the opportunity to play through the game without your tank, which is the biggest and most useful unit in the game. The normal game gets fairly easy as the battles go on so the DLC will be a welcome addition for veteran players. Which I expect everyone who reads this to be because I expect you all to go out and get this friggin’ game – I want a sequel!