|Developer:||SEGA|||||Release Date:||2014|||||Systems:||Windows, PS3, PS4|
Last week on Super Adventures, I took a break. But this week I'm taking a look at turn based real time tactical shooter Valkyria Chronicles! I keep accidentally typing Valkyrie Chronicles, but that's not its name so I should quit that.
I've written 'Release Date: 2014' under the title screen, but it originally came out in 2008 as one of those pesky PlayStation 3 exclusives. It finally escaped to the PC after 6 years of exclusivity captivity, but Xbox 360 and Wii U owners are sadly still missing out to this day. Unless they also own a PC or PS3, then they're not. I've never liked how games are divided up between consoles like this... especially when it's between consoles I don't own.
Anyway, this was actually a gift from a friend, so I'm kind of hoping I'll be able to I liked it. Trouble is, I don't actually enjoy strategy games for the most part, even when they've got an 80+ score on Metacritic. XCOM and Disgaea hooked me for multiple playthroughs, so there's still hope, but generally I don't have the patience for these kinds of games.
It drives me mad sometimes that I can't edit the entries in my library to add a bit more consistency to them. MURDERED: SOUL SUSPECT doesn't need to be in all caps, the Dungeon Siege series needs to get some Roman numerals on the second game, and what the hell is this:
The year is 1935 and the Empire has begun to invade Federation countries. They want to get their hands on their dwindling sources of a precious rare mineral called Ragnite, that seems to have taken the place of oil in this universe.
But then the Empire goes a step too far when they try to take on the tiny county of Gallia, on the coast of what is literally called the North Sea. At least I'm hoping it's a step too far, as I get the feeling these are the guys I'm playing as and it'll suck if it turns out we lose this war.
PROLOGUE: GALLIA, TO ARMS!
In fact the music for this bit is called Chronicles of the Gallian War and I might as well make that a YouTube link so you can suffer just like I am right now. I'm really growing to hate this song... but it's by Final Fantasy Tactics composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, so I get the feeling I might be alone on this one.
Alright, a new episode has been added to the page, apparently. I suppose I’ll view it then, seeing as it's either that or watch the intro video again. Or sit here and listen to this music some more, which I don't really feel inclined to do.
Huh, the 'Enter' key isn't working. It seems to want me to press 'Space' to select things. I think I'll just grab my Xbox 360 controller instead.
I'm not sure if this is being rendered in real time, but seeing as 15gb of the 20gb install is videos, I'm thinking it's probably not. Looks good either way.
After that tiny episode I was kicked right back to the book, but I've earned another clip to watch.
His sister saw him being dragged off down the road and got him off the hook by revealing he's a famous general's son, but then there was a bit of gunfire and suddenly everyone around them started falling over and bleeding out.
Alicia hands Welkin a gun and... now I’m back to the book again. Wow, this really likes to drip feed its story. Shame I can't make out what the text in the book says or I could just read what happens next.
Actually it turns out that what's happening next is gameplay, as I'm actually getting to play a mission!
I’ve got 3 command points (those badges at the top) which apparently means I get to move three units per turn. Fortunately the Imperial scouts seem to have wandered apart since the last cutscene so I get to focus all my attention on this guy on my side of the bridge.
To win I just have to eliminate the three Imperial scouts approaching the town of Bruhl, but if Welkin or Alicia dies it's all over. Also I've only got a 20 turn time limit, but I think even I can kill a few scouts in less than 7 turns each, so I'm not that worried.
I'm trying to mentally compare this to all the other turn-based tactical games where you control units directly, but I'm coming up blank. Seems like a fairly original idea! It also seems that the watercolour filter is sticking around. It’s a clever effect but I’m not sure how long I can last before that unfinished border drives me crazy.
Anyhow, I moved Welkin up behind some nice safe sandbags and then hit the right bumper to activate Target Mode.
There's no moving in Target Mode, so the analogue stick has been repurposed to control my aim. Though I'm finding it easier to use the mouse or D-Pad to carefully fine tune my shot instead (the game switches between mouse and controller seamlessly).
Time freezes in Target Mode so I can spend as long as I like lining my crosshair up with his head (for massive damage). The tutorial has warned me that this guy gets a counter-attack if he's still alive at the end of the turn, but Welkin fires 5 times each action and I only need half those shots to land on target to kill him outright.
I can't choose to shoot any more this move (not that there's anyone around to shoot at), but I've still got enough AP to run around a bit if I really feel like moving away from the nice safe sandbags. Nah, I'll end this action and go back to the map.
Unlimited mid-battle saves kind of feel like cheating to me, but I've heard the game gets bastard hard at times so I'll accept any advantage I can get. Especially when my advantage looks a lot like a typical PlayStation 3 save screen, except with Xbox 360 buttons... on the PC! The best of both consoles.
Annoyingly though it doesn’t say "Save complete!" when it’s done, so I can't be sure I didn't press 'Back' by mistake. Even on my modest rig the save times are are a lot like the loading times, in that there aren't any, so there's no indication that anything's happened.
TWO MOVES LATER.
the Enemy Phase.
Now I get to watch those two scouts run around in the far yonder and make their way closer to my heroes. They're not dumb enough to take shots at me from this distance though.
Then when they're done it’s my turn again. The tutorial explains that I can use my CP to order the same unit around 3 times instead of using 3 separate units, though they’ll get tired and have less AP on each consecutive run. I nod my head at the monitor screen and then write that info down here.
ONE TURN LATER.
Okay I'm going to leave my troops exactly where they are and hope that there's an overwatch function that'll have my team automatically murder all the enemies when they pop out of hiding and come across the bridge to get me.
ANOTHER TURN LATER.
Uh… I'll end turn now and get back to the map! Quickly, while Alicia still has some health left!
Oh crap, I left Alicia standing in the open, so now the Imperials will probably be shooting at her all through my next character's turn as well! I didn’t think this through. Hmm... I know! I'll spend my next CP point playing as her again. She'll get a little bit of AP back so I can run for cover, and I'll have a second chance to shoot that guy across the river.
Actually, I’ve got a ton of CP left, so why I don’t I just spend them all moving Welkin right up to the enemy’s face and then blow him away at point blank range?
So that's the fight over then.
I did will enough to get a little bit of EXP and DCT at least, but they don't seem to do anything yet.
Now that's all done with it’s back to the book for another set of cutscenes.
CHAPTER 2: ESCAPE FROM BRUHL.
Meanwhile Welkin’s sister Isara and his pregnant former nanny Martha are being threatened in their home by Steve Blum, who I believe takes offence at her ethnicity. He actually says something like "we've got a fat one and a stinky one", and then utterly fails to react when Isara dives down and grabs a rifle. Then he utterly fails to react again when Welkin bursts in and swings a fence post at him. The other guy comes very close to reacting, but Isara pulls a Han Solo and shoots him first. Yay, they killed the irredeemable monsters!
But now Martha's going into labour and they're kind of stuck in the middle of a full blown invasion.
They get Martha inside and then roll out to help Alicia defend the town gate.
These cutscenes are both entirely skippable and entirely re-watchable, which is a great combination. They're also really earnest and low key, to match the watercolour visuals. I feel like the characters could all sit down together and enjoy some sandwiches at any moment. Don't get me wrong, the game's so anime they literally made an anime series of it, but it's not the kind that comes with exaggerated expressions or over the top comedy. Yet.
Seems that enemies have a row of sandbags to hide behind as they run along the left side of the street to attack the gate, but Alicia's carrying sandbag destroying grenades this time so I may be able to do something about that. Guns have unlimited ammo, grenades not so much, but the tutorial claims I'll get one back from out of nowhere each phase so I won't run permanently dry.
I'm just really lucky that tank's focused on blasting the gate or else I'd be dead in a couple of turns instead of slightly more turns. I get a little health back each turn but it's hard to heal from a direct shell to the gut.
The game tutorial's teaching me about Ragnaid now, which is a healing item I'm going to be needing really soon if this keeps up. This Ragnite ore is definitely turning out to be the 'mass effect fields' of the game; the sci-fi element that explains anything impossible like instant health kits.
You know, I'm kind of regretting even taking a turn here, as that scout's gotten so shot up on his travels that Alicia would've ended him with overwatch during his next phase. Instead I'm I'm giving the tank's machine gunner an easy target as I walk up and down trying to find the best place to lob a grenade from.
A COUPLE OF TURNS LATER.
So what did I do wrong here? Well I guess I should've been less stingy with the Ragnaid. Also next time I'll waste time cycling through my weapons after going into Targeting Mode. Alicia lasted just seconds under sustained machine gun fire from that tank, and this was during her own turn!
The smart thing would be for me to get back in there and give it another try, but I’m feeling more miserable than smart right now so I’m going to replay that first tutorial mission instead to make myself feel better (and maybe get enough XP for a level up).
Wait, I can't replay levels yet? That only works in New Game+? Well that sucks.
Tanks have a few disadvantages, like costing two CP points to move and not regenerating health between turns, but they're also basically unstoppable against regular firearms. So this is probably the last mission without anti-tank RPG snipers all over the rooftops.
"Sh-she gave birth in Dad's tank?!"
Poor dopey Welkin.
The game likes to alternate between telling its story through talking heads and text boxes, and using proper cutscenes like earlier. It's all voiced either way through, and the voice acting is rock solid. Though the game was made this millennium so you probably guessed that already.
I only got a C rank for that one in the end though, as the birth didn’t give me bonus points. Interestingly getting one of my nameless grunts killed didn’t lose me any points either. Seems that what the game really cares about is speed. Gotta rush through quick as you can to get the big bucks.
CHAPTER 3: VASEL URBAN WARFARE.
Welkin has been promoted to Lieutenant, in command of Squad 7, with Alicia as his Sergeant. I guess that’s what happens when you turn up with your own tank. Oh damn I hope they haven't given his tank away to another unit.
Hang on, isn't that Vyse from Skies of Arcadia? Seems that someone at SEGA still remembers the game! Characters each belong to one of five classes, with Vyse here being a well armoured shocktrooper.
Skirmishes are non-plot side missions that can be replayed as often as I like. So if I ever get hopelessly stuck in the main campaign I can just run away and go play skirmishes for a bit... you know, for practice! Plus getting tons of money and Exp probably won't hurt either.
The game can fuck off if it expects me to write about what all those do, I've already written enough words. Not that I'm complaining about about having more features! Especially when one of them...
I love model viewers in games, though this isn't really the best of them, seeing as it's stuck in such a small window. It does however show off how clever SEGA's CANVAS engine is, with it giving her a pencil shaded look in real time. Or at least giving her an outline and superimposing shimmering pencil lines over the top.
I kept playing for a bit longer after this, learning about capturing base camps, and ammo replenishment, and reinforcements, and etc. But the most important thing I've learned so far is...
Also the game really is all about speed. Every level's got a damn turn limit and I've been very much encouraged to move my units forwards as quickly as possible. It's the kind of game that gives you 10 turns to finish a map and then gives you a B grade when you took more than 2. So it doesn't help that half the classes can't move for shit.
Plus to make things even more stressful, even when I lose someone who isn't vital to the timeline, I'm still in trouble as they can die for good if I'm not careful.
Valkyria Chronicles isn't an easy game. After my hours of detailed study, this much I'm sure about.
Well I've found it easy to like, but hard to really get into and enjoy. It's taken me forever to make even a small amount of progress in the game because I was always feeling the need to take a quick break to check twitter, or grab a drink, or go through a stack of 30 old backup CDs and then consolidate and transfer the files to DVD (those old discs won't last forever!) That's part of the reason this article is so late; my attention just slips right off the game. But like I said, I'm not really into strategy games as a rule, so that's not necessarily Valkyria Chronicles' fault.
It does look fantastic though even 8 years on, thanks to the art style and watercolour filter. I was worried the unfinished border would be a distraction, but I stopped noticing it entirely after 30 seconds of gameplay. It's good thing that the characters are so expressive too, as the game features a relentless onslaught of charming laid-back cutscenes. That's not to say any kind of momentum's built up in the story though, as every time something happens it kicks you right back to the book again. It left me felt very detached from the world, which I suppose makes sense seeing as it's meant to be a historical chronicle.
Despite the real time movement the game's more about planning out your tactics than skilfully executing them, especially as all of the aiming takes place while the game is paused. Trouble is that the game really pressures you to keep moving forward, despite the fact that half the units are so slow they get left way behind. Then your scouts move ahead of the group and inadvertently trigger an event and suddenly you've got enemy reinforcements or a surprise boss fight to deal with as well. Plus there's snipers taking pieces out of your troops from out of your range, and enemy tanks are closing in, and whoops you've just lost the Edelweiss to a lucky shot from behind. I never managed to get to a place where the combat clicked with me and I was comfortable with my tactics, and that stopped me from really enjoying it.
But you should probably ignore my negativity, as people who are more into World War II documentaries, Final Fantasy Tactics and watercolours than I am will find a lot here to like. It's a well put together product and the PC port's rock solid, so if you want a challenge this is a good place to look.