Saturday, March 31, 2012
Over the years, my interest in RPG's had started to wane to the point where I ignored some of them simply due to the time investment. While they're great games and all, they take so long to finish and with a busy gaming schedule this year, it's hard to sink another 40 hours into one game when you could've beat 3 others and had a raucously good time on their multiplayers. However with Valkyria Chronicles, not only did it look stunning but it had a unique way of fighting and seemed to have that certain "something" where you probably don't really know what you're getting into but you want it anyway. But we warned, this isn't an RPG to be taken lightly but like a lot of things, the more you put into it then the sweeter the rewards.
Story: It's a period meant to feel like Europe in the 1930 though with a couple changes. Europe's divided in 2, The Federation and the Eastern European Imperial Alliance or just simply Empire, the latter of whom tries to do anything and everything to get what they want. What they want is ragnite, a valuable and incredibly useful resource and where it's abundant is the small country in the middle, Gallia, who has ties to neither side. But when the Empire invades and with a strange, powerful race thought only to exist in legend for a weapon, it's up to Welkin Gunther, Alicia Melchiott and several others to bring down the powerful Empire.
Graphics: The team behind this game worked on the highly-praised Skies of Arcadia for the Dreamcast and while the art style and character designs are similar, Valkyria is really in a class of its own. Using Sega's Canvas engine, they decide to create a different approach to the visuals and while Okami was made to resemble a painting, Valkyria looks more like a drawing that's being animated at lightning speed and it's gorgeous. Kind of reminds me of the cutscenes for the Final Fantasy Tactics port for the PSP only more colorful. The 3D fighting visuals are also welcome and the "boom" and "ratta" visuals showing up when you explode something or fire your weapon has a great charm to it. It's not going for realism so don't compare it to tech-heavy games but what it lacks in realistic lighting and photo-realistic characters, it makes up for in style and art.
Sound/Music: Ditto for the music which was done by Hitoshi Sakimoto who did the Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story and Odin Sphere soundtracks though he's probably best known (positively or negatively depending on how you see it) as the composer for Final Fantasy XII. The soundtrack here is pleasing and there's some good themes but it doesn't really have any tracks that can stand outside the game but when it's on in the game, it's welcome. Using an option to change the language to Japanese or English and either or, the voice acting is quite well-done though some roles are either overacted or lacking in emotion but I didn't mind either tracks.
Gameplay: One can make a case that Valkyria's combat is a 3D version of a chess match, with soldiers and tanks replacing the rooks and queens but essentially here's how it works: a map reveals your position of your characters as well as known enemy positions. You then select who you want to control (which uses up CP, a certain amount of "moves" you can make your characters do with tanks taking up 2 of them), game switches to a 3D view and you can run where you want to go which drains an AP gauge and if you run out, you stop permanently till the next turn. Found in the stages are places that could make good cover such as sandbags. When you've found your spot, you can press R1 which brings up your targeting where you can aim where you want to shoot, throw your grenade or to use a first aid on members with low health and after your turn it's best to crouch and end your turn right away to minimize enemies firing back (which is unfair because they counterattack your attack in addition to when your attack is over so they're really getting 2 shots at you so it's best to end your turn quickly).
Here's where it gets fun: you basically have 5 classes from standard scouts with decent weaponry to long-range snipers (Marina is my preferred one due to her cute and deadly bad***ness), shocktroopers with assault rifles, lancers who are perfect for nailing tanks and engineers who can either replenish your ammo, fix/build places for cover or provide tank maintenance though they're more susceptible to damage. Knowing who to use and where to use them is key. Should a character lose all their health, they're knocked out but here's the kicker: they'll be gone forever unless you get a member of your team over, a cutscene will show a medic rushing in and that member is taking off the field, still able to be used later but gone for the rest of the battle. While you get many reserves anyway, it's probably best to keep your entire team alive.
Speaking of your team, you get 20 people to use in a battle unless stated otherwise in the battle so that can make levelling up tedious right? Wrong. Using the headquarter tab (the whole narrative is played out like a book with pictures on the page being your cutscenes/battles), you can level up your characters in an amusing drill instructor way but should you say level up your snipers, every single one of your snipers levels up as well and not just whoever you use the most. Your equipment can be upgraded for better accuracy, health and whatnot and your tank can be fitted with spare treads should the enemy blast yours off leaving you immobile or strengtening the range of your fire. But don't think this game is immune to grinding as it's best to click the Skirmishes tab and take on the battles which can be fought as many times as you want and it's not just recommended, it's almost necessary since enemies after a certain amount of time will positively own your *** so why not fight fire with fire and make your guys just as tough.
I know this fall and winter has been a particularly crowded season, especially those who own all 3 consoles and the 2 handhelds (like me) but I implore you not to miss Valkyria Chronicles. It doesn't have the advertising of Gears of War 2 or the recognition of the upcoming Final Fantasy XIII but this game is well worth tracking down.