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Valkyria Chronicles – Part I: With Their Tanks and Their Guns September 8, 2009

Posted by emeraldsuzaku in Blog-along, Video Games.

For the longest time I didn’t know what Valkyria Chronicles was. At first I thought it was a third-person shooter. Not exactly. Then I thought it was a strategy game. Not entirely that, either. Then I realized it was some kind of hybrid of the two and my reaction was something along the lines of durr…whaaaaaa? I didn’t want to go ahead and buy it because, well, fusion games like VC  have a nasty habit of falling flat on their proverbial faces, but I did want to play it. Luckily a friend offered to let me borrow his copy. I’m only six missions in, but let me tell you, Valkyria Chronicles is good.

The game is presented as if you were reading a book–literally. The out of mission interface is a book where you flip pages to get where you want to go. Each mission is its own chapter, and the between-mission cutscenes are broken into chunks for you to play individually. Like any strategy game there is a large cutscene to playable level ratio, but the way the game breaks the cutscenes up really helps. It also allows you to go back and replay any part of any cutscene from any chapter between missions. All the functions of the game outside of missions are handled through this book interface, and there are separate tabs for the chapters, headquarters (after you unlock it a few missions in), glossary, character list, etc. Navigation between pages is controlled by the L1 and R1 triggers, with navigation between tabs controlled by the L2 and R2 buttons. You can save anywhere in the book by bringing up the menu with the Triangle button, so you don’t have to worry about running to a particular area or anything to do that.

The various tabs unlock as you progress through the game, but by far the most important one is the Headquarters tab. This is where you can recruit new squadmates, train your classes, upgrade your equipment and tank, and visit various locations to work on unlocking new Orders and bonus missions. The experience and training system is the best part of the game so far for me. You get experience based on how well you do overall in combat. Experience is all dumped into a pool-it’s not distributed between individual characters like in most other strategy games. You can then use this experience to train up whatever classes you wish. When you train a class to a new level, every character of that class is leveled up. This means that you never have to worry about taking specific characters into missions or having them try to get the majority of kills or whatnot just so they don’t suck. You can focus on completing the mission, assured that if you do well as a squad, there will be plenty of experience points to go around. Experience can periodically be spent on learning new orders from a particular NPC, but he tends to offer them at random.

Money earned is spent on upgrades for either character equipment or your tank. It can also be thrown at an NPC, presumably to unlock something later on. The upgrade system is also nifty. Each piece of equipment (a particular model of gun or armor, etc) has its own upgrade tree. When you purchase an upgrade, every character currently using that piece of equipment automatically gets the upgrade. The game really is focused on minimizing the tediousness of typical strategy games to allow the player to focus on actually playing the game. It’s a great breath of fresh air.

Character recruitment is likewise streamlined and simple. You simply pick them from the list and go. There’s no salary management or anything–you just build your squad from whoever you want from available list. As you progress in the game, other characters will be unlocked. I’m currently rocking with Vyse and Aika, among other characters, because sky pirates are awesome. And I loved Skies of Arcadia. Each character has slightly different HP, as well as their own set of Potentials–attributes that provide a bonus and/or a penalty under certain conditions. Potentials are gained as the classes are leveled up  so I haven’t seen them all for any character yet, but they really play a key role in choosing what characters to bring to what missions.

The graphics are very fitting for the presentation of the game. They’re cel-shaded with a sort of scribbly filter over them, giving them a very storybook quality. Despite this, they manage to look very crisp and clean, and the colors are vibrant. I try not to be a graphics whore, but they can really tie a game together, and that’s what happens here. The English voice acting is just as stellar as the graphics, and the sound effects work well. The music likewise fits the game.

As for the actual progress report, I’m now on Chapter 6, having just finished the Kloden Wildwood mission, and I can safely say that I dislike mines. Also, just because it looks like there’s a way through some place on the map doesn’t mean there’s a way through in reality. I wasted a turn with Vyse because of that. Oops. I can safely say that Kloden was my bloodiest mission to date. I lost most of my forces. In the end I had Welkin, Alicia, and…maybe one other person left. The medic got a pretty big workout on this one. When the enemy reinforcements got there I was able to take out the enemy tank tread and force the tank to move to get a shot at me. That allowed me to shoot the gap left between the tank and the building it was parked next to, swing around behind, and pop its generator with Welkin. Then I just had Alicia claim the base. In retrospect I could have tone things quite a bit differently, but you know what they say about hindsight.

My shocktroopers, scouts, and I believe lancers are all level 5, with my engineers and snipers being 4. I haven’t been able to use a sniper effectively yet, but maybe I’ll have better luck later. I don’t feel particularly underleveled, but the game’s difficulty definitely seems to be ramping up. I should probably go play that second skirmish mission I unlocked a couple of times. I’m starting to actually grow attached to some of the characters, which is a compliment to the game, and I do feel bad about getting them killed. Except Largo. For whatever reason, I have no problem suiciding Largo for great justice.

I’m thoroughly enjoying Valkyria Chronicles so far. It’s a game I’ve been needing to take in small doses–as in, a mission or two at a time–but it’s very, very good. I’ll let you know how it continues to go.



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