Remember how I was saying that I was probably going to buy Valkyria Chronicles? Well I was ordering my Mom’s Christmas present online and went ahead and got myself a little something too. I know, I’m still not finished with Fallout 3 — I’ve been milking that title to death. Though, you’d be proud, nearly two months into the game I’m now working on the main quest. Anyway, I put down Fallout to try out VC that arrived at my house yesterday.
I already love this game. I played three “missions” last night and they were quite fun. The story of the game is told in chapters. The main menu of your game is like a story book. You have different little pictures in the book that you unlock in order as you progress through the game. Many of the pictures are cut scenes (using the games visuals), and some are little skits like a Tales game. Then you’ll get to a part of the story that is a battle/mission. What’s cool is that you can go back and re-watch any part of the story, and I think you can replay any mission you want (though the game doesn’t seem to be letting me do that yet).
Let’s talk graphics first. The visuals are simply awe-inspiring. The cell shaded graphics and anime styled characters may not be for everyone, but I love them. I’ve never seen cell shading done so nicely before. The cut scenes are like you are watching a 2-1/2D anime. One thing that threw me off at first is that the cell shading style used here is pretty unique. The whole game is designed to look like a watercolor painting or sketch, and as such the characters and environments all have sketch lines on them that represent the shadowing. Check out the pictures to see what I’m talking about. Click them for a full sized picture. It’s a little hard to get used to at first compared to other cell shaded games, but you’ll find that it really make the game look great.
On to game play. As a Strategy RPG, VC is played in turns. You have the player phase, and the enemy phase. Once both of you finish your phase the turn or round is over. It seems like the missions have a limited amount of turns on top of the normal objectives (EG: Failure at 20 turns). During your phase you start in command mode. Here, you have a simplified overview of the battlefield and icons that represent your units and enemy units that you can currently see. The game gives you command points to work with and you spend one point every time you select a unit (two for tanks).
Once you select a unit you go into action mode. This brings you into the action via a 3rd person view of your selected unit. This is a pseudo-real time mode where you are free to move your unit as you wish. The unit has so many action points that are represented by a bar that drains as you move. In this mode any nearby enemies are free to fire on you the whole time. You have to be careful here, because this happens even when you are not moving. So if you select a unit that is in the line of fire that you plan to simply attack with, you are best off selecting them and initiating target mode right away. (see below)
In order to attack your targets (and also force them into a turn based mode so they stop free firing at you) you have to activate targeting mode on that unit. This is where you can aim where you want the unit to shoot. The game gives you a crosshair and a shot group circle to work with here. The circle shows you the area that your bullets may go around the crosshair, the better the unit the tighter the shot group will be. You can also select other weapons like grenades. Your unit can only attack once a turn –well in truth there’s more to it then that– but the game does a good job of teaching you how to play.
Anyway, there is a lot of room for tactical combat here. Positioning your units properly so that they can attack and take cover is important. Also, it’s good to remember that during the enemy’s turn your units have the same opportunity to lay into them in real time as the move. Situating your units to get these interrupt attacks is important as it’s basically free damage to your enemy’s units. When a unit attacks the target gets a counter attack, so conventional attacking can be dangerous to injured units. Cover and line of sight are also very important to gaining the upper hand. These battles are far from easy, taking the battle lightly will get your ass kicked. I had to retry the third mission because one of my heroes got killed.
That leads me to the next point. As you can tell, this is a story driven strategy game, so if one of the protagonists gets killed in battle you fail. In fact, the mission objectives even clearly state this. You also get generic units to do battle with too, like “town guard” for example, if these die nobody cares (though it will lower your score at the end). These heroes, as I tend to call them, are not however, liabilities by any means. Alicia, for example, is probably my best infantry unit right now. She is the most accurate rifleman.
I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll rap this up. I really like the game so far. The visuals, sound, and voice acting are all superb. The tactical combat really picks up difficulty fast. I think that Valkyria Chronicles a good addition to your PS3 library.
Update: I played for like 30 minutes last night, didn’t even fight another battle yet, but already could add stuff to this review…
I got introduced to the headquarters mode. In this mode you can customize your army. I started with four people that I could not take out of my squad, but they wanted me to add 20 more. Interestingly, it seems I was wrong about the generic unit bit.
The troops I had to pick from were all named and had unique character designs and voices. They made it so that each squad member is an actual character. Each character has traits that effect their stats and also each character has people they like to work with the best.
This pool of recruits you can pick from is going to be updated from time to time, and you can switch out units as you please.
You use EXP you earn in battles to upgrade the five classes. Rather then upgrade a single unit, the upgrades are for any unit in that class. The infantry classes basically boil down to this: Scout/rifleman, Assault, Anti-tank, Sniper, and Engineer.
You can also upgrade the weapons and armor your troops use, and again this is distributed across the board. You can also “soup up” your tank. There is a separate set of points you spend on this stuff.
One thing I’m curious about now is how the game will handle units dieing. I’m guessing that Welken and/or Alicia’s death will cause game over, but what about these others? Do they die for good, or just “retreat”? I’ve yet to find that out.