Review by Lathany
"Beautiful: varied missions and decent story make you forgive the occasionally clumsy dialogue"
Valkyria Chronicles is a strategy game on the PS3. The player controls a variable number of characters to take through missions; the protagonist Welkin Gunther and a large cast of major and minor characters.
The controls are relatively easy to get to grips with as the game walks you through the set-up in some easy early missions. That said, I had a few early problems learning to get over barricades (just keep pushing forward) and with a couple of other things - nothing major, though. However, one issue that you should bear in mind is that the game has long loading times. OK, they're nothing to the old days of the tape recorder, but for anyone like me who is used to their games loading instantly, be prepared to wait for a minute for the game to load for missions and other things.
You start just playing a straightforward unit type (a person) for the first few missions, and get given lots of guidance about what you should be doing. Once you reach the militia itself the strategy starts to revolve around choosing the make-up of your squad from five main troop types (usually to supplement a tank). Whilst I think there are definite winning combinations, this has the nice side-effect of letting you play most missions within your own style. Also, to add to the strategy, Welkin can give out orders. These can be used to attack, defend, heal and do slightly weirder things to one or all units.
The missions are very varied (with one exception that I'll come back to) and the creators have gone to some trouble to come up with something rather different each time. More so than I have found in other strategy games. Also, they usually have more than one possible approach to them (although approaches are often similar). This made each new one really seem new rather than a tired variation on a previous mission.
One slight grump I have about missions is that you usually need to start them to find out what you require in your squad and where. Whilst the pre-mission briefing will give you hints, you don't really get to see the terrain map or what's immediately around. This led to me immediately going back a step and redesigning my squad on more than one occasion after I had seen the mission load up.
The list of characters you can put in your squad is pretty extensive - you can choose up to 20 (I think) characters and reserves from a list twice that size. As all the characters have slightly different benefits (and catch phrases), you can personalise your squad to some degree (one of my favourites was Catherine, a sniper: I'm not done yet!). It took me a while to work out what combinations worked - and then to reconsider them after all the troops graded up. It is easy to miss things.
One last thing about the missions themselves - the characters normally give out hints before, at the start of and during a mission. It usually pays to follow these hints; although there are often other approaches.
A difficult decision on the gameplay side is the extent to which you choose to play skirmishes (that is replaying missions, usually minus one or two elements). On the one hand, you will have done them before, on the other it's a form of level grinding if you are feeling underpowered. There is also an extra source of missions through buying the reporter's stories - these are all back-stories of the characters and many of them have missions attached.
One final point which I will carefully make without writing spoilers - the worst part of the gameplay was down to the final mission (you'll know it when you reach it because that's pretty much what it's called). It's a whole magnitude more tedious than anything that has come before, there's no scope for clever strategy (as far as I saw), it's heavily dependent on reloading (which is painful as this is a game with huge loading times) and the writers seemed to think that all that was OK because they'd set it to a new exciting soundtrack (which, due to my constant reloading, I heard less of than the hours devoted to that mission might lead you to believe). Trust me, no soundtrack is that good - I like clever strategy to be required for my final missions, not tedium. Enough said.
I enjoyed the story a great deal. It starts off quite simply, then adds elements in the form of ancient history and key characters and, eventually, explains an awful lot of the country, its attitudes and its misconceptions. The characters themselves are well-chosen for exploring this - Faldio in particular was a lovely addition.
The individual mission stories tend to be good as well - I loved the one just before arriving at the militia in the capital and also the first one of taking the bridge. Both were great twists on perceptions that the characters had. Also - tanks! What's not to love?
The dialogue is good in places, but can also have you reaching for the sick bucket. There is a downtrodden race called the Darscens about which the game makes various unsubtle points about how Racism Is Wrong (yes, it is, but we all got the point hours earlier!). Some of Welkin's nature study conversations can also be rather grim and there's an awful lot about how if we love each other everything will turn out OK. That said, I felt that the game handled other issues, such as death and the nature of the enemy side sensitively.
The characters are pretty good in general. Welkin's nature studies do get rammed home from time to time, but it's equally a refreshing approach to giving a protagonist an advantage over his peers. Of the minor (story) characters I was particularly fond of Rosie, Eleanor, Faldio and Selvaria. Of the minor (squad) characters - I liked all of them and would like to play again with some of the characters I didn't use this time.
Finally, if you are that type of person, there is a huge backlog of reading you can access about the main characters, the side characters, the country and pretty much everything else. Someone put a lot of loving detail into this game and it's a nice touch.
The game is utterly beautiful. I'm not artistic myself, but various people with more of a talent for art (and for computer graphics) made appreciative noises any time they watched me play. Strictly speaking, the missions use what is effectively a 2D map; in practice, you don't notice as the whole effect feels beautifully 3D - hills, buildings and other elements can block line of sight. The characters are carefully drawn and I think they communicate feelings and expressions well.
The cut-scenes in the game are excellent and the whole thing has a consistent style which flows. It's a lovely piece of work and made me fully aware that the PS3 was a member of the next generation of consoles.
The soundtrack of the game is appropriate and I liked it a lot. There is different music for different places, different moods and different types of missions. The voice actors are good and I liked them all. No-one grated at all.
This is difficult to judge as I played it through once, didn't quite finish, then played it through again from the start. I guess it's between thirty and forty hours on the game clock, with quite a bit more time in terms of reloads. So... roughly two or three weeks of playing.
I would say it's definitely worth looking at unless you are allergic to strategy games. It's beautiful, it has some well-designed missions and it's generally a carefully crafted piece of work.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/17/09
Game Release: Valkyria Chronicles (EU, 10/31/08)
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