Review by Maxss1

"A very well-done and innovative SPRG"

When I first downloaded the demo for this game, I did it mostly because I was bored out of my skull and looking for something interesting to try. I knew it was a SRPG, but the genre was always promising, but never really seemed to reach the full potential. I enjoyed playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, but after you learned the computer AI, it was easy to determine what it would do, taking a lot of the fun out of it for me. So I started this game with some reservations… But the final result was very surprising to the point where I actually scratched together the money to get the full game a few days later. I was very happy to find that this game employs the full power of a next-gen console to bring new life to this unfulfilled genre, it's not flawless, but it's still a very good game.

Graphics 10/10

Everything is remarkably detailed, and practically every screen of the game looks like an animated comic book (complete with written sounds accompanying stuff like gunfire, explosions, or rustling through tall grass). The motions were nice and smooth at every step, with no slowdown or awkward animations. On the whole, I enjoyed the visuals very much as they didn't interfere with the game or the story at all, but I don't look for high frame rates or the visual detail that many other people do.

Sound: 10/10

While they didn't stand out, I took that as a good sign as they didn't provide a significant source of irritation or distraction from the gameplay, but also didn't overwhelm it either. Gunfire and other combat noises sounded real, and in missions where you were fighting as a smaller portion of a larger operation, you could hear distant rumbling of artillery and field cannons. Characters would say things as they moved about and performed actions, sometimes celebrating when they finished off an enemy unit. The voice acting was well done, as each character has its own unique voice and tone, but there are one or two voices that grated against my ears (there's one girl that sounds WAY too cheery to be on a 1930's battlefield). In addition, you can hear snatches of radio messages from both sides of the fight, and it's been a source of encouragement when I hear our own side say ‘keep up this pace' or the enemy ‘who are these guys?!?!‘ as you hammer a group of enemy units hard. In summary, it's well made in this department and passes my standards, but Sound and Graphics are only secondary to the story and the gameplay…

Story: 9/10

Well, it's slightly cheesy that the designers set up the world to be a reflection of 1930's Europe (right as WW2 was starting to take shape) and heck, they even call the continent ‘Europa'… But, the story focuses on the exploits of Squad 7, a group of militia belonging to a small Principality of Galia being invaded by a massive Empire that outnumbers our heroes to the point where there's little hope that the Galians will hold them off. The story focuses on only a handful of the characters in Squad 7, despite there being a large number of other characters that you control in the field, but it helps to keep things concentrated for a strong story without other minor characters popping in for an obligatory shot and then never to be seen again. The story also incorporates a number of different conflicts to keep things interesting and show character growth as the story progresses. Naturally, you see the young commander of Squad 7, Welkin, struggle to stay in command in the face of older and more veteran members of the Squad who challenge his ability to command. There's even a running story talking about racism as Welkin's adopted sister, Isara, is a Darcsen, a group of people who face constant bigotry just for being who they are. The story served to bring the characters to life and make them more than just units on the field, to the point where you start to become attached to some of the characters at points. It was well written and made each mission more than ‘take the computer down' in order to give you a little more spirit approaching the enemy, you knew why your force was being sent into this area and what you had to do. On the whole, it was disappointing to me to see things so heavily mirror the early World War 2 combat and to see a large number of characters I wanted to see more of, but it still was very well done.

Gameplay: 10/10

As previously stated, this game brings a whole new dimension to the previous SRPGs as it melds elements of third-person shooters with the strategy to create a very dynamic experience. The action sequences are where the third person aspect comes into play as you actually move the character, taking fire as they get to close and working with teammates as you work on your objectives. But the person-by-person order that things progress allow you to work much more on tactics than you could with standard action games.

During battles, you are given Command Points (CP) with which you spend to activate and move your different units one at a time. Your average troop only needs a single CP, while Tanks require two CP to move. As the different units move, enemy units that can see the moving unit and have it in range will actually start firing at them, forcing you to move decisively and to stick to cover (don't worry, there's lots of things to hide behind as you move), at any point you can select an action to perform (fire your gun, throw a grenade, use healing Reginaid, repair something, etc.) and if you still have some movement left, you can zip behind cover. In addition, if you have an attacking unit close to other similar units, they'll join in as well, enabling you to bring a lot of firepower down on an enemy if you set them up right. Also, there are a number of elements that help make gameplay inside battles dynamic. Ladders let you reach the tops of buildings for the high ground, sandbags provide cover (and can be blown apart with mortar rounds or grenades), and tall grass provides concealment to hide a unit for a surprise attack. By approaching the enemy with a strategy and proper tactics, you can use the different units to achieve quick success. Also, while you are limited to 9 units total, you aren't stuck with the ones you've chosen at the start of a mission. You can order units to retreat, and for the cost of a single CP per unit, you can call for reinforcements from what units that are part of your squad that aren't in the field. However, they can be permanently lost if they fall to 0 HP and you don't get the mission finished in three turns, or a buddy to them to call for a medic in the same amount of time.

Outside of combat, you are given quite a bit of control over the composition of your team. You can use funds and experience you gain from your battles to level up unit classes (all your troopers of that class are at the same level, so if you lose a level 5 scout in battle, you don't have to pick a brand new level 1 scout to start all over again), to develop new weapons and armor (all troopers automatically have the best regular equipment you have access to), or to outfit your tank with better equipment to improve its stats. In addition, you aren't limited to gaining experience from the story missions either. As the game progresses, you unlock skirmish missions (essentially toned-down missions from the story mode) that let you rack up some quick experience and money (not a lot relative to the story mode ones) in case you're having trouble with a mission. You also have the chance to swap out members of your team from a larger pool of available troopers as well as replace fallen members, so if you find yourself using more of one type of unit, you can cycle out other lesser or non-used troopers for ones you need. Every trooper has a unique personality that's reflected in the Potential system. Certain elements of their surroundings provide either bonuses or penalties depending on their personalities. Some characters like being in the country and suffer penalties when they're in city terrain, or have allergies to flowers or dust and get penalties when those conditions are present, but they also might be encouraged by having friendly troopers nearby or gain bonuses for coming under fire.

Replayability: 7/10.

While you have the chance to restart the game with your stronger troopers, the game itself takes up quite a bit of time to play each mission (unless you're a daredevil who charges right into the teeth of the enemy) and I frequently found myself needing a break after two or three missions in the game just because of the length of each battle. It was great to have a high degree of control mixed with a great amount of action, but it still had me thinking hard on how I was approaching each turn and how I was going to keep the ball rolling forward.

Buy or Rent?

If you're into the sorts of SRPG's that have been released thus far, this game will certainly be worth a buy, if not a rent, but if you're someone who craves more action than strategy, I don't think you'll be too satisfied with the slow progress the game can seem to take from time to time.

Overall: 10/10

This game is truly innovative in such a way that it could breathe new life into the series for me. I've played Advance Wars 1&2 and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance with some enjoyment, but neither of them have approached the level of entertainment that I've found this game to present. Between the awesome story bringing the characters to life, and the greater sense of action that is present in this game, I'm certain several fans of Strategy games will enjoy this game.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/14/09

Game Release: Valkyria Chronicles (US, 11/04/08)

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