The strategy RPG is an interesting, yet enigmatic gaming genre. At its best, titles can offer over a hundred hours of tactical enjoyment for the armchair general. Titles in the Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Fire Emblem franchises have captivated us for extraordinarily long stretches and exercised our cerebral cortex in ways an action game could not. However, as Operation Darkness and Spectral Force 3 have taught us, when SRPGs are bad, they can be incredibly torturous; the slow pace of the genre seems to exacerbate any flaws in a title.
Yet another example of the polarizing tendency of SRPGs is Valkyria Chronicles. The title offers genuine innovation to the genre, while offering a rich and stunning graphical palette. Simply put, VC offers one of the best diversions currently available for strategy minded PS3 owners, and is a wonderful alternative to the twitch-based action games that permeate the system.
Big ‘tanks’ goes out to Sega for making such an incredible game. Yeah, we went there.
Set in an alternative 1930’s Europe, VC tells the story of a band of stalwart heroes from Gallia. Their innocuous homeland is caught in the middle of a growing war between two larger factions; the Imperials and the Federation. These two superpowers are warring over the scarce resource ragnite, which can do everything from heal wounds to power tanks. Our protagonist is Welkin Gunther, an unwilling hero, who leads the rag-tag Squad 7 throughout the game.
Forgoing the hex board trappings that are ubiquitous to the genre, VC uses a far more fluid approach to unit movement. Individual characters have a limited amount of action points to move around the map freely; the amount of AP dictated by their character class. As players move their squad members across the battlefield, enemies can fire, requiring characters to continually seek cover. Taken altogether, the game masterfully blends the intricate tactics of a traditional strategy game with the vivacity of an action game.
In an alternative setting, female soldiers outnumber males 3-1. Put that on your enlistment posters.
Gameplay is consistently challenging; a foolish player enters battle without carefully studying his intelligence map. Throughout the campaign, nearly every battle in unique- while a tank blitzkrieg may win one skirmish, a more careful deployment of snipers may win another. Once players finish the main campaign, skirmish mode is unlocked, which can further add experience to your troops. In a better world the game would offer random enemy placement, or ideally, a mission editor.
Like the Fire Emblem series, if a character dies in VC, there are gone forever. As such, the player becomes emotionally attached to his troops; when a comrade falls in battle there is an authentic, emotional drive to get the incapacitated unit to safety. While losing your valiant troops on the battlefield is disheartening, the game wisely doesn’t further penalize the player by requiring reinforcements to grind statistically. Instead the replacements will be at the same class level as the rest of the team.
Our brave heroine sings A-Ha’s ‘Tank On Me’, while marching into battle.
Graphically, the game employs a hand-drawn aesthetic, creating a distinct style not unlike Okami. Soft muted watercolors contrast with detailed sharp edges to make this one of the strongest visual styles seen all year; at times we stop reading and playing to admire the artistic talent on display in VC. To complement the style, the game employs a book-like motif that presents groups of battles as chapters. Game navigation is handed via a series of book tabs, as to not violate the design aesthetic.
Overall, Valkyria Chronicles is a shining example of the strategy role-playing game, and is without a doubt, Sega’s best console game in years. For gamers looking for a satisfying experience that challenges their mind, rather then just their thumbs, should pick this title us immediately.