Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)

Valkyria Chronicles is a tactical RPG for the PS3, which was eventually remastered for PC and PS4, with all DLC bundled in.  The game features cel-shaded graphics, with a watercolor-styled shading.  It looks amazing and ages extremely well even ten years later.  Gameplay involves a hybrid turn-based and real-time battle system called BLiTZ (Battle of Live Tactical Zones).  There are phases for each side (Player and Enemy) and within each phase, you have a certain number of turns called CP.  You use one CP to move a unit, meaning you can use multiple CP to move the same unit consecutively.  Of you can end a phase prematurely and save up unused CP for when the next phase comes around.  When you select your unit, you can move, which uses up an AP gauge.  Once AP is used up, the unit cannot move for that CP turn anymore.  While running, enemies will be shooting at you if you are in their sights, this makes preplanning your path beforehand during the unit selection phase (which shows a 2D overhead map) essential.  A lot of the time, the movement range feels limited and you just stop short of where you were aiming for (an indicator on the overhead map to show their movement range would have easily solved this), and if you use a unit consecutively, then their AP gauge reduces each time, meaning even less range.

While running on the field, you can stop your unit and target any enemy within range to shoot them.  Time pauses for you to line up your shot.  Headshots are much more damaging and essential to victory.  You can change weapon types such as grenades and flamethrowers, leading to area-of-effect attacks.  Each unit can only attack once per CP.  Unfortunately, the game uses an accuracy system in that you have a reticule and the shot can land anywhere within that reticule.  This is mostly an issue in the earlier parts of the game when your units have lower-tiered weapons with huge reticules.  It can also get really annoying when enemies have high evasion rates and keep dodging your attacks completely, even at pointblank range.  Tactical elements come into play not only from positioning your units on the map but also that they can crouch and hide behind bunkers/sandbags to reduce the amount of damage.  This allows you to perform maneuvers such as flanking and slow forward advances.  There are other hazards on the battlefield such as mines which can be hard to see when you're busy plotting the most efficient route and have enemies firing at you.

Each individual unit has their own name and special passive abilities which can be positive and negative (increase or decreasing stats in certain situations respectively).  If they die on the battlefield and the enemy touches them or you cannot get one of your units to get to them, they are lost forever.  This permadeath doesn't really affect you if you play it smart and safe.  You are able to save and load before every CP turn.  While it feels like cheating at times, it is a lifesaver if you need to perform crucial attacks or when you need to retry on moving a character to get to the place you needed using what limited AP they have.  There are five different classes that units fall into:  Scouts who are weak in firepower but has a huge movement range; Shocktroopers who are damage dealers but restricted movement range; Lancers specialize in doing the most damage to tanks but are weak in both movement and infantry attacks due to their low accuracy; Snipers have excellent long-range attack power but will be destroyed in close combat; and lastly, Engineers are weak in both attack and defense but they are able to restore ammo to units and heal tanks.  Finally, there are tanks which have low mobility but is a beast in attack and defense power.

You gain experience and money after every battle.  You are also ranked with bonus points for achieving A and B ranks.  Ranks are only based on how quickly you finish a level though, not for player smartly, so in a lot of scenarios you end up rushing forward with your units to force your way through.  This feels counter to the slower tactical gameplay that the game seems to want you to experience.  You cannot repeat storyline battles once you've completed them however as you progress through the story, you'll open up "Skirmishes", which are repeats of storyline battles with some swapped elements.  You can replay these indefinitely for extra experience but they give a much lower experience rate compared to the story levels.  Leveling up troops are done on a class basis, therefore there is no penalty for swapping units in and out.  There's no need to worry about lost experience.  You can also upgrade your weapons and your tank.  Valkyria Chronicles has a heavy story focus and is told in the style of a chronicle.  It's engaging from the get go.  You'll spend a lot of your time watching cutscenes.  The story focuses on Welkin, who returns to Gallia, a neutral country on the continent of Europa.  A war has broken out between the two superpowers of the Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation.

The Imperial Alliance has decides to invade Gallia despite their neutrality in order to get their hand son Ragnite, a substance that is used for everything and the reason for the war.  Welkin meets up with Alicia at their hometown of Bruhl and together, they help evacuate the town when the Empire invades.  They then enlist into the militia at the capital, where Welkins is promoted to the leader of Squad 7.  Along with his childhood friend Isara, they attempt to survive and win the war.  The game is not shy about the cruelties of war, including deaths of innocents.  It is a story filled with surprising twists and merges the mythical Valkyria into the story so it isn't completely rooted in reality and it's all the better for it.  The Valkyria in this game is a race of humans with what are effectively superpowers but by the time of the game, they are thought long extinct.  The story is definitely one of the best elements of the game, especially the ending where it throws even more surprises at you.  Complementing the story are side events that are optional.  These cost in-game money to purchase which slots them between the main chapters, so they are very easy to miss.  However, they give a lot of great background events which may be referenced in later chapters and serve to flesh out a lot of the characters.  These side events are definitely worth the time.

Due to the slower tactical gameplay and the high probability of repeating battles, or at the very least, constantly reloading, you're looking at 30 to 40 hours to finish the game.  The game can be quite difficult when you play it blind and only once you've tested out a level and know what is coming, can you devise an efficient strategy . Chapter 7 in particular was a tough mission and felt extremely cheap.  You get an invincible boss that can travel the whole map in one turn, one-hit KO your troops AND it is reliant on the enemy doing something before you can win.  In a lot of these battles, it is a heavy case of trial and error and can be aggravating.  Finally, once you've cleared the game you can initiate New Game Plus, where you can carry your levels over and unlock a new Skirmish battle.  Overall, Valkyria Chronicles is an amazing game.  You get a brilliant story (in either English or Japanese voiceovers), told in a beautiful aesthetics style and a unique battle system that we have not seen in any other game.  Valkyria Chronicles is well worth your time, whether it is the original PS3 version or the remastered PC and PS4 versions.


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