Written by Brock Poulsen, brockst4r Saturday, 27 August 2011 05:00
Valkyria Chronicles 3 was released for PSP on January 27th in Japan. While those of us in the rest of the world wait our turn (and maybe hold out hope for a PS3 version), I figured I’d take a look back at its PS3 predecessor, and the tumultuous relationship I’ve had with it.
Valkyria Chronicles arrived in 2008 to much critical acclaim but a decided indifference from the general gaming population. Sales were underwhelming (though it did sell well enough to warrant two PSP sequels), but the game built a small and very loyal fanbase unashamed to sing its praises. So why do I sometimes hate it?
Valkyria Chronicles is a gorgeous game. The game's graphics engine, dubbed the CANVAS engine, creates beautiful visuals that appear hand-drawn by colored pencil. Characters are extraordinarily detailed and move gracefully through a wide variety of battlefields. Sound effects are depicted visually a la Batman '66, with "BOOM" for explosions and "RAT A TAT TAT" for gunfire, among other stylishly presented effects.
All of this I love. Even the story, which reaches unapologetic levels of cheese and sappiness, is something I can tolerate. And I really dislike anime of all sorts. Really.
My love/hate relationship with Valkyria Chronicles lies in its best quality: the combat. The rules are established very simply: each side has a set number of Command Points, and spends these points to move troops and issue orders, boosting stats. Troop movement takes place more or less in real time, from a third-person perspective. Your soldiers (which belong to one of the following classes: Scout, Shocktrooper, Lancer, Sniper, or Engineer) can move a set distance and perform one action per Command Point used. If your soldier passes through an enemy's line of sight (or if an enemy passes through your soldier's sight on their turn), the stationary soldier can fire on the moving soldier.
All of these factors make each encounter a sort of mini puzzle; you're not chewing through enemy troops like an invincible John Rambo. Each turn must be used efficiently, making use of environment, troop location, team firing, and multiple other factors.
All of these rules establish strategy and careful choices as the rule of the day. I love rules. Rules are an integral part of video games; they give us parameters in which to function, letting us succeed within the game world. Valkyria Chronicle's rules allow the player to know if and when it's safe to advance on the enemy or approach an objective, and how to approach each skirmish.
Alas, these rules are thrown into chaos by two factors that are unfortunately inseparable from the game itself. The first factor is the presence of tanks. Since a substantial part of the story and your main character's very presence hinges on his riding in a tank, we can't very well remove them. There is also a class of character (Lancers) whose existence is based on fighting tanks. One problem is that only Lancers can deal any damage to tanks, and to a great extent they deal an almost insignificant amount of damage. Unless, of course, you scamper around behind the tank; then a Lancer can dispatch a tank in a single shot. On the other side of that coin, your tank has a mortar-type shot that can kill multiple enemies in one shot with virtually no fear of recourse. Tanks don't have a limited cone of vision like other units, and thus can fire their (very powerful and very fast-firing) guns anytime you are near them. Tanks in Valkyria Chronicles are something of a paradox: they are crucial for the story and certain missions, but they completely spoil the gameplay.
The other factor would be the game's very namesake, the Valkyria. These are an ancient race of powerful beings, and one of the main enemy characters - Selvaria Bles - is descended from the Valkyria and thus very powerful. She carries what is for all intents and purposes an umbrella that fires lightning, and she is completely invulnerable. Levels featuring Selvaria sap all the fun and strategy from what is otherwise an incredible game.
You can have a good story, great combat gameplay, creative level design, and an innovative strategy system, but if you disregard your own rules you risk throwing off the whole balance of your game. I keep coming back to Valkyria Chronicles, and I want to love it, but it sometimes makes that extremely difficult in some possibly unavoidable ways.