I’ve been playing Valkyria: Chronicles to give you our verdict on the recent PC release. So that’s what I did. So what do we have? Well it’s (really) bad port and has an anime style that while I have no issue with, doesn’t exactly get me excited either. Oh and OH SO MUCH EXPOSITION. Seriously, there’s a lot of talk about flowers. And goat poo. I’m not even making that up. Yet… I’ve grown, step by inexorable step, to love this game.
Jump to the cut for the inevitably hilarious shenanigans that follow…
As I stated above; this is a lazy port. The mouse control is laughable. The reliance on the spacebar is infuriating and you can tell that this was designed for a console gamepad. There is literally no doubt. Which is a crying shame as it gives a horrendous first impression.
This is compounded further by the slow start to the game. Granted, it’s building story, characters and setting the scene, but, and I’m only marginally embarrassed to say this, I wasn’t sure what the game actually was until the second ‘proper’ mission. In fact I was getting close to the point where I was thinking ‘why the hell did I agree to review this game’ when the whole title opened up. I’m glad I stuck with it, and you should too; because the game’s bloody brilliant.
Valkyria is set in a parallel world that has a more than passing resemblance to 1935 Europe. The geography is subtly changed, but England, France…. Germany are all recognisable, even given their alterations. There’s obviously a lot of love in this game, given how closely the events of this game mirror those of the early stages of the war; the tank blitzkrieg and the Empire’s (Or Nazi Germany’s) use of the Eastern European and French railways to get behind their enemies lines, deftly shifting the front and encircling half the opposing army in one foul swoop is a pleasingly authentic touch. Granted, details such as this will be lost on many, but it made me sit up and take notice. It’s clever. Ok, enough history. How do you play the game?
When the game finally begins, you’re placed in charge of Squad 7 and the mighty Eidleweiz (!) tank. You and your men are tasked with pushing the Empire back out of Gallia through a series of missions; you have to chose your squad, their deployments, and you move them on a turn based fashion. These objectives can range from simple elimination, to capturing bases and evasion.
So, get XCOM in your head – the way you move your troops to put them into useful positions and pick certain skills to use (attack, grenades, healing etc). Now, imagine this all in third person, where instead of clicking where you want someone to go, you ‘run’ them there yourself. Each player has stamina, so can only move so far. You’re also limited to one action per move, meaning you’ll typically move, take cover, shoot and repeat until you’ve finished your objective. You have to aim to shoot, there’s no simple click to attack, and you can miss. While the stamina (think movement points) is a great idea, it can sometimes leave you a little unsure to just how far you can move; this has lead to the death (one permanent) of two of my characters.
The scenery is destructible, especially so for tanks, and you’re really forced to think about how you move and position your troops for attack: a unit trapped out of cover is almost certainly dead – and your troops can permanently die.
This is brilliant, brilliant fun. I just cannot stress that enough. You’ve always got the overview from the map for the tactical side, and then you’re ‘in’ the action for the turn which gives you the best of both worlds, without compromising on either. There’s a range of different unit types: anti-tank, scout, engineer, sniper, assault and each has a role, a use, and of course, a weakness. It’s like rock, paper, scissors, lizard, spock, but with tanks. This in itself would make for a good game, but then there’s a whole other level to add. You see, on top of the actual missions and (oh so much) story there’s a whole squad-management/research/training level to play with.
It’s like a war-based Football Manager (don’t tell Chris) on top of a third-person XCOM. To be perfectly honest, I’m mildly surprised I haven’t tried to marry the game yet. The management side goes from squad selection (and your soldiers can level up, get different gear and perks) to training (which to be honest, is fairly basic levelling up) to in depth weapon, component and tank-system research. There’s even a careful balancing act with your tank given that you can only fit so many systems on it at any one time. You can lose hours in this. I had to try very very hard not to.
This is already shaping up to be my longest review, and I’m not even close to telling you about all the other aspects of this superlative game. The level design is great, each thought out for the specific tasks and guides you really well through different tactical lessons. The enemies you face are analogous to your own troops (directly in some cases), so there’s no feeling that there’s any ‘cheating’ going on within the A.I.; it has to obey the same rules as you do. Hell, the story is even growing on me and believe me- I resisted it. To top it all off, there’s commentary on race, prejudice, abuse, and if I’m completely honest, it’s a pretty gruesome game at times. Many many people die. This is a very clever game which is not shying away from making in depth commentary. This layered on a management sim, on top of a third person tactical shooter, it’s just great.
I have to admit that i’m not a huge fan of the anime style. I do like anime, but this is just on the wrong side of ‘big bright blue eyed girl’ for me. I almost expected to see someone with a tail turn up. That said, they undoubtedly get to put some commentary in on some of the darker aspects of ‘human’ nature under this style, without it ever feeling too on the nose.
I can’t say I’m entirely happy either that the enemy are free to take pot shots at you while you take your turn. Granted, the enemy have this constraint too, but the minute you move you’re fair game- so if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing from the outset you could be in trouble. Again, I’ve lost a soldier just getting somewhere in my turn due to this (though it does make cover incredibly important). I get why it’s like this. But I think it’s an unnecessary contrivance that needlessly makes your life difficult.
Oh, the second mission? The one where you’re waiting for your tank to turn up, is maddening. You’re tasked with defending a gate while you get hammered by a tank and a seemingly unending supply of enemy troops. It took me several attempts before I decided to do the mad thing and send my scouts deep behind the enemy lines. Distributing a few grenades into troop clusters, they allowed me to last long enough for Eidlewiz to turn up. This is an awful mission to put at the start, but I urge you to preserve through it.
I’d have never played this game were I not reviewing it and that saddens me slightly – it makes me wonder what other hidden gems I’ve managed to miss in the past. I’m glad that I got over my initial hesitation and cannot recommend it highly enough. Our console brethren have had this for some time, so to see it come to a new audience on PC is a welcome move. Persevere past the first two missions and you’ll find one of the stand-out games of recent times.
Just try to ignore all the talk about flowers.
The Verdict – Red Mist (even despite the lazy port)
Platforms Available – PlayStation 3 and PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Steam review code supplied by PR. Please see this post for more on our scoring system