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Review

Review: Valkyria Chronicles

TSA's week of reviews continues with this wonderful World War II RPG.

It would be wrong to class this as a World War II turn-based tactical role playing game, but that’s probably the neatest pigeon hole we could come up with.  The description falls apart on each level, though: it’s not technically World War II (it’s set in an alternative World but clearly based on similar events), it’s not always turn-based, and it’s not always even a role playing game, as a good portion of Chronicle’s length plays out in the form of beautiful, almost hand-drawn cut-scenes.  In fact, it’s this visual style that immediately sets the game apart from its peers: it’s a fully 3D world but the mix of cell-shaded and a pencil sketch filter gives it its own individuality, even if some of the game mechanics are familiar.

As Welkin, a vaguely androgenous 22 year old with great hair, you see your home town destroyed at the onset of war, a war seemingly over a valuable mineral, and are instantly drafted into the military alongside a host of likeable characters that you’ll learn to love and hate throughout the game’s story.  Because the game is resolutely Japanese (and we recommend playing with the original Japanese voices and English subs) players not familiar with the genre will find the initial pacing very slow and sporadic: the game takes some time before you even get the chance to see how it plays, but hopefully once you do you’ll be hooked.

The premise is simple: each battle starts with a zoomed out view of the battleground, and each force has a number of Command Points, which once selected allow you to then move a unit in real time.  When you do so, the camera smoothly zooms to a third person view and it’s the standard twin stick movement method to position the character where you want, against a decreasing bar that determines how far you can move.  Once you’re happy, you can then enter fire mode, aim, and take shot.  You can only fire once per turn, but you can move as long as the Action Points bar still contains juice.

This itself leads to an almost infinite array of tactical choices, especially as the enemy can (and will) open fire as soon as they have line of sight, so the realtime movement section is crucial.  You can also take cover behind objects, which naturally reduces the chance of you getting hit but crouching also increases your aim somewhat.  Once you’re in ‘fire mode’ the realtime action stops, and you’re free to aim at your leisure and once fired, if your target is still alive they can return a volley back at you.  When you’ve moved all your units, the PS3 will then do the same with the enemy units, moving and firing, and thus the game continues until you complete (or fail) your particular mission objectives.

Should you wish to save your Command Points (for example, only moving 2 out of 3 of your units in a single phase) any remaining Command Points will be stored up for the next phase, like credits on a mobile phone.  So decisions can be made to hang back and defend, racking up your command points until you have sufficient in reserve to make a concerted attack forward (you can move a unit more than once, assuming you have Command Points).  If this sounds complicated, it’s really not, and the game’s initial period slowly leads you through the various concepts by the hand.  Whilst the first few missions are quite basic, they soon become massive, drawn out and highly tactical battles and the distinct soldier classes (snipers, engineers etc) soon start to come into their own, alongside the fact that certain characters have their own unique characteristics – the game doesn’t shy away from sexism or racism, for example.

It’s all numbers, of course, but dressed up in gorgeous visuals and oodles of charm and individuality.  You’ll never once feel like you’re in a real war, this isn’t Call of Duty, but you will feel attached to the main protaganists and the various plot twists along the way will keep you entertained.  The game isn’t for everyone, and it’s not without its minor flaws (such as occasionally flaky AI) but for PS3 owners wanting to get their hands on a massive, sprawling adventure with some brilliantly devised battles, Valkyria Chronicles should be considered an absolute must buy: the game has more depth than the rest of the PS3′s library put together and was clearly a labour of love for the developers.

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