Valkyria of the battlefield – a game for the ages.
Racism. War. Hate. Love. Friendship. Camaraderie. These intangible concepts and the very real idea of war remain eternal in the metaphorical hearts of humankind. As themes, these six words often rule the pages of literature, the canvas of portraits, and the pixels of games; as such, they take the forefront of Sega’s gem, Valkyria Chronicles.
Valkyria Chronicles is a unique blend of action strategy gameplay focused around the narrative of Welkin Gunther, the son of a famous military engineer and avid scientist and specimen collector. When mistakenly arrested as a spy by the Gallian Army’s Alicia Melchiott, Welkin finds himself quickly thrust into a military skirmish after his hometown (the lovely village where he found himself detained) is attacked by the empire. After defending the territory with Alicia and the few Gallian soldiers, Welkin’s identity is revealed, and he’s asked to join the army. Soon, Welkin finds himself in command of squad seven, issuing orders from the heart of his tank, Edelweiss, entwined in a plot far thicker than its world war trope.
Gameplay in Valkyria Chronicles is a unique blend of strategy. As I’ve noted in my Lost Dimension review, which appears to find inspiration in Valkyria Chronicles, the player controls a squad of soldiers (and vehicles) in turn-based, strategic combat. Soldiers are split in to class types, which consist of scouts, shock troopers, engineers, lancers, snipers, and tanks. You control these units on large maps, issuing commands to each individual. Units can move freely in any direction while using your action bar; you can essentially traverse any terrain until the bar is depleted. From wherever you choose to position your unit, attack success is based on range (accuracy depends on your location). The concept of the gameplay is extremely simple, but the maps tend to be enormous, and the difficulty increases considerably (though it’s more of a gradual climb than random difficulty spikes). In fact, some of the final stages of Valkyria Chronicles were so tough that I required multiple attempts to succeed. If Welkin is destroyed, it’s game over. The biggest drawback to Valkyria Chronicles’ gameplay is the lack of available options between story missions. Content in Chronicles is accessed via a story book style menu, with selectable images containing the prose and missions of the game. Missions are, of course, replayable, but there is little else to do besides level up your troops, gear, or vehicles.
Outside of the game’s incredible gameplay, its plot delivers an emotionally charged narrative that draws from the themes I opened the review with – love, hate, war, camaraderie, racism, and friendship. Each of these ideas play significant roles within the story, and we see it developed in depth through character growth and interaction. For example, Welkin’s adopted sister, Isara, is of Darcsen blood, a race believed to be the cause of the citizenry’s woes. Throughout the tale, Isara and other Darcsen find themselves in the brunt of Gallian racism, scorned by particular members of squad seven and those in the towns the squad visits. It is a theme so important that it intertwines itself throughout the entirety of the narrative, allowing itself to be seen even when not explicitly mentioned. What’s more important is its reference to our world today, a lovely place marred by its myriad problems.
Aesthetically, Valkyria Chronicles proudly displays a beautiful cell shaded art style. The characters and the world move and breathe fluidly; no sharp edges or blocked graphics weigh down the game. Weapons and vehicles that the characters utilize also share the smooth art direction of Valkyria Chronicles. My only complaint about the art style in the game is that it doesn’t offer the stark realism that I imagine a game steeped in war, racism, and death to provide. With that said, the colorful cell shading is aesthetically pleasing and serves its purpose well.
Finally, the sound within Valkyria Chronicles is excellent. The soundtrack suits the tone of the exposition, serving to enhance the growing dark atmosphere. Voice acting, too, lends itself to the success of the game. Characters are portrayed with the intensity and emotion required of their situations, furthering the believability of the characters and deepening the player’s connection with each one.
Valkyria Chronicles, in retrospect, offers one of the most rewarding and enjoyable strategy RPG experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. With an important and touching narrative, excellent soundtrack and voice acting, and an aesthetically pleasing (if not necessarily matching) artistic direction, Valkyria Chronicles is a near immaculate gem, and one of the best Sega published games.