SRPG Goodness! Valkyria Chronicles!

June 27, 2008 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Import Gems | Leave a comment

Well after thinking about it for a while, I decided against doing reviews on this site. I was planning on doing a review of Valkyria Chronicles as my first one, but instead I will just do a detailed post about what I believe the game did right as far as the SRPG genre is concerned. In a genre that has been plagued with a lack of substantial innovation, Valkyria Chronicles stands out as a fine example of a new idea which was perfectly executed.

As a longtime fan of the SRPG genre, I always have my ears open for new titles that try to implement new and interesting ideas into the genre. The problem comes with the fact that this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. The majority of the games are still stuck using the same basic gameplay principles that have become staples of the genre. The most common of these are terrain advantages and weapon circles. Even if you look at one of the leading series in the genre, Fire Emblem, a good 90% of the strategy in the game revolves around these two systems. In fact the only notable addition in the newer games is the ability for heavier characters to push lighter characters one space over. Looking at this it’s pretty obvious to conclude that they are stuck in a deep muddy rut, and instead of putting something under the back tires to actually move forward they are happy just spinning their tires deeper and deeper.

Enough with talking about the past though. I came here with the purpose of detailing all the things that Valkyria Chronicles manages to do right. As far as SRPGs are concerned it is one of the freshest offerings I have played in a very long time. One of my main problems with the genre is that they haven’t done a very good job moving into the 3D era. Any of the series that have made this transition have only did it aesthetically with practically no real implementation as far as gameplay. How Valkyria Chronicles approaches this is by giving you a 2D map view that any SRPG fan would feel comfortable with. Once a unit is selected the game zooms in on the character, giving you full control in a 3D field. The character is now under your control, allowing you to move freely until your ability points are spent for that round. Once you are in position next is the aiming phase in which the action stops and gives you a chance to attack the enemy. It works like the majority of previous SRPG games in most areas, except that the action is carried out by you in a full 3D field.

Valkyria Chronicles is one of the few games that actually managed to capture the idea of a SRPG inside of a 3D world. You can actually look up and see the snipers on a rooftop above you, or jump back when you turn a corner to see a tank waiting in ambush. It is just common sense that these kinds of details in a 3D engine would help to increase immersion, but it does not stop at just that. The game takes on a different feel when you are actually running up to an enemy, stopping and taking aim, then firing a volley at their head. It also adds some strategy in this respect because you have different areas to aim at with different advantages and drawbacks. Shooting at the upper body or head will result in more damage but there is always a chance the enemy will go prone to dodge the attack. On the other hand you will get less damage from shooting at their lower half, but are guaranteed to hit. Small details like this help to add more variety to each individual encounter.

There are a lot of new exciting things to do as far as strategy thanks to the 3D world. There are actually alleys and openings between buildings which if used effectively allow you to flank the enemy’s position. Instead of having a sprite in an normal SRPG standing at the entrance to a base so no one can get in to destroy your troops, Valkyria allows you to hide troops from the enemy’s view behind walls. I really believe this adds a lot more believability to the “Fog of War” aspect that is a standard in most SRPGs. Instead of being based on a certain distance you can see, it is more about line of sight. Climbing a sniping tower for example will give you the positions of any enemy you can see in the distance. On top of this, good positioning will make sure that they fire at anyone who crosses their line of sight. The fact that action happens even when you are not actively attacking or being attacked really speeds up the game’s flow.

The next aspect that stood out to me was the way the game handles a character’s death. The game does have permanent death which might scare some of the more casual SRPG fans off, but you can rest easy. The implementation is nowhere near as brutal as other series with this feature, namely Fire Emblem and the Tear Ring Saga. Once a character loses all of his/her HP they will collapse on the battlefield, and will stay on the ground wounded for a limited number of turns or until an enemy approaches them. If you move one of your own characters up before either of these happen they will call in a medic to rush them back to your base. Also nice is that if you give them one turn to heal then you are able to call them back out into the field during the same battle. One other detail which I found useful is the fact that you can use your tanks to recover characters also, in case they collapsed in a dangerous area.

Now that I have mentioned the tanks, I just need to put it out there that I love them so much in this game. The game does a great job emphasizing the importance of the tank as more than just pure firepower. For most of the missions it is extremely important to use it as your shield against enemy counter attacks. Although it might sound redundant to repeat this again, it’s another example of the possibilities opened up by a full 3D SRPG.

Earlier I mentioned the “Fog of War” feature that is used to usually add challenge to most SRPG games, limiting your field of view as a result of nighttime or other battlefield conditions. One of the problems I always felt was the fact that it was mostly just giving you a disadvantage, with the AI still able to detect your movements and ambush accordingly. However in Valkyria Chronicles it factors in on both sides, as the enemy will be totally clueless if you manage to hide from their sight. Not only this, but the game also gives you another option around halfway through that relates directly to this topic. In preparation for a particular mission you are given a smoke bomb to use with your main tank, the Edelweiss. By using this smoke bomb you are able to cover your troops’ advancement, protect them from heavy fire, etc. It really adds a lot of potential to the game if you use it correctly. I managed to defeat a couple of bosses very handily with strategic use of the smoke bombs. The game basically gives you the ability to use something that was previously an extremely annoying factor in SRPGs wherever and whenever you want against the AI. It was very much a refreshing change in this respect.

Well, I ended up talking about the game more than I originally planned and I haven’t even touched on the presentation or graphics. Good thing that there really is nothing to say other than the game is absolutely beautiful. The entire game has a very consistent art style which was beautiful throughout. The environments look great and really come to life with destructible obstacles and small details like manga inspired sound effects. The animation and lighting were also top notch, as I was especially taken back by the beauty of the night missions. All of the cutscenes were well directed and most of them were absolutely breathtaking. As far as presentation, the interface was easy to use and very intuitive. The way the game was broken down into chapters in a book was an interesting way to do things which worked very well. The story was also a pleasant surprise, complete with a couple of twists which I did not see coming at all.

When it comes down to it, this was one of the best and most refreshing SRPGs I have played this generation. There are still tons of other details that I just don’t have time to gush over including a great variation in mission structure, challenging and well thought out boss battles, and a memorable soundtrack to boot. Anyone who considers themself a SRPG fan would be making a big mistake in skipping this one.

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