This title was reviewed on PC, but is also available on PS3, PS4, and is coming to Nintendo Switch.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been through all stages of anime consumption which has made me very cynical and apprehensive to anything related to the medium. Very few things can meet my very high standards and when I first saw Valkyria Chronicles on Steam, I thought it was some waifu bait game for weebs. However the artstyle and WWII setting intrigued me, so one day when it was on sale for peanuts, I thought what do I have to lose? And bought it. Little did I know, I had just bought one of the best games I’ve ever played.
The game takes place in a not-so-subtle parallel to Europe, in the onset of their respective World War II. You play as Welkin Gunther, son of a great general of his country, Gallia. Welkin studies animal sociology in university, and wants to peacefully observe and study wildlife. Unfortunately his country, and hometown, are invaded by the evil Empire parallel to the Germans. He is forced to help defend his town and help evacuate, and to do that he uses his father’s prototype battle tank the Edelweiss. After that, he enlists in hopes of repelling the invading force with the help of his father’s tank. Due to the asset he brought in, and his father’s station, he is immediately made an officer, much to the dismay of the more seasoned soldiers he is tasked to command. However as the story progresses he proves himself a capable strategist and commander. I’ll get to the story again later.
The story is told through a book called “On the Gallian front” which is your main way to navigate the game. The chapters inside are divided between story chapters and combat missions. There’s an assortment of other activities you can do through the book menu, like manage your squad and your gear, as well as interact with the world and the people in it. That may sound like a strange substitute for free roaming but it actually works really well and helps make the world feel like an actually lived in world with real people. Your squadmates are also more than just expendable assets. They all have their own life from before the war, their own unique skills in combat and their own aspirations for when the war is over. Over the course of the game you will grow attached to many of them, and much like real war if you’re not careful they can permanently die. Which hits you harder than you may think.
The combat missions are where the meat of the game is. It’s not easy to fit into a genre but the closest I can think of are the XCOM games. The game uses a combat system they call BLiTZ (Battle of Live Tactical Zones), which is essentially a turn based, strategy, 3rd person shooter hybrid. You start each turn in command mode, where you are given a top down view of the battlefield and your assets. You have a specific number of Command Points which can be used to control your units or use special unit commands. When you pick a unit you are transferred right into the thick of it, controlling each unit separately and moving them around the map. To do that you expend Action Points, and each unit class has a different amount. To shoot or throw projectiles you have to physically aim your gun, and though the accuracy is partially stat based, this action aspect of the game is not just for show, your own accuracy can make up for what your stats lack. Once your turn is done it is the enemy’s turn to do what you just did while you watch helplessly. Considering your actions and movement are limited you have to not only carefully consider where you will go and who you will attack but that you will also be positioned out of harm’s way when it’s the enemy’s turn. This system initially seems a bit overwhelming but once you get a feel for it, you can’t get enough of it.
You play through a multitude of missions, in a multitude of environments, each more difficult than the next. Battles can be drawn out and last half an hour or more, and failure means you have to do it all over again. This can be frustrating, but never enough that you don’t want to jump back in and do it right. You really have to strategise and think if you want to succeed, and the satisfaction you feel when your plan comes together is something very few games can offer. Aside from two very particular difficulty spikes (you know who you are) the game is not unfair, but it is challenging. One of the most impressive aspects of the game is that despite its slow pace, it always feels tense.
Back to the story, though the game contains most of the typical fare you would expect of a Japanese game, it actually tells a very human and often very tragic story of war. Though the setting may lean more on the fantasy side, and of course there are huge swords energy auras and supernatural elements because what Japanese game doesn’t have those, it manages to maintain a serious tone and touches on themes of discrimination, misplaced civilian populations, morality and the overall harrowing nature of war. Even the villains have their own motivations and emotions and are not just cartoon bad guys who strive for world domination.
On the technical side, the game runs very smoothly and I encountered no technical problems whatsoever. The CANVAS engine does an amazing job at bringing this story into life with timeless stylised graphics that set it apart from most games out there, and it does that with very miniscule demands from your system.
All in all, Valkyria Chronicles offers a compelling character driven story through beautiful presentation and addicting gameplay. Don’t let appearances put you off, this is a game anyone can enjoy, an underrated masterpiece.