Valkyria Chronicles Review [Switch]

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These events would tell a story of tragedy hidden in the mists of time. A story of courage and trust, of persecution and hate… and of love blooming, even through the face of war. What follows is a record of this conflict, and of those who fought, lived, and died.

A Familiar Tale

Set in 1935 anime Europe (Europa) during the second anime World War (EW2), the anime Nazi-Soviets (Empire) invade neutral anime Switzer-Belgium (Gallia) to get access to anime oil (Ragnite) while persecuting local anime jews (Darcsens). At the forefront of this story is Welkin Gunther and his militia squad, who against all odds manage to best a military giant.

It’s a very clean war. The bad guys are mostly bad, the good guys are mostly good. The bad good guys get what’s coming to them, and the good bad guys get redemption. While the story does touch on topics like racism, classism and genocide, it does so to add flavor to the setting and characters rather than exploring them in-depth to render a judgement.

It’s a competent story though, and by avoiding scenes in the morally grey area altogether, it manages to keep character motivations consistent and deliver some highly satisfying character arcs which it may not have accomplished otherwise.

The strategic overview of the war remains mostly surface level, but it’s presented very well and provides enough context for the individual combat missions to connect to the big picture. Unlockable news articles informing you about the world at large as well as an interesting backstory tying into the Darcsens further give the fight for Gallia context.

While the game remains relatively grounded throughout the first half, realism flies out the window when human nukes and supertanks eclipsing Hitler’s wildest dreams appear on the battlefield. The plot manages to remain mostly consistent with its rules despite the anime hijinks, and the Valkyria are an interesting concept, even if a bit underutilized.

The story does suffer from pacing issues though as early chapters seemingly skip months while later chapters depict decisive events which occur in a matter of days. As a result, the amount of cutscenes you have to watch in between mission varies greatly, and so does their substance.

You can also unlock filler chapters which flesh out the main characters, and they serve their purpose well. Your non essential squadmates on the other hand get no screen time whatsoever. For a story so reliant on its characters, it’s really jarring to see the same 5 people over and over again when you’re supposed to be commanding a platoon sized squad.

Instead you’re left with a single voice line when recruiting new units and some backstory in the encyclopedia to figure out their personality, which just doesn’t replace proper characterization. That said, what’s there is really good. The colorful cast of main characters have great chemistry together, and seeing them develop and bond over the course of the game is a joy.

Sitzkrieg

The “BLiTZ” combat system is a fresh take on the turn based strategy formula: Think Fire Emblem with free movement, guns and the movement points which you can freely use on available units.

You begin each mission by deploying your units from five infantry classes, ranging from recon units to heavy armored AT soldiers or even tanks to provide support or engage other armor. While the class diversity looks good on paper, it does have some issues I’ll go into later.

Once the mission begins, you can select units from the tactical battle map which you then get to control in 3rd person view. This costs a command point, and you’ll want to make the most use out of its movement range and attack as repeated usage of a unit on the same turn will reduce it’s movement range. It’s also really important where you park the unit, as enemies that enter its interception range will take damage and can even die before using their attack.

In general, the mission design is quite good. While objectives often cycle between killing a unit or capturing the enemy base, each story mission feels unique in its own way thanks to the great variety in the environment and level design.

You can also issue orders during battle, which range from buffing a specific stat of an ally to requesting an artillery barrage on the the other side of the map. Unfortunately, they also range from utterly useless to game breakingly powerful which turns end game bosses into unfunny jokes.

And as much as the core design of the combat system is great, it’s rough around the edges. Hitboxes are off, characters tend to get stuck on sandbags all the time and furiously spamming the R and Start button every turn is a necessity to minimize the amount of time you’re exposed to interception fire.

Difficulty Cliff

Outside an odd difficulty spike midway through the story, the game is somewhat challenging until you reach a certain level, after which scouts become ridiculously overpowered. Their potentials – random stat modifiers which can trigger during their turn – allow them to tank up massive amounts of damage while their weapon upgrades turns them into absolute death machines with the highest movement pool in the game.

Coupled with the broken orders and the game’s one dimensional ranking system, which rewards speed over anything else, means that unit variety and strategy fly out the window during the second half of the game as all that matters is how many turns it took you to complete the mission.

This completely eliminates any incentive to take it slow and play it safe which is a damn shame as executing a carefully planned multi-turn maneuver is extremely satisfying. It also lets a lot of the great level design go to waste as you’ll be hard pressed to venture outside the shortest route unless you’re hunting aces which drop special weapons when defeated.

Additionally, this also means that you’ll be unlikely to get a lot of A ranks during your first playthrough as the curveballs missions tend to throw at you will cost you vital turns even if you manage to recover. Ultimately, this reward system is in conflict with the rest of the game’s design and ensures that the best way to play it is to cheese every single mission as outlined above.

You get XP and currency from completing missions which you can spend on leveling classes and unlocking new equipment. If you level up a class, all units belonging to that class gain a level which increases their stats and unlocks new potentials and orders.

Equipment can also be upgraded into a few variations usually excelling in either firepower or accuracy and when you research a new weapon, all units immediately switch over to that new weapon.

While there’s a limited customization system for the squad tanks, the progression system is highly streamlined and exists mostly to make you feel rewarded in between missions. As a result, there’s a lot less busy work involved than what you’d normally find in a game like this which I really appreciate.

Fortunately VC1 is the least grindy iteration of the series too, and simply following the story missions should allow your squad and equipment to outscale the enemies you’ll encounter during missions. Getting additional funds from skirmishes or completing the DLC missions will make the game even less challenging.

Art of War

The aptly named “CANVAS” engine renders the entire game in a painterly style and delivers some of the most unique visuals I’ve seen in years. While the graphical quality of individual assets is nothing to write home about, the art direction is extremely consistent throughout the game, and it’s one of the very few cases where CGI is used extensively with great success in animated scenes.

Tank, uniform and weapon designs are mostly based off of WW1 equipment, which lends the game a very rustic feel fitting with Gallia’s early 20th century look. It’s also really pretty to boot.

A quick note on the performance: The game runs at a steady 30 FPS on the Switch, both in docked and handheld mode. If you have the option, I’d recommend the Steam or remastered PS4 version.

The soundtrack is decent with a few standout tracks such as the main theme. Speaking of audio: Almost every line in the game is voiced, and the English dub is really good. While there’s an option to use Japanese voices, it won’t match the English subtitles so I’d recommend against using it.

Even the menu is in keeping with the game’s visual style and presented in a storybook, where you can flip through various pages to access the story, headquarters and other sub-menus. It’s definitely pretty and thematically fitting, but I do have some gripes with it.

Mash A to Play

This game is chock full of interruptions. Let’s take upgrading your equipment in the R&D facility for example, where an engineer will talk to you about every god damn thing you do, and it goes something like this:

  • Hello player, and welcome to this menu!
  • Do you really wish to do this?
  • Wow, you really did this!
  • Do you really wish to do this?
  • Wow, you really did this!
  • Do you really wish to do this?
  • Wow, you really did this!
  • Goodbye, do this again sometime!

It’s even worse in other menus, and there are even bloody confirmation dialogs to watch the next part of a cutscene! These constant interruptions make any trip through the menu take twice as long as it needs to. Unfortunately, the interruptions don’t stop there as tutorial popups follow you throughout the game, and there’s no way to turn them off.

Lastly, triggering a character potential makes a short but unskippable animation appear, which will happen multiple times each turn. This gets old really fast and should have been done in real time without interrupting your move.

Speaking of UX gripes:

  • You can’t restart a mission when you know you failed, so you have to manually fail the mission objective first before you’re able to restart.
  • There is no auto-save feature.
  • Enemy turns are displayed in real time, and the absence of a fast forward button is really unfortunate. Sometimes enemy scouts will crawl through grass, meaning you’re going to see an enemy unit “shuffling” somewhere on the map for 20 seconds.

Now don’t get me wrong, none of this was a dealbreaker for me as I was plenty hooked on the game. But unlike your average Eurojank, these issues aren’t due to a lack of polish, but stem from conscious design choices with a disregard for the user experience which is worrying to see.

Postscript

Valkyria Chronicles contains a decent amount of content with a full playthrough coming in at about 20 hours, but there’s not a lot of replayability to be found. Apart from the main story, which is undoubtedly the main attraction here, you can tackle skirmishes on various difficulty levels. There’s also a new game plus mode which unlocks a minor story cutscene and a new character. The DLC includes a playable backstory for Selvaria, as well as quite a few challenge missions featuring fan favorite Edy which unlock the most broken weapons in the game. I recommend both.

TL;DR
Valkyria Chronicles is a solid SRPG with a unique setting, gripping narrative and wonderful art style, but it’s held back by minor but numerous UX annoyances and a poorly designed reward system.
Kudos
Art Direction
Combat System
4
Great

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