Valkyria Chronicles: Initial Impressions and Review
April 16, 2015
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“Uhh, y’know, I’m into games that, you know, take some skill, I guess. Like FPS…first person shooters… CS-Source…” —FPS_Doug, Pure Pwnage
I picked up the animated adaptation of Valkyria Chronicles nearly two years ago, and while the anime itself was quite entertaining, I was quite interested in trying the game out for myself. Back then, Valkyria Chronicles was only available on the Playstation 3, and being a PC gamer through and through, my interest in the game was not about to shell out whatever the cost of a PS3. Fast forwards to October 2014, and the announcement was made that Valkyria Chronicles would be ported for PC, available on the Steam Store. This changed things quite dramatically, and so, I picked up my copy during the Winter 2014 Steam sale right before heading to Taiwan. I started the game last month, and immediately, I am welcomed with a very familiar world: it’s the same as the anime, placing the player in command of Gallian forces against the Imperial forces as the latter begin their conquest of Europa (a fictional content, rather than Jupiter’s moon) to take control of its ragnite reserves. However, rather than sitting idly back and allowing the characters to do their thing, Valkyria Chronicles plays out as a turn-based strategy game with RPG, third-person shooter and visual novel elements. In practise, these uniquely styled factors come together to yield a game that is absolutely solid with respect to world-building, and remarkably cathartic relative to things like Battlefield 3.
- This collection of screenshots come from my first bit of playing the game: the campaign starts out in Bruhl, a small, peaceful town under Imperial invasion. The start of the game is a slow-paced environment that allows players to get familiar with the gameplay mechanics, which are very smooth. The CANVAS engine allows for some nice graphics that, while far from being the triple-A level content found in what I usually play, nonetheless does a superb job of setting up the game’s atmosphere.
- Valkyria Chronicles is able to satisfy the one-hour test of a game: this rule specifies that within an hour, players will have a reasonable assessment as to whether or not they will continue playing the game or not. Valkyria Chronicles‘ only limitation is its menu system, which is quite unintuitive, but other than that, the gameplay mechanics and the world-building is nothing short of impressive.
- It’s relatively easy to see why Valkyria Chronicles’ game incarnation is better received than the anime: Alicia is much friendlier, much more accepting of Welkin and has no tsundere tendencies as within the anime. Alicia plays as a scout in the game, a class with high mobility, low health and weaker weapons. Later missions will allow additional classes to be wielded, each with their own strengths and caveats.
- The relaxing mood in Valkyria Chronicles stems from the fact that I’m used to highly paced shooters where there are more than ten enemies firing on me: by being able to move my units to strategic points on the map, have them fire off their shots and then retreat or duck for cover, I can plan things out one step at a time. Thus, while it’s nothing like the sort of game that demands über-micro, Valkyria Chronicles does require some thinking for one to pwn.
- Headshots are possible in Valkyria Chronicles, allowing for some enemy units to be downed in a single shot. Unlike a typical first-person shooter, the accuracy of one’s shots are a statistic driven by luck rather than über-micro, but this can be improved by upgrading one’s units later on. The RPG-style experience and weapons upgrades, plus squad configurations, take a little getting used to, but it also confers a great deal of flexibility in optimising one’s squad for the environments they fight in.
- The enemies in Valkyria Chronicles are fairly deterministic in terms of AI, allowing for a near-optimal solution for every map to be found with enough experience. Tanks make an appearance early on, and although grenades are useful in slowing them down, later, the player will have access their own MBT, the Edelweiss, and the Lancer anti-tank class. Tanks will take several hits to be destroyed, but they also have a radiator (a glowing blue element) that can be shot at, taking out any tank with one shot. To accomplish this, one will need to flank the tank.
- Lectures have largely ended now, but that means grading the remainder of the computer science assignments in my drop box, and preparing for an oral examination in multi-agent systems. During the course of the term, I had worked with a team to design cooperative agents for a rescue simulator, and our team’s agents performed the most effectively: on twenty-nine worlds, we saw fifteen wins (the second team had ten wins, and the third team had four wins). The outcome of winning is an A grade on the implementation of the course, and brunch for the winning team with the instructor.
- Said brunch will take place this Sunday, but today, I spent much of the day with my supervisor: we attended a seminar on software analytics in video games (games mentioned include Halo Reach and Forza Motorsports), where statistical methods were explored in improving the former’s matchmaking mechanism (by predicting player skill changes based on their play time) and deciding how visible to make the options for assisting vehicle operation.
- This was a thrilling talk, and after it ended, I was able to pick up a newer Mac Pro (my original model was from 2008, and this one is from 2009) as originally planned: the original Mac Pro I had was unable to run Unreal 4. This new system, in conjunction with the spare ATI 5870 our lab had, should be able to allow me to continue with my research, and presently, I’m in the process of setting it up. The weather today was also quite nice, and the food trucks were on campus, so I enjoyed this year’s first fried chicken poutine from Waffles and Chix under sunshine and a thought-provoking discussion on the future of games with my supervisor: it turns out I prefer my fried chicken poutine with hot sauce after all.
- Tomorrow, I will direct my efforts at making reasonable headway in my grading, and get the computer’s basic setup completed. Even though things’ve been quite busy, I anticipate being able to find a few moments to continue in Valkyria Chronicles: this is a fantastic game, and I project that I’ll make it in about halfway before Wolfenstein: The Old Blood comes out. The plan will be to finish both it and The New Order by late July to early August, and then resume playing Valkyria Chronicles from there.
I’ve amassed around four hours of gameplay now, and Valkyria Chronicles has proven to be a superb game: this is how visual novel elements ought to be incorporated into a game: the moments where one can sit back and relax as the story unfolds are well-balanced with the combat segments of a chapter, which is where players have the opportunity to put boots on the ground and turn back the Imperial forces. Beyond this, players also have a large degree of flexibility in rearranging their squad to best fight together in different environments and upgrading their performance and equipment, giving them a sense of investment into the game’s large cast of characters. Coupled with the relatively minimal violence compared to most shooters, Valkyria Chronicles is superbly relaxing and simultaneously engaging to play through: this is a combination that isn’t particularly common in the titles I frequent, and consequently, Valkyria Chronicles represents a change of pace from my usual shooters done correctly. I’ll progress through this one at an equally relaxed pacing to savour the chapters that lie ahead.