The Infinite Zenith

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Call of Duty: WWII- A Reflection on the Open Beta

“Hot today, forgotten tomorrow. I’m not buying anything.” –James Marshall

Activision has stated that development on Call of Duty: WWII began long before negative reception to the franchise’s shift into future warfare began. The full title will release on November 3, and during the last weekend of September, an open beta was available for Steam players to try out. Offering five maps and four game modes, the beta was an opportunity for players to test the game out prior to its release. After installing the beta initially, I found myself unable to run it; the game would not load, and it was not until I reinstalled the title where the game would open. After entering my first few matches, it became apparent that the game has not been optimised fully for PC yet: frame rates dropped, the game stuttered, and death followed. When frame rates stablised, I began my own boots-on-the-ground experience, making use of the different divisions to get a feel for the gameplay. Call of Duty has always been more about small maps and fast-paced combat, as well as kill-streak rewards over the slower, more methodical and large-scale gameplay that characterises Battlefield 1. Maps feel like closed-off sets designed to give the sense of a well-designed paintball arena, rather than the wide-open spaces of Battlefield 1, and the numerous corners and hallways encourage a very aggressive, forward style of gameplay that rewards reflexes over strategy. Filled with details, from aircraft flying overhead and artillery, to muddy and damaged set elements, maps definitely exude a WWII-like atmospheric that, in conjunction with traditional movement systems, looks to return Call of Duty back to its roots. However, well-designed set pieces and premise can only carry a game so far, and the major deciding factor in whether or not a game is worth playing lies with its gameplay and handling.

During moments where the Call of Duty: WWII open beta was running with optimal frame rates, the game feels modestly smooth, although the Infinity Ward engine is definitely feeling dated. Movement is a little jagged and uneven, feeling somewhat sluggish. In a game where the goal is to move around in a high-paced environment and play the game aggressively to score points, the movement system is not particularly conducive of this particular play style, as I found myself getting stuck in geometry on more than one occasion, leading to death. Inconsistencies in movement and hit detection meant that the Call of Duty: WWII open beta felt like one protracted match on Prise de Tahure. I was dying to players coming from unexpected angles and places. Exacerbated by lag, I would open fire on players first, only for them to whip around and instantly nail me, suggesting that I had in fact been firing at air when my client put a player on screen. Performance issues aside, the chaotic nature of Call of Duty multiplayer environments and an emphasis on twitch reflexes with a high RPM weapon over finess means that Call of Duty: WWII‘s multiplayer certainly isn’t for me. This beta reminds me of my advancing age – long ago, I enjoyed close quarters combat for the rush it brought. With age comes decreasing reflexes, and I’m not able to keep up with the whipper-snappers out there now. The kind of gameplay I might have preferred a few years ago no longer feels fun to me compared to methodically picking off distant enemies and moving cover-to-cover.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Call of Duty: WWII introduces a new game mode called “War”, which is a close-quarters objectives-based match. On the “Operation Breakout” map seen in the beta, Allied Forces must capture a German outpost and then build a bridge, allowing their tanks to destroy an ammunition depot. German forces must prevent the Allies from succeeding. The game mode is admittedly similar to Battlefront 2‘s Galactic Assault, albeit a much smaller-scale version.

  • I’m not sure if this were the case in earlier Call of Duty multiplayer games, but in Call of Duty: WWII, there are different classes players can spawn in as, from the jack-of-all-trades infantry class, to the more nimble airborne class that emphasises high speed gameplay. There’s also an armoured class that can equip heavy weapons, the mountain class that is suited for long-range sniping, and the expeditionary class that dominates in close quarters.

  • Here, I equip the Bren LMG, Perrine’s weapon of choice from Strike Witches. However, despite its WWII-setting, I do not feel that Call of Duty: WWII is able to capture the Strike Witches atmospheric and aesthetic anywhere nearly as effectively as does Battlefield 1, despite the fact that the latter is set during World War One. This further stems from the very static, arena-like maps as opposed to the larger, more natural-feeling maps seen in Battlefield 1.

  • I’ve heard folks complain that the STG-44’s sight to be completely inauthentic: while it is true that modern electronic red dot sights with LEDs were developed during the 1970s, the concept of a reflex sight has been around since the 1900s. Earlier sights either depended on ambient light to function or else had a built-in light source whose operational time was constrained by limited battery life.

  • I only spent two hours in the Call of Duty: WWII open beta on account of a cold that saw me sleep most of the weekend that the beta was running, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much. By comparison, when I played through the Battlefront 2 beta last week, I had largely recovered and so, put in closer to nine hours over the Thanksgiving Long Weekend. During the moments where I was feeling a little better, I hopped into a few matches and found myself outplayed at every turn.

  • Averaging a KD ratio of less than 0.25 in almost all of my games, I’ve found the movement and handling in Call of Duty: WWII to be very poor. This is especially problematic, considering that Call of Duty: WWII is meant to be a fast-paced shooter where reflexes and high sensitivities are king: slow movements and aiming made it difficult to aim and fire, taking away from the run-and-gun style of play that Call of Duty emphasises.

  • I’ve heard that client-side modifications were widespread during the open beta, allowing people to one-shot other players with instant headshots, or else gain awareness of where all of the other players were. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I would prefer a hardware ban for folks caught cheating as Blizzard has implemented in Overwatch: this forces all but the most resourceful of cheaters with deep pockets to think twice before using tools to bolster their in-game performance.

  • On my end, I do not believe I encountered any cheaters. The biggest enemy ultimately ended up being the game performance itself: my hardware, while four years old, is no slouch with respect to performance. Nonetheless, I saw the game dip below 15 FPS during some moments, and I could only watch as other player lined up their sights and pasted my face into the walls. The lag, coupled with the fact that the beta did not even open made the Call of Duty: WWII‘s beta a little difficult to enjoy; the Battlefield 1 and Battlefront II betas were characterised by a straightforwards setup process where I activated the installer and then joined matches without any difficulty.

  • From a visual perspective, Call of Duty: WWII looks average at best, especially when compared with some of the other titles available. Textures are a bit dull, and lighting isn’t terribly complex: in fact, I feel that the graphical fidelity of Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare: Remastered to be superior. While this is just a beta, Call of Duty: WWII does not inspire me to give the game a go, whereas Battlefront II‘s beta convinced me that, provided the loot crate system doesn’t completely suck, the game might merit a purchase shortly after launch.

  • I saw some footage of Cr1tikal playing through the closed beta a month ago, and recalled his use of incendiary shells in the expeditionary class. In his video, Cr1tikal criticises the map design, and ultimately, makes extensive use of the shotguns to squeak by in a match before switching over to mountain class briefly. I was hardly surprised by the expeditionary class’ efficacy with incendiary shotguns and found myself doing much better than I had in previous rounds.

  • Stationary weapons in multiplayer shooters are always a death-trap, leaving users exposed to attack from behind and snipers, but here, I use one of the mounted weapons to defeat another player from a distance. Despite the splintered wooden poles, shattered concrete bunkers, muddy ditches and remnants of sandbags, the maps in Call of Duty: WWII simply do not feel as though they are World War Two settings, but rather, feel like World War Two-themed settings.

  • The under-barrel grenade launcher in older Call of Duty games was counted the “n00b tube” for its ease of use. Under-barrel grenade launchers are gone in Call of Duty: WWII, but the incendiary shells of the expeditionary class are probably going to be regarded  as fulfilling a similar vein: despite dealing the same damage as a conventional shotgun shell, the incendiary shells apply damage over time by means of burning opponents hit, and because they replenish fully on death, they are an appealing weapon for beginning players who can gain a kill even after they are killed.

  • During my time in the beta, I did not hear any complaints about use of incendiary shells and so, like Cr1tikal, I used them during the later period of the open beta. I’ve heard that the release version of Call of Duty: WWII will see several changes, and one of the top-most changes proposed will be reducing the damage dealt by incendiary ammunition.

  • During one particularly lucky short, my pellets outright took out one opponent and burned another to land me a double kill. One feature in Call of Duty that I’ve never been fond of is the killstreak system, which rewards players purely based on how many kills they’ve gotten before dying. The most infamous killstreak bonus is the tactical nuke, which instantly wins a game for the team that the player triggers it on. Overall, I prefer Battlefront II‘s system, where playing the objective and actions helping teammates will unlock battle points that can be spent on perks.

  • Despite the closed, arena-like maps, the Operation Breakout map has long, open avenues that are well-suited for sniping. The Commonwealth rifle proved fun to use: it’s a one-hit kill bolt action rifle, and coming from the likes of Battlefield 1, where I’ve acclimatised to bolt-action rifles lacking a straight-pull bolt, this weapon wasn’t too far removed from my usual play-style. I never did get around to learning the performance attributes of the different weapons, and I didn’t make it far enough to unlock most weapons. Instead, I looted weapons from other players to give them a whirl.

  • Medals are earned in Call of Duty by performing specific actions or scoring kills in a particular manner. They will confer a boost in XP, and are similar to the ribbons of Battlefield, appearing at the top of the screen. I believe they were introduced in Black Ops II, although as mentioned earlier, I’m only vaguely aware of game mechanics in Call of Duty titles and I find the game engine to be quite out-dated.

  • Some folks have asserted that Call of Duty: WWII is a blatant rip-off of Battlefield 1 for featuring similar features, including the bayonet charge and for returning things to a World War setting. At the opposite end of the spectrum, others claim that Call of Duty: WWII will cause Battlefield 1 players to switch over on account of limitations in the latter’s gameplay. Quite honestly, while Call of Duty: WWII is quite unique in both game mechanics and time period, I found that I have more fun in Battlefield 1. After one particularly tough match, I returned to Battlefield 1 and perform considerably better than I did during the Call of Duty: WWII open beta.

  • My last match during the Call of Duty: WWII beta was spent in a match of domination with the airborne class and the starting M3 submachine gun. I attached the suppressor to it and snuck around the map to get kills. Capture points trade hands numerous times during domination, and one thing I noticed is that in Call of Duty: WWII, the submachine guns do not appear to have an improved hip-fire accuracy.

  • One of the most infamous constructs to come out of Call of Duty is the notion of a “360 no scope” and “quick scope” moves. While considered to be trick-shots with little practical advantages in a real game, folks on the internet suggest that people of middle school age take the move quite seriously and consider it a viable tactic. Regardless of whether or not this is true, one thing is for sure: until the PC version of Call of Duty: WWII is optimised, trick shots will be very difficult or even impossible to pull off.

  • After this match ended, I decided to call it a day and went back to sleep with the aim of fighting off my cold. Two weeks later, I’m back to my usual self, although an occasional cough continues to persist. I usually get sick twice a year: once before winter appears in full, and once before spring completely displaces winter weather. I’m hoping that this means winter is upon us; it’s certainly been colder as of late, although forecasts show pleasant weather over the next while. Overall, I would say that I had much more fun with the Battlefront II beta than this one, and while the campaign looks interesting, I’ve got no plans to purchase Call of Duty: WWII at the moment.

Playing through the beta reaffirms the reasons behind my decision in not playing Call of Duty multiplayers, but having tried the Call of Duty: WWII open beta, there are a few things that Call of Duty does well; my favourite is the instant spawning back into a match after death. The quick time to kill is also great for high-speed engagements, even if it is hampered slightly by the movement systems. However, compared to Battlefield, which has a better movement system and larger maps that accommodate all styles of gameplay, I cannot say that I’m won over into Call of Duty‘s multiplayer aspects. The single-player elements are a different story: until Battlefield 1 introduced its war stories, Call of Duty games had consistently more entertaining campaigns, and I am looking forwards to seeing just what Call of Duty: WWII‘s story entails. From what has been shown so far, it’s a return to the European front in the later days of the Second World War, featuring a modernised take on the D-Day invasion. Overall, I am not particularly inclined to purchase Call of Duty: WWII close to launch, or at any point soon, for its multiplayer content. If the single-player campaign is impressive, I might purchase the game some years later during a Steam Sale – the game certainly does not feel like it is able to offer the value that would make buying it at full price worthwhile, but I’m always game for a good war story, even if it is a shorter one.

Stay! Stay! Democratic People’s Republic of Korea! Review and Reflection

“Just a small game that I sponsored; simple, short, and hilarious in a silly and campy way. Oh, and I’m also a guest character.” –Akeiko “Daigensui” Sumeragi on Stay! Stay! DPRK

Battlefield 1′s In The Name of the Tsar DLC has only been out for five days, but aside from spending enough time in the DLC to unlock the Fedorov Avtomat Trench and the Parabellum MG14 Suppressive, I’ve got a bit of a confession to make: I’ve been playing through DEVGRU-P’s Stay! Stay! Democratic People’s Republic of Korea! (which I will truncate to Stay! Stay! DPRK! for brevity’s sake) in my open time. An overt parody of Go! Go! Nippon! My First Trip to Japan, Stay! Stay! DPRK! follows the adventures of an American soldier in the Hermit Kingdom; in a manner similar to Go! Go! Nippon!, the protagonist visits North Korea and learns his pen pals are in fact ladies. What follows is a refreshing and hilarious take on a familiar set-up: the player accompanies Jeong or Eunji in touring locations of North Korea, but with more restrictions and jokes. The tour culminates in a visit to Mount Paektu for a soak in North Korean-style hot springs, but things go awry when it’s revealed that Jeong and Eunji are under investigation for harbouring a foreign agent. Depending on what decisions players make, they will either survive or be executed, a darkly humourous take on bad endings in the visual novel genre. During my playthrough, I opted to go with Jeong and see about unlocking her ending first – she’s Stay! Stay! DPRK!‘s equivalent of Makoto, so I figured it’d be appropriate to start here, and after two hours, I’ve completed the Jeong route, which sees the protagonist go at it with Jeong before escaping North Korea and landing in Syria, of all places.

It is worth mentioning that Stay! Stay! DPRK! is by no means an accurate North Korea simulator, but in spite of this, the title ends up providing a fairly informative background on the locations players can visit. On my run of Stay! Stay! DPRK!, I visited Mansudae, Kaesong and Yanggakdo, learning of the details and history of the areas while cracking the occasional joke with Jeong or Eunji (and often, watching the player suffer the consequences of doing so). Minor elements, such as random brown-outs, the extent of state-controlled media, reverence for the Glorious Leader and depiction of antiquated infrastructure and technology in North Korea also add to the atmospherics, although the adventure players experience is quite far removed from the undisclosed human rights violations and recent nuclear tests that have shaped the news. Books, such as Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14, offer a much more sobering insight into what conditions at political camps are like, while news of North Korea’s fledgling nuclear weapons program continue to remind the world that the Hermit Kingdom hides a great deal behind closed doors. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, Stay! Stay! DPRK! represents a light-hearted opportunity to simulate a tour of North Korea without any risk beyond the initial price of admissions, and ultimately, succeeds in entertaining audiences with its parody.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I remark that, in this collection of twenty screenshots, I do not have access to the usual 1080p images on ultra or near-ultra settings as is the usual standard for my other posts on games. As a visual novel, Stay! Stay! DPRK! does not have different graphics settings, or even different resolution settings. Some of the images may also appear a little fuzzy on high resolution displays.

  • I recall photographs from textbooks depicting empty shelves in department stores and the like in the old Soviet Union owing to shortages of consumer goods as the USSR placed greater emphasis on developing heavy industry. In North Korea, I imagine that there are always shortages of consumer goods, and grocery stores almost certainly would not look like this. The protagonist comments on this and gets a stern talking to from his “tour guides”, but mistakes are generally forgiven very quickly, befitting of the atmosphere in the game.

  • My first destination of Stay! Stay! DPRK! was Mansudae Art Studio, which is located in the Pyongcheon district of Pyongyang. The artwork of Stay! Stay! DPRK! excels at creating a highly peaceful atmosphere that is certainly absent in the streets of Pyongyang. I’ve got no intentions of actually visiting for myself – North Korean authorities have detained visitors in the past before for various offenses that seem trivial here, but owing to the severity of the penalties (which may involve sentencing to hard labour), the risk simply exceeds the values of visiting.

  • The Mansudae Art Studio is the largest art centres in North Korea and is home to upwards of four thousand artists; founded in 1959, numerous North Korean monuments are crafted here. Because the artwork here is officially sanctioned by the North Korean government, artists live in better conditions than most North Koreans, and works from the studio have been exhibited in other museums around the world.

  • While I have no plans to visit North Korea in the foreseeable future, I have visited South Korea some eleven years ago, and true to the depiction in Stay! Stay! DPRK!kimchi is a very common element of the Korean diet. Consisting of pickled vegetables seasoned with chili, ginger and garlic, kimchi has a very distinct, potent flavour that I enjoyed eating. One of the things about kimchi that I find a riot is that, owing to the gases resulting from fermentation, kimchi jars can explode if improperly stored or handled.

  • The Mansu Hill Grand Monument depicts North Korea’s previous leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il as 22-meter high bronze statues, and as described in Stay! Stay! DPRK!, visitors must capture the statues in full if they photograph them. Kim Il-sung’s statue was completed in 1972, and Kim Jong-il was added in 2011. Unlike the protagonist of Stay! Stay! DPRK!, my first destination in Seoul during my visit was a ginseng chicken soup restaurant: after the long flight across the Pacific, ginseng proved to be a nice boost to my spirits.

  • On the second day in Stay! Stay! DPRK!, I set my sights on Kaesong, a city close to the border with South Korea and so, hosted a special industrial district. However, I’m not sure if there’s anywhere in North Korea that looks quite like this: Jeong is standing in front of the Namdaemun here (which is written in Hanja as 南大門 and phonetically sounds similar), but this landmark is located in the heart of Seoul. One wonders if this is a deliberate or accidental oversight.

  • I note that I’ve not gotten all of the possible locations available for Stay! Stay! DPRK!, so at some point in the near future, I will need to go back and play through the destinations that I did not visit earlier. I’ve said this before for Wolfenstein: The New Order before, and despite having beaten the game once two years ago, I’ve actually yet to go back through and play the second campaign. I probably should do that ahead of the upcoming release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

  • Between “dates”, the protagonists lodges with Jeong and Eunji. Their time together is characterised by particularly bad jokes, flirting and a bit of physical violence. Of the two sisters, Jeong is a carbon copy of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s Makoto: gentle, versed in English and mature, while Eunji is the North Korean counterpart of Akria, being tsundere, ill-tempered but also a good cook. These moments are set in more or less the same rooms, and I note that visual novels do tend to rely a good deal on one’s imagination, with the artwork merely acting to prompt the mind’s eye.

  • The odds of accidentally entering the wrong room, seeing this and coming away in one piece are probably the inverse of the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field (i.e. I will get away with this once in 3720 attempts). There was a similar pair of moments in Go! Go! Nippon, and in both cases, the older sister is walked in on mid-shower, while the younger sister is walked in on mid-change. Stay! Stay! DPRK! presents itself as the unauthorised parody of Go! Go! Nippon, and it is moments like these that accentuate the influences the latter has in the style and tone of the parody.

  • While I could have gone to every conceivable spot with Jeong, it felt as though it might be more appropriate to diversify the characters at least a little, so I went on the last tour with Eunji, who takes players to the Yanggakdo Stadium in Pyongyang. With 30000 seats, it eclipses the Scotiabank Saddledome by around fifty-five percent in seating capacity, and in Stay! Stay! DPRK!, is where the player watches “football” with Eunji. From a technical perspective, “football” makes sense, since the sport is played predominantly with the feet. “Soccer”, on the other hand, developed out of the shortening of the phrase “Association football”. While us North Americans think of it as soccer, the rest of the world calls it football.

  • The outing with Eunji is actually quite nice, as she takes the player to a fancy revolving restaurant inside the Yanggakdo Hotel. This hotel is the second tallest building in North Korea, after the Ryugyonh Hotel, but unlike the latter, which remains unfinished to this day, the Yanggakdo Hotel is complete, being the only luxury hotel in all of North Korea. There’s a secret floor in the hotel that consists of propaganda-filled hallways and locked doors, although visiting this floor is not the best of ideas, especially considering how tourists have been detailed at this point in time.

  • If memory serves, players also get a lunch date with Akira in Go! Go! Nippon!, rather similar to how players spend a lunch with Eunji in Stay! Stay! DPRK!. By my admission, I’ve actually not beaten Go! Go! Nippon!‘s DLC yet: I have completed the original game and maxed out the Steam badge for it, as well. In the time since the DLC for Go! Go! Nippon! came out, apparently, there’s also a 2016 version as well as the 2015 version, which features animated characters.

  • The final destination in Stay! Stay! DPRK! is Mount Paektu, and if I had to draw the comparison, the mountain is most similar to Japan’s Mount Fuji: both mountains are sacred in their respective cultures, and are formed from volcanic activity. Both mountains are surrounded by dense forests, as well; Kim Il-sung organised resistance forces here against Japanese forces and later, propaganda claims he was born in this area.

  • While Go! Go! Nippon! was ostensibly a dating simulator disguised as a Japan tour simulator, it was devoid of moments such as the ones found in Stay! Stay! DPRK! Folks may find it unusual that Stay! Stay! DPRK! has an onsen chapter to it, although there are indeed hot springs in North Korea. With this being said, I imagine folks would prefer visiting hot springs elsewhere. I further remark that folks may claim Eunji to be “best girl”, although I’m more of a Jeong person, myself.

  • I’ve seen players wonder what the point of including Sumeragi in Stay! Stay! DPRK! was, and the answer to that is simple: she’s allegedly an NOC investigating North Korea. The character was included after an individual made a “Glorious Leader Tier” pledge, which features a cameo appearance for anyone who commits 500 USD to the game. Scuttlebutt has it that this donation was made by one Akeiko “Daigensui” Sumeragi, a rather unpleasant figure reviled in the World of Tanks community, being quite sectarian towards China and advocating revisionist views on history. Fortunately, the Sumeragi seen in Stay! Stay! DPRK! is very pleasing on the eyes, being a source of drunken comedy and perversion.

  • The romance elements of Stay! Stay! DPRK! come out full force late in the game, and the player character compares the two sisters to a beautiful waterfall in the area. Starting with the hot springs trip, decisions players make can actually affect the outcome of the game. Making some decisions can result in what the community refers to colloquially as a “bad end”, and as a parody of the dating sim genre, every ending in Stay! Stay! DPRK! is a bad end to some extent.

  • It is to my understanding that there is a patch for Stay! Stay! DPRK! that lets inquisitive (or insane) players experience the game at a whole new level, one that transcends all known existence. However, I’m not quite ready to transcend this blog into violation of whatever Terms of Service I agreed to when I signed up, and so, for this discussion, I’ve opted to feature only screenshots from the base version of the game on Steam.

  • Of course, Stay! Stay! DPRK! wouldn’t be quite as entertaining without a bit of a plot twist; it turns out Jeong was distracting the player in order to drug him, knocking him out. The player reawakens in a North Korean holding facility and is informed of Jeong and Eunji’s fate, having been branded a traitor by the North Korean government. However, since I did not make any bad decisions earlier, I get to the ending where players manage to escape.

  • With Stay! Stay! DPRK! in the books, I certainly had a few good laughs playing through the game, and I have a feeling that we’ll need these laughs very soon, especially considering recent news of Kim Jong-un’s progress towards developing a miniaturised warhead capable of being outfitted on an ICBM. I’m certainly hoping that negotiations and diplomacy will prevail, although anti-ballistic missile systems will likely be needed to prevent any missiles from reaching North America should things devolve into a shooting war. It is improbably that North Korea will be able to deal extensive damage to North America or triumph in any war to take South Korea, but there will be unacceptable casualties should this happen. For now, however, one hopes that these events will not come to fruition, and that we may continue to poke a bit of fun at the Hermit kingdom even as governments work towards addressing the problem that is North Korea’s weapons programme.

Remarkably enjoyable overall with its narrative, the question that is raised then becomes whether or not Stay! Stay! DPRK! becomes worth the price of admissions. From a strict value perspective, it offers a maximum of around six hours of gameplay assuming several play-throughs, and technically, is a solid visual novel – the artwork is appealing, if somewhat minimal, and while the soundtrack is very limited, it does convey the game’s intent as a parody. The writing is also deliberately chosen to create a sense of hilarity in the game: I’ve only spent two hours in the game, but the entire run was completed with a smile on my face owing to the presence of bad jokes in the game. I’m well familiar with the notion that “North Korea is Best Korea”, for instance, and seeing this thrown into the game, in conjunction with several “accidental” references to the fact that Stay! Stay! DPRK is a visual novel, only serve to bolster the comical value of the game. While immensely unrealistic, the game proved to be much more entertaining than expected; it’s certainly not a bad use of 11 CAD to purchase what is essentially a collection of jokes about North Korea bundled with some visually appealing artwork, although folks interested to try Stay! Stay! DPRK! out might get more value if they should choose to wait for a sale: I bought the game for 20 percent off, which equates to having spent eight dollars for it. Eight dollars is the equivalent of two coffees, and since I’m not particularly fond of coffee, I think that Stay! Stay! DPRK isn’t the worst way to spend eight dollars in the world.

007 Nightfire Review and Reflection

“I’ll credit you with persistence Mr. Bond. Persistence and failure. There are NATO launch sites on Earth which could challenge the arsenal on my island. Those bases will be incinerated…by turning these defensive missiles into massively offensive ones.” —Raphael Drake

007 Nightfire is an appropriate way to kick off a new class of posts under the “Ye olde Arcade” section, where I will review older games for old times’ sake. Released in 2002 for Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube, 007 Nightfire is the first-person shooter I owned — at the time, I only played shooters at a cousin’s house during Christmas dinners, and I only had the Super Nintendo console. Enjoying GoldenEye 64 and Agent Under Fire thoroughly, I was thrilled to receive 007 Nightfire as a birthday gift. An original story, 007 Nightfire follows James Bond through his investigation of Phoenix International, a multi-national corporation who is suspected of weapons smuggling. Coming head-to-head with its owner, the industrialist Raphael Drake, Bond learns that Phoenix International has been clandestinely stockpiling nuclear materials for Operation Nightfire: the reorganising of the world under Phoenix International in order to create a world ruled by Drake’s corporation. Fighting through Drake’s private paramilitary groups on a secluded Pacific Island and in an underground launch facility, Bond infiltrates a shuttle, boards the US Space Defense Platform and destroys the nuclear missiles to save millions of lives before taking Drake on in a one-on-one in a space battle that was crafted and honed well before Call of Duty: Ghosts would return to a similar environment some eleven years later.

Possesses a 007 with Pierce Brosnan’s likeness, a novel narrative, its own theme song and is ultimately one remarkably well-executed adventure, making it perhaps the best 007 game ever made; coupled with its excellent graphics and smooth gameplay, this is an excellent instalment in the series that acts as a worthy successor to GoldenEye 64. Aside from technically solid elements, 007 Nightfire is also rifle with callbacks to older James Bond films. Bond’s switch from combat gear to an evening suit to infiltrate Drake’s party is inspired by From Russia With Love. The Aston Martin is clearly the same vehicle from Die Another Day. When Bond visits Tokyo to obtain information from Alexander Mayhew about a missing guidance chip, he visit Mayhew’s Japanese mansion and Phoenix’s Japanese branch, in a manner similar to that of You Only Live Twice. The Aston Martin’s ability to transform into a submarine is from The Spy Who Loved Me, and the ultimate showdown between Bond and Drake is reminiscent of Moonraker. Other elements, such as Fort Knox and the Golden Gun (Goldfinger and The Man With the Golden Gun), also make a return in the multiplayer: this game is packed with references to older James Bond films and is an absolute blast to play through for existing James Bond fans.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Until I review DOOM, I believe that 007 Nightfire will be the oldest game I’ve ever reviewed on this blog. Playing through 007 Nightfire brings back plenty of memories, and as such, the figure captions for this post will be one long trip down memory lane for me. I will offer some suggestions on the gameplay here and there, although how useful those bits of information will be will be up for discussion, since I do not imagine this game is played with any great frequency.

  • The first thing that made 007 Nightfire so enjoyable were the atmospherics: after a chase through the streets of Paris in the first mission, the second mission has Bond infiltrate a party at Drake’s castle in Austria. The snowfall and castle by night evokes a plainly Christmas feeling, even though there is a total absence of Christmas decorations at Drake’s castle.

  • Here, I wield a suppressed Accuracy International AWM with a winter camouflage (Winter Covert Rifle), one of two bolt-action rifles in the game. I imagine that these long-range weapons are outfitted with a straight-pull bolt, since Bond never zooms out in order to chamber a new round after firing. It’s an excellent weapon for long-range combat, and can be used to pick off Drake’s guards without drawing too much attention to oneself.

  • The Walther PPK (Wolfram PP7) is Bond’s starting weapon on most missions. Firing 7.65mm rounds, it deals little damage and has a low capacity, meaning that it will often be replaced by other weapons that are found. However, it’s not entirely ineffective — one of the PPK’s advantages is that it can be suppressed, making it useful for dispatching lone enemies without drawing attention to oneself. Beating the game will unlock the Walther P99 (Wolfram P2K), a more powerful weapon with a larger magazine capacity chambered for 9 mm rounds.

  • Special actions, known as “Bond Moves”, can be performed in 007 Nightfire (as was possible in its predecessor, Agent Under Fire). These actions allow Bond to move through areas more easily, or dispatch a large number of opponents at once in an ingenious fashion. When performed, they confer a scoring bonus that contributes towards the end-of-mission medal, which unlocks multiplayer skins.

  • The interior of Drake’s castle is well-designed, featuring warm lighting and an aristocratic atmosphere befitting of an industrialist such as Drake. It’s the perfect place for a Christmas party, and I’ve often spent time exploring, wondering what such an area might look like by day. Subtle attention to detail in the different levels make the game highly pleasant from a visual perspective, giving it a very polished feel.

  • After retrieving the guidance package and meeting up with Zoe Nightshade (a character returning from Agent Under Fire), it’s time to leave the party. I’m wielding the Heckler and Koch MP5K (Deutsche M9K) with a 21-round magazine, and later, I’ll pick up the AT-420 Sentinel, a fictional shoulder-fired multiple rocket launcher with TV-guided missiles to take on Rook’s gunship. To avoid self-inflicted damage, it’s advisable to shoot out the windows of the gondola first.

  • The gameplay in 007 Nightfire was incredibly diverse for its time, featuring both rail-shooting and driving missions in addition to first-person shooting. The third mission is the escape from Drake’s castle via heavily armed snowmobiles. Armed with both heavy machine guns and rockets, this mission is highly enjoyable, standing in stark contrast with the PC version of 007 Nightfire, which I’ve also played and is an inferior game in every way to the console versions.

  • While it seems a little strange, vehicles can also pick up Kevlar vests to become armoured. After a harrowing chase down the mountain side, Nightshade pilots the snowmobile through a mountain lodge filled with guests before destroying one of the pursing helicopters to end the mission.

  • Equipped with smoke, EMP rounds, boosters, guided missiles, unguided rockets and forward-facing machine guns, Bond’s Aston Martin is a fantastic vehicle to drive. The upgraded missiles can lock onto up to four targets at once, allowing for Bond and Nightshade to reach the extraction point with relative ease. Civilian police cars participate in the chase, although harming them will result in an immediate mission failure.

  • I lock onto one of the helicopters and prepare to blow it away with the guided missiles in order to clear the extraction site here. While an excellent vehicle in all regards, one of the features that I missed from Die Another Day is the adaptive camouflage (in effect, a cloak for the vehicle). It’s explained as making use of cameras to project an image they see onto the other side of the vehicle to give the sense of invisibility. I imagine that adding this ability to the vehicle would make it overpowered, and furthermore, isn’t strictly necessary in terms of gameplay.

  • The fifth mission, set at Mayhew’s Japanese home, is another example of the excellent level design in 007 Nightfire: subtle details, such as the furnishings in the interior or the layout of the gardens outside, are simply spectacular. Here, I’m equipped with a Desert Eagle (Raptor Magnum) chambered for the .375 calibre round. Compared to its .5 calibre counterpart, this one is more accurate and has a slower rate of fire.

  • 007 Nightfire is where I first encountered the SPAS-12 shotgun in a game, and it could alternate between pump-action and semi-automatic fire. Excellent for close quarters combat, it’s particularly effective in the narrow corridors of Mayhew’s mansion.

  • Here, I wield the Ruger MP9 (Storm M32), which offsets its weak bullet damage with a high firing rate and magazine size. How did I take the screenshots for this post? A magician does not reveal all of is tricks is all I have to say on the matter. I did try to make some of these screenshots consistent with those from my old website’s review, and have since replaced them. I’ve discontinued updates for the old site, although the 007 Nightfire images merited a return: I believe they are the only images that remained that I did not capture myself, since I lacked the means to capture screenshots when I wrote that post.

  • The mission to infiltrate the Phoenix International building in Tokyo gives the game a feeling similar to those of the older Metal Gear Solid games, and for this mission, Bond is initially to make his way to the top floors of the building to plant a worm into the computer servers. Only civilian security guards are encountered, and the mission will end if they are killed. To aid players, Bond is equipped with a specially-modified Heckler and Koch P11 (the Korsakov K5 Dart Gun) that fires tranqualiser rounds. To conserve on limited ammunition, it’s also possible to stun guards with the key fob or simply punch them out.

  • The offices for the Japanese branch of Phoenix International feels like the headquarters for Konami, Square Enix or other Japanese game publishers: both missions set in the Phoenix International building in Tokyo give the sense that they were designed and published by Japanese developers with respect to the level design, feeling like something straight out of older PS2 games, such as Metal Gear Solid, despite the fact that Eurocom developed the console version of the game.

  • The seventh mission deals with a derelict nuclear power station undergoing decommissioning along the Japanese coast. It marks the first time I’ve played a shooter set in a haikyo, and the abandoned area serves as a fantastic location for Drake to conduct illicit research on prototype weapons even as he leads a group of reporters in a tour of the area, suggesting that his goals are philanthropic in nature.

  • The standard AWM (Winter Tactical Rifle) is the best weapon in 007 Nightfire for long-range combat. Chambered for the .308 round, it’s well suited for taking out distant enemies in the seventh mission: enemy snipers are prevalent on the map, and can deal serious damage to Bond. The best tactic is to stay hidden and pick off enemies one at a time, always keeping one’s back to a wall. Later, armour piercing rounds can be equipped.

  • The eighth mission sends Bond back to the Phoenix International building after his capture at the nuclear power plant, and is a backtracking mission that places emphasis on going loud. I’ve got the SG-552 carbine here: there’s a suppressed variant of it in the second mission, but here, I’ve got access to a full automatic version equipped with optics. The go-to assault rifle in 007 Nightfire, ammunition for it is reasonably common.

  • I’m wielding the AT-600 Scorpion rocket launcher against an endless horde of enemies in the Phoenix Building’s lobby. With the objective being to escape, it’s also the perfect time to boost one’s stats at the end of the mission: unlike the Sentinel, its rockets are heat-seekers. There’s also a Mikor MGL (Militek MGL) in the level with twelve available 40mm grenades (six in the chamber, six in reserve) that can be likewise used to unleash explosive chaos. Exiting the lobby completes the mission and leads to the introduction of Alura McCall, an Australian operative.

  • The ninth mission entails piloting Bonds Aston Martin as a submarine to infiltrate Drake’s island facility. I never could get past this when I first played the game some twelve years ago, but of late, perhaps armed with the wisdom and experience of a graduate student, I’ve managed to beat this level now. A combination of a steady piloting and caution will allow for this level to be completed, and it was very enjoyable to delve deeper into a well-designed facility I’d not seen previously.

  • Aside from avoiding patrols, making use of guided torpedoes to damage surveillance infrastructure, and deploying limpet charges on the underwater missiles, there’s also a section in the ninth mission where Bond must destroy an active submarine. Its torpedoes are devastating, but one trick to make this fight easier (if lengthier) is to stay in the shadows and hammer it with guided torpedoes until it is destroyed.

  • The tenth mission is another driving mission, and I recall watching The New Woody Woodpecker Show during this time period. Produced from 1999 to 2002, it was well-animated and rather comical; Woody Woodpecker himself is voiced by Billy West (Futurama‘s Phillip J. Fry). I rather miss the show, and English-language releases have been even more rare than Kevin Gillis’ The Raccoons.

  • Consisting of three distinct acts, the tenth mission of 007 Nightfire is one incredible ride through a tropical island. After commandeering a heavily-armed SUV and destroying automated turrets en route to an airfield, Bond and McCall take to the skies in an ultra-light armed for a rail-shooter. The pulse weaponry and rockets are superbly effective against ground-based and air-based targets. I prefer using the rockets for harder targets, switching to the D1400 pulse weapons to finish other opponents off.

  • The final act of this mission is in a stationary turret, armed with a powerful anti-tank cannon and what appears to be a directed energy pulse weapon for anti-air targets. The enemy tanks, aircraft and a submarine will always spawn in the same order, making this section of the game reasonably straight forwards to complete. Coming up next in “Ye Olde Aracade” will be a talk on Enter The Matrix, which I played for both GameCube and PC. I have an opinion on that game contrary to most reviewers, and will be looking to write about that one as time allows. Regular programming resumes with the sixth episode of Brave Witches, which I will aim to publish by Thursday or Friday.

  • The penultimate mission through the interior of Drake’s facility is downright epic. The initial goal is to follow Kiko stealthily through the facility to reach a server room, and Bond is equipped with a crossbow for ultimate stealth. Disabling the alarms and cameras helps greatly, and subsequently, once the servers are offline, it’s time to settle a score with Rook, Drake’s henchman. Rook is incredibly durable and can tank direct hits from the M29 OICW’s high-explosive 20mm grenades. Known as the AIMS-20 (Advanced Individual Munitions System) in-game, the OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) is the best assault rifle in the game, firing 5.56 mm rounds in bursts and also mounts an integral grenade launcher, as well as an infrared scope.

  • The OICW’s best feature are its grenades: smaller than those of the MGL, they are not affected by projectile drop to the same extent and can be used to deal serious damage even at a distance. After defeating Rook, the Phoenix Samurai Laser Rifle can be acquired. The most powerful weapon in the game, it has unlimited ammunition and is quite lethal, although I prefer the OICW for this mission owing to how plentiful ammunition for it is.

  • The final stage of the penultimate mission is to survive two consecutive shuttle launches and fend off two waves of attackers, including two ninjas. At the end of the fifth mission, a ninja shows up to assassinate Mayhew, forcing Bond to engage him. I found that a single headshot (or two body shots) with the AWM would work quite well, but in this mission, the under-barrel grenades can eliminate the ninjas on very short order. Once they’re down, Bond sends Kiko to her death and boards the shuttle for the final mission.

  • 007 Nightfire got the concept of space missions down before Call of Duty: Ghosts existed, and the final mission, titled “Equinox”, is a superb exercise in aiming and persistence. Players must destroy the coupling on the missile gantries, which will send them off course, while simultaneously fending off soldiers who are also armed with the Phoenix Samurai laser rifle. The weapon has good optics and an alternative fire that compresses energy into a powerful ball: its firing sound is identical to the Photon Cannon, a multiplayer-only power weapon available in Agent Under Fire.

  • Once all the missiles are sent off course, Drake himself comes out to fight Bond mano-a-mano. He’s wielding a Scorpion rocket launcher and can tank several laser shots: the heat seeking missiles makes him quite devastating, so it is imperative to keep moving. The first time I beat this mission, I managed to push Drake into the Space Defense Platform’s laser, killing him instantly, although now, my aim is sure enough for me to hit him using the Phoenix Samurai laser rifle. Even after he’s dead, one must keep moving to avoid any missiles still in the area, but once Drake’s lifeless corpse is shown in a cutscene, players can breathe easy, having finished 007 Nightfire‘s campaign.

As far as I am concerned, 007 Nightfire is the greatest James Bond shooter ever made: even today, the gameplay and design of the game is quite solid when compared to some modern shooters. Clearly, 007 Nightfire has stood the test of time, and I’m finding that the game is just as fun now as it was when I played through the game during a lazy summer vacation during my time as a middle school student. Back then, I had a tremendous amount of difficulty beating the submarine mission, and only completed the game recently. The reviews on the campaign’s short length are spot on: it does come across as being quite short, although there is plenty of replay value in trying to collect all of the medals and unlock all of the multiplayer skins. In an ordinary review, I would give 007 Nightfire a strong recommendation and suggest that players check this game out. However, 007 Nightfire is fourteen years old now, and picking up the game for a Playstation 2 or GameCube could be quite tricky. With that being said, it is nonetheless a solid game, and anyone with the game for an older console could probably find it quite entertaining, if a little tacky, by contemporary standards.

Valkyria Chronicles: Final Review and Reflection at the game’s Endgame

“…You can do this! Believe in yourself!” —Welkin Gunther

Officially, I completed Valkyria Chronicles on the Friday evening leading up to the Victoria Day Long Weekend. Pushing my way through Citadel Ghirlandaio, it was a quick fight to open the rail switches and deliver an explosive device to crack the fortress’ gates. Once inside, I turned Squad Seven’s attention towards defeating Selvaria. Even as a mere mortal, Selvaria has a high health pool and is armed with the Ruhm, an exceptionally powerful weapon with the accuracy of a sniper rifle and firing rate of a submachine gun. However, my own forces were well-equipped to deal with Selvaria, and after capturing bases close to the Selvaria’s position, orders used in conjunction with Rosie ended that fight. Shortly after, Squad Seven is sent to divert the Marmota, a massive land dreadnought, and later, return to the Great Vasel Bridge for one final confrontation with General Jaeger. Besting his tank, Valkyria Chronicles sends Squad Seven on one final mission to stop the Marmota and defeat Maximilian. Despite his powers as an artificial Valkyrie, this mission was completed on short order, as well, and I sat back to enjoy the ending credits as rain began falling outside. After some forty-one hours of time spent in-game and 1.5 years having elapsed since I first bought the game during the Steam 2014 Winter Sale, I’ve finally finished my first play-through of Valkyria Chronicles.

Unsurprisingly, the major thematic element in Valkyria Chronicles is one that figures greatly in Girls und Panzer; strength of arms and brute force are not infallible against the resilient spirit of those who have a powerful reason to fight. General Jaeger outright says this to his men before taking his leave, learning that the Gallians are so effective is because they are fighting to defend their homes. Similarly, Welkin reminds Maximilian that power alone is meaningless; after learning that Alicia is a Valkyrur, he nonetheless chooses to field her as a conventional scout, counting on Squad Seven’s experience and resolve to turn back Maximilian’s war machine in place of the easier route of having Alicia wield her Valkyrur powers. These themes are mirrored throughout Girls und Panzer, and it is perhaps for this reason that Valkyria Chronicles and Girls und Panzer wind up being similar enough for it to have been a recommended anime for me. Back during May 2013, after I had completed Girls und Panzer, I was looking for a similar anime. My initial impressions were that Valkyria Chronicles‘ anime incarnation was dramatically different in setting and narrative, only overlapping in terms of armoured combat. However, now that I’ve beaten the game, these differences are no longer so pronounced. Both Girls und Panzer and Valkyria Chronicles‘ game incarnation have a powerful narrative about how individuals fighting to save what they hold dear to them triumphs over firepower alone. Similarly, both have a diverse cast that takes some time to get used to, but contribute substantially to the sense of unity and determination amongst the characters. While Valkyria Chronicles‘ anime does not capture this theme quite as effectively as Girls und Panzer, the game certainly succeeds; it presents a combination of narrative, emotional impact and gameplay that is successful in captivating the player.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • We come to it at last, the final post I will do on Valkyria Chronicles‘ main campaign. I do plan on going through and beating all of the DLC, plus playing through the entire game again to grab all of the A-ranks for each mission at some point in the future, and I imagine that now armed with orders and maxed out characters, this is going to be a walk in the park.

  • Demolitions boost in conjunction with defense boost and awaken potential on Alicia turns her into Halo‘s Spartan-117 in terms of lethality: tanks without armoured exhaust vents can now be destroyed in a single action, since Alicia has the mobility to flank the tanks and move around them to reach the exposed vents. Activating her potentials means she further takes on the Master Chief’s capabilities: with her double movement, resist crossfire and mysterious body potentials, Alicia can cover a vast amount of ground, shrug off otherwise-lethal shots and regenerate her health.

  • With all of these elements together, I finished the first mission at Citadel Ghirlandaio in two turns, making extensive use of Alicia to activate the rail switches and subsequently deliver a bomb that would blast open the fortress’ main gates. In the absence of orders, Valkyria Chronicles becomes much harder; in addition to scoring A-ranks on each mission, it will also be fun to see how much forward thinking and strats will be needed to score A-ranks without using orders.

  • The second Citadel Ghirlandaio mission involves a duel with Selvaria herself. Although possessing the Ruhm, Selvaria does not use her Valkyrur powers here. I made use of cover to capture the bases to the right side of the map, with the intent of calling in shock troopers as reinforcements so they can engage Selvaria.

  • Like Wolfenstein: The New Order, each mission in Valkyria Chronicles is memorable, being set in a different setting with a unique atmosphere and feel to it. The presence of full cutscenes and narrative styles inspired by kinetic novels, the story was actually quite compelling to read through and experience, giving each mission additional weight. This approach also strikes a fine balance between excitement and tedium: the game allows players to progress in a more relaxed manner compared to something like a shooter, but is also more engaging than reading text on a screen.

  • One of my original strategies was to deploy the Edelweiss and have it cover the area in smoke so that my shocktroopers would have an easier time attacking Selvaria: she does not dodge shots fired from behind and this would have ended the mission quite quickly. However, Selvaria moved before this plan could be executed. Here, I take advantage of the Edelweiss to destroy an enemy heavy tank, and it appears that I’ve captured one of the Edelweiss’ piercing rounds leaving the barrel to impact the enemy armour’s radiator.

  • In response to the changing situation, I pushed Rosie to the front, giving her the orders to increase defense, increase attack power and ignore enemy defense. Three consecutive attacks ended the duel, completing this mission on relatively short order. I’ve heard much about how Valkyria Chronicles can be unbalanced in some areas, and while this is true (the game does encourage expedience over elimination), that there will be a new game plus mode after everything is done means that one can replay missions to try different or unusual strategies without worrying about combat performance.

  • The mission to divert the Marmota was one of the most straightforwards one in the game, bringing to mind the mission to rescue Princess Cordelia from Federation kidnappers. Set in a canyon, the goal is to trigger the right number of rockslides, pushing the massive land-dreadnought into a section of the canyon for attack by Gallian forces. Because characters splattered by the Marmota die instantly, this mission is best carried out with only Rosie, Largo and Zaka in the Shamrock: they will retreat when the Marmota runs over their position.

  • Making use of Alicia and the Edelweiss is all that is necessary to complete this mission: once Alica takes down the barricades, the Edelweiss can roll over the landmines and detonate them, allowing Alicia safe passage. While the Marmota is a vast weapon far larger than anything Squad Seven has experienced in previous missions, it is by no means intimidating: its large guns are fired after a turn is ended, and these are easily avoided.

  • Once players reach the end of the objective, it’s a matter of ending the phase, allowing the Marmota to drive forwards. This is easily the most tedious part of the mission, but if all has gone well, the Marmota will reach the target point after eight turns, the number of turns required to secure the A-rank in this mission. The cutscenes show that the combined firepower of the Gallian forces is insufficient, but Squad Seven is tasked with returning to Randgriz and engaging it from there.

  • It’s been some 14 months since I played the battle for the Great Vasal Bridge, but here, we’re back to take on General Jaeger and his Lupus a second time. In this showdown, the Lupus is equipped with heavy armour that absorbs damage the tank takes per turn. From what I’m hearing, the Lupus draws design features from the Soviet KV-2 and German Maus, both of which feature in Girls und Panzer.

  • While seemingly intimidating, a shock trooper armed with penetration and demolitions boost allowed me to beat the Lupus in two turns: the first turn was to position the characters and get a kill of one of the level’s aces, then use smoke rounds to conceal Rosie’s position. Subsequently, it was a matter of wearing the Lupus down gradually before the turn ended. It’s been some years since I played something where infantry could disable armour: in games like Halo, I never particularly feared heavy armour because the shoulder-fired weapons (like the M41 SPNKR or the Spartan Laser) were sufficient to defeat armour.

  • With the Marmota sustaining minor damage, the aim of the penultimate mission is to board this leviathan and disable the Valkof, a Valkyrur weapon capable of immense destruction. Maximilian uses it to annihilate a mountain top, consuming around a fifth of its charge in the process. The blast is enough to vapourise the mountain and probably has a yield of around 200kt, so a full-power shot would yield 1 MT.

  • When I wrote the first impressions post for Valkyria Chronicles last year, the post came shortly after I set up a 2009 Mac Pro, attended a talk on software analytics and had a fried chicken poutine. This year, I helped one of the summer students set up a better Mac Pro with the ATI 5770; I left a small mess in the demonstration room, where the Mac we use for demos would not boot up properly, but managed to clean that up. Food trucks were on campus today, and I stopped by Wilk’s Booth. Because I was set to drop by the medical campus to attend a talk on business and medicine, I had their Ranchman’s Burger and a side of thick-cut fries this time around. I’ve no photographs to show this time around because the burger a little messy on top of being totally delicious, with bacon, maple-BBQ Chipotle sauce and plenty of onions.

  • Today was also the hottest day of 2016 so far, and after the talk ended, I returned to main campus to attend my brother’s graduation, before celebrating with an evening out. I also picked up a small travel bag in preparation for the July conference. Back in Valkyria Chronicles, the penetration and demolitions boost orders are used to great effect in the second-to-last mission: once active, it will take 4 CP to destroy the Valkof. I’ve heard it is possible to complete this mission in one turn, although my Squad Seven roster and setup meant that it took me two turns to complete.

  • So, after making my way through the campaign, I come to it at last: the ultimate showdown between Squad Seven and Maximilian. Although the anime made this fight more dramatic, the game incarnation is superior, having Squad Seven take on Maximilian’s Artificial Valkyrur system. Capable of reproducing the Valkyrur’s power, Maximilian’s system depends on external generators to keep him powered up, so it’s quite natural to attack the power sources.

  • After blowing out three of the generators, Maximilian becomes vulnerable to fire. I’ve not used a sniper properly since mission seven, but in this final mission, I deploy Catherine to accurately take out a distant generator, before using Largo to dispatch the other two. Destroying more towers than this is a waste of CP, since the other towers will regenerate on Maximilian’s turn.

  • Once the barrier protecting Maximilian is lowered, like the Rebel Fleet does in Return of the Jedi, it’s time to commence attack on Maximilian himself. I used attack boost, defense boost, penetration and awaken potential on Rosie, then pounded the living daylights out of him to end this mission in a single turn. It was back in May when I beat this: it was a Friday evening, and the skies were heavy with cloud cover. After firing the last of the shots that defeated Maximilian, rain began falling and the credits rolled.

  • This is the end of my first journey with Valkyria Chronicles, and it’s a little surprising to see just how much time has elapsed since I picked this up. When the game entered my library, I was finishing my first term as a graduate student and was preparing to go for a winter tour of Taiwan. I fired my first shot in the game as I was ending my second term of graduate studies, and finally finished a year-and-a-half (well, 17 months) after buying it. It was a fantastic journey, and with this one finally in the books, it’s time to go and make some headway in Alien Isolation.

Taken together, Valkyria Chronicles is a game that stands as one of the best titles I’ve experienced, and overall, it is very easy to recommend this game to individuals, even those who are not familiar with Japanese turn-based tactical RPGs. With generally solid gameplay, a fantastic art style that captures the nostalgic, old-time feel of an alternate universe, one of the best soundtracks composed for a game and a compelling story that allows players to truly feel like Squad Seven’s commander, Valkyria Chronicles is what a game should be: capable of immersing players in another world, in the process allowing them to empathise with the protagonists and feel clever for completing a particularly difficult mission. Furthermore, there are plenty of extras in the game: successful completion of the game unlocks the story missions for replay, and the Steam version provides free DLC that further augment the experience. While the game is not mechanically flawless (the AI is deterministic and movement can be a little unsmooth), its presentation and content overall means that for its price, players get more than their money’s worth for Valkyria Chronicles. Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that Valkyria Chronicles‘ Steam copy has sold over 800 000 copies as of this May. This is a game that thoroughly earns a strong recommendation, so for those who’ve not played it, one could go so far to say that they’re missing out. The game only goes for around 20 USD in the Steam Store and moreover, only requires a GTX 280 to play on full graphics; any modern computer will have no difficulty running this game, so unless one has but an integrated GPU, there’s no real excuse not to pick up Valkyria Chronicles and give it a spin.

Valkyria Chronicles: Review and reflection at the ¾ mark

“But, it’s like you said, Alicia. We build new things as we lose the old.” —Welkin Gunther

At this point in time, I’ve crossed over the three-quarters milestone of Valkyria Chronicles (or at least, what I presume to be the three-quarters milestone). Fouzen and Bruhl have been liberated, and Valkyria Chronicles‘ own interpretation of D-Day at Marberry Shores campaign concluded quite smoothly. While the Gallian forces gain momentum against the Empire, decisive battles at Naggiar result in narrow victories for Gallia at the expense of incurring a large number of casualties. During the Battle of Naggiar, Alicia is revealed to be a Valkyrur of the same nature as Selvaria, and this leads to a growing rift in the militia. Welkin reassures Alicia that things will be alright and informs Squad 7 that Alicia’s newly-awakened Valkyrur powers change nothing; they will continue with their operations as they always have. So, I’m now set to embark on the Fight for Ghirlandaio to flush the remains of the Imperial forces out of Gallia. Since the campaigns at Fouzen, the game’s progressively thrown more interesting challenges at Squad Seven, and I am quite certain that the remaining four chapters in the game will require that all of my characters be at their absolute best for them to stand against the increasingly deadly enemies that make up Maxmilian’s remaining forces.

The thirty hours of time I’ve spent in Valkyria Chronicles means I’ve finally made use of the different mechanics to effectively direct each character to complete a mission. Weapons are continuously upgraded to ensure that everyone can deal effective damage against the Imperial forces, and through the skirmishes, I’ve gotten each class to elite status. With the classes at higher levels, I’ve unlocked a much wider range of orders and have been employing them liberally in each mission, boosting the statuses of strategically-placed characters to make them an incredible force. The orders are so effective that some missions can now be effortlessly completed, and seemingly-impossible missions suddenly become merely difficult. By this point in time, I’ve also unlocked a larger number of potentials for the different characters; these attributes can confer advantages or disadvantages. In light of ever-increasing mission difficulties, and the fact that I’ve learnt the “Awaken All” order, I’m now looking to reconfigure my line-up to ensure that each soldier is performing at their very best, all of the time. Particularly detrimental potentials, such as Susie’s pacifist potential, have led me to lose CP before; such characters will not be effective in conjunction with the “Awaken All” order. Taken together, the details behind each characters, as well as how their potentials interact with the different abilities and orders gives the sense that Squad Seven’s members are as organic and diverse as real people, further allowing players to empathise with them and play the game in such a way as to keep everyone alive.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Liberation of Fouzen in Valkyria Chronicles‘ anime was the first exposure I had to the nature of oppression and discrimination the Darcsens were subjected to, but Valkyria Chronicles makes it abundantly clear that this mistreatment is ill-placed: the Valkyrur were the true aggressors, destroying much of their homeland and pinning the events later known as the Darcsen Calamity on them. A major part of the game is how Rosie gradually comes to accept the Darcsens, and it was very rewarding to see this shift in perspectives.

  • The concentration camps and use of Darcsens as forced labour are a direct allusion to the Third Reich’s actions during the Second World War. This brings to mind my final year of secondary school, where Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel’s Night was on the English curriculum, a novel based on Wiesel’s experiences at Auschwitz camp. In the novel, he speaks of his gradual loss of humanity and even faith, as the inhumane conditions in the camps degraded the human condition.

  • Wile the Imperials mistreat the Darcsens out of malice, Rosie’s own anti-Darcsen sentiments arise from her background; in an Imperial raid that levelled her village, she lost her family and feels the Darcsens are responsible. As such, she’s quite cold to Isara for much of the game, but gradually comes around thanks to Isara’s persistent efforts in trying to reach her.

  • Infiltrating Fouzen was dead easy compared to liberating it, but even this mission was not too bad compared to something like Barious: here, I make use of Alicia to move rapidly around the map to activate elevators that act as shortcuts of sorts, making it easier to move shocktroopers and lancers closer to the frontlines. I absolutely love the cloudy skies in this mission, as they remind me of the moody grey skies seen in Sora no Woto‘s fourth episode and the desert terrain of Break Blade.

  • Enemy armour can be a threat to the Edelweiss and other foot-mobiles, but I usually ignore them unless they’re directly blocking the path en route to an objective. While I remark earlier that the Edelweiss can be a bit of a CP-hog, later missions necessitate the use of the Edelweiss in conjunction with orders and strategies in order to be completed on short order.

  • Enemy aces usually are not on my list of priorities in the sense that I do not go out of my way to hunt them down and kill them, but I will take them out if an opportunity arises. I probably will go back on my New Game Plus to get the rest. They drop Imperial weapons that Squad Seven can use, and while Imperial weapons have terrible accuracy, their firepower is quite good.

  • The objective at Fouzen is to destroy a bridge holding the Equus, a massive armoured train equipped with a 280mm main cannon. While this behemoth looks intimidating, its biggest weakness is its dependence on a rail system. This is exploited to bring the vehicle down, and General Gregor dies in the Equus’ wreckage. It’s a satisfying mission to send the Imperials packing, although Valkyria Chronicles also reminds players that there is a limit to what one can do: prior to fleeing, the Imperials have set the concentration camps ablaze, trapping the Darcsens.

  • The Marberry Shores mission involves storming a heavily-fortified bridge: it’s a direct reference to the Battle of Normandy, the largest amphibious invasion in all of history. Unlike D-Day, Squad Seven is a much smaller force and must make extensive use of the smoke rounds to provide cover: some batteries are invulnerable to all damage and will quickly destroy an exposed foot-mobiles.

  • Once all of Squad Seven clears the beaches, the mission transforms to a close-quarters engagement. It’s recommended not to add only the units that are necessary (Alicia, Rosie, Largo and at most one engineer) in the beginning, as that will require more CP to move everyone off the beaches. Here, I wield a flamethrower, a weapon available to the shocktrooper class after they hit level 11. It’s the perfect close-quarters weapon and can take out an enemy behind cover in one shot, provided that the wielder has not suffered a debuff.

  • Towards the end of the Marberry Shores mission, I eventually ran Alicia up to the enemy base, took out the infantry there and managed to capture it. I can see why scouts, and Alicia in particular, are considered to be overpowered: while Valkyria Chronicles remained reasonably balanced up until the scouts became elites, at this point, scouts, in conjunction with the appropriate orders, become as powerful as Halo‘s Master Chief.

  • In the aftermath of Marberry Shore, Isara is shot by an Imperial soldier and succumbs to her wounds. This marks the turning point for Rosie, who finally lets go of her prejudice against the Darcsens. She fulfills a promise to Isara and sings at her funeral. From here on out, Zaka becomes a permanant member of Squad Seven and rolls into battle in the Shamrock, a light tank has a greater range but lower armour and firepower compared to the Edelweiss. The page quote comes from this mission, following a conversation between Welkin and Alicia to rebuild Bruhl once all the combat is over.

  • The mission to recapture Bruhl was dead easy and required only a single turn to complete. The level was designed so that Squad Seven would all move cautiously forwards, picking off snipers and eliminating opposition until the Imperial-held base is reached, but a single scout with the proper orders can solo this mission and reach the end very quickly. This optimised solution accounts for why Alicia now appears in so many of the screenshots.

  • Besides picking up weapons from downed Imperial Aces, special weapons can also be unlocked for combat efficiency: by visiting Princess Cordelia at Randgriz, she will occasionally bestow medals and weapons for the player. While some of these weapons are inferior to the ones that can be researched via the tech tree, some weapons are superior and can be put to good use in the hands of an effective character.

  • Selvaria appears at the first Naggiar campaign: wielding her Valkyrur powers to their fullest, she becomes a beast that blows away Gallian armour with ease in cutscenes, and even in-mission, she’s far more lethal than at Barious, being able to one-shot the Edelweiss or Shamrock. Fortunately, armed with some orders and an obscenely powerful scout in Alicia, this mission can be finished quite quickly.

  • The traditional approach would be to capture the midway base and then deploy a lancer there, then gradually move him to the camp to destroy the heavy tank camped out there. However, good investment in levels should mean that one already has the “Demolitions Boost” order unlocked. This turns any scout into a lethal tank-killer: their high AP allows them to flank the tank and reach the exposed radiator. After this, a few rifle rounds are enough to destroy the tank.

  • Valkyries are so overpowered that players (rightfully) do not have control over one: after being shot by Faldio, Alicia’s Valkyrur powers activate, and she cleans up a portion of the battlefield before collapsing. It turns out that Faldio’s been ardently researching Valkyria since Barious, after suspecting Alicia of being a Valkyrur when they gained access to the Barious temple. This mission’s initial objective seems simple enough, but after the main base is captured, a pair of Dromedarius-class tanks roll in.

  • The Dromedarius-class are modified heavy tanks with an incendiary mortar that will kill infantry instantly, and their radiators have been modified such that they are bullet-proof. However, two well-placed lancer rockets will be enough to take these tanks out: Dromedarius A is the easier one to defeat, as Largo can be moved within a turn to a good position behind the tank. I realise that this post comes right in the middle of thesis season, and that I should be directing all my energy towards finishing. However, after spending six hours on just citations alone (and two hours performing some duties for the lab’s undergraduate students), I think I’ve earned the evening off. Tomorrow, I get right back to business and will aim to wrap up the citations before this week is out.

  • Valkyria Chronicles rewards combat efficiency over kill-count and unit preservation, but nonetheless, I make it a point to never let any of Squad Seven die in combat if I can help it. As such, I still have access to Squad Seven’s full roster, and I do wonder on some occasion what the War Cemetery would be like if any of my units do fall in battle (at present, it’s a location for learning new orders from the Aged Gentleman).

  • I may have some thirty Steam hours in the game (roughly eighteen from the in-game statistics), but the visual representation of onomatopoeia is always fun to watch and further, is reminiscent of what was done in Haruhi‘s second season opening. I’ve heard that Valkyria Chronicles has a Remastered Edition out for PS4, and from the looks of things, while the graphics have not been improved too much, the Remastered Edition has support for 60 FPS and 1080p resolutions. It’s not quite as dramatic as I had imagined — when I heard “Remastered”, I thought the differences would be comparing Halo CE to halo Anniversary or Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare to the newly announced Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remaster.

  • I eventually just opted to give the Edelweiss “Demolitions boost” and pounded the Dromedarius B to oblivion from afar: the flames cannot harm armour. At the time of writing, I’m actually only a handful of missions away from finishing Valkyria Chronicles, and it’s been a blast the entire way. I do intend on unlocking all of the Steam achievements for the game at some point in the future, but for the time being, I think I’ll start Alien Isolation once I finish Valkyria Chronicles.

Valkyria Chronicles continues to impress with its solid gameplay and narrative: by this point, it is quite clear that the game stands head-and-shoulders above its anime incarnation. I’ve also begun playing through the different reports that have somehow slipped underneath my notice, and these represent yet another excellent side of the game, giving more insight into some of the backgrounds and characteristics for some of Squad Seven’s members (as well as unlocking more potentials for the lead characters, which are bloody useful). All of the different features in Valkyria Chronicles serve to prolong its playability; the combination of story, gameplay and extras means that from a value perspective, Valkyria Chronicles is easily worth the 22 CAD that it retails for in the Steam store (in fact, I would argue that the title could go for 55 dollars, the same as CLANNAD, and the game would still be worth picking up at full price); this is a game that now stands alongside Deus Ex: Human Revolutions as one of the absolute best games I’ve had the opportunity to experience. As such, I look greatly forwards to finding my own optimisations for the final stages of the campaign that will see Maxmilian defeated and peace restored to Gallia.