The Infinite Zenith

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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.

Rainbow Six Siege: Reflections on Steam’s Free Weekend

“What’s the plan if the opposition just starts shooting out of hand?”
“Tell Louis, two flashbangs at the front door, four more inside, and we blow in like a tornado.”
—Eddie and Ding, Rainbow Six

I had originally planned to spend most of the weekend working on various things, among them reviewing for an imminent exam and conference paper deadline, but as it would happen, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege was placed on Steam’s Free Weekend programme, which allows anyone with a Steam account to try the game out between the stipulated hours. Having seen some of my favourite YouTubers play Rainbow Six Siege, I’ve always been interested to see what the game was about; Tom Clancy’s novels are known for detailing the minute details of the more interesting gear that characters use, and during firefights, his characters move tactically and cohesively. However, I also enter knowing that, because I lacked a microphone and any familiarity, I would spend my time in Rainbow Six Siege taking on the situations (single player tutorial-like missions) and lone wolf mode on Terrorist Hunt. These rounds proved to be quite entertaining in their own right, and I accumulated enough renown to unlock three attacking and three defending operators, reaching level six after some six hours of gameplay. The most enjoyable aspect adding to Rainbow Six Siege‘s atmosphere outside of the shooting mechanics (which allow players to shoot through walls and kill anyone with a single headshot) was the set design for the levels. Each map is quite detailed and feels like a genuine location for special operations, especially Presidential Plane and Kafe Dostoyevsky. These feel like settings straight out of a Tom Clancy novel and add an extra bit of charm to Rainbow Six Siege.

Rainbow Six Siege is designed as a cooperative game and intended to be played with others: while the situations were manageable and quite fun for introducing new players to the capabilities of different classes, lone wolf terrorist hunts were brutal and unforgiving. I never did manage to beat any of the terrorist hunt games I played: over half my deaths were due to the bombers, enemies who will suicide once they close in on players. Barring a steady aim and cool head, these enemies take a ridiculous amount of damage if hit in the chest and can one-shot players: they quickly became the bane of most of my matches. Despite using my drones to check where the enemies were, after clearing a room or hallway, I would peek a corner and then explode for seemingly no reason. The bomber’s unpredictability added quite the challenge to Rainbow Six Siege, and while this aspect of the game garners mixed reactions, it’s a realistic addition to the game in reminding players that as careful as they are, all it takes is one failed check or slip of the moment to lose the objective. This aspect predominantly applies to lone wolf style games, as teams can coordinate fire and keep track of hostiles more easily. However, the game mechanics are solid: even in single player, it’s immensely satisfying to land headshots or kill an enemy through the walls, and the numerous gadgets, in conjunction with map design and destruction, encourages players to play each operator to the fullest of their capacities to help their team secure victories.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Rainbow Six Siege is perhaps yet another indicator that my hardware is aging: because of limited video memory, I was only able to run the game on medium settings (with a few tweaks here and there), but the frame rates I get are quite high. This has been the case for recent games, and from the looks of it, my machine, nearing its three-year mark, won’t even be able to run DOOM on minimum settings.

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  • According to Ubisoft, the situations were designed for first-time players to become familiarised with the mechanics of Rainbow Six Siege in an environment where they could experiment with different setups and operators without worrying about being a hindrance to their teams. I’ve heard that Rainbow Six Siege players are generally friendlier than those in other communities.

  • The situations have additional objectives (such as using an operator-specific gadget a specified number of times, staying above 50 health and so on) that yield renown points when completed. Playing through just the situations, I gained enough renown to unlock several operators and weapon customisations. Here, I defend a defuser from terrorist attack in a bomb defusal situation: whereas the insertion into the building was completely tactical, after the defuser is set, waves upon waves of enemies appear.

  • The Presidential Plane is one of my favourite maps: despite the narrow, crowded spaces inside the plane, the map consists of three levels. Because Rainbow Six Siege lacks a minimap to denote where enemies are (either motion sensors as in Halo or spotting of Battlefield), players must instead rely on a combination of drones (or cameras for defenders) and communications amongst teammates to locate enemies.

  • Like Star Wars Battlefront or The Division, Rainbow Six Siege looks quite nice even on “just” medium settings. There might be nine terrorists left on the map, but here, I take a moment to look at sunbeams streaming through the aircraft windows. Besides its design, the Presidential Plane appeals to me because it reminds me of the Gulfstream G550, the Campus’ choice of aircraft for moving quickly around the world.

  • Unlike ordinary commercial aircraft, which maintain a cabin pressure of 2400 meters, the G550 maintains a cabin pressure of 1800 meters; this increases comfort and reduces jet lag. While I’m okay with long distance flights, the lower pressures do make them somewhat uncomfortable on my GI. During this situation, my G36C was equipped with the Trijicon reflex sight; I’m not a fan of the triangular dot, since it obscures the target more than any of the other optics.

  • The hostage extraction situations are somewhat tricky: while getting to the hostage usually isn’t a problem (here, I’m playing as Glaz, the resident sniper in Rainbow Six Siege), it’s the exfiltration that is difficult. Keeping one hand on the hostage means players will only have access to their sidearms, which makes getting to the extraction site challenging when there are terrorists with automatics.

  • The defense-type situations can be quite fun, requiring the player protect an asset from terrorists. While the usual reinforcement of doors with standard and steel barricades will slow down the terrorists, they’ll deploy explosives to get in. My preferred style for both defense situations was to use traps and barricades to fortify the room housing the asset, then proactively hunt down any attackers.

  • This situation was a particularly fun one: playing as IQ, I’m armed with the AUG A2 and an ACOG sight here. The ACOG is most useful for situations where players hang a ways back from the combat and can slowly pick off targets, and this map was filled with nitro cells, small explosives that are highly lethal to players. They’re most lethal when placed around corners; I died much more frequently to hidden cells, as the ones in plain sight can be destroyed harmlessly with a single shot from a primary or secondary weapon.

  • One of the things that generated quite a bit of discussion was the amount and colour of blood in Rainbow Six Siege, so I figured that no review could be complete without at least one screenshot of the ridiculous amount of blood that can result from the simple act of shooting an enemy. Besides the blood, and the hit-markers indicating a kill, the shooting in Rainbow Six Siege is highly tactile, and kills feel very rewarding.

  • Located near the banks of the Moskva River, with the Kremlin nearby, Kafe Dostoyevsky is a Russian map set during Christmas. There’s something enchanting about winter in Russia, and this map is able to capture that sense extremely well.

  • My favourite operator is probably Thermite: he’s got an armour and speed rating of two, making him very well-balanced for a wide range of missions. While Thermite comes equipped with the M1014 shotgun by default, I prefer the 556xi because of its general all-around versatility. The interior of Kafe Dostoyevsky is beautifully rendered, and definitely feels like a place where a SVR rezident could conduct espionage over ox cheek with watercress, bone marrow, and salsa as per Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector.

  • A true laser would be invisible under normal conditions, but this oversight is forgiven since this room is presumably quite dusty and because I’m running the game on medium settings, which means that any dust effects would probably not be rendered. Kapkan’s trip mines are improvised and can be easily destroyed or disabled, but are quite effective when used near an unbarricaded  entrance.

  • The 9x19SVN is a Russian submachine gun that fulfils a similar role to the MP5, dealing lower damage compared to rifles but compensating with a high mobility and rate of file. I’ve heard that the laser sight is one of the worst attachments to have in Rainbow Six Siege because it cannot be turned off, thereby giving away a player’s location in a game where stealth is paramount to victory.

  • The interior of the Chalet is ornate and would ordinarily be a fantastic winter vacation retreat after a day’s skiing. It’s set in the Courchevel ski resort in the French alps, and this last situation was quite tricky. On this mission, players take on the role of Thatcher and have access to an AR33, but the close-quarters engagements means that a holographic or red dot sight would’ve been more suitable, as opposed to the ACOG sight.

  • One of the coolest features in Rainbow Six Siege is the ability to penetrate walls and soft cover will bullets: a few rounds will punch through the wall and damage any one on the other side, and here, I nail two lucky headshot with the AR33. In online matches, players will often melee the wall to see if there’s anyone in an adjacent room, or else simply shoot through it if they know someone’s on the other side.

  • Thatcher’s EMP grenades prove to be an asset in this mission, allowing him to quickly disable nitro cells. This mission was quite tricky and it took me numerous attempts to beat it; on my first few attempts, after securing the hostage, I backtracked and walked into an endless number of terrorists.

  • The different maps in Rainbow Six Siege appear to have day and night variants, meaning that different approaches can be taken towards a match depending on whether it will be day or night. Today was the submission deadline for the latest of my conference papers, and against all odds, it seems that I managed to just make the midnight deadline. I’m quite surprised because I spent a fair portion of the weekend playing Rainbow Six Siege instead of editing the paper for errors.

  • However, the paper’s now done and sent off, and this week happens to be Poutine Week where I am, so I decided to step off campus for lunch today. This initiative is arranged as follows: participating restaurants will donate one free meal to someone in need for each poutine they sell during Poutine Week. I vaguely recall saying in an earlier post that I would visit the Vendome Café for their breakfast poutine, and that’s exactly what I did today: not only did I get a fantastic poutine out of it, but it’s also for a good cause.

  • The Vendome Café’s poutine was quite unlike any I’ve had before. In place of fries, there were breakfast hash browns topped with smoked ham, cheese, hollandaise, peppers and onions. The flavours were fantastic and very rich: I now understand why Rize and Chino starting crying  upon taking their first bite of Mocha’s bread. My eyes teared up slightly because of how good the poutine tasted, and the different elements worked well together to create a fantastic, if unconventional poutine. Back in Rainbow Six Siege, I finally beat the final situation after figuring out an alternative route that allowed me to bypass most of the terrorists appearing after securing the hostage.

  • After beating all of the situations, save the university map (which requires a team), I decided to mess around in the terrorist hunt as a lone wolf player. Of all the games I played, I failed utterly: over half my deaths were at the hands of the bombers.

  • What would happen was that I would send a drone into the building to figure out where the enemies or objectives were, then move in. However, the bombers would usually move off, and detonate their payloads right as I rounded a corner, instantly kicking my character’s ass. However, even these failed operations yield some renown, and so, I was able to unlock Fuze and Ash. Here, I’m rocking the 6P41 (i.e. the PKP Pecheneg), one of my favourite LMGs from Battlefield. While with a large ammo capacity, reload times are quite long, limiting its usefulness.

  • Thermite is an good all-around character to use for lone-wolf situations: I decided to outfit his 556xi with the holographic sight and a compensator: however, it seems that my six hours in Rainbow Six Siege was not enough to allow me to become fully familiar with the mechanics and beat a terrorist hunt match on my own.

  • Fuze also has access to the AK12, a modernised AK-47 that I’ve equipped with the Russian equivalent of the red dot sight. With a minimal housing and a clear reticule, this setup allowed me to be quite successful so as long as I did not run into any well-placed nitro cells or sneaky bombers.

  • I unlocked a handful of defenders, including Mute and Pulse, but terrorist hunt had other things in mind for me, so I never had the chance to try out Pulse’s MP7. Here, I’m running mute with the default MP5 on a defend-the-asset match and lasted for all of 30 seconds after a wall exploded beside me during the following wave.

  • The exterior of Kafe Dostoyevsky during a Russian winter’s night is a sight to behold, and here, I rappel onto the roof during an elimination mission armed with Thermite’s 556xi. I took a few moments to look around the Moscow cityscape before entering the building by means of a grapple.

  • The rappel mechanic is surprisingly fun to use, and it’s always a thrill to breach a second-floor window or get kills from above on unsuspecting enemies. The option for changing stance allows one to move differently, and the fast descent is useful for quickly dropping back to the ground from the rappel line.

  • The bank map looks similar to one of the maps from Battlefield Hardline with its cityscape: at present, while I’ve beaten the campaign to Hardline, I’ve yet to touch the multiplayer component, which I hear has a very limited number of available games (but it’s quite tempting, since the K10 Vector makes an appearance in Hardline).

  • One of the most amusing moments I’ve experienced in Rainbow Six Siege was during a bomb match, where I threw a fragmentation grenade into the room after learning from the drone that there were a handful of bad guys in there. That one grenade landed me two kills, so for me, that was my Greatest Grenade™ in Rainbow Six Siege.

  • As the hours to the free weekend wound down, I decided to take another shot at the bomb mission with Fuze and his AK-12. I managed to defuse one bomb and got 29 kills, but an untimely nitro cell killed me, ending that mission and with it, my Rainbow Six Siege experience. I subsequently returned to editing the conference paper and worked on my portfolio: that’s done, so all that’s really left this week is Wednesday’s oral exam. After that, I will look to export my simulations as a standalone project (to see if that works), finally begin working on my thesis paper again and put out the review for Aria The Avvenire.

Rainbow Six Siege‘s free weekend allowed me an opportunity to try the game out. I definitely had fun, using the drones to find objectives, then carefully entering a building to take out terrorists in very tense moments and using the operators’ different gadgets to gain the upper hand. Finishing the situations with all objectives complete was very satisfying, and similarly, as challenging as the terrorist hunt game mode was, it was similarly entertaining to make use of an operator’s loadout to see what advantages I had in a particular map. However, I’m unlikely to buy Rainbow Six Siege simply because I’m more of a solo player (more similar to TheRadBrad than LevelCap or Matimi0): I enjoy exploring game worlds and working on my own to complete objectives. I’m well aware that teamwork and cooperation is critical, but during my downtime, much as how I prefer my entertainment to not engage my thinking centres as extensively as my work would, I prefer exploring and figuring things out on my own in game worlds, given that it’s a change of pace from the real world.

Valkyria Chronicles: Passing the game’s halfway point

“All right, we’re set to begin. Good luck!” —Captain Varrot

The same evening the Calgary Flames fell to the Anaheim Ducks during the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I found my previous strategies were inconsequential against the Batomys, a behemoth of a tank encountered during the seventh chapter. Subsequent attempts to best it also failed, and the timely release of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood resulted in my setting Valkyria Chronicles aside. I returned some nine months later, armed with a renewed resolve to burn the Batomys and continue on in the game. However, before we get to that point, the last post I did on Valkyria Chronicles was back in late April (and the screenshots are dated in March); since then, I’d recaptured the Great Vasel Bridge in Operation Cloudburst, captured the Imperial Base at the Battle of Kloden Forest and finished the first mission in the Barious Desert. Up until this point, Valkyria Chronicles is reasonably straightforwards, but once Maxmillian rolls the Batomys into the seventh chapter, things suddenly take a turn for the challenging. My early strategy of wiping the guns out failed, and so, on my second attempt, I used the snipers and scouts to quickly dispatch enemy infantry in the north-east edge. Subsequently, I spent all my command points to blow away the Batomys’ secondary guns and managed to knock out two of its radiators. By this point, Selveria made her first appearance and promptly massacred any of my units out in the open, forcing me to use the Edelweiss as mobile cover. I eventually boxed Selveria into a corner (the Edelweiss is invulnerable to her attacks, unlike the anime), and a concerted bombardment soon took out the Batomys to end this mission.

Subsequent missions follow Alicia and Welken after they get separated from Squad 7, and after they reunite, Welkin is sent off to a banquet at Randgriz to meet the Princess. She’s kidnapped by government agents, but Squad 7 rescues her. Compared to the average shooter, Valkyria Chronicles has been a most cathartic game so far (even with the intense battle in Barious): while most of the game is centered around each chapter’s battles, the cinematics add substantially towards the world building, and bit by bit, the nature of Gallia’s war with the Imperials is revealed. In contrast to the anime, the members of Squad 7 feel much friendlier and less skeptical of Welkin’s abilities as a commander. Similarly, Rosie’s dislike of Darcsens, though present, is less pronounced. On the Imperial side, while Maximillian’s anime counterpart seems as haughty as his game personality, his generals do not have as menacing a feel to them: I was particularly pleased with the moments that Welkin and Alicia share during their return to the Kloden Wildwoods. Here, they give an Imperial soldier a proper burial after attempting to save him, and later, General Gregor thanks Welkin and Alicia. It stands in stark contrast to what I’d expected from him given his dossier, adding more depth to the game.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I still remember the day I played this mission for the first time in the campaign: it was a Thursday, and during that term, I had classes and a tutorial section to teach in the afternoon. Because progress was moving along reasonably well, I could afford a morning off. About halfway into the morning, I got a phone call asking about the Giant Walkthrough Brain, so I finished the mission and set about making updates to the UI so it’d work with a different screen setup.

  • The Imperial forces in Valkyria Chronicles might be thought of as “agents” in a sense, since they have a set of situations they can exist in (proximity to my forces and their allied forces), a set of values for their internal data (health, inventory, coordinates), a set of actions (move, shoot, switch weapons, retreat) and some sort of decision function mapping their internal data and situation to a particular action.

  • Tanks have a thermal exhaust port radiator that is vulnerable to anti-armour munitions: hitting a tank here will mission-kill it in a single shot, and while initially, lancers are needed to deal this level of damage, with the appropriate orders and equipment later on, other classes can do serious damage to armour provided they hit the radiator.

  • The classes in Valkyria Chronicles start out as being well-balanced for the most part; scouts have a massive range of movement but carry weak weapons, while shocktroopers have limited movement but utilise automatic weapons that can counter other shocktroopers. Lancers, engineers and snipers have more dedicated roles and are useful in fewer situations, while the Edelweiss costs two command points per turn and is not an overwhelming asset.

  • Conversely, once the classes begin leveling up, the scouts become the superior choice for most operations: their underbarrel grenade launchers confer exceptional firepower, and orders can confer status boosts that further increase their effectiveness. Consider that I’m able to now beat this mission in skirmish mode using only one scout and one lancer on a single turn, using the characters reasonably expected of someone whose reached the game’s halfway point.

  • While the Imperial forces satisfy the general definition for an agent, they do not appear to exhibit any complex cooperative behaviour and instead, appear to converge on a local optimum as far as countering the player goes. Knowing these limitations does make some missions easier, and there are cases where the enemy forces will be unable to make an effective move, ending their turn quite quickly.

  • The Edelweiss is actually not particularly useful as an antipersonnel asset, and instead, I’ve found that its greatest utility is to act as a mobile shield: it is capable of repelling most small arms fire and even Selveria’s Valkyrur lance cannot do too much against it. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me, given that her power in cutscenes and the anime appear several orders of magnitude greater, but for this, I am grateful.

  • The snipers are a curious class: unlike the snipers of a traditional FPS, whether or not the sniper’s shots hit in Valkyria Chronicles is determined by probability based on level and weapon attributes. They’re a tricky class to utilise but for the most part, snipers excel at long range engagements; I typically field them to pick off enemy lancers or place them in a counter-sniping role.

  • The artwork in Valkyria Chronicles is charming and well-suited for the game’s atmospherics, making use of gentle watercolours in conjunction with simple but clean 3D graphical assets to create the game world. While it would have been nice if some high-resolution textures were available, news has reached my ears that a remastered version will be released at some point in the future, so that could be quite interesting to check out.

  • During the missions, enemy aces may be found, and dispatching them will unlock Imperial weapons for the player to use. These weapons are generally inferior to the Gallian weapons on the virtue of having inferior accuracy; even though they hit harder, I prefer weapons with more precision, and so far, have spent most of my research points on increasing weapon accuracy.

  • From what the documentation reads, ranks (correspondingly, experience points) are conferred on the sole basis of number of turns taken, so hypothetically, one could adopt an extreme strategy that allows them to complete a level with the minimal number of turns at the expense of their forces. This brings to mind the application of a learning multi-agent system that was once entered in a contest to design an optimal naval fleet, and the algorithm’s result (a group of kamikazi boats) managed to defeat every other entry.

  • Thus, while Valkyria Chronicles rewards expedience over everything else, there is a bit of fun in figuring out how to effectively use one’s assets to eliminate all of the enemy elements on the map. During the first of the desert missions, I capitalised on shocktroopers to keep my tank safe, and utilised the scouts to quickly capture the enemy base.

  • Each of the turrets on the Batomys requires three rounds to take out from an non-augmented lancer or the Edelweiss. I found the best trick in this mission was to eliminate all the foot-mobiles first, and subsequently pound each of the guns to oblivion. Shooting at the debris on the map is said to help slow the Batomys down, but the main reason one should do so is because the Batomys will fire its main cannon, exposing three radiator openings.

  • Dumping a proton torpedo down the thermal exhaust shaft hand grenade down the exposed radiator plate will cripple the Batomys, and after all three radiators are destroyed, the tank becomes vulnerable to anti-armour munitions at last. However, things become more complicated after Selveria and some Imperial reinforcements arrive.

  • Selveria can be seen in this image’s right-hand side: if I were to move any closer, my characters would be eliminated in a matter of seconds. I lost half my units in this manner, and while I was able to extract them from combat, it cost me several turns to do so. Eventually, I boxed Selveria in between the cliff wall and ruins using the Edelwiess, which answered her threat and allowed me to finish the mission.

  • I made use of Largo to fire the killing blow that would finally end what was the toughest mission in Valkyria Chronicles up until this point. Fortunately, once the Batomys is immobilised and Selveria is blocked from moving (she’s invulnerable to any craft the player possesses), making use of the remaining command points and a full squad of lancers will finally stop this behemoth, and for me, lead to the completion of a mission I had slept on for eight months.

  • The eighth chapter’s first mission is a relatively simple one: the goal is to get Alicia and Welken away from the mortars to a safe zone. Although Alicia starts out with an ankle injury, plants along their path will help Alicia regain her endurance. Although Alicia might be injured, her aim is still true: in conjunction with Welkin taking point, the pair will make it to the level’s end without too much difficulty.

  • The trickiest part of the mission is on the third turn: a shocktrooper and scout will be present just around the corner, and their weapons will tear Welkin or Alicia apart. Instead, both should be positioned strategically so that the shocktrooper’s shots wind up hitting nearby trees, and a few carefully aimed rifle rounds will put both the shocktrooper and scout away. The remainder of the mission thus becomes relatively straightforwards.

  • During the second mission of the eighth chapter, the first priority will be to get Alicia and Welkin back to the Edelweiss. Once this is done, the mission becomes trivially easy: the lancers can be picked off, and the Edelwiess must then be moved forwards after one uses their own lancers to destroy enemy armour. I lost of my units and had one scout left, but a bit of persistence allowed me to bring the scout up to the base after it had been broken down using the Edelweiss.

  • Lacking the “Damage boost” and “Demolitions” boost orders, I was unable to complete the ninth mission in one go, but still managed to beat it in four turns to earn an A-rank. Reading Week affords me some breathing room, and given that today was quite productive, there might be a few openings here and there to finish the upcoming posts. Looking ahead, I’ve heard that Anthem of the Heart (Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda) will be releasing on BD/DVD on March 30, so a review will probably be written shortly after I check that out.

Looking forwards, I’ve now the remaining half to complete. After reaching the tenth chapter, my scouts are elite status now, and my shocktroopers are approaching level eleven, as well. I imagine that the game will only get tougher from here on out, but faced with the prospect of wielding Alicia as a Valkyrur and unlocking the order that activates potentials, things do look to be quite exciting. Given that the missions are the sort of thing that will necessitate sitting down with a fair bit of time, I’ll progress through Valkyria Chronicles at my own pace. With that being said, while I probably won’t finish this game in the next half-year, I do promise to finish before, say, when Half-Life 3 or Girls und Panzer Der Film is released (in fact, I wager that the former will come out before the latter, given the latter’s secrecy on the matter). On an unrelated remark, there was another post at this blog titled “Valkyria Chronicles: At the halfway point“, and it even had the same slug. I only just realised that and have since modified the title so it reads slightly differently. Looking back, I never really expected to have the opportunity to play Valkyria Chronicles for myself, but here we are at present.