Tuesday, I was so excited about finishing an amazing game that I might have gone a bit off the rails. I don’t know that I made a cohesive whole out of my experince with the game, and instead spent a lot of words speaking only about the mechanics and portions of cool behind the game, instead of trying to really express my joy with it.
I’m going to try again. Cryx can take a rest for a little bit. its been in the spotlight long enough.
Taking 7 years to complete Valkyria Chronicles is one of the great shames of my gaming career. Clocking in at just under 30 hours, the game was not even particularly long, making the extreme time frame even more egregious. Piling additional shame, I have long touted my rules for gaming, and one of them is complete every game I start. There was, until now, a single gaping hole in my rules. Thankfully, I’ve finished the game, and at no better time. I have Three models to paint up, and then I can delve back into video games with Thea: The Awakening. Its been the year of the Video Game for me, and while I am ashamed I’ve not done more painting, I’ve dedicated more than my fair share of painting time over the years.
I like turn based strategy games. I didn’t know this until recently, and most acutely after finishing this game and wanting more. XCOM whet my appetite, but Valkyria Chronicles really cemented the genre as one of my favorites.
It has the traditional staples – each piece/trooper acts individually with the AI and the player taking turns going through their active turn, and then taking a turn watching the opponent undo all of your hard worked plans.
Chronicles adds a bit of real-time to the game with their system of covering fire. If you walk close enough to certain enemies, who have the weaponry to respond, they will take shots at you as you close. This means that lightly armored troops with low HP have to stay to cover or out of sight, and that heavy armored troops can take to the center of the action.
In keeping with the games amazing visual style, it also does not have a grid system or a way to plot out your moves extremely accurately. Though this can be immensely aggravating, it does give certain plays more risk, and leads you to a more cautious playstyle over all. Nothing is worse than your key scout getting caught in the open, without movement, facing down a tank returning fire.
Something I like in almost every game is consequence. I want my actions and decisions to have in came repercussions – they don’t even have to be large. Chronicles delivers this by allowing, though rarely, permanent death of troopers who have fallen. There are two ways for this to happen. First, and the most likely, is that a trooper is dropped to 0 hit points and taken out of the fight. Their body will then remain on the map. Hopefully, one of your other soldiers can get to them and summon the medic.
However, if the opponent got their first, they would finish off the downed trooper. There will be a cut scene, and they would die in the line of battle.
The other method, simply enough, was to never get a medic to them. After a number of rounds, they would simply bleed out, leaving Squad 7 a member shorter.
Combined together, these choices in game design really gave a real-time feel to the turn based game, and made those heat of the moment actions even more meaningful. If you lose a trooper out in the open, in front of a tank, do you send in one someone to try and summon a medic, or do you leave them there to die? It is not an easy choice, and one you have to make almost every battle until very close to the end of the game.
Keeping me hooked on a game isn’t hard. I pick and choose my games pretty stringently, and I have a pretty strong habit of making sure the game is to my liking before playing. Valkyria Chronicles was on a different level, though. Each mission is unique, if sometimes overlong, with varying victory conditions, troop dispositions, and challenges to overcome. Many of them take multiple iterations to fully understand what is happening, how to play the mission, and where to best deploy and allocate your forces. Finally pulling off the mission you’ve lost 2 or 3 times to while the enemy forces were seeming invincible is a feeling well savored and hard earned.
Additionally, there is, while not a huge quantity, a pretty sizable tech tree to work through. Each weapon for each class (Machine Gun, Rifle, Lance, Sniper Rifle, Grenade, and Flame thrower) have their own trees. Machine Gun was the tree I found most rewarding, for example. The Machine Gun starts out with 20 shots at ~20 damage a shot. As you progress, you can branch down three different paths: Added Effect, Firepower Increase or Increase Clip. Added Effect reduces their attack, with a larger and larger effect as you make it down the tree. Firepower simply does more damage per shot. My favorite, though, is Increased clip. At the end of the tree is a 35 bullet clip, which is amazing. While each individual attack does slightly less damage than Firepower, the combined effect is that you have to be much, much less accurate. I tend to get up close, and shoot them in the face, so it helped towards the end, being able to simply point and get the job done.
The ability to hand-pick your troops each mission made each mission feel like a specific encounter, after the first three tries or so. While Scouts and Shock Troopers seem to be ubiquitous in every mission, the specialists – Lancers, Engineers, and Snipers, seemed to each have their own missions where they shined. As a huge fan of snipers, I really enjoyed when they had these amazing sniper posts out in the middle of an open plain, or above a straight road. It made turn based game that was based on taking down the enemies feel like it had, combined with the return fire and Isara Smoke Shells on the Edelweiss, a very strong control element to it, and I didn’t have to sacrifice effectiveness turn to turn to achieve it.
Finally, the Command Points system was one of the great highlights of the game. With the ability to pick and choose how each of your troops were used, or neglected, on a turn by turn basis made each and every soldier you brought along mean something. I often found myself pushing the limits of my Shock Troopers and Lancers, with their slower moves, to get into position and then use a slew of actions to accomplish one goal or another. This was especially true when it came to snipers, who I would push hard to get to a vantage point and then take shot after shot against enemies in the open. The system feels very similar to another game I thoroughly enjoy, Infinity, which may give it a more favorable impression in my eyes than it would in others.
Not all Great
While there are many aspects of the game that are extremely good, there are a two minor positions that I’ve found to be irritating. While they don’t detract from the experience as a whole, they are clear and constant.
The first, and most minor, is the pacing of the chapters and the seemingly randomness in their presentation. There are three main types of cut scenes: Ones in which you have complete control of the dialogue and it happens in a box at the bottom of the screen, Ones in which you have no control over the dialogue or even action – like traditional FMV’s from typical video games, and then ones in which the styles are mixed. While I understand the differences between the two are to play on the method of the storytelling as a while, it is mildly bothersome to be unsure of what type of cutscene will be coming up next. Is it something I can put down in the middle to address an issue somewhere else in the house, or is it a non-stop cut scene that I’ll have to start over if I don’t stop and pay attention. Again, I know its minor, but its there.
The second problem is one with the gameplay itself. As much as the game is hard and you have to make wise decisions and play well in order to beat each mission, I still feel that the AI was dumb as a brick.
One of the loss conditions of every mission is that the Edelwiess is destroyed. The Edelwiess is a tank, and therefore is extremely vulnerable to backstrikes. A single shot will take it out, if positioned correctly. This is a major flaw for the main character to have, and many times I have seen enemy lancers, with 8 or even 10 orders left in the order pool, run behind the Edelwiess and simply… do nothing. While I enjoy being able to continue on the mission, I really feel that some of those missions were stolen on the sheer idiocy of the game itself.
A similar feeling is pulled from the games snipers, who will often take body shots instead of headshots for the lower risk-reward ratio. Simply taking 2 or 3 actions and ensuring the death of an enemy would be wise. When you get to the end of the game and some of the unique characters you have to fight are absurdly powerful, but they don’t use more than 2 or, on rare occasions three, command points to take out vast swaths of my army. While, once again, I am glad to be able to play the mission longer, I strongly feel that the game gave me those missions.
If you can’t tell, I love this game. I think, for a simple investment of ~30 hours, anyone who likes anime, turn based strategy games, or simply a good story should pick this one up and give it a shot. I know many people already have, and I’m adding my voice to a seven year old chorus at this point, but, unlike many other games, this one is worth it.
Till next week, when I talk about my Cryx World Problems!