Valkyria Chronicles is a turn-based tactical tank warfare game that shows inspiration from Final Fantasy Tactics. The Windows port was a surprise, for me at least. Most console exclusives don’t tend to make their way over if there’s no word within a year or two. This one came six years later.
Being an anime JRPG, it was unsurprisingly foolish and cutscene-heavy to the point of overindulgence at times. There are a couple twists that are very predictable, and a point where it took about five chapters too many for the story to develop in the obvious direction. I also felt that the story’s ethical dilemmas seemed watered down, tame and ridiculous, especially considering the setting, modelled on World War 2, some of the darkest years in modern history. But overall, I enjoyed the story. There were a number of highly likable characters and good voice acting, though in playing with the Japanese audio setting, I was often distracted by numerous and unnecessary liberties taken in the English subtitles.
The control scheme is pretty bad, despite my using a gamepad. The same button will confirm a selection on certain menus and cancel out of others. The select button goes unused, which would’ve been ideal for help text and the minimap. And unsurprisingly, the control settings only let you swap every combined use of a button to another, which is no help at all.
As with too many other Japanese games–like Fire Emblem: Awakening, where I also had a major problem with this–luck plays too big of a role. If I move a unit into range and allocate my action points for an attack, I feel that I’ve done my part and the attack should work. If the unit misses or freaks out for whatever reason, all I’m going to do is load my save and try again, like most players. Each character has various special feats called Potentials, but these are a total roulette wheel that will frustrate players or else make a mission trivial. Instead of whimsically deciding to fully heal my character, they should make that power activate rarely, but reliably, under the right circumstances. For example: Once per battle, this unit is restored to full health if they begin a turn at under 25% of max HP. If things were more rule-oriented, I’d be completely alright with losing the ability to save mid-battle, and the gameplay would become much more interesting.
One thing the game does better than Final Fantasy Tactics is the way it blocks the player’s access to various upgrades until progress has been made in the storyline, but allows players to increase their squad’s levels through repeatable Skirmish battles. If they’re really feeling stuck and are close to levelling up, players can grind a bit. But I found skirmishes too time-consuming to grind on, and stuck to what was probably the expected level for someone going through the story for the first time, and that made things more interesting.
There are a few other issues here and there. Bullets colliding with invisible walls when you’re trying to get a headshot over the top of a fence. Grenades can be very coy about what they’ll hit and whether the damage will be a complete waste of time. Before the start of an encounter, the player is told pretty much nothing in terms of situational information, so they’ll have to reload shortly after starting a mission if they want their team to be appropriately positioned.
It’s also somewhat irritating when the game doesn’t communicate things, such as that a particular tank will only take damage from a lancer, even in its weak spot, whereas it would ordinarily be fine to use infantry with an anti-tank order. When you use up all your AP getting a scout through enemy lines and the game hits you with something like that, all you can do is restart the level and know in advance what you need to bring, and it can feel hostile and pointless.
Ultimately, my main issue with the game is just that it’s somewhat trivial. When it starts out and they introduce you to the tanks and five other classes, it feels like there could be a lot going on, and to some extent, there is–shocktroopers are great for killing units in cover, and good luck if you can’t ever use an engineer to restore ammo. But eventually you’ll find that the best strategy is almost always to use a defense order on your scout and then blitz the objective on the first turn. The game only cares about speed. Despite the movement range penalty, it’s almost always better to use the same unit repeatedly, rather than wasting AP to shuffle your entire army across the map–which is probably why the AI doesn’t seem to want to use the same unit more than twice: so they don’t completely destroy you. It would probably feel a lot more tactically satisfying if a unit could only act twice per turn without using some kind of “act again” order. And if players had to keep a capturing unit alive for a full turn in order to take an enemy base, that’d be good, too.
It’s still a solid game. I love the look of the battle maps, and the mix of turn-based strategy and cover-based shooting as you assume control of units is kinda neat, if awkward at times. It’s got some pretty good ideas, but it’s not the ideal approach to the genre.