When talking about Sega’s contributions to the RPG and strategy genres, Skies Of Arcadia and Sakura Wars are two titles that are bound to enter the conversation – the former’s cult following remains strong to this day, while the latter was a multi-million selling phenomenon in Japan. When members of the teams behind those games got together, they decided to draw upon their previous work to create something new. The result was Valkyria Chronicles.
Wishing to tell a war story inspired by World War Two while including some fantasy elements, the team employed Raita Honjou to come up with character and vehicle designs. To fit with the preferred rustic aesthetic, Honjou opted to include design elements that recalled World War One, particularly in the uniforms of the soldiers. With the intention that the game should appeal to players who wouldn’t normally enjoy war-themed videogames, Valkyria Chronicles was designed to place focus on the characters rather than the violent reality of military conflict. Originally conceived as a much more traditional strategy game, real-time action elements were added to a battle system inspired by Sakura Wars 3 to provide a sense of emotional involvement, dramatically altering the game’s overall dynamics.
Valkyria Chronicles is set in the fictional country of Gallia, during the Second Europan War. Gallia is neutral in the conflict, but its supply of resources causes it to be invaded by the Empire. Taking charge of Squad 7 of the Gallian Militia, a ragtag brigade of characters with their own distinct personalities, your goal is to drive back the Imperials and ensure the freedom of your homeland.
The most immediately striking aspect of Valkyria Chronicles is its unique visual style, which goes beyond the usual cel-shading technique to produce visuals that resemble watercolour paintings. The technical achievement is impressive – as the map zooms out or objects leave the painted area in the centre of the screen, detail is removed until only simple pencil outlines remain. It’s a perfect fit for the game’s take on 20th Century warfare, calling to mind the work of the acclaimed Japanese animation team Studio Ghibli.
But all the visual flair would be worthless if the gameplay didn’t hold up its end of the bargain, and the game doesn’t disappoint here. Valkyria Chronicles plays out through a series of tactical battles, utilising a combination of turn-based and real-time gameplay. Before battle you’ll have to choose squad members, who are divided into five classes, ranging from close-range shocktroopers and long-range snipers to the heavily armoured anti-tank lancers. Getting the right mix is crucial due to the game’s varied terrain and mission objectives – snipers prove their worth in open desert maps, but prove far less useful in dense forests.
When battle begins, players are presented with an overhead tactical map where they can select individual units. This places the camera into a third-person view of your chosen soldier, who can be moved in real-time until their Action Points run out as well as fire once. Complicating matters, while you’re in control of a character the enemy is at liberty to open fire on them. This active element of play provides for some wonderfully tense moments as you decide just how far to charge in before letting loose with your own weapon, balancing the risk of further damage with the possibility of a better aim. It’s also important to consider positioning as you relinquish control, as your soldiers will fire during the enemy’s turn.
Paying attention to your characters makes a difference on the battlefield too, as their individual traits have been worked into the battle system. Take Jann Walker as an example. Being around men enhances his accuracy as he tries to impress them and if he’s around his crush Largo, his attack strength will be increased. He’s also got hayfever, which causes him to lose HP around plant life. If one of your soldiers falls in battle, you’ll have three turns to rescue them before they die. You’ll want to avoid this at all costs – while dead squad members can be replaced, you won’t be able to imagine your squad without your favourite characters.
Why It’s A Future Classic
In an era where the skills of Japanese developers have been called into question on an unprecedented level, Valkyria Chronicles stands out as a fantastic game which couldn’t have originated anywhere else. With its charming artistic style and anime sensibilities, as well as character designs that provide a lesson in imbuing a large cast with a distinct individuality, the game is able to engage players outside of the usual strategy audience.
Despite combining influences from the developer’s previous games, there’s still nothing quite like Valkyria Chronicles’ unique take on turn-based strategy. Marrying an excellent game system with well-designed and varied maps, the game provides epic battles on a grand scale, made all the more memorable by your soldiers and the control you have over them.