Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Valkyria Chronicles

I have been playing this gorgeous game about 6 hours per day for the past 2 weeks and as much as I am in absolute rapture over the uniqueness and playability of it, I still feel it suffers from some of the usual downsides of games of its genre.

Valkyria Chronicles is Turn-Based Strategy game that excels in substance and style. The art style is blend of anime aesthetics with some artistic use of cell shading and character design. Your squad is made of about 2 dozen unique characters, all with their own personalities, advantages, disadvantages and voice acting. Like Fire Emblem, relationships are fostered amongst your squad, although they are not reliant on you using a turn to cue some boring chat between the characters during gameplay. Instead, each unit can have a connection with up to 3 other units that grant powerful tandem attacks if they are placed next to each other on the battlefield.

"Like Fire Emblem, but fair"
That is the way I have been describing the overall design of VC. Instead of relying on a one strategic method to achieve victory, you are encouraged to think on the fly and create your own scenarios to turn the battle in your favor. There are these amazing moments of realization, where you survey the field and your line of thinking goes something like this:

"Can I do this? Well feasibly, given the design of the game, that would be a unique strategy, and hey, it just might work"
And god damn, when it does work! You feel like Anime Patton!

It is just another example of game where design is implemented into play instead of two different entities. Lazy game making can often occur when a system is in place, and then a actor (the player) is sort of expected to just nominally exist as a slave to the system, with no expectations on using the design that is all ready in place, to create a personal experience. In VC, the system is varied enough that strategy can be implemented in any situtation, and it can be uniquely yours.

I don't want to get into specific gameplay arenas such as leveling up your troops (which you do), enhancing your weapons (ditto) and losing fallen troops in combat (which is there, but forgiving, since you can call a medic to fallen bodies if you reach them before an enemy) because these are all standard parts of the genre. I will say, that I loved the idea that both the defensive and offensive forefront of your squad is your single tank. The versatility of the tank in battle makes the combat experience all the more intruiging. Not only because the concept of the tank as the leading unit fits in so perfectly with the WWII aesthetic, but because it transaltes the emotional weight so evenly into the actual playing of the game. Your tanker can lead the charge by dropping mortar fire in the midst of an opposing camp while your gunners and scouts swoop in to claim it, or he can drop a wide range smoke bomb to allow the faster troops to circle around an enemy and attack from the rear. There is also the ability to issue orders that temporarely enhance the stats of one or all troops, but I found that I rarely used them because layout became my more apparent strategy.

It's a wonderful experience and one of the rare games that I can't step away from for too long without going through withdrawal.

In addition - I almost forgot, but this game bares a really close resemblance to an early PS1 game entitled "Hogs Of War", which had a similar component in regards to phsycially moving your troops and firing manually. It had a really odd concept about oinkers playing cultural stereotypes from around the world and had the same class based gameplay as VC. I don't if anyone is aware of this game, but the similarites are truly apparent.

Friday, March 13, 2009