PAX 08: Valkyria Chronicles
Sega’s booth at PAX this year was a display I confess I made a beeline for as soon as we hit the floor. Valkyria Chronicles, released in Japan this April, is finally nearing a localized release. It’s a game that is better than the sum of its parts – a mix between classic turn-based strategy RPGs and modern action games. The demo I played featured a non-story related skirmish between a troupe of the main characters and some menacing Imperial soldiers. After getting the hang of the controls, I got cracking.
The first thing that displays during a battle is the Map screen. On this simple chart, a layout of the battlefield is shown with small circles representing different units. Your own units are in blue, and all units have a symbol that designates what kind of soldier they are. I got to play around with scouts, snipers, some shock troopers, and a tank. There are also lancers; soldiers wielding large missile launchers shaped like medieval lances that operate similarly to bazookas – useful against enemy vehicles. Once the player selects a unit, they zoom in and take control of them in real-time, shifting to an over-the-shoulder view. Units can be moved all over the place, but once their energy gauge is drained, they have to stop. Units with less firepower can move fast over great distances: For example, scouts are equipped with a basic bolt-action rifle and can cover lots of terrain, whereas my shock troopers could only move a few yards, thanks to the weight of their machine guns. Once a unit is in a desired place, pressing R1 brings up the aiming interface, which works like any standard third-person shooter. Using the left analog stick to aim, and the d-pad to fine tune the shot, pressing X actually initiates the shot. Basically, we’ve gone from strategy game to action game to turn based RPG in a matter of minutes. It works well, and I was tearing up the battle in no time.
The strategy element also carries over to character development. Each character in your army has a unique personality, and their quirks can affect their performance in battle. Some characters, I was told, hate sand, so deploying them in an arid environment would decrease their overall performance for that level. Death is also a major factor in the game – if a character falls in battle, the player must send another unit over to them (or ‘go over there and tap her’ as my enthusiastic demonstrator put it – take that how you will) to summon a medic. Beware, though; because if a character dies on the field too many times, they’re gone for good. Considering that I managed to lose a soldier in a basic skirmish, the challenge could be pretty steep, but apparently possible to master. I was told after I finished the mission in five turns (using units depletes command points, run out of these and your turn is over) that some people had been finishing it in one.
The graphics are another part of what makes Valkyria Chronicles so unique. Not just another anime-style RPG, Chronicles features a soft color palette with sketchy characters and shadows that really bring it to life. Strategy games can often feel clinical; Valkyria simply bursts at the seams with style. The animation is fluid, the characters are expressive, and effects like gunshots and explosions are accented with amusing “kapow!” and “rat-a-ta-a-ta!” popups. The personality shines through, and it looks just as unique as it plays. Valkyria Chronicles ships soon – I was told early November – and it looks like it will be a fantastic PS3 exclusive. Finally!