Valkyria Revo­lu­tion

PS4, Vita, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES -

There’s noth­ing wrong with want­ing to rein­vent a beloved se­ries. The his­tory of games is stud­ded with spin-offs and re­vamps that worked, in many cases chang­ing things for the bet­ter. But even the welloiled pro­pa­ganda ma­chine at the heart of this pon­der­ous war story would strug­gle to put a pos­i­tive spin on this par­tic­u­lar trans­for­ma­tion. Valkyria Revo­lu­tion doesn’t de­serve crit­i­cism for at­tempt­ing to di­verge from its for­mula, for throw­ing out the smart tac­ti­cal com­bat of its pre­de­ces­sors, or for re­vis­ing the orig­i­nal’s dis­tinc­tive pen-and-wash style. It’s not a dis­ap­point­ment be­cause it’s dif­fer­ent, but be­cause the changes it makes are al­most ex­clu­sively for the worse.

The story is seem­ingly founded upon a to­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of what made the first game such a cult favourite, be­liev­ing that a sur­feit of backstory and ex­po­si­tion makes for en­gag­ing nar­ra­tive. It squan­ders a promis­ing setup which oc­ca­sion­ally threat­ens to be­come more in­trigu­ing, as the king­dom of Jut­land en­ters into con­flict with the vast and pow­er­ful Ruzi em­pire, in a so-called Lib­er­a­tion War en­gi­neered by a co­terie of five young peo­ple who have ma­noeu­vred their way into po­si­tions of in­flu­ence. This is in­ter­spersed with a dis­cus­sion, 100 years on, be­tween two aca­demics. As a fram­ing de­vice, this soon proves trou­ble­some, not only since it re­veals the out­come of the war and the fate of sev­eral key char­ac­ters, but also be­cause it means events are of­ten ex­plained twice over.

That might be less of a prob­lem if the pace was snap­pier. But if Chron­i­cles’ cutscenes could have used a trim, Revo­lu­tion’s ex­am­i­na­tion of war makes Tol­stoy look like a novella writer. Scenes of al­most far­ci­cal length fol­low one an­other, book­ended – and some­times in­ter­rupted – by waits so fre­quent that the words ‘Now Load­ing’ in the bot­tom-right of the screen come to feel like the game’s un­of­fi­cial logo. The box blurb likens these story se­quences to ‘mov­ing paint­ings’, which is gen­er­ous in the ex­treme. The gouache-on-can­vas art style feels less an aes­thetic choice so much as an op­por­tu­nity to pa­per over some ob­vi­ous vis­ual cracks. And the scenes them­selves are so static and sparsely an­i­mated that at times you’ll strug­gle to work out who’s talk­ing dur­ing group dis­cus­sions, es­pe­cially since the speaker of­ten has their back to the cam­era.

Bud­getary con­straints can only partly ac­count for such life­less­ness. Limp di­rec­tion and dull per­for­mances don’t help, but the present-day se­quences are te­dious back-and-forth where key de­vel­op­ments are re­stated. Else­where, in the pokey meet­ing place of the so-called Five Traitors, this quin­tet of schemers sim­ply stands around a ta­ble ex­plain­ing the plot in in­ter­minable de­tail. The whole thing is slathered in JRPG cliché, epit­o­mised by pro­tag­o­nist Am­leth, a sullen or­phan with a par­o­d­i­cally over­sized sword and an out­fit that seems to have more belts in ev­ery suc­ces­sive cutscene.

Even­tu­ally, con­trol will be handed back to you, usu­ally when there’s a new coun­try to lib­er­ate – at which point your party of four steps onto the bat­tle­field and any faint hope that the ac­tion might com­pen­sate for the story’s flaws quickly evap­o­rates. It’s an awk­ward hodge­podge, com­bin­ing re­al­time com­bat with Ac­tive Time el­e­ments and the op­tion to pause to launch spe­cial at­tacks or com­mand friendly units. You can guard and roll at the push of a but­ton, but the brief cooldown be­tween at­tacks, along with the canned multi-hit an­i­ma­tion that plays out when you tap X, means it’s wholly un­sat­is­fy­ing as an ac­tion game, like a Mu­sou ti­tle with a slug­gish, halt­ing rhythm. Yet its strate­gic side doesn’t re­ally work ei­ther. If you want to launch a grenade or a vol­ley of ma­chine­gun fire, you’ll have to pause and aim, the de­lay es­sen­tially let­ting you get in a free shot, since op­po­nents will re­main frozen in time. But though grenades are handy for deal­ing with a group of grunts with min­i­mal fuss, and guns for lone en­e­mies in watch­tow­ers, they’re fee­ble against larger ad­ver­saries, so you’ll end up re­ly­ing on your group’s mana-in­fused weapon skills. Here, it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of dis­cov­er­ing a unit’s el­e­men­tal weak­ness and ex­ploit­ing it, switch­ing con­trol to which­ever party mem­ber can deal the most dam­age in the quick­est time. Or, you can sim­ply wade in with your most pow­er­ful fighter and mash the at­tack but­ton, duck­ing out just be­fore a tele­graphed area at­tack is trig­gered, and re­peat­ing un­til it fi­nally drops.

De­spite a range of ways to ap­par­ently in­flu­ence your team­mates’ bat­tle roles, the sui­ci­dally dumb AI will con­stantly blun­der into dan­ger. Half-hearted cover and stealth sys­tems are ren­dered use­less by your al­lies’ gorm­less keen­ness to waltz into open ground. Giv­ing them spe­cific com­mands dur­ing com­bat is long-winded and en­tirely un­nec­es­sary when you can just as­sume di­rect con­trol, though the sol­dier from whom you switched will in­vari­ably opt to stand im­me­di­ately ad­ja­cent to the enemy as it winds up for its most pow­er­ful at­tack. Since re­viv­ing a team­mate is as sim­ple as trot­ting over to where they fell and press­ing a but­ton, the game’s most fear­some an­tag­o­nists don’t so much take thought to beat as time, as you joy­lessly chip away at their an­noy­ingly long health bars.

Mean­while, with a struc­ture that de­mands you re­visit ear­lier lev­els to push back the Ruzi forces, your party will gain ex­pe­ri­ence that all but negates the need to fuss over the in­cre­men­tal boosts from gear and weapon up­grades. It’s yet an­other poorly thought-out sys­tem in a game with plenty of ideas but no clue of how to make them co­a­lesce. The re­sult is a tire­some slog that proves the first ca­su­alty of war is not in­no­cence, but brevity. Valkyria De­vo­lu­tion might have been a more hon­est ti­tle.

The words ‘Now Load­ing’ in the bot­tom-right of the screen come to feel like the game’s un­of­fi­cial logo

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