valkyria rev­o­lu­tion

The RPG that’s DOA

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Paul Tay­lor

Chances are you’ve never heard of the Valkyria series, as this is the first time it’s ap­peared on Xbox de­spite its decade-long his­tory on PlayS­ta­tion. With­out giv­ing too much ammo to the Old En­emy, the orig­i­nal RPG Valkyria Chron­i­cles is well-revered, a fan­tas­tic take on slower-paced but no-less in­tel­li­gent, tac­ti­cal games of its kind. You may have al­ready seen that this spin-off is noth­ing short of an ut­ter dis­as­ter. Sorry about that.

First im­pres­sions are aw­ful and strug­gle to im­prove from there. An open­ing cutscene that lays the ground­work for a war be­tween two na­tions – that’s the ‘rev­o­lu­tion’ y’see – lasts for an en­ergy-sap­ping 20-some­thing min­utes. It is pep­pered with load­ing in­ter­sti­tials, a con­found­ing amount of char­ac­ters and themes, all pre­sented with the aplomb of a pri­mary-school pro­duc­tion of Trainspot­ting. You’d be lucky if sub­se­quent cutscenes last for less than five min­utes at a time.

At the heart of Valkyria Rev­o­lu­tion is a tale about re­venge and an en­ergy cri­sis that threat­ens to choke the na­tion of Jut­land, all set in an al­ter­nate Europe. Think late 19th cen­tury Ger­many with a twist of alchemy and walk­ing bat­tle tanks; it proves to be the game’s pin­na­cle con­ceit. At the tip of the spear is Am­leth Grønkjær, the hero bat­tling the evil Ruzi em­pire, though he and his four friends aren’t nec­es­sar­ily act­ing in the na­tion’s best in­ter­ests.

Cut away the bloat and the story has hooks and a set­ting filled with ro­man­ti­cism, though your squad­mates and their sac­cha­rine anime ve­neer tick ev­ery trope and stereo­type go­ing, sab­o­tag­ing any emo­tional in­vest­ment.

If the cast makes it hard to feel en­gaged, the way each bat­tle sys­tem is in­tro­duced and im­ple­mented is ob­fus­cat­ing. Valkyria Rev­o­lu­tion strad­dles both real-time and turn­based com­bat, where the amount of at­tacks you can launch are dic­tated by a re­fill­ing time gauge. You give sim­ple or­ders to your squad­mates, and mas­ter­ing the en­vi­ron­ment on the bat­tle­field to de­sign sur­prise or flank­ing at­tacks is key.

Re­stricted fire­power

Melee at­tacks are your de­fault, but ri­fles, bazookas and grenades are a strong pil­lar, even if ammo is ex­tremely limited. Ele­men­tal at­tacks amend the dam­age you dole out, and equip­ping your squad­mates with the best suited to the job is com­pli­cated by their per­son­al­i­ties. Some are scared of the dark, oth­ers have al­ler­gies, or are en­cour­aged when their health is above a cer­tain per­cent­age (or vice versa). Th­ese ‘Po­ten­tials’ can pos­i­tively – or

neg­a­tively – af­fect fel­low fight­ers, and manag­ing it all takes con­cen­tra­tion.

You might only find out about th­ese char­ac­ter­is­tics out­side of bat­tle when wan­der­ing through the hub town, eaves­drop­ping on con­ver­sa­tions or talk­ing to the right towns­peo­ple. The con­cept’s been done be­fore in the Chron­i­cles games, though it’s clunky here, re­quir­ing pa­tience to wade through masses of text.

Stack it all up and there’s a deep well of ideas and sys­tems. Ele­men­tal at­tacks, craft­ing gear and weaponry, item ac­qui­si­tion – it’s ex­haust­ing. Com­pare this to the best RPGs and Valkyria Rev­o­lu­tion strug­gles to im­ple­ment ev­ery­thing in a co­he­sive man­ner. You’re not re­ally taught how some of the sys­tems work, and while you may not want your hand held, the process is any­thing but in­tu­itive.

In bat­tle it’s gen­er­ally fine to let your squad splinter off. They’re not the most in­tel­li­gent bunch, oc­ca­sion­ally run­ning straight into and out of a skir­mish, but they’re sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive, leav­ing you to won­der if the cover sys­tem is worth wor­ry­ing about (not re­ally) or if the load­out you care­fully crafted had any in­flu­ence what­so­ever on the fight (un­likely). From there all that’s left is to keep an eye on the mini-map that points you to the next clus­ter you have to whack be­fore tack­ling the boss.

Save the cracks

The screen­shots hint at a game that’s pret­tier static than it is in mo­tion. While the back­drops are gor­geous and the or­ches­tral score rous­ing, char­ac­ters have lit­tle weight and flit around hap­haz­ardly. Their con­stant quips rapidly wear thin.

The game’s also poorly op­ti­mised, with fre­quent, jar­ring load­ing screens and a non-ex­is­tent auto save. Once you’ve started a cutscene it’s best to hang on un­til the bit­ter end as you can’t skim read your way through – it’s all or noth­ing, and they ac­count for the bulk of the en­tire pack­age.

We can’t go so far to say that Valkyria Rev­o­lu­tion is ‘fine for peo­ple who like this sort of thing’ be­cause it’s not good enough. It feels like the de­vel­op­ers had a set of ideas and couldn’t stick to them for what­ever rea­son, ap­pro­pri­ated a few of the best sys­tems from the other Valkyr­ias, and wound up here. Some bat­tles, it seems, are destined to be lost.

“Stack it all up and there’s a deep well of ideas and sys­tems” Vil­lag e peo­ple In be­tween each bat­tle you head back to Jut­land to wan­der the streets, re­stock your ammo and sup­plies, and get your team in order. Apart from ad­mir­ing the won­der­ful back­drops, it’s also an op­por­tu­nity to get an idea of how your ac­tions are af­fect­ing the small but re­silient na­tion, for better or worse. It’s an in­ter­est­ing idea, and one we’d like to see re­peated with more so­phis­ti­ca­tion and a smarter script.

far left It looks stun­ning in the stills, but once you get mov­ing the char­ac­ters have lit­tle pres­ence. Left Get a good rhythm go­ing and you’ll strike lit­eral fear into op­po­nents, mak­ing them easy tar­gets.

Right That’s the plum­mouthed Princess Ophe­lia, who fights with a big stick. Not very royal at all, is it?

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