The RPG that’s DOA
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.
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?