The Strategy Role Playing Game genre is one in which most games use a similar battle system. The average SRPG will throw you and your team mates onto a gridded battlefield with the ability to move and attack within a certain number of squares on the grid. Valkyria Chronicles, however, is by no means your average SRPG. The demo, unfortunately, did not touch on the story whatsoever, but from what I have read you take control of a company within the army of Gallia, a small neutral country caught in the middle of the Second Europan War. Your country is soon targeted by the Eastern Europan Imperial Alliance for it's rich resources, and a draft is initiated. I dare not read further, as I may ruin the story for myself since the game is already released in Japan, and therefore will have to stop there.
The visuals are one of the reasons why the game has been so hotly anticipated and the demo does not disappoint. The color pallette of the game is vibrant and beautiful, with visual onomatopoeia (sound effects.....but really how often do I get to use that word?) that give the game a cartoonish quality in stark contrast to the battlefield setting. The cutscenes have a fantastically hand painted quality, with paint strokes clearly visible that make the visuals appear to be jumping right off a canvas. Valkyria is a great example of a game that may not use all of the power of the PS3, but looks beautiful and unique all the same. From an audio standpoint, the music was classically inspired but was relatively forgetful, especially during actual gameplay. The voice overs, however, were exceptional in how they added to the atmosphere of a ragtag group of people all thrown into a regiment in order to try and save their homes. Solely through comments while controlling the characters, I easily came to grips with the personality of each. This really helped the feeling I got of playing a war movie. One in which you cared about the characters, each with their own back story and life to go back to. I truly hope that the story of the full game uses this atmosphere I felt to the fullest, because it could easily become one of my favorites.
The gameplay within the demo amounted to a short tutorial which got you acquainted with moving and attacking with your characters, and a skirmish with some more challenging enemies to really sink your teeth into. Once you are briefed and have placed your troops, you are taken to a map screen showing the general placement of your characters as well as the position of the enemies that you know about. You are then given a certain number of command points, with which you can take over and use specific characters. Ground troops seemed to take a single command point to use, while tanks take double. After you have chosen a character, you zoom into a behind the shoulder view of that unit, and are given full control. Each unit type has a specific amount of distance that they can move (no squares here) and during a turn they can perform a single attack. By pressing "R1" you are put into a first person view through which you pick a target and press "x" to fire. Random chance then dictates where within the cross-hairs' range your attacks fall and damage is dealt accordingly. It's important to note that enemies can and will shoot at you while you move, and also they will counterattack after you are done firing. The strategy is obvious right from the get go, and if you try to just dash in without thinking you'll soon end up dead to a barrage of fire. After you are done with your attack, you find a place to settle, end the character's turn, and zoom back out to the command screen. Command Points can be accumulated for later turns and used on single characters more than once, so their management becomes an important part of the game.
Valkyria Chronicles seems like it could be a fantastic SPRG that should be tried by any RPG fan (even if the thought of strategy seems scary to you). The setting, visuals, and gameplay are unique and worthy of praise even though the unit strength and weaknesses seem to follow a pretty old fashioned rock, paper, scissors format when looked at critically. This is helped by the ability of some characters to carry a few weapon options such as guns and grenades, and therefore change up their attack to adapt. If the story and character customization (always important parts of SRPG) follows the quality of what I have seen, I have no doubt that Valkyria will be a fantastic experience and a must have for any fan of the genre. I eagerly await the title's full release in November, as can be clearly seen by my choice of PS3 wallpaper.
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