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Platform(s):Sony Playstation 3
As our gaming systems get more and more powerful, the expectation of "better" graphics goes along with that. Ask 95% of gamers what "better" graphics are, and they'll say that "better" is the same as "realistic", and what they're really asking for is "more realistic" graphics. It's a shame, too, because realistic graphics aren't all that they're cracked up to be. These graphics that try to imitate real life will only look good until something else comes out that looks even more real, then it's hard to go back to the old style.
That leaves developers with an interesting problem; try to look real, and maybe be pretty for a few months, or do something different. Usually, developers run with the pack and go for the realistic graphics, because that's "what the people want." However, when somebody goes against the pack, and manages to not half-ass their presentation, magic can happen. Such is the case with Valkyria Chronicles, the latest tactical RPG from SEGA, of all people.
I would have loved to hear the internal pitch for this game. Whoever had the balls to try and pitch a tactical RPG where everything in the game has a watercolor visual style to it is pretty awesome in my book, and I have to say "thank you." Valkyria Chronicles is pretty much everything I've wanted in a game without me knowing that's what I wanted. The basic "idea" or "theme" behind Valkyria Chronicles is that the entire story of the game is told through a book, "On the Gallian Front." Everything is in the visual style of a children's book, the sections in the game menu are organized into chapters and tabs, and the feel of the story's presentation is that of a novel. It just feels like an artbook come to life.
Visuals aside, how does it play? Well, the only playing you're doing in Valkyria Choronicles is controlling your troops on the battlefield. At the start of every battle, you place up to 10 units of varying classes (Scout, Lancer, Shocktrooper, Sniper, Engineer) on the field, and every round you and the computer take turns moving and attacking. The biggest difference from your standard number-crunching tactical RPG is that there's an element of shooter involved here. Whenever you decide to attack, you go into an aiming mode where you choose where you want to attack. Of course, you can miss your shots and enemies can dodge them. It may not seem like much, but this small addition makes the entire game seem like your strategy is more than just "attack, attack, attack."
Once again going with the storybook theme, Valkyria Chronicles has a story. It actually has lots and lots of story. So much story, in fact, that you'll be watching cutscenes for around fifteen minutes between battles. Compared to Metal Gear Solid, that's nothing bad but on its own, it seems to distract from playing the game. However, battles ALSO can drag on for quite some time; after the first few intro battles, expect to be playing the same level for an hour. It feels contradictory to complain that there's too much story getting in the way of playing, and then next sentence complain that playing the game takes too long, but, my friend, everything in moderation. If they would have had eight minutes of cutscenes and twenty or thirty minutes of battle, that would have been fine, as it is, I can't just pick up and play whenever the fancy strikes; I have to set aside Valkyria Chronicles time.
Valkyria Chronicles is a refreshing, one-of-a-kind game with a few nitpicky problems. It is, by far, the best Tactical RPG that has been released this generation of consoles, and I'd go so far as to say the past two generations. Not since Final Fantasy Tactics have I been so enthralled and in love with a TRPG that I actually think about it and plan my strategies when I'm not playing it. The difficulty can be a little spotty at times, but the game is never unfair. From an RPG snob like myself, I have absolutely no problem recommending Valkyria Chronicles to anybody who is a fan of the genre, or to anybody who wants to learn what it means to love a game.