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Editorial

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #26—Valkyria Chronicles

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At OnlySP we share a lot; a love of single-player and an appreciation for the intricate art of games, naturally. But we also each have unique tastes and preferences within the single player space—so thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.

At one a week, this will take a year to complete, and they will not all be in order either! So without further ado, let us continue by joining Damien for a uniquely inspirational tactics-RPG. I’ll be back at the end with some other great tactics games you can try.

Thanks, Mitchell.

#26. VALKYRIA CHRONICLES, by Damien Lawardorn

Welkin Gunther. Alicia Melchiott. Isara Gunther. Rosie Stark. Largo Potter. Surely, these names are etched across the hearts and souls of gamers across the world.

Valkyria Chronicles is a game of rare personality, and this trait manifests most strongly through its characters. Individuals often take a backseat in the story of strategy games, which instead focus on intrigues and the struggle against the external threat, but Sega humanised war in a way that few developers had done before or have since.

The adversarial Imperial Alliance is much more than a faceless threat; its leader, Maximilian, is a Hitlerian figure, in equal measure charismatic and psychotic. His generals Jaeger and Gregor are similarly unsettling presences, but none are quite as fearsome as Selvaria Bles, the blue-haired witch perhaps most synonymous with the game. The Imperial infantry is not treated with the same care and attention, but it need not be. Though the actions of the leaders are often evil, the individuals are not; they are deeply flawed human beings, and the sympathy that players almost inevitably feel for them extends also to the footsoldiers.

Therefore, unlike most wargames, Valkyria Chronicles offers little pleasure through the killing of grunts.

This narrative design paves the way for a stunning example of emotional confluence. Torn between the duties of a commander and the nature of a pacifist, players forge an innate connection to the protagonist, Welkin Gunther.

Welkin is a pure soul. Players first meet him by a burbling stream, drawing natural scenes in a notebook. After being taken prisoner for expected espionage, he soon proves his loyalty to his hometown of Bruhl and the wider nation of Gallia, which, in concert with his tactical brilliance, leads to him being assigned as a squad leader in the militia. He performs with aplomb in this role, but his love of nature and life in general is a recurring trait that keeps him grounded and human, while most game characters in similar situations become nothing more than cardboard cut-outs.

This attention to reinforcing character traits throughout the game extends to the entire cast—from Alicia’s kindly, motherly attitude to Largo’s almost unhealthy love of vegetables. Though admirable from a narrative perspective, Valkyria Chronicles truly shines by integrating individual personalities into gameplay. Each of more than 50 squad members possesses a series of personality traits that can either buff or debuff them. These modifiers can activate as a result of the surrounding environment, the presence of other characters nearby, and the status of the individual; they thus reinforce the sense that the soldiers are more than just units—they are living, breathing people, each with unique quirks.

However, to suggest that the Valkyria Chronicles experience could not survive without this motley, magnificent set of characters is folly. The watercolour aesthetic is arresting and as effective in 2018 as it was in 2008. Another charming feature is the way that explosions, gunfire, and other diegetic sounds are emphasised by onomatopoeic bubble text.

Then comes the core gameplay.

Many tactics-based games are open-ended, allowing players to truly manage the battlefield, but Valkyria Chronicles offers a more linear approach. The decision may not sit well with fans of pure strategy, but the tailored approach to mission design still provides ample opportunities for players to learn the ropes and deploy creative solutions to stiff challenges. Furthermore, the rock-paper-scissor balancing between tanks, infantry, and anti-tank units is tinged with brilliance in its simplicity.

By reducing the level of complexity often inherent to games of this ilk, Sega created an experience palatable to a wide audience. Further combining that engaging gameplay with memorable characters and a worthy story ensured the game went on to become a cult favourite and deservedly so. Valkyria Chronicles is nothing short of a masterpiece of the early days of the PlayStation 3, yet remains as enjoyable today as it was when it first hit store shelves.

Damien’s Personal Addendum

I had read much about Valkyria Chronicles on a gaming forum I used to frequent, but was never quite sure how I would feel about it. Firstly, war was not a favoured topic of fiction for me. Secondly, every attempt I had made at playing strategy games until that point had left me cold. Lastly, anime was something I had never been able to get into. Everything suggested that it would not be something for me.

Nevertheless, in early 2010, while on a trip to the city, I picked Valkyria Chronicles up for a bargain price alongside Batman: Arkham Asylum, expecting to love the latter and decide later upon the former. However, flicking through the booklet piqued my curiosity; it described more about the story and gameplay than I had previously known about, and I decided to try Valkyria Chronicles first when I arrived home.

I was immediately enraptured.

The rustic setting of Bruhl resonated with me who had grown up in a similarly rural area, so the devastation being wrought upon it hit hard. Combined with the artistry, the head-in-the-clouds character of Welkin, and the supporting cast, the game’s charm was immeasurable.

Several days and 27 hours of gameplay later, it was over—in the process having become the first game to bring me to tears.

Perhaps inevitably, when I finally returned to Arkham Asylum, I was disappointed; in comparison to the heartfelt journey I had just been on, it felt too grimy and derivative to maintain my interest, and this realisation cemented Valkyria Chronicles a position in my heart as my favourite game to date.

AFTER THE SECOND EUROPAN WAR: Valkyria’s Legacy

The truest indicator of Valkyria Chronicles‘ ongoing impact on games is how its approach to turn-based tactics continues to affect the genre, remaining even more important than western tactics games such as Brothers in Arms or Full Spectrum Warrior.

Going into Valkyria, the best-known names in Japanese tactics-RPGs were Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics (the Disgaea series also serves a niche but fervent fanbase). Even then, Fire Emblem has only seen success in the years since Valkyria Chronicles, perhaps thanks to this title’s enduring status.

If the systems of squad management, buffs and debuffs depending on the positioning of your units, and the anime/war setting of Valkyria appeals to you, Fire Emblem is not too far off—my personal favourite in this old style remains Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, a PlayStation Portable game that is much harder to get your hands these days than Fire Emblem or Disgaea.

After Valkyria Chronicles, however, Firaxis’s excellent XCOM reboot came along and continued to re-popularise turn-based tactics. The XCOM games could not be more tonally different than Valkyria, but they share a cinematic, action-packed presentation that would go even further in the ill-fated Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. and the marvelously successful Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

Of course, the latest and greatest option for those curious about this style of tactics-RPG is the soon-to-be-released Valkyria Chronicles 4, coming September 25 to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. Get on it and let Sega know that tactics fans mean business!

Thanks for joining us for a look at one of the finest tactics-RPG series. Leave a comment with your own underrated RPG, or your impressions of Valkyria Chronicles, and we will join you next week for one of the most recent games on our list, a modern Sony classic.

Single-player games coverage. Every day.

E3 2019

The Winners of E3, According to OnlySP

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E3 2019

The OnlySP team has been rather negative about E3 2019 as a whole, sharing undisguised disappointment about Ninja Theory, Microsoft, and Ubisoft in particular. However, we are gamers first, and the show had plenty to excite, so we wanted to share at least a small ray of positivity by rounding up some of our winners from the past week.

Best AAA Trailer

Cyberpunk 2077

Two of the most anticipated games of 2020 topped the list, with Cyberpunk 2077 just pipping Final Fantasy VII Remake. The trailer was exactly what you want from a major production with the insane amount of hype that Cyberpunk 2077 is enjoying: mystery, emotional story moments, and heart-pounding action.

As if all that is not enough, one of the hottest stars of the moment, Keanu Reeves, was revealed as a cast member.

Doubters were all but silenced, and everyone else was gratified. Even better, we got a release date: April 16, 2020. Could anyone possibly lust for more?

Best Indie Trailer

Tie: Spiritfarer and Way to the Woods

As usual, Microsoft brought the ID@Xbox goods to its E3 stage, and we just could not pick between these two.

On the one hand, the team at Thunder Lotus Games finally unveiled its new project, Spiritfarer. The game brings back the glorious hand-drawn art style that had us falling in love with Jotun and Sundered, marrying to a unique take on the Charon myth. Furthermore, Spiritfarer’s low-key charm and gorgeous watercolour was a perfect counterpoint to Cyberpunk 2077, which preceded it.

On the other hand, Way to the Woods got a sparkling new trailer. The two deer are simply gorgeous, and the bright colours and mellifluous music make the game seems a journey befitting the glory days of thatgamecompany. Simple puzzles, a moving story, an entrancing atmosphere… We just want Way to the Woods on its way to our homes.

Favourite New Game Announcement

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel

E3 2019 had no shortage of enticing new announcements, but nothing was quite so enticing as Nintendo’s “one more thing.” After Breath of the Wild set the world on fire in 2017, a sequel was basically a foregone conclusion. Even so, that brief tease set our hopes alight.

In truth, we know next to nothing about this new project—other than that it is set in the same version of Hyrule as its predecessor and Zelda is rocking a slick new hairstyle—but its mere existence is enough.

Biggest Surprise

Keanu Reeves is in Cyberpunk 2077

I may have already mentioned this, but Keanu Reeves is going to be in Cyberpunk 2077.

If we need to explain more, the world of gaming is familiar with seeing TV and film stars cross over—Kit Harington in Call of Duty, Emma Stone in Sleeping Dogs—but Reeves is a particularly hot property right now.

Moreover, the word is that this is more than just a brief cameo. Reeve’s character, Johnny Silverhand, has been a big part of Cyberpunk lore, and CD Projekt RED reportedly spent 15 days capturing his performance.

Even Watch Dogs: Legion looking as though it is finally going to deliver on the promises of the first game is not enough to beat Keanu.

Favourite Stage Personality

Ikumi Nakamura

Full disclosure: the team picked Keanu, but Keanu can’t win everything, damn it!

Therefore, this award goes to Ikumi Nakamura, protégé of Shinji Mikami, who took the stage during Bethesda’s press conference to reveal Ghostwire: Tokyo. Where most presenters—even developers—are reserved, sharing the soundbites that make the games sound appealing, Nakamura radiated enthusiasm for her project.

Put simply, Nakamura was a ray of sunshine to remind us all that game development is not always about cynicism and monetisation; sometimes, it is about genuine love and passion.

Biggest Winners

Nintendo

With “gamers” one of the options on the list, I thought this category would be a foregone conclusion. However, the outcome proved that adage about what happens when we assume things…

The team voted for Nintendo, and the why is easy enough to understand. A new Legend of Zelda game will always be an event. The addition of Banjo-Kazooie to Super Smash Bros. is a long-overdue coup. Luigi’s Mansion 3 looks better than it has any right to. Meanwhile, Daemon X Machina, Astral Chain, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order all got great new showings, and we officially learned of the arrival of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (among other, slightly less exciting titles) on the Switch.


These winners were all decided by those of us who stayed at home. However, you may have noticed that we had Mike Cripe and Dimitric Edwards on the show floor, so they went hands-on with a bunch of games the rest of us could only gawp at.

Over the coming days and weeks, Mike and Dimitric will be delivering previews of Final Fantasy VII Remake, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and Biomutant, as well as a few interesting interviews, so we’ll have plenty of fresh details for you all to pore over.

First, though, coming tomorrow will be Mike’s hands-off preview of one of the show’s most contentious games: Marvel’s Avengers.

For all those previews and much more from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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