OnlySP Favorite Games 26 - Valkyria Chronicles
Editorial

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #26—Valkyria Chronicles

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.

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