Recently I was gifted a PlayStation 3 and a fairly comprehensive catalogue of games which is great for two reasons. Firstly, free games! Secondly by being gifted one it allows me to maintain that the PlayStation 3 never reached a critical mass of games for my tastes that warranted a purchase of the (still) overpriced console. One of the games that was on the shortlist that never reached critical mass was Valkyria Chronicles.
Released in 2008 to generally positive reviews, Valkyria Chronicles is a mix of all the best bits from Advance Wars, Battalion Wars and quirky PlayStation 2 game Ring of Red. It's a 3D turn based strategy game which is a lot of fun with a beautiful art style. Playing games slightly time shifted from the climate in which they were released is interesting. Although I can see the appeal of VC when it came out, having played and loved Fire Emblem: Awakening last year, VC is probably lower in my estimations as there are some great mechanics which should have been in VC but weren't.
To set the scene, it's a fucking turn based strategy war game. If you've ever played one your pants will remain firmly unblown away to discover that; there's a Europe but not Europe, ravaged by war, time of peace, shortage of MacGuffin resource, conquering Imperial force, an unlikely but gutsy crew of spunky teenagers turn out to be brilliant military strategists that fight the Imperial forces whilst growing together as a team. Fine. So far, so blah.
One of the great things about the game is you get to choose the members of various rock/paper/scissor classes that will make up your squad. Pleasingly, it's entirely possible (barring the boring protagonist) to make an all-female squad. However, due to the misogyny still rife in game design, the ludonarrative is dissonanced somewhat by the might of the Empire being continuously thwarted by an all female squad of former singers, dancers, bakers and florists who have an average age of 'just turned 18'.
|The troops on down time. I grew up in a Barracks City and this is definitely what squaddies get up to when they aren't on active duty.|
And here's where the game could have been much better, taking a leaf from the recent Fire Emblem. Aside from the main cast your squad members may be heroes from conflict to conflict but there's nothing to reward player attachment to characters. At the moment, sadistic emo shocktrooper Jane and Irish sniper Catherine have been the backbone of virtually every conflict but aside from an in menu biography generically filling out with use of these characters I feel that their story remains unpreserved. There's no way to see the statistics of individual squad members and classes are leveled up on mass rather than character specifically. Each squad member is recruited with pre-existing character traits, flaws and best buddies which again is a bit jarring seeing as Catherine and Jane have been through some serious scrapes together yet they remain besties with the generic male characters who never got out of basic training.
I'll admit I've been spoiled with Fire Emblem: Awakening, an amazing game that came out five years after VC but I can't help but think the character and relationship development from FE, in VC would have turned a good game into one of the great games of the last generation.