The year is the fictional kind of 1935 E.C., and a war has been launched by the Empire. Its target is set on the valuable fuel resource, ragnite, that the neutral nation of Gallia happens to find itself rich in. Now, the small country is forced into a futile fight for survival. With his hometown under siege, the kind and nature loving college student, Welkin, takes up a rifle at the request of a sweet, yet determined young militia girl, Alicia. Vowing to reclaim his home, Welkin assumes role as tank commander and must earn the trust of a militia platoon as he attempts to oust the Empire from Gallia.
Valkyria Chronicles is a David versus Goliath like tale and takes noticeable cues from World War II in its world’s rifles, tanks, uniforms and architecture, as well similar themes found within the narrative itself. It’s all rather juvenile from there, however. In a way this is seems appropriate given the whimsical watercolor look and storybook feel of Valkyria Chronicles, but the dialogue is assuredly heavy handed and unappreciated.
Characters look out from cliff sides and towards sunsets as they recite the evils of war, reaching a level of melodrama only equalled by its other hamfisted interpretations of moral dilemma. One squad member, in such a case, has a pronounced and long winded prejudice for the world’s Jewish like ethnicity. She makes an immediate 180 the moment she sees oppressed members of the downtrodden group coughing in a cabin. It is bewilderingly cliche character development, and honestly, this and other of the game’s Sesame Street skits never quite pulled the heartstrings for me.
Indeed, although you are told to be prepared for an epic story of war, romance and tragedy, a childish drama drama unfolds in its stead. The characters themselves may be young and in their early 20s, but the sheepish and awkward high school dating dynamic the commander and militia girl have going on is hard to stomach. As is Welkin’s ‘genius’ battle plans that include avoiding a well defended bridge by driving his tanks under water. Of course, based sheerly on looks, I was never expecting to campaign with Rommel in Valkyria Chronicles. But while the aesthetics are painted for all ages to appreciate, its cutscenes and premise are decidedly aimed at toddlers.
The dramatic underdogs, Welkin’s troops are considered expendable by the higher ups and so missions are typically daring in scope. In fact, a good number can be won outright but making a B-Line to the target objective and any dangers along the way. This abuse is fun in its own right, but the better designed battles lend the real experience of a turn-based strategy mix of over-the-shoulder volleys. Once you expend some command points to move or fire a unit, the map overlay zooms onto the character herself as the action is taken. Bags of ammunition bounce and rattle on uniforms as soldiers dash across town streets, rifles crack with satisfying power, and richly animated character models take the recoil in turn. It’s a pleasure to control.
It’s not an idle sequence of command and watch, either. Players must manually take aim and heed the measurements of power, distance, accuracy, and headshot placements. Cover is strewn across the battlefield in the form of sandbags and trenches that will reduce these numbers in defense. Be mindful that “sandbags and trenches” are literally the only things that qualify as cover in Valkyria Chronicles. Objects such as trees or slabs of concrete may look viable but they do not register as cover in the game, a cheap oversight for a SRPG so lush in the look of its battlefields.
Back at HQ, recruiting squad members proves a fun process as it features a system called Potentials. These are personality aspects of individuals that can come to their aid or their demise during battle. For example, a soldier that fancies women will gain improved stats when fighting near female squad members, and may also find that his pollen allergies act up around flowers. The Potentials and their many triggers are a clever design but unfortunately not potent enough to give much notice to.
That’s largely because the difficulty not only low but easy to neglect or bully. You can issue commands to the same unit consecutively and handedly destroy a entire sandbag enclosure of soldiers with one Assault unit and her submachine gun, and do so by running right up to their faces. Scouts have the most endurance and will win missions where jogging between enemies and to a quick base capture is ideal. Of course, the enemy A.I. has enough tools to give you a brutal time, but as many Japanese SRPGs tend to operate, they choose to be nonsensical with their resources instead. Or maybe Welkin really is just a genius.
There are still real dangers, but these only threaten the reckless and bored player who is playing too confidently. Enemy troops can return fire and take potshots as you move about the field, and you’ll lose troops rapidly if you make terrible decisions when moving from cover. Tanks also prove intimidating if only the for the fact that losing your own tank, Welkin, will cause instant defeat. Sometimes it’s easy to forget these vulnerabilities when Valkyria Chronicle’s approach to strategy is so illogical and haphazard.
It’s as exploitable as it is charming and dumb as it is intuitive, and while I’d like for Valkyria Chronicles to be a whole lot more, it’s admittedly nice that a clever take on SRPGs exists in such well produced fashion. If you have a fondness for the art style shown and the wild WWII-esque anime universe at play here, I’d dare say that Valkyria Chronicles is hard to put down at first. But it is so head bangingly stupid that by the time it was over I was very eager for it to be so.