Thoughts On: The Valkyria Chronicles Series

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For this Thoughts On, I wanted to talk about a series that, at first, I didn’t really think much of. I played the first game a year or so ago, reviewed it, and that was it. Only a few weeks ago did I think back to my memories of this franchise and how it really affected me. This usually doesn’t happen a whole lot to me. A game or franchise has to really reel me in to make me reflect on my whole experience with the franchise. I might have only played one game in the franchise, but I have seen a full walkthrough of the second game and did enough research on the third game to see where I personally thought the game stood on its merits. The franchise in question is Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles. While I wouldn’t list this series as a one hit wonder kind of situation, unlike Sega’s other RPG, Skies of Arcadia, Valkyria Chronicles is a franchise I wish Sega would touch upon again. It isn’t like any other franchise or game series I have seen or experienced in my life as a gamer. For this Thoughts On, I am going to tackle this article differently. I will basically set it up like my other Thoughts On articles, but I will talk more about what I would like to see in the franchise if they ever make a new game, and give my opinion as to why the series failed to pick up steam, even though it had four games in the series.

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Now then, let’s begin. I first heard about this franchise through ads, first online, and then on TV. I watched a few reviews of it and I liked a lot of things that the game was offering, but didn’t rent it or buy it since back when it was released, tactical RPG’s were not my cup of tea. I wasn’t much for the strategy genre or its sub-genres, such as the turn-based tactical RPG Vanguard Bandits or Final Fantasy Tactics. In 2012, I then decided to give it a try for my review’s 4-year special. I rented it from Gamefly, put it in my PS3 when I got it, played through about 95% of the game, reviewed it, and that was it. I thought it was a great game with some minor flaws that brought down the experience. I didn’t get to play the two other games due to not having a PSP, but also not really hearing about them at all. It seems like a thing with Sega where they won’t advertise their franchises too much, apart from Sonic. Now, jump to a few weeks ago. I was playing the Project X-Zone demo where I got to play as the main characters from the third game, and seeing their lines and how they interacted with each other after a battle, I began thinking about what I liked about the set-up in the first game besides the fun alternative WWII setting. It might have had the look of an anime-style game, like Namco’s popular Tales series, but it was more than that. The characters in the first game were the farthest thing from the typical anime-inspired RPG characters. They were closer to something you would see in the Studio Ghibli films. They felt more realistic and likable. Sure, some anime tropes appear in the first game, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with those tropes. The first game is just amazing in its story and characters. I am going to skip the second game since, well, I have more to say about the second game later on in this article. The third game had a unique setting with a group of soldiers made of not the usual kind of soldiers you would think. Instead, the team that you follow were filled with characters who did something wrong in their past. They weren’t all criminals, but they did do something that was against the law, and to me, that’s an interesting premise. If there is going to be another game in the series, they should combine the best aspects of both the first and third game in the franchise. Make the story deep, mature, and filled with a small bit of humor here and there, and make sure the characters are likable right off the bat. Don’t fall into the trope of thinking that to appeal to a much bigger audience, you need to drastically change everything. To appeal to a wider audience story-wise, just do what I suggested, and make the story and characters good.

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The gameplay is what really brought me into the franchise. While it was a tactics game, it was more action-oriented, and it didn’t have the same design choices as Suikoden Tactics or the other games I mentioned above. The fields of battle were free to go through, and the characters were not stuck on a grid-like field. Your movements and turns were based around command tokens. Your tank would take two command tokens, and each individual soldier would require one token to move and perform your action. Your soldiers could move around freely, as long as their stamina bar didn’t run out. Each character you had in your army had different jobs. You had scouts, lancers, shock troopers, engineers, and snipers. In my opinion, each class didn’t feel unbalanced, and you needed to have a good mix of each soldier on the field. The sequels further advance the class system, making it more customizable so each soldier was unique. The characters that you recruited didn’t just stop at which character was what class. Each character had certain abilities for the battlefield and they were friends with other characters. It gave the gameplay so much depth. In my opinion, of the tactics games that I have played so far, Valkyria Chronicles has the best combat of that genre. In the next game, I would like to have all of the original classes from the first game, and make the customization streamlined so that you aren’t customizing every single soldier. The subclasses that are found in the sequels should be upgraded versions of the original 5 classes. If they do bring back subclasses, since they have different weapon load-outs, maybe they can just make each of the soldiers have a number of weapon slots so they can carry more than one kind of weapon with them. I just liked having all my ducks in a row, not having to deal with individual things. I would also like the battles to be on one huge map. It made Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3 seem a bit more cluttered with its set of smaller maps, and having to hugely multi-task each individual group of soldiers. Also, get rid of that stupid morale system. I understand why they have it, but with a genre that can already be pretty difficult besides having elements like permanent death for a majority of your characters, we don’t need another layer of tedium if we are getting our butts kicked.

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Graphically, this was another high point for the franchise. Well, maybe the first and third game. Sure, I like graphics that look so realistic that it’s creepy looking, but sometimes it’s fun to see what you can do with an incredibly powerful console and a more cartoon sketch style. The first game on the PS3 was amazing to look at. It is an overall beautiful package in the graphics department. The PSP games tried to keep the same presentation, but of course, they couldn’t, due to the console they were on and, well, the missteps the second game took. The third game definitely has the 2nd best looking art style in all of the four games. The music is amazing. The opening score for the first game was incredible. It was beautiful, soft, and just wonderfully composed. As far as the art style is concerned, if they make a new game, they need to keep the same style as the first game.

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So, where did this series fall flat for me? Well, even though I would highly recommend this series to anyone who is a Sony fan, there are a few things to look out for. The first game had some questionable enemy AI and random spikes in difficulty where you would win one mission easily and then get your bottom handed to you the next. I never liked games that did this because it takes me out of the game, not allowing me to enjoy it as a fluent experience. Games should start out simple and get more challenging as the experience goes on and not just get difficult out of nowhere. However, these little misfires in the first game don’t even remotely ruin the experience. The second game, well, let me be blunt and say that the story and art style sucked. It basically ruined the game for a lot of people. It went through the same ordeal that games like Dragon Age 2 did. The move from likable and non-anime-like characters, to a cliché and forgettable anime school day setting was definitely a huge mistake. Not to say that a school day setting couldn’t work, since we have seen it work in games before, but with how it was handled, it just made it seem like any other anime-styled story. I heard that they changed the setting to broaden the audience, and from what I have seen and read, yeah, it didn’t work. Instead of using the same or similar art style on the PSP, they use a cheaper anime look to the whole package, and you can tell it looks cheap. Even the English voice acting is terrible. I’m sorry to rag on the second game so much, but it was really a terrible move on Sega’s behalf that these changes were made. From what I have seen, Valkyria Chronicle 3’s story is much better, but it still has some of that anime male pandering, which is becoming a bit of an issue to me, personally. The only other reason I could find that maybe is why we aren’t seeing another game in the franchise was a browser game known as Valkyria Chronicles Duels, which is only in Japan. I saw some footage of it and tried to find some images for the game, and once again, found some obnoxious male pandering fan service. I find this an issue because some of the female characters in these games were really well-written, deep, and likable. They then just put them in some NSFW style images, and while it isn’t hentai or hardcore porn levels of pictures, it is still a shame to see some of the better female characters from Japanese gaming in such images.

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Now then, since I got that out of the way, what would I like to see in a future game? Well, while I like the menus and how you get around to the different areas of the HQ, I would like to see the next game give you the ability to actually travel anywhere in the main city or camp, depending on what they do for the setting. The third game also brought in the choice of falling in love with either of the two lead female characters, and maybe they should expand on that and make the world more interactive. Give the player the ability to meet the different recruits face-to-face, give the player the ability to go to the training areas or the research department, and you get the idea. It would just make the story and place you are located in worth more to the player.

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So, does this franchise deserve to keep going? Should we see another game in the franchise? Yes, yes, and more yes. While writing this article, I picked up Valkyria Chronicles for my PS3 and just love it. Not only has it become one of my favorite PS3 games, it is one of my favorite games of all time. You should definitely check out the sequels even if they kind of get ruined by some of the issues I mentioned above. It’s a shame that this series might have the same fate as Sega’s other RPG IP, Skies of Arcadia. I do know that Sega is teasing some kind of Valkyria Chronicles-related announcement in a few days, but who knows what kind of announcement it is going to be. Maybe it’s a new installment. Maybe it’s a confirmed localization of the third game. It could even be an HD collection of the two PSP games using the first game’s engine for the PS3 and Vita. Just take it with a grain of salt, and let’s hope we can one day come back to this game franchise and join the crew of Squad 7.