Friday, June 26, 2009

REVIEW - Valkyria Chronicles DLC

There's no girl like an omnipotent magical girl.

I know, I know. You didn't buy it. But if you fancy yourself a gamer, you're very likely already aware of Valkyria Chronicles. You know there's a manga and animated series based on it in Japan (neither of which, funnily enough, manage to recapture the aesthetic of a game that successfully styles itself as a manga that happens to be animated). You know that it garnered more critical acclaim than any other JRPG on the high-def consoles, and you surely know that - going on averages - you didn't purchase it. But for the sake of discussion, let's pretend you did.

As a proud owner of the game, chances are good you've played it to Hell and back and are more than a little curious about the three (seemingly pricy) DLC packs that recently appeared on the PSN. Fear not, fellow gamer, my wallet and I are here to serve, and offer sage counsel.

The short version is the easy version: if you like Valkyria Chronicles, rest assured you will enjoy more Valkyria Chronicles. In other news, I have discovered water to be shockingly moist.

The Edy Detachment.
If there's one thing the Japanese understand, it's fan service. If the fans want it, the Japanese want to give it to them - check out Disgaea 3's DLC, look up the term "beach episode" or play Act IV of Metal Gear Solid 4 and tell me I'm wrong.

The Edy Detachment, the smallest of the DLC packs, is a single missions that takes about 90 minutes to struggle through on your first attempt - and it's pure fan service. Sure it has 4 different endings based on performance, but the major selling point isn't the replay value - it's the characters. Each of the 50 Gallian soldiers at your disposal in Valkyria Chronicles have unique personalities and traits, and The Edy Detachment offers up a new mission (on an old map) populated by the most colorful, the most interesting soldiers in the game. In other words, they took a half-dozen fan-favorites and gave them a single mission and mini-story to emote their way through, so you can find yourself charmed all over again by the standoffish Marina and hilarious Jann (John DiMaggio doing his finest flamboyantly gay tough guy).

It unlocks no new content for the main game, but offers a closer look at some of your favorite ancillary characters. It's challenging, and fun to spend more time with minor characters you have a soft spot for, but it's not particularly robust.

Behind Her Blue Flame.
One of the surprisingly strong points of Valkyria Chronicles was its brutal depiction of war and willingness to show players on all sides of the conflict as human. Not all of the "good guys" are, in fact, good - and many of the "bad guys" are admirable, honorable, and likable.

So it's no surprise that in another glorious spasm of fan-pleasure, the most impressive piece of VC DLC features the game's titular valkyrie General waging war against the Gallian Army's greatest douchebag, General Damon. Not only is it a pleasure to finally beat the crap out of Damon, it's wonderful to spend more time with the mysterious Selvaria Bles. Though not as deeply affecting as the core game, this DLC takes a closer look at the greatest warrior of Valkyria Chronicles and shows her to be a thoughtful, empathetic and sensitive creature (with ancient supernatural powers).

The fact that half of her content must be unlocked also requires the same perfection of strategy that the core game tries to draw out of you. You won't see everything if you simply meet the requirements for beating a mission - you have to blitz the missions and get the A rank, or meet an undisclosed objective.

Only one of her missions compares in difficulty to Edy's (and keeping in mind, you never really know how to beat a mission until a mission has beaten you, several times), but it took me better than eight hours to completely explore Behind Her Blue Flame. One arguable caveat aside, Selvaria's mission pack is the best bang for your DLC buck.

Hard EX Mode.
That caveat is the hard-core glass-munchin' Wookie-punchin' toughest-jerk-in-the-room part of the DLC.

Playing VC's nine skirmish battles on Hard mode isn't just "hard" - it's the Rubik's Cube from Hell. You don't attempt these mighty tasks for the reward of experience points - like a game of golf, your only true opponent is yourself. That little voice in the back of your mind that peers up at a seemingly un-scalable obstacle and knows it can be done. And not just completed - not just defeated - but perfected. It's that whispering voice that drives you ever forward into the wee hours of the night, chanting the mantra "but what if I try it this way..?"

The Hard EX Mode DLC adds a fourth difficulty level to the skirmishes with Expert, boasting redesigned layouts and the terrifying absence of your one ace in the hole - your tank - this is the biggest bang for your buck. This is the Mount Everest of Valkyria Chronicles - it's there, if you dare to climb it - and I can't imagine the monstrous intellect that could overcome the nine Expert skirmishes inside of twenty hours.

For $4.99, that is one heck of a deal - if you're Wookie-punchin'-tough enough. All combined, the three Valkyria Chronicles DLC packs are a good value for fifteen bucks. Edy's mission doesn't stand quite as squarely on its own two feet as Behind Her Blue Flame, but along with Hard EX Mode the total package is exactly what Sega set out to deliver: a service to the fans.

-a closer look at some of the more interesting characters
-the new hard mode really lives up to its name
-it's more Valkyria Chronicles

-Edy's content is pretty limited

Well worth the price of admission.

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