Tuesday, August 14, 2018

It only took a decade for Valkyria Chronicles to get an Actual Sequel

Valkyria Chronicles (2008 - PS3)

Let’s start by saying I love Valkyria Chronicles.  A turn-based tactical JRPG where every single one of your troops has a defined personality, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, set in a fictional version of World War II-era Europe (here called “Europa”), where black-haired Darcsens stand in for the Jewish people and weapons of mass destruction are beautiful ladies with glowing hair, brought to life with a remarkable engine that created hand-drawn-looking effects on a moving image – making the game look less like an anime than a manga that started to move.

More than that, I love Valkyria Chronicles in a weird, evangelical way – I made it my Internet Mission for like a year to spread the gospel of VC.  I neededpeople to know about it because I was certain that not enough people did, and they had to see the truth of it.  I still remember, way back in 2008, playing that demo – a demo that released at the exact same time as the BioShock demo for PS3, nestled among major, hugely original fall releases like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space

That demo blew my fucking mind.  I played the BioShock demo twice, and then checked out the one for Valkyria Chronicles.  And then I played it again and again and again and again and again and went to the Penny Arcade forums and was like “okay, have you guys seen this?  Am I crazy for thinking this is absolutely spectacular?”

“No, it’s really damn good, but no one knows about it.”

We have to tell them!”

Valkyria Chronicles remains one of my favorite games of all time.  It’s a war epic, a silly anime, an awesome tactics game and a beautiful, romantic world packed full of charming characters you really grow to love. 

Valkyria Chronicles 2 (2010 - PSP)

I liked Valkyria Chronicles 2 on PSP, but it was not without flaws.  Its story was some inane schlock, compared to the thoughtful PG-rated, character-driven reflections on war that the original game offered.  The maps were tiny, repeated ad nauseam, and the graphics were… a pale reflection of the glorious presentation of the original game.  Valkyria Chronicles 2 was more Valkyria Chronicles, but it didn’t really meet the level of consistent quality of its progenitor.  It was basically Harry Potter: World War II, following a trio of irrepressible youths through their years at a military academy that saw real action.  I didn’t love these characters like I did the OG cast, I didn’t thrill to the presentation and the gameplay… well, the kinda’-real-time-but-basically-a-turn-based-tactical-RPG gameplay remained absolutely wonderful – though some of its new systems for developing your soldiers relied on infuriating random number generated drops. 

Valkyria Chronicles 3, also for the PSP, was never localized in North America, but it at least returned to the somewhat grimmer tone of the first game.  Still, another VC for Sony’s underpowered little handheld was a disappointment.  Would we never get another high-production-value, console release Valkyria Chronicles?

Sega tested the waters to determine the franchise’s sway over the paying public – they re-released the original game on PC via Steam, and remastered it for PS4 and Xbox One (an up-port is also due for Switch, at some point).  Then, they took the franchise out back and shot it in the head by way of Valkyria Revolution, an abysmal action-RPG that currently maintains a Metacritic score of 54

And now, the release of Valkyria Chronicles 4 is upon us.  It’ll drop on September 25th for PS4, Switch, Xbox One and PC, and its demo became available on the Switch around the same time Dead Cells launched.  I’d ignored said demo, in favor of the groovy Rougevania – until last night.  Last night I fought The Hand of the King in Dead Cells, said “fuck this” and turned on the demo for Valkyria Chronicles 4.  And this is what I think of it:

Playing this demo makes me feel… or perhaps reminds me that I've always felt, or perhaps places a megaphone up to the lips of that niggling thought in the back of my mind that we never really got a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time.  Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3 on the PSP weren’t proper sequels.  They were unambitious, safe, cheap-to-produce side-stories that were reflections of that incredible game without ever really offering the same complete package of wonderful production values, rich, high-quality storytelling and world-building, charming characters and chess game tactics that made you feel like a genius when you knocked it out of the park. 

If this demo is any indication, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the sequel to Valkyria Chronicles that I’ve been waiting ten years for – and it is a hell of a demo, compared to the original game’s, which offered (as I recall) a single battle to fight through.  There are a ton of story beats along with four or more big missions in this demo – I haven’t finished it yet! – in addition to skirmishes that you can grind to level up your troops and buy new gear.  Progress carries over to the full game.  

These are all direct-capture screens from my Switch in handheld mode.

Seeing the “PLAYER PHASE” splash come up on the screen with those almost-forgotten but affectionately familiar horns is somehow moving, after this great distance from the original game.  It feels like coming home. 

The heroes, here, aren’t as immediately endearing as the bookish Welkin Gunther and spitfire Alicia Melchiott, but they’re already butting heads and bringing up old wounds and I get the sense I’m going to be quite fond of all of them, by the time we’re done or they’re dead. 

It’s already throwing new, interesting tactics at me – the new Grenadier class has been introduced and put to work solving an otherwise impossible situation, the new squad is already showing a huge amount of character.  There’s a girl Shocktrooper (low-mobility, but has a machine gun) with blond pigtails popping out from beneath a big iron mask she never takes off.  She’s got some issues.  There’s a Scout who gets the job done, but complains every time he’s called upon to do it (he shoots better when surrounded by women), and a middle-aged lady with a bunch of quirks related to motherhood who hates getting dirty, so her defense drops when I make her crawl through tall grass.

The Grenadier character will get post-traumatic flashbacks if a mortar lands near her, lowering her attack power.  It’s been a long, long time, but Valkyria Chronicles finally has a real sequel.  September 25th can’t come soon enough.

Oh, and I don't wanna' suggest that this is gonna' be the bestest most awesomest game evarrr, but there is a refrain I repeated, over and over - an earnest plea, if you will - in 2008 and beyond.  

Try this demo. 

Try this demo. 

Try this demo.  

Please, just try the demo.  You might discover something you never knew was missing.  

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