Seven years ago, I wrote an article on the community site Bitmob titled Fire Emblem vs. Valkyria Chronicles. Early in the article, I claimed that Valkyria Chronicles is what “Fire Emblem could have been had Intelligent Systems actually cared about moving that franchise foreword.” To be fair, my knowledge of Fire Emblem was limited to the handful of games released in English, and the purpose of the article devolved into expressing my frustration with Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, a thoroughly ugly game with production levels barely above the GBA installments.
I guzzled the Valkyria cool-aid, and happily asked others to take a sip also.
Valkyria Chronicles was unlike anything I played before. It takes influence from the aforementioned Fire Emblem by supplying a small army of men and woman with names and personalities, and then testing my abilities by threatening these soldiers with permanently death. Attacking involves aiming at the enemy and firing, bringing to mind the modern XCOM games.
(In reality, Valkyria precedes XCOM: Enemy Unknown by three years. XCOM developer Fireaxis Games said that Valkyria was one of their inspirations.)
Valkyria Chronicles is a turn-based strategy game with third-person shooter and RPG elements. Players control a wide number of unique characters belonging to a handful of classes, and viewing the battlefield from a top-down perspective. That perspective changes when a character is selected, with the camera descending from on high to behind the chosen soldier to move, heal, repair, and attack. Selecting a character depletes one of a finite number of Command Point medals, and turns end after every medal is gone.
Sequels added new classes and introduced class promotions, as well as removing character death, but the basics remained the same until Valkyria Revolution, releasing in 2017. Revolution ditched the turn-based combat, playing more like a mediocre hack-n-slasher with additional combat options in a failed attempt at superimposing a bit of strategy. As I will elaborate below, Valkyria Revolution was received poorly.
Fortunately, Revolution didn’t kill the Valkyria franchise. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is slated to hit major home consoles in 2018, putting the player in control of Squad E of the Atlantic Federation. With a new Valkyria Chronicles on the horizon, let’s look behind us at the previous games.
War spreads across Europe once more as the East Europan Imperial Alliance, or the Empire, and the western Atlantic Federation fights for control of Ragnite, a blue mineral used as (almost) everything from fuel and grenades to healing items. The Empire gained an early advantage, so they took aim at securing the Ragnite stored beneath the neutral Principality of Gallia. They expected a quick and easy takeover of the small country, unable to comprehend that Gallia could repel the invaders.
This story centers on Welkin Gunther and Alicia Melchiot, leaders of Squad 7 from Gallian Militia’s 3rd Regiment, as they struggle to drive the Empire from their country. Although the plot sounds similar to other strategy games, especially the Fire Emblem franchise, Valkyria Chronicles differentiates itself by viewing the conflict from a small, initially unimportant squad instead of the army’s leaders.
Developed by Sega WOW, a merger of Wow Entertainment and Overworks, Valkyria Chronicles (or “Valkyria of the Battlefield,” the translated Japanese title) bears a stronger resemblance to the latter company’s previous work. Most notably, Overworks worked on the Sakura Wars franchise, a mixture of turn-based strategy and visual novel that remained almost exclusively in Japan. (Only Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love was released in the West. Overworks was not involved with this game.) The developer also created the cult-classic Skies of Arcadia, whose three heroes reappear as playable characters in Valkyria Chronicles.
Unfortunately, Valkyria 1 was destined for obscurity. It released in the West only months after Sony slashed the PlayStation 3’s price by $100, meaning that the console didn’t yet have the userbase it eventually gained. Furthermore, we’re talking about a turn-based strategy game with anime characters, which doesn’t scream “mainstream hit” and makes me wonder what expectations Sega had for Valkyria Chronicles outside Japan.
Regardless, Valkyria Chronicles sold enough that Sega released the sequel in North America and Europe. Sadly, further Sony hardware troubles continued to hurt the franchise.
In 2014, Sega surprised fans by releasing Valkyria Chronicles on Steam. This port bumped up the resolution from 720p to 1080p, along with bundling all downloadable content and adding achievements for the first time. (Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 preceded Trophies, and Sega never patched them in.) The port topped Steam’s download charts within upon release. A PlayStation 4 version, titled Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, dropped in 2016.
VALKYRIA CHRONICLES ANIME – 2009
A 26-episode adaptation by A-1 Pictures was released in 2009. They changed the story somewhat, adding new characters and plot elements, however it’s only available in Japanese. I’m not a fan of the anime, feeling that the changes add little while the art style lacks the beauty and character of the game’s visuals.
In addition, nine “shorts” were also created, featuring the cast in more comical and/or lighthearted situations. Two years later, A-1 Pictures returns to the series to create a two-episode OVA for Valkyria Chronicles 3.
Although Gallia’s involvement in the Second Europan War has concluded, not everyone is thrilled with where the country is heading during the post-war rebuild. Frustrations over a Darcsen in a high-ranking government position led to the creation of the Gallian Revolutionary Army, plunging the country into a racially-motivated civil war.
Meanwhile, hoping to uncover the circumstances around his brother’s mysterious death, Avan Hardins joins Gallia’s prestigious Lanseal Military Academy, finding himself assigned to Class G. As military cadets, Avan and his new friends Cosette and Zeri, along with his fellow students in Class G, are thrown into the fray to fight against the Gallian Revolutionary Army, while Avan searches for the truth about his brother in his downtime.
The first Valkyria Chronicles flirted with the racial tensions towards Darcsens, but making them the focal point of a civil war would allow the developers the opportunity to tell an interesting story. Sadly, that potential is squandered. The plot rarely goes anywhere exciting, while the three main characters are stereotypical anime cliches. Furthermore, setting the story in a school feels like a reaction to the Persona franchise.
But the worst decision was to develop Valkyria Chronicles 2 for PlayStation Portable. To compensate for the drop in technological power, the sizable environments from the original game were replaced by multiple smaller areas. To further worsen things, Valkyria 2 is the easiest game in the franchise, so easily running through the same stages over and over (and over) becomes a chore. And, as expected, PSP Valkyria is a significantly uglier game than PS3 Valkyria. I mean, they try to create an approximation, but it’s like comparing Ocarina of Time to Breath of the Wild.
Yes, Valkyria Chronicles 2 is the worst game in the franchise (excluding Valkyria Revolution), but you could do worse. It’s OK. The digital version is available on PlayStation Network (and playable on PS Vita) for $10, which is the correct price for what you’re getting.
As Squad 7 kicks the Empire out of Gallia, another group of soldiers understakes a different sort of missions. Gallian Army Squad 442 doesn’t officially exist. Composed of criminals and others that the military doesn’t want, these soldiers are erased from official records and sent on missions that the government would rather not acknowledge. That is why Squad 442 is also known as “The Nameless,” and Kurt Irving, a promising soldier from Lanseal Military Academy, is now the reluctant leader.
Kurt is assisted by Riela, the sole survivor of five missions, earning her the nickname “Grim Reaper.” Opposite of her is Imca, a Darcsen fixated on revenge against Selveria, a Valkyria who destroyed her hometown. With his right-hand man Gusurg, Kurt aims to unit the downtrodden Nameless and survive the countless suicide missions to earn his way back into Gallia’s regular army.
Valkyria Chronicles 3: Unrecorded Chronicles returns to the conflict of the original game, but retains most of the changes made in the second game. The difficulty is bumped up, making the smaller locations more of a genuine challenge to conquer while doing a better job at keeping the tedium of traveling across the same areas over and over from arriving too quickly. The second big change is Special Points, distinct from Command Points, used to activate special abilities for Kurt, Reila, and Imca, such as moving three characters at once or launching mortars at every enemies within eyesight. Three Special Points is the max, and they cannot be replenished during missions.
By 2011, PlayStation Portable struggled outside Japan (where Monster Hunter was almost single-handedly keeping the handheld viable). When it became time for Sega to decide whether to released Valkyria 3 in North America and/or Europe, they passed. Later that same year, Sega bundled most downloadable content and a few new missions with the main game and released it as Valkyria Chronicles 3 Extra Edition. That game also remained exclusive to Japan.
Fans outside Japan were eventually able to understand Valkyria 3 when dedicated fans created and released an English language patch for physical and digital copies of the Extra Edition. Although it’s lacking the polish of an official translation, these fans still did a damn good thing. The patch is found here.
Duel is a digital card game featuring the casts of the three Valkyria Chronicles games (and manga). Although it never officially left Japan, those outside the country could still sign-up until the game was discontinued in 2015.
Project X Zone is a weird crossover SRPG developed by Monolith Soft (the Xenoblade Chronicles people) featuring characters owned by Capcom, Bandai Namco, and Sega. These include the three protagonists from Valkyria Chronicles 3, alongside Selveria from the first and third game. They don’t serve any special purpose beyond adding a handful more characters to the already bloated collection of heroes and villains, but this is the only official Western appearance of Kurt, Riela, and Imca, sadly.
Project X Zone 2 does not include any representation from Valkyria Chronicles.
What begins with the Ruzhien Empire economically blockading the smaller country of Jutland grows into conflict between the two nations. The war is fueled by five Jutland citizens, later known as “The Five Traitors,” who desire revenge against Ruzi Emperor Laudiusz. It’s a decent starting point for a potentially excellent story, except your immediately taken out of the fiction thanks to mediocre production values. These include things like weird character models, awkward animation, and bad camera cuts, which makes it almost impossible to become absorbed into the narrative. And yet, cutscenes aren’t the worst part of Valkyria Revolution.
Valkyria Revolutions drops the turn-based strategy gameplay of its predecessors for combat more comparable to Dragon Age 2, except worse. Melee attacks are a boring three-hit animation, while using guns is… what’s the point beyond a little damage from afar? Enemies don’t run for cover when shot at, so there’s little strategic use. Speaking of strategy, it’s obvious that the handful of additional actions, including casting magic (or “alchemy”), is meant to offer more tools to play with, but they feel disjointed and included only because fans complained that Valkyria Revolution’s gameplay isn’t Valkyria Chronicles’ gameplay.
It’s worth noting that I’m nowhere near the end of Valkyria Revolution, so I can’t authoritatively say how much of my complaints remain viable through the credits. Still, given the critical and fan reception, I expect that Valkyria Revolution remains just as rough throughout. If that changes, I will gladly update this with later impressions.
For now, it’s probably best that we forget that this game ever existed.
VALKYRIA CHRONICLES 4
PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, & Xbox One
January 6, 2018: Rewrote almost everything, revamped the Valkyria Revolution section, and added a bit of info about Valkyria Chronicles 4.