Valkyria Revolution Review – A Gameplay Revolution?
Platforms: PS Vita, Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed)
Release: 27th June 2017 (NA) / 30th June 2017 (EU)
Oh, how I loved Valkyria Chronicles, when I first picked the PC-version up in 2015. Not often I´ve seen a game featuring a rich story, full of character, as well as an unique and hard turn based combat. So, after all these years SEGA finally revives the Valkyria series, however, in a quite surprising way. Valkyria Revolution abandons nearly every gameplay element, replacing it through a new half turn based, action combat-system … can this combination work?
(Story-spoilers might be present to a certain degree)
Unlike Chronicles, Valkyria Revolution doesn´t take place in the 20th century, telling about the conflict of two giant world powers and a little land in between. Instead its story is set nearly 100 years before its predecessor, in an Europa dominated by the Ruzi Empire. After it conquered dozens of countries under their tyranny, Ruzi´s emperor set it sight on the little country Jutland. By constructing a commercial blockade with the big countries, which fear the power of Ruzi´s Valkyrie, Jutland is on the brink of death. In this mist of power, tyranny and fear, five friends (or should I say traitors) begin to put their plan of getting revenge on the Ruzi into action, forcing Jutland in a desperate liberation war, a Revolution if you will. Ruzi took Amleth, Fritte, Solomon, Violette and Basil the only mother they ever had and now the Emperor, along his four Grand Generals, need to atone for that.
We´re experiencing Jutland´s last resort of liberation through the eyes of Amleth Gronkjaer, captain of Jutland´s Anti Valkyria Squad. As part of said traitors, who pull the strings behind the war, due to their achieved positions, Valkyria Revolution wants to give us the needed insight, to understand their feelings, situation and struggle of sacrificing hundreds of men for their revenge.
Surprisingly, the entire main plot is told by cutscenes, rather than Visual Novel style conversations, and believe me, it has quite a lot to tell. During the first hours, cutscene sequences which lasted longer than ~5-30 minutes weren´t a rarity. Unfortunately, most of them aren´t particularly interesting designed, often presenting some characters facing each other, while playing their voice tracks, lacking great, clear facial expressions, as well as animations or diverse camera movements. A downside of using an engine, primarily made for a japanese action game. Surely, a more streamlined way of presenting itself, just a sometimes clunky looking one, eventually resulting in some boring, minute long conversations. The englisch voice acting definetly helps at getting the message across, even when you´re not looking at the screen tho.
Especially because we rarely see anything of the actual war, like gunfights, dying soldiers, you know, some brutal, honest war. For a plot, revolving completely around said armored conflict and impact, we see surprisingly few of it. Sure, some dialogues may refer to deaths, losses, pain or suffering, we just don´t see much. Considering the huge fear towards the name giving Valkyrie, able to kill hundreds in an instant or certain battles, described as massacres, we can´t get a feeling for the war itself. Yet, it also has some great moments, main events involving the Valkyria in particular feature some great camera movement, animations and effects.
One of the main reasons for the lacking focus on the war is Valkyria Revolution´s ambitious goal of characterizing the traitors, Jutland´s princess Ophelia, Ruzi and various side characters in a proper manner. While seeing the inner conflict of the five traitors becoming more and more evident, forcing them to question their doings, Ophelia´s pure, honest heart acts as a contrast to all the horrible, unfair things happening during the war. Interestingly, a lot of my initial concerns, that it will develop into a cliché clustered story, were removed, the closer I came to its end. Particularly because a majority of its plots evolved in a very honest, harsh way, only fitting for the dark story, or ended their cliché-y set-up in some unexpected ways. Most of Valkyria Revolution´s truly interesting character developments like the one described above are just unraveled very late into the game.
At the beginning the game just spends too much time setting up every single character, conflict, problem and mystery, flooding the first hours with cutscenes, presenting initial clichés to us. On the other hand Valkyria Revolution´s courage when it comes to consequences is quite remarkable. As known, a hero story can only work if there are actual consequences and development. Normally japanese games often fall short in this area, offering a very light weight story for a dark theme, not here tho. Besides the quite huge character developments, it´s also strong enough to even kill members of the main/side cast, to deliver its message. Sadly, big parts of the side casts, like the rest of our squad, which aren´t necessary for the plot, fall very short, only offering flat personalities, that evolve into pretty much nothing.
As previously mentioned, Valkyria Revolution also makes quite a lot different in the gameplay-department, basically abandoning everything known from Chronicles. Gone are things like round based gun fights, replaced by a real-time action combat, only regulated by the speed your attack gauge is filling up. Where we had to plan how we move, take cover, attack and study the map in Chronicles, we´re mostly charging at enemy positions head on. Due to the fact, that we can block/dodge without sacrificing our action gauge, our main weapons being swords instead of guns (which now became secondary ones) an aggressive, fast, heads-on playstyle is heavily desired, both by the game and us.
Through the big changes in combat, enemies had to be adapted too, weakening them in every aspect, sacrificing the fear we felt towards every sole enemy. Obviously, Sega tried to extremely streamline the combat, transforming Valkyria Revolution into a game, that lets you chop down dozens of enemies with ease. Severed from the bounds of tactical, round based combat, every new encounter lets us lose our respect towards enemies, in order to grant us a feeling of power, comparable to Koei Tecmo´s Musou series, combined with some tactical possibilities, left from Chronicles.
You heard right, Valkyria Revolution also tries to still deliver some sort of tactical depth in its revamped action-combat. On the one hand we can choose between a wide array of different weapons, like snipers, machine guns, specialized rocket launchers and different grenades. In combination with the huge amount of abilities, granting us buffs, healing or plain additional damage, character classes and cover mechanic, it would be possible to set up some neat little ambushes, traps or tactics, the smarter you play. Sadly, in practice, Valkyria Revolution´s design works against this plan, because of two fatal flaws.
The cause of all problems Valkyria Revolution´s gameplay has to face are both, its difficulty and team AI. Honestly, I often struggled in Chronicles on normal difficulty, beating certain missions, making me wonder how well Valkyria Revolution might go then. After some hours however, I noticed how easy this game actually is, on its highest difficulty Normal (ye, there´s no hard), my first death only occurred during my 10th hour (On Easy, it´s basically impossible to die). No enemies, especially the grunts or light tanks, have enough power to deal significant damage, as long as you’re in their level range, there´s just no reason to play smart, if you can easily smack your way through regardless.
Boss fights on the other hand gain their difficulty solely by their insane amounts of health, combos and one-hit attacks, which can easily kill your whole team, if you´re careless, transforming them in pretty lengthy sequences. Particularly because we have to restart every mission from minute 1, if we die at a fight, even if it´s a boss, a quite frustrating system when certain bosses can easily one hit you.
The state of war, which is displayed as a bar on top of the screen, symbolizes our morale and progress in the battle, influencing the speed our action gauge refills and when enemies are most likely to get stunned. As a consequence, the longer a battle lasts, the easier it gets, allowing us to attack faster and faster, while blocking the enemy attacks.
One of its promising features, destructible tank/machine parts, sounded really cool as well, reminding me of Toukiden 2´s combat, where you could chop off a monster arms etc, that only regenerate after some minutes. Unfortunately, the promising idea quickly lost its meaning when I saw, that a destroyed part only stuns the machine for a short time, before its fully functional again. It would have been so awesome if you would have been able, to chop a tank´s legs off, bringing it down and dismantling it one after another, none of that´s possible. As a result, every encounter feels like hitting bullet sponges or targeted hitting of the enemies weak spot (often reachable without destroying their parts), which only become remarkable foes very late into the game.
Secondary, even if Valkyria Revolution would be a hard game, I highly doubt it would be possible to effectively set ambushes or tactics with the provided AI. Even tho they´re able to use their assigned abilities in a proper manner, focusing on healing abilities as a healer or attacks as a carry, its whole movement basically consists of storming the enemy, no matter what. To effectively make use of every mechanic, we would need to control every one fo the four guys at the same time. Additionally, I even encountered situations, where they got stuck in a tank or died by climbing a ladder over and over again, in order to get shot by the enemy on top.
What remains is a Musou-inspired combat, mixed up by a bigger range of possibilities, making it a really fun action game, if you like hitting some big bullet sponges, but came never even near to Chronicle´s tactical depth.
Progressing in its story, feels very similar to Chronicles and mostly unchanged, still offering us a map with story and side missions scattered on our territories. Every mission has an assigned level, recommended to finish it, forcing us to complete some side missions, before coming to the fun parts. Luckily, grinding isn´t nearly as persistent as in other games, often I either completed only 1-2 side ones or none and got through the whole story with ease, except some steeper level curves towards the end. Considering how generic the side missions are in their core, being nothing more than battles against the same enemies on the same maps, it´s definetly a good thing, that we don´t have to play too much of them. This repetition can also be found in the story missions, since they´re mostly normal battles in new maps, without much diversity in design, with battles fought in an everlasting smoke being the biggest change you can get, making it necessary to truly like the combat, to have fun with Valkyria Revolution.
Between the missions, we have access to our hub world, where we can buy or craft new equipment, buy medicines, new ragnites to gain new special moves and upgrade our weapons. Most of the things should be pretty self explaining, yet, weapon-upgrading is kinda unique. During the game we´ll collect all sorts of ragnite stones, our special attacks/abilities basically, which we can then assign to our squad, once they meet the required elemental level. To both, strengthen our members and raise their different elemental levels, to equip them with more powerful stones, we have to upgrade each of their weapons, by spending unused ragnite stones on them. A great way to recycle old or unfitting abilities but forcing us to concentrate on certain members because we won´t be able to level-up everyone equally.
Valkyria Revolution is a beautiful looking game too, featuring a new engine, specifically made for the game. On the one hand, Chronicles very distinctive “history-book”-flair can be observed here as well, just in a weaker form. Combined with the quite sharp character models, their quite good facial expressions for a japanese game, swift animations, cool effects in certain cutscenes and the heavy use of the colour Blue in main events, come together to form a really neat looking JRPG (or because I love blue). Surely, terrain textures, draw distances, heavy recylcing of enemy models and a lot of the environments show, that it was released on the Vita in Japan, limiting both storage and available compute power during development.
If it would only have a smooth performance, unfortunately, it suffers from a lot, significant frame drops, as soon as you begin to cast more than 2-3 abilities or perform too many actions, even going down into the 20fps-mark. Still, it´s a game, knowing how it wants to present itself and it succeeds at it. The Soundtrack in particular also has great tracks, like the main theme, the song of the Valkyria or Ophelia´s song, being some of the few songs, that feature great vocals, giving it a unique spin, most of them repeat themselves a bit too often for my taste tho.
Overall, Valkyria Revolution is definitely not a perfect game, suffering from flaws in nearly every aspect of it. Be it the war story, which shows surprisingly few brutality, the low difficulty, lack of tactical depth, enemy repetition, overload of cutscenes, in order to characterize its huge cast, or the many frame drops and mediocre AI. In comparison to Valkyria Chronicles it falls short in a lot of ways, even tho it wasn´t a perfect game either.
Nevertheless, it never wanted to be a successor to Chronicles, there´s a reason why it takes place in another time, Valkyria Revolution wants to be a new, different kind of Valkyria, a more streamlined one. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed every aspect of Sega´s attempt at reviving this series. I had as much fun with the Musou inspired gameplay as with the Warriors-series, especially because it throws some new, unique things and depth into the mix. All in all, the story might had its lengthy sequences, problems and missed opportunities, however, it evolves into a damn fine character driven, dark plot about revenge, struggle, pain and more, later one.
Valkyria Chronicles may not nail every aspect, yet it absolutely nails the core ones, providing a fast, action-rich combat, that kept me playing during my 30 hours of playtime, a story, that becomes better and better throughout the game, a unique visual presentation and great artstyle. As a result, Valkyria Chronicles is truly, a damn fine JRPG, that has the courage to do new, great things.
[A Review Code was provided by Koch Media]