In 2008 Sega scored a surprise hit with Valkyria Chronicles, a beautiful, innovative, and critically-acclaimed strategy RPG set amongst a thinly-veiled anime version of World War II. Since then, Sega has followed up with, well, not a heck of a lot. The publisher quickly released a couple low-budget PSP sequels that failed to make any waves, and then let the once-promising franchise go dormant. Sega’s gotta Sega.
Now, nearly a decade after the original release of Valkyria Chronicles, Sega has finally given the game the full-scale follow up it deserves, although it isn’t a direct sequel. Valkyria Revolution tosses out its predecessor’s distinct setting, finely-tuned tactical gameplay, and fan-favorite characters, which is sure to disappoint the series’ hardened supporters. But hey, pretty much ever Final Fantasy rewrites the book, too. It’s kind of a JRPG tradition. Maybe the Valkyria series needed some new blood?
Is Valkyria Revolution’s new direction a master stroke, or a tactical blunder? Let’s find out…
Valkyria Revolution (Xbox One, PS4 & PS Vita)
As mentioned, Valkyria Revolution casts aside the World War II allusions in favor of an Industrial Revolution era steampunk aesthetic. I assume this was done to skirt any controversy that might come from fictionalizing and softening the tragic events of World War II, although, in some ways, Valkyria Revolution makes the comparisons even more blatant. While Valkyria Chronicles pit the generically-named Atlantic Federation against the Imperial Alliance and largely avoided nationalistic messages, Revolution features a bitter war between Jutland (the Jutes) and the Ruzhien Empire (the Ruzis). Yeah, it’s not exactly subtle.
Valkyria Revolution’s setup is a fairly interesting one. The game follows the deeds of “The Five Traitors,” a group secretly orchestrating a war between Jutland and Ruzhiem so they can gain revenge against the Ruzis for a past injustice. While the Ruzis and generally shown to be nasty customers and deserving of a drubbing, setting a world war in motion to settle personal scores is morally questionable, to say the least. Valkyria Revolution’s main protagonist, Amleth, frequently leads his squad into dangerous situations to pursue his own goals and other members of The Five Traitors have no qualms about bending public opinion with propaganda or seducing the enemy to get secret intel.
Handled properly, Valkyria Revolution could have been a complex tale about the moral compromises people are forced to make in a time of war, but the game badly fumbles a solid premise. The game’s characters are all shallow anime archetypes – the brooding hero, the pompous Romeo, the insecure girl with great hidden power, and so on – and the game’s dialogue is dire. I’m going to assume the latter is largely the fault of the game’s localization, which is PSOne era bad. Nearly every other line features some sort of clunky wording or groan-worthy joke, and it sounds like the voice actors were only given a single take to hit most of their lines.
But hey, maybe you could just ignore Valkyria Revolution’s story and focus on the gameplay? Good luck. I don’t exaggerate when I say Valkyria Revolution is nearly 60 percent cutscenes. It isn’t uncommon to find yourself sitting through a half-hour (or more) of story before finally getting to a mission, which you’ll often beat in 15 or 20 minutes. Oh, and the missions are also packed with additional cutscenes. Maybe Valkyria Revolution’s cutscenes wouldn’t be slapdash if the game’s developers didn’t decide to create 20 hours of them?
Valkyria Revolution is a mixed bag in terms of presentation. The game’s characters fall victim to every stereotypical anime excess -- impossible hair, outfits covered with superfluous buckles and frills, ridiculous cleavage, and weapons bigger than their wielders. That said, Revolution’s environments, meant to resemble impressionist paintings, are often quite nice. The game’s soundtrack, by Chrono Trigger veteran Yasunori Mitsuda, is also suitably epic.
At first, Valkyria Revolution’s gameplay would appear to have a fair amount of depth to it. Yes, the careful turn-based strategy of Valkyria Chronicles has been canned, but you still lead a small squad of customizable characters into battle and can issue them simple commands. In addition to basic hacking and slashing, you can take out enemies with ranged weapons, grenades, or a wide range of magical Ragnite abilities. You can even take cover behind walls and other objects, employ some basic stealth skills, or take advantage of explosive barrels and other environmental elements.
Unfortunately, most of this “depth” is merely for show. Almost all missions can be easily bested by immediately running towards any enemies you see, then pummeling them to death with melee attacks. The game’s guns are pea-shooters and magical attacks deplete limited Ragnite Points, so there’s rarely any incentive to do anything but mindlessly slash away. Level design is also very rudimentary – again, just kill whatever you see. Eventually everybody will be dead and you’ll have won.
The only time Valkyria Revolution presents a challenge is during boss fights against various mechanical monstrosities and the titular Valkyria (all-powerful magical warriors able to turn the tide of war). They will make you sweat, although not for the right reasons. While most rank-and-file enemies can be defeated with three or four quick swipes of your sword, bosses take hundreds, and often turn into tiresome 10-to-15-minute wars of attrition. You can revive fallen squadmates an unlimited amount of times, so your team is rarely in danger of being wiped out. In that sense, bosses aren’t actually that difficult, they’re just a grind.
And woe upon you if you do fall to a boss. Losing during a boss fight means replaying the entire mission leading up to it (thankfully, you can at least skip cutscenes you’ve already seen). Also, perplexingly, if all four of your squad members are knocked out at once, you merely get a “Mission Failed” screen, but if you fail to revive a character within a certain time limit during a battle, they’ll die permanently. Even if the rest of your team is still alive and kicking. You’re punished more for losing a character, but then going on to win with your remaining teammates, than you are for getting totally decimated. What?
And this is how it goes for Valkyria Revolution’s lengthy 30-hour-plus quest. The game’s 10 chapters mostly follow a predictable pattern, and missions never really change. Maps, enemies, and bosses are re-used repeatedly until challenges that were somewhat novel the first couple times around become complete drags. Get ready for some serious war weariness.
It may sound like I hated Valkyria Revolution, but honestly, that isn’t the case. I’ve played a lot of JRPGs in my time, many of dubious quality, and Valkyria Revolution has some shaggy dog appeal to it. The game does have a compelling setup and some solid mechanics, but unfortunately, it squanders them over the course of a longwinded, repetitive campaign. There’s the bones of a successful revamp of the Valkyria series here, but few will have the patience to get past the game’s myriad surface flaws.
If you’re somebody who appreciates niche Japanese games and Dynasty Warriors-style brawlers, Valkyria Revolution may be worth your time if you can find it at a steep discount (which should be easy before long). Everybody else should make peace with the fact that this war probably isn’t for them.
Score: 2 out of 5 stars
This review was based on a PS4 copy of Valkyria Revolution provided by Sega.