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Valkyria Revolution

Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Media Vision
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Eastern action role-playing games are akin to comfort food, and I love most of them. I donít have to choose between the bizarre-but-undeniable charm of Kingdom Hearts, the diversity of activity in Rogue Galaxy, and the creative nirvana of Dark Cloud 2; I will gladly take it all. When I heard that the Valkyria series (which caught fire in Japan and unfortunately fizzled in the West) was going to receive the same treatment, my imagination ran wild with anticipation. Sadly, Valkyria Revolution has aspirations more along the lines of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, a game I loathe with every fiber of my being. While its sins are nowhere as egregious as those of Square Enixís unwarrantedly celebrated PSP prequel, it is in essence the same thing: a well-intentioned but misguided addition to a memorable universe that not only fails to enrich its source material, but tarnishes it. As a standalone product, Valkyria Revolution is not a bad game. But is it a bad Valkyria game? Yes, unfortunately.

The disparate elements of Valkyria Revolutionís visuals are in extreme opposition with each other. Its artistic sensibilities are pulled wholesale from other games in the series, placing it on the "positive" polar extreme. I wouldnít have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes, but three-dimensional anime characters, bright watercolors, and a filter that lends a sketchbook aesthetic to the proceedings combine to create that distinct Valkyria look.

Revolution depicts a land in the throes of a technological renaissance; steampunk in some ways, and purely industrial in others. Alas, most of the gameís cutscenes (themselves constituting a huge problem with the game as a whole) are fixated on the least-impressive elements of Valkyria Revolutionís visual design. Characters generally operate at two speeds: motionlessly staring off into space with glazed eyes and behaving robotically when itís time to act. Worst of all are the load times: theyíre long, frequent, and often inexplicable.

Valkyria Revolutionís sound design is true to the series for the most part, which is a very good thing. Yasunori Mitsudaís soundtrack approaches the gloriously vertiginous heights of the original last-generation classic, ably preventing it from sinking to the nauseating lows of the worst in the genre. I canít blame the voice cast for the bad writing. Thereís only so much they can do to make these lines sound natural, and the fact that they donít quite get there is by no means their fault. That being said, the ragtags of the Vanargand are content to round the bases of modern Eastern RPG archetypes once and call it a day. So naturally, youíve got your growling, vengeful lead, the spunky youth, the snobby highborn, and as always, the cutesy princess-turned-warrior. Itís a huge step back from the cheerful optimism of Welkin Gunther, the patriotic resolve of Alicia Melchiott, and the simmering, alien intensity of Selvaria Bles. Thereís also an inordinate amount of silence in Valkyria Revolution, which distracted me almost throughout. All these quibbles aside, Iíll admit that the music makes up for my complaints regarding the sound design.


Gameplay:

Consider it something of a blessing that Valkyria Revolution goes to great lengths to remove itself from the main saga. In fact, it actually positions itself as an installment that lies in an alternate timeline. Itís just as well. Certain elements are retained; the continent of Europa, the precious resource known as ragnite, the titular ancient race, and others which Iíll not get into here. All you need to know is that a long time ago, a great war was fought between two nations: Jutland and Ruz. At the center of it were five key figures. Their dubious reputations (theyíre known to modern history enthusiasts as "The Five Traitors") precede them, and since history belongs to the victor, thereís nobody to speak for them. Except, perhaps, the scholarsÖ

When the Ruzhien Empire imposes a blockade on Jutland, sparks begin to fly, and itís not long before the flame of revolution ignites. Itís up to a bunch of characters from Hamlet (at least, individuals bearing several of their names) who comprise the Vanargand, Jutlandís crack team of anti-Valkyrian guerrilla fighters, to drive out the Ruzhiens. However, its leader Amleth GrÝnkjśr has a dark, personal reason for being involved, and his quest for revenge ultimately lies at the center of the war that unfolds, as well as the heart of the story itself.

Valkyria Revolutionís in medias res approach works on a basic level, but fails elsewhere. The narrative gets in the way at every possible opportunity; the plot itself is inherently interesting, but the poor delivery undermines the entire affair. It takes what most games should be able to accomplish in a sentence or two and stretches it out into five to ten minute sermons. Its writing is atrociously redundant. Hereís how it usually goes: a single idea is expressed, then expressed again -- only this time using different words. Another character chimes in to recap, as if anyone with half a functioning brain needs additional clarification. Previous games in the series didnít have this problem; Welkin and Alicia acted like real human beings, not automatons.

Once you actually start playing the game, things fare somewhat better. However, just as Valkyria Revolution marks a departure from the series in terms of storytelling, gameplay conventions are also abandoned. The turn-based tactics of the original series have been forgone in favor of something a bit more immediate. Valkyria Revolution is an action game with some light role-playing and strategy elements. You assume control of one character and proceed through the battlefield as you see fit, executing by the numbers when you can, but also improvising when you must. My feelings on the gameplay are somewhat conflicted; while I find myself enjoying the change of pace, Iím not so keen on the fact that so much depth and nuance has been sacrificed to achieve it. Thereís a certain appeal to games that allow you to just shut your brain off. But since most enemy encounters boil down to the same rote actions, the gameplay just canít quite save the overall package from the ubiquitous pacing and narrative foibles.


Difficulty:

Valkyria Revolution is much easier than the Chronicles games that came before it; ironically, this is both due to and in spite of how it is designed. When it comes down to it, action games are generally far easier than strategy games. Theyíre more about reflexes, learning how certain artificial intelligences function, and poking and prodding until the player discovers what works best in each situation. Strategy games are often buried under layers and layers of interlocking systems that feed into one another; their comparative abstraction can be intimidating, especially in comparison to simply hammering on a single button most of the time.

So Valkyria Revolution is the easiest game in the series by a wide margin, but that doesnít mean itís any less engaging on its own merits. Sure, combat might not have the same manic dancelike flow of Kingdom Hearts II, and it certainly lacks the weighty snap of Final Fantasy XV, but thereís still some appeal to it. But if itís a solid challenge youíre looking for, you probably wonít find it here.


Game Mechanics:

As is most often the case with games of this genre, Valkyria Revolution keeps things simple. The action unfolds in real time until you wish to use an ability or item. Controls are generally solid, and map design is fairly explicit with regards to where you can and canít go and what you can and canít interact with. But interaction in Valkyria Revolution is largely boiled down to a matter of closing distance and hacking your enemies away while they primarily exist to fall to your blades/guns/explosives and feed into your ever-growing experience pool. The melee combat is functional, but not terribly satisfying.

Though you almost always are in command of a squad numbering up to a few extras, Valkyria Revolution doesnít concern itself with the potential dynamics inherent to tactical gameplay. You can issue general orders, but youíll always feel like youíre just flying by the seat of your pants instead of assuming the role of an active tactician. This betrays some of the storytelling trappings and exposes the artificial intelligence as downright idiotic, but it doesnít do too much to hinder the overall experience.

Combat is a matter of hacking, slashing, shooting, and, in a manner of speaking, spellcasting. Thereís a time and place for most of the implements of destruction in your personal repertoire, and within a few hours of play, each one becomes readily and permanently apparent. In most cases, youíll simply approach each group of enemies until youíre either spotted or have the chance to launch an ambush. From there, youíll mainly button-mash your way to victory, though youíll often wish to make use of your other resources, if only to liven up the proceedings ever so slightly.

Character growth places the standard experience/leveling up system at odds with its weapon upgrade mechanics Ė so much to the point where I doubted whether or not I even needed to upgrade my weapons. I suppose it doesnít matter if your sword is a wiffle bat if you swing it at someone with the kind of strength that rivals that of the Incredible Hulk.

Valkyria Revolution attempts to capture the emotions of ordinary people on a battlefield through mechanics, and while it certainly comes across as "gamey," it helps to keep things interesting. After all, emotions are at the core of each and every sortie. The fear that builds in the moments prior to engagement, the adrenaline rush that takes over once the initial fear is broken by the inexorable convergence of each belligerent force, and the panic arising from the disarray of a rout; Revolution capitalizes on this idea to middling effect. When you approach enemy emplacements, you must determine what youíre fighting and in turn what you must do to defeat them. As your enemies fall, their allies become fearful, which in turn impacts how they behave. The problem with this approach is that thereís no diversity of combat solutions. While certain weapons work better in certain situations, the impact they have is often minimal. If youíre aggressive, your enemy will invariably break. And we as human beings have a tendency to go with what works more often than whatís more potentially interesting.

Every time I found myself appreciating Valkyria Revolution, something pushed me away. It just never wants to let go of the reins and let the player have some fun. While its pretty visuals and lovely music are enthralling, its incessant talkiness and comprehensive pacing problems spread out an already-shallow experience to the point where itís almost flavorless in the end. I admire Valkyria Revolution for its ambitions, but the game is not quite worthy of the series to which it belongs.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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