Valkyria Chronicles is one of those true cult classics in gaming, a title that everyone knows about but few have played because of its limited run on store shelves during the PlayStation 3 days. Even the more accessible Remastered edition for the PS4 is difficult to track down, but the series has a loyal legion of fans who hope that more games make their way to Western shores. When Sega announced Valkyria Revolution, many fans were subsequently upset by the jarring change from the tactical RPG of Chronicles to a more action-RPG style, leading Sega to emphasize the game as a spin-off rather than a continuation of the Chronicles series.
Unfortunately, as the first major release for consoles since Chronicles, Valkyria Revolution just doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessors. As a spinoff, some of the tactical elements remain, but it is rather bare-bones in comparison to the rest of the series. The game also takes place during the Industrial Revolution instead of a World War 2 setting and follows a wholly different narrative structure that, while intriguing on paper, is squandered in practice.
The game stars Amleth Grønkjær, the captain of the Anti-Valkyria Squad Vandragrad, as he and his rag-tag squad fight to take down the Empire of Ruz during the liberation of the small country of Jutland. Amleth, however, has an ulterior motive, as he is part of a “circle of five” that is manipulating the war for personal means. The entire game is predicated on the flashbacks conducted by two historians, discussing how this “circle of five” became known as traitors to Jutland for their actions during the Revolution. Amleth must also contend with Princess Ophelia of Jutland, who joins the squad but is suspicious of Amleth’s motivations as the war begins to drag out.
On the surface, the premise is a winner, offering a lot of political and personal intrigue set along the backdrop of the rich lore that has been established in the Valkyria series. The problem is the presentation of the entire narrative, which is sorely lacking throughout Revolution. Most of the characters are relatively bland and have cliched traits that present a “form” of personality. Save for a few moments here or there that grow the characters both in terms of narrative and gameplay, most of them ultimately don’t go beyond these designated personality traits, some of them bordering on annoyance. You have the veteran drunkard, the foppish aristocrat, the lazy girl, and the teenage valley girl all a part of the cast. Save for the two leads and a few other secondary characters, none of your squad mates are terribly interesting in the end and offer “comic relief” that is too jarring of a tonal shift to really justify.
The presentation problems don’t end there, as the visuals and cinematics are frankly not up to par. Graphically the game is beautiful to look at, utilizing the new Gouache rendering engine that gives the world a painted-like style. The problem lies with the animations, or I should say the lack of animations. Major characters move very little in cutscenes, often just standing around and making small hand gestures to simulate different emotions. Background characters are worse, to the point where their mouths are always closed even when talking. Cutscenes are also drawn out affairs, interspaced between uncomfortably long loading screens, meaning a lot of your play time is going though awkward scene transitions that are boring to look at. It gets to the point where skipping cutscenes is a viable option just to move the game forward, losing out on some story beats just to improve flow.
It is a shame too, as a lot of the best parts in Valkyria Revolution don’t focus on the character interaction between the squad, but rather the war at large between the various countries in Europa. Themes of death, duty, honor, and love are present throughout the narrative, as is the cost of war and the slow, mental breakdown some of the characters go through is brilliant storytelling. The story doesn’t pull its punches; characters do die, sometimes in grand, heroic ways, and sometimes in the most disturbing, detached way possible. It may be a tad heavy-handed, but when the story focuses on the cost of war and the actions of the circle of five, the game is pretty good.
Unfortunately, getting to those story beats in Valkyria Revolution is extremely tedious. The spine of the game is simple, action-RPG combat; conduct a bunch of various mission types, from attacking to defending to infiltrating enemy camps, cities, and bases, and beat them back at every turn, sometimes with a time limit. The squad has many tools at their disposal to aid them, from guns to grenades to the use of magicite, elemental abilities that offer different types of effects. Characters are also divided into four different classes, although unlike the Chronicles games characters can’t change their classes.
The action is often quick, but rote. For example, one button press executes a string of attacks, so you will be spending more time aiming your strikes than creating combos. The flow of battle is also simple, depending on your mission type, and there is a bit of tactical variety when it comes to your options. Going against tanks is much easier if you use electrical grenades and anti-tank launchers, while submachine guns and smoke grenades can give you a major advantage against hordes of enemy troops.
The game is sadly too shallow to fully utilize these tactical options. Often, the best move is to simply throw a grenade at a bunch of enemies to thin them out, and do cleanup with your normal attacks. The flow of battle tends to favor the player; the more bases you take and enemies you defeat on a mission, the more attacks you can make on the battlefield. This really tips the balance and makes the game exploitable in cases where you can spam attack spells without much fear of losing time or taking damage.
The combat becomes quick and deadly in short bursts but uninspiring in the long run. Valkyria Revolution's difficulty scales up fast, meaning a decent amount of grinding in between story missions is necessary to keep up with the stronger enemy forces. The game is rather short overall, clocking in at about 30 hours with 12 chapters to play through, but feels unnecessarily padded due to the repetitiveness of the grinding. It leads to a bland experience, spamming what works instead of using a lot of the tactical choices provided to you. Couple this with the load times and the criminally low number of in-game maps, the combat of Revolution falls flat completely to what you would expect from a Valkyria title.
The music is a major highlight, with famed composer Yasunori Mitsuda offering a fine collection of orchestral marches, subdued soliloquies and cheerful tunes throughout the adventure. Sadly, the music is the only good part about the game's sound design, as sound effects are stock, forgettable, and out of sync with the cutscenes. Another problem is the voice-over work. The game offers both Japanese and English tracks, but the English voice cast ranges from adequate to poor throughout the game. Japanese voice-overs fare a bit better but often come across as over the top for some characters. While the dub is uneven, due to the framing and sheer glut of cutscenes during some stretches of the game it might be the way to go for a first playthrough, but it is ultimately the player's choice in the end.
Valkyria Revolution has so much potential to it. It's world setting is detailed and engaging, and the political maneuvering showcased what the game could be if it took more risks. It's unfortunate that the character interactions and terrible presentation lead it to be more boring than engaging, combined with the combat's eventual repetitiveness. The overall experience makes me want to play Valkyria Chronicles instead, making Revolution hard to recommend, save for the most hardcore RPG fans out there.
Valkyria Chronicles was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by SEGA. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation Vita.
Valkyria Revolution has so much potential to it but the character interactions and terrible presentation lead it to be more boring than engaging.
- Excellent Premise...
- Good World Building...
- Excellent Music....
- ...with Poor Presentation Throughout.
- ...but Terrible Character Interactions.
- ...Shabby Voice Acting and Sound Design.
- Boring Gameplay
- Excessive Load Times and Cutscenes