As I have clearly stated in the title, this review is late. Three years late to be precise. However, I felt that I should make a review of this game due to a few simple reasons.
To begin, I saw that there had been no review on this game yet, and therefore I wouldn't be beating a dead horse with a stick by bringing it up. Secondly, I feel that this game doesn't get the recognition it deserves, especially in the light of other JRPGs like Final Fantasy. Finally, I hope that this review may be able to get a few things off my chest about this game, that I have been unable to vent properly elsewhere.
To kick off this review, I'll start with the plot and setting. The whole thing is set in an alternate 1930's esque Europe which is originally called Europa (good naming choice there, Japan). In Europa, two major superpowers are at war with one another over a fictional mineral that can do anything (and I do mean anything, from medicine to energy production) called Ragnite. The two powers are called the Atlantic Federation (Allied powers) and the Autocratic East Europan Imperial Alliance (Think Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary with a bit of Third Reich thrown into the mix).
In between these two powers is a small, neutral country called Gallia (which is a bizaare amaglam of Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and Finland). Gallia is invaded by the Empire, due to its strategic location and bountiful stores of ragnite. This invasion sparks the whole main plot of the game, where the Gallian army drives the Empire out thanks to the efforts of the rag-tag group of anime fighters.
The main characters are your standard fare for a JRPG with the smart, pretty boy, ace tank commander and his plucky love interest being the ones that get the most focus. The commander quickly proves himself to be extremely adept at his job and gains much prestige and causes the Empire massive losses. But soon a bunch of supernatural bullshit gets going which involves the Valkyrur (a group of people with amazing, Ragnite based powers) and the Imperial prince's plan to herness their power. This ties into one of the minor story arcs about discrimination, but there will be more on that later. Eventually the prince does get this power and it culminates into a big final battle where the heros win and the Empire loses. Once again, very standard for a JRPG.
However, this game stood out for me despite all of its standard JRPG roots. For one thing, the visual style is quite amazing (in my mind at least). The game's visuals, both in cutscene and gameplay, are reminiscent of a watercolor painting that has been animated. This creates a very interesting effect. However, the visual style can also be a detriment to the game, through its choice of a very bright color palette. The grim, emotionally charged scenes of the war torn land lost some of their gravity, solely from the bright and cheery colors.
Another point of the game that got me in a good mood was the decent dubbed voice acting. JRPGs have a bit of a reputation for only being good in the original Japanese, with the dubbed acting being cheesy and stilted. Valkyria Chronicles managed to dodge this by having the voice actors give a good performance, that even managed to be quite gripping at times.
Now the gameplay is a bit hit or miss, and relies a lot on how much you like turn based strategy and party building. To begin, you must create a squad of 20 that you handpick from an ever expanding list of recruits, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The recruits fall into 5 classes, which need to be used appropriately for the best results.
Scouts are the first class, and as their name implies they have the longest sight range (besides snipers) and have a great amount of move points. However, their semi auto rifles make them unsuited for frontline combat and force them to be used largely for flanking maneuvres and point capturing.
Shocktroopers are the second class, and are the bread and butter of combat. They have decent move points, good health and decent defense. They also carry automatic rifles which can kill almost any enemy besides tanks. They are used as frontline troops and can even serve to capture points.
Lancers are the third class, and are the anti-tank specialists. They have few move points, and are few in number. However, they make up for these shortcomings by being very well armored and using rocket lances that can rip apart enemy tanks in a few solid hits (or one if you hit the glowing blue weakspot).
Engineers are the fourth class, and work almost like an upgraded scout. They have good move points, and carry the same semi auto rifles, but what makes them different are their support powers. Engineers serve to resupply ammunition to their comrades, repair tanks, remove landmines and erect defenses like sandbags. However, they are very weak armored and cannot be used effectively in open combat.
Snipers are the final class, and the most finnicky. They can only be used effectively in certain enviroments, and have very few movement and health points. They make up for this by being the most accurate, and long ranged class. Their rifles can kill any enemy soldier with a single shot to the head, from across the map.
Now combat itself is where things becoming hit or miss. Before each mission you choose from your 20 soldiers anywhere between 5 and 15 soldiers that will be used in the mission. Now some soldiers have a gold badge, which means they will provide a command point if fielded. This forces you to field them, lest you suffer a penalty to your CP. Each mission also has you field your pimped out tank as a command vehicle, where all your orders originate. Selecting a soldier costs 1 CP and your tank costs 2CP. You can keep moving them until that unit runs out of movement points. As you level up your soldiers, they become more effective and generally better. However, this leads to some game flaws which can sour one's experience quite quickly.
It is made clear early on that the enemy AI is a cheating bastard. Many a time have I sat, dumbstruck, as my tank got destroyed (which is an instant game over) by an enemy tank from a mile away. Knowing that my tank's cannon wouldn't be able to do that in a million years. In fact, the enemy is so profoundly good you are forced to spend 3 hours grinding skirmishes (replayable battles meant to give you experience and money) between every battle in order to upgrade equipment and level up your soldiers to the point they stand a chance against the enemy AI. After you have ground your way to victory, you are treated with a pat on the head and some money and experience so you can grind some more. All this is compunded with the fact that equipment upgrading becomes ungodly expensive very early on.
Eg. Auto Rifle firepower 3 upgrade- 2000, Auto Rifle firepower 4 upgrade - 20,000
And upgrading your tank is even worse.
Now, despite all of this I still like this game. This may be because of the intelligent, and relevent, side arcs. One of which deals with discrimination against Darcsens (think Jewish and Romani people mixed together) due to their supposed past tyranny and their forcing of the Valkyrur to stop all their evil (which is a lie invented by the valkyrur to paint themselkves as the heroes despite them being the true opressors). This is kept in the light by the fact that the main character's adopted sister is a Darcsen, and part of the army alongside her surrogate brother.
To sum it up, Valkyria Chronicles is a good example of a creative JRPG despite many shortcomings.
Final Score: 4/5