World War II is a popular subject for games. Other obvious things I’d like to state: the grass is green, the sky is blue, oxygen is breathable and Chicago deep dish is the best kind of pizza. Either way, all of this is irrelevant because the game we’re looking at today has nothing whatsoever to do with WWII! No, this is Valkyria Chronicles, a story about a war in Europa (NOT EUROPE) between Gallia (NOT REMOTELY BELGIUM) and the East European Imperial Alliance (WHO ARE NOT GERMANY) that leads to the revelation of long-buried secrets.
Welkin Gunther, artist, scientist and tank commander extraordinaire, is our protagonist for this not-at-all-based-on-reality adventure. When Gallia is invaded by Imperial forces hoping to use the smaller country as a staging ground for their battle against the Alli–I mean the Atlantic Federation, Welkin is forced into battle as leader of Squad 7 of the Gallian military. While at first he’s stuck using infantry with small arms against a much more powerful force, the scales are eventually balanced when he discovers the Edelweiss, a prototype tank with enough boom to turn the tide. Accompanying Welkin on his quest are Alicia, his NCO and former militia leader/baker, and his adopted sister Isara.
Isara bears particular mention – she’s a Darcsen, a minority that faces discrimination by the Empire (and even many Gallians) based on some of those long-buried secrets I mentioned. Darcsens are clearly intended to be a parallel to the Jews during WWII, so it almost goes without saying that Valkyria Chronicles can step into some pretty dark places at times. It’s certainly a more involved and moving plot than the average anime-styled game and it stands out amongst its contemporaries.
When Valkyria Chronicles isn’t making statements about the second World War and prejudice, though, it’s basically tank porn. Combat is a turn-based affair where each side has an allocation of Command Points (CP) that can be spent to move and attack with units. You’ll pay a varying amount of CP to take direct control of a unit for a given period, moving them and taking a shot in real time, but once that’s over it’s back to the tactical screen. Shooter tropes like the use of cover and precision shots are in play here, as are strategy game tropes like the proper use of elevated ground and mixed-unit tactics. Notably, this game can be fairly difficult, so don’t let the cute graphics fool you.
Though, really, it’s all about the tanks. This game loves its tanks. It might be more accurate to say that the Edelweiss is the real main character, as after the first few missions you rarely see Welkin outside of it, and it forms the spearhead of your most effective offensive strategies. Tanks can be customized to your liking and absolutely ruin infantry and light armor, though they’re vulnerable to the rocket-spear-armed Lancer corps, to grenades and to other tanks. Running train on the other side in a tank is a delightful experience to be sure, though you may or may not appreciate the armor-centric gameplay. At one point, a friend who was also playing the game suggested that Welkin was promoted and served as the protagonist solely because he had a tank. I don’t think that friend was necessarily wrong.
Infantry and tanks alike can be upgraded via Squad 7’s HQ between missions, along with recruiting new soldiers. A nice twist to the usual strategy game style of upgrades is that experience points are put into a pool where the player can distribute them to each class of soldier as they’d like. There’s no need to compromise your strategy to ensure that your characters stay leveled, in other words. It’s also possible to research new weapons and upgrade existing material. The key to combat is certainly strategy over numbers, though, so proper tactics are more likely to win the day. Another nice touch is that soldiers are each individual characters with their own personalities and traits rather than generics, so you can pick your favorites and strive to keep them alive…because, y’see, there’s permadeath, so you’ll want to be careful.
Regarding the aesthetics of the game, it’s important to remember that this was originally a PlayStation 3 game released in 2008, so you probably shouldn’t expect the graphics to blow your mind. It certainly looks great, though, boasting a cel-shaded art style that aims for a hand-drawn look. The sound is fairly typical, with the voice acting representing the usual anime fare. The Steam version runs stupendously well on most PCs and the framerate is smooth as butter, so it’s certainly the definitive version of the game.
If you’ve managed to avoid playing it for the past six years and have the patience to replay missions, Valkyria Chronicles is a solid value for the price. Even players who’ve previously gone through the game might want to give it another shot thanks to the awesome performance of the Steam version. Strategy fans and WWII aficionados…well, there’s no question. Pick it up and don’t look back.