Saturday, July 20, 2013

Game Review: Valkyria Chronicles (PS3) and Husband-Wife Warfare

Valkyria Chronicles has it all: addictive gameplay, a sweeping score, tanks, guns, snipers, drama, war, mods, unabashed criticism of nuclear weaponry, and, best of all, a villain that will make the uninitiated void her bowels upon first contact. The game is a 2008 PlayStation 3 release by SEGA. It is critically acclaimed. It has gorgeous cel art and animation. And it caused a mini-fight between me and my husband.

The game takes place in Europa (Europe), where little Gallia (Belgium), is caught between the Federation (western Europe) and the Empire (Germany). This is basically the European theater of World War II missing some crucial elements: no submarines, air strikes, or the US. Instead, players start out with a tank and some scouts, who can spot enemies from a distance and run like hell to duck behind some sandbags. Sandbags are our friends.

The Empire's forces have invaded Gallia with lightning speed (think blitzkrieg without air support), kicking out the game's two main protagonists from their home village in the process. Welkin Gunther and Alicia Melchiott, pictured above, join Gallia's militia and become Squad 7's commander and non-commissioned officer, respectively. Unlike the brooding heroes preferred by the likes of later Final Fantasy games, Welkin lets his geek flag fly: he rhapsodizes about obscure plants and animals and is intent on becoming a teacher. He and Alicia, an aspiring baker, start out as friends. Their romantic relationship grows gradually over the course of the game, possibly because she pointed a gun at him at their first meeting and accused him of being an Imperial spy. Not the best first impression there, Alicia.

Players progress through Valkyria Chronicles via Book Mode, where they watch new "episodes" that move the story forward, check out updated information about personnel or weaponry, train units or select other ones, fight in skirmishes for EXP and money, upgrade weapons and tanks, and receive medals from the princess, at least later on in the game. It's a 1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111@@@@@@@@@@oooooool     433333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333p0-wqqqqqqqqqq1

Sorry, cat on keyboard. As I was saying, it's an efficient little system that keeps the focus on the inevitable battle looming just ahead.

During battle, players begin by choosing which units to deploy. There are scouts (with rifles), shock troopers (machine gunners), lancers (anti-tank units), engineers (tech support), and snipers (killers from above). Each unit takes one command point (CP) to move, except for the tank, which requires two CP. Your team usually has about ten to twelve CP at a time. All campaigns are turn-based, meaning you get to move all your characters to desired spots, take some potshots, and then hurry them back to cover, because when your turn ends (no more CP), it's the enemies who will come barreling down that map to try and eliminate any forces you may have left unprotected. Cover consists of sandbags, buildings, Welkin's tank, and tall grass. The game does a great job of treating the environment realistically -- if an enemy shoots at you through trees, chances are you won't get hit.

Valkyria Chronicles makes battles incredibly fun and interesting because of the command point system and the unique strengths and weaknesses of the units. For instance, a scout can shoot at a shock trooper from beyond the shock trooper's range, but scouts only have five bullets per turn, and shock troopers have good armor. You have to go again if you want to finish the job, eating up another CP in the process. There's also the mechanic of return fire: any soldier (except for snipers and lancers), regardless of which side they're on, will shoot back when fired upon, as long as the target is within range. This feature let me kill enemies even when it wasn't my turn! Wooo! Units also have action points (AP), which is a bar at the bottom of the screen that indicates how much ground each one can cover. Snipers, lancers, and shock troopers can't move very far, while scouts and engineers can run laps around them.

Most campaigns have the same goal: capture the enemies' base. That means starting out from your own base, and then having your team move toward the target. Along the way, there are enemy forces that need to be taken down. Fragrant Husband, being a fan of first-person shooter as well as strategy games, took an interest, and became my military adviser. "Watch her command points," he would say, as I rushed a scout down a destroyed street. "You want her to be able to run back and hide." Or he would make me scroll through the map and help me decide which units to deploy. "Put a sniper in that tower," et cetera. This was necessary, because my campaign tactics consisted entirely of, "Run up there and shoot everyone in the face," whereas he was more patient and favored placing units strategically on the map.

One mission in particular was about stopping a tank, and Fragrant Husband was coaching me and we were doing an okay job when suddenly, this happened:

The game's answer to submarines and aircraft: the Valkyria (nuclear weapons). The Empire has a young lady named Selvaria Bles on its side, and unleashed her on Gallia. I was horrified when I saw her glowing blue ass running across the battlefield toward me, killing every single unit of mine along the way. The woman is a tank. And then, when I roared in rage and tried to stomp her with my tank, she. Did. Not. Budge. Usually, any unit smacked with a tank screams and gets knocked over. Not Selvaria. She's too special. So I had to do the mission again, because she killed all my people! Thank you to Port Forward for their excellent walkthrough.

So I was getting near the end of the game, with only a few more campaigns to go, when I got into a particularly difficult spot: I had shock troopers behind sandbags, but they were surrounded by enemies who ducked every time I shot at them, and it wasn't even my turn. All I could do was watch helplessly as Rosie and Vyse got hit with hails of bullets. When it was my turn, I was seething, especially when I shot at an Imperial shock trooper and the bastard ducked instead of dying like I wanted him to.

"I'm gonna walk Rosie up there and flame thrower him in the face," I announced to Fragrant Husband.

"No, just grenade him," he said. "She'll be exposed if she leaves the sandbags."

I tried. "No, he's too far away," I said. "I have to walk up there with the flame thrower. They keep ducking."

"Nah, look at her HP! She's almost dead! Just shoot 'em!" he said.

So I did. The bastard ducked.

"Are you out of your mind?" I roared at Fragrant Husband. "Look what happened! What did I tell you! WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!?!"

He gave me a hurt look. "I'm going to the bathroom," he muttered, and stomped away. I felt like a monster.

But the show must go on! I managed to get another unit in there to get the job done, and made my contrite apology when my darling came back. He said he understood. Truly, the heat of battle is tempestuous and transforms retiring little flowers such as myself into fierce, shout-y creatures hellbent on victory.

Together once again, we forged on and crushed Maximilian, the Imperial commander, during the obligatory epic battle on top of, what else, a battleship on wheels. It was as ridiculous as it sounds. Maximilian is the type of guy who builds giant things to, shall we say, compensate for something, ehem ehem.

"Selvaria...I have daddy issues. Now go kill yourself. Literally."

In conclusion, Valkyria Chronicles is addictive, ingenious, beautiful, and close to a perfect game. The themes were heavy-handed, and the characters barely sketched out, but if all you want is some awesome strategic fighting fun for the family with spectacular graphics and sound, this game delivers. Valkyria Chronicles for the win!

Movie Review: Hereditary (2018)