Valkryia Chronicles was a game that really blew me away when it first released. Up until that point my experience with strategy RPGs was limited to isometric views and battlefields that were divided into squares. At the time it felt like a big leap forward for the genre and even now, playing the remaster after all these years, there’s still something so undeniably special and magical about this game.
The overarching plot revolves around the small, independent nation of Gallia, caught in the crossfires of a conflict between 2 superpowers. The Empire and Federation are embroiled in a war over a precious resource called Ragnite, a resource that Gallia just happens to have an abundance of. The small nation thus becomes a prime target for invasion which kicks off the story of the exploits of Welkin and Squad 7 as they try and push back the invading army and defend their homes.
Even as a fan of JRPGs, I’ll be the first to admit that the sub-genre has a tendency to rely heavily on tried and tested tropes, be it in the characters or story, it somehow rehashes a lot of the same concepts and archetypes. This game may seem like your average JRPG story, and to some degree I guess it is, but it never uses its roots as a crutch, instead it grows and evolves, ultimately providing a tale that is equal parts gripping and heartfelt. It also manages to deal with some of the heavier topics like discrimination and the horrors of war in a way that never feels self-indulgent and it always maintains a level maturity while still being entertaining.
A large part of what makes the story so good is the wide variety of characters, each with their own reason for fighting in the war. The main cast is filled with likable and relatable characters, from the songstress turned soldier, Rosie, to the strong yet soft-hearted General of the Empire, Selvaria. No one felt like throw away characters and they deeply enriched the overall narrative. The diversity of personalities also fostered a sense of attachment, and I found myself deeply caring for the soldiers in my squad as well. This not only played well into the narrative but it also enhanced the gameplay by making situations much tenser should a unit a fall in battle, and I always found myself prioritizing my unit’s safety over the overall objective.
Valkyria Chronicles melds together real-time and turn-based combat in an interesting way, that, at the time was quite the departure from the norm that fans of the strategy RPG genre were used to. Each turn begins with an overview map of the battlefield. Here you can see little icons for each of your units as well as where enemies are positioned, given that they’re visible on the map. You’re also given a set number of Command Points (or CP for short) that are used when you take direct control of a unit. Taking control of a character switches the view to a 3rd person perspective where you’re able to freely move around the field. There is one caveat though, as movement is governed by the Action Points (or AP for short) gauge, which gets expended as you move. Should you move into the line of sight of an enemy, they will start firing their guns, so the management of the AP gauge becomes a cornerstone of the overall strategy as you don’t want to be in a situation where you run out of AP and your unit is left completely in the open without any cover.