War stories in video games very rarely try to capture the reality of men and women laying down their lives for a goal, but Valkyria Chronicles, released for the Nintendo Switch on Oct. 16, does its best to build its heartfelt story about war, family, comradery, home and the struggle for survival in a desperate wartime with fleshed out and likeable characters that make the player try their best to see Squad 7 survive each in game mission. While the Nintendo Switch port of this 2013 PS3 game doesn’t run as well as it reasonably should for being five years old, it still provides strong strategy gameplay, a powerful presentation and a story that shouldn’t be passed up by SRPG fans today.
The story of Valkyria Chronicles is one of heart. The tale begins in an alternate version of World War II called the Second Europan War (yes, Europan), and follows a young man named Welkin Gunther, son of a legendary military general from the first Europan War. Gunther gets suddenly pulled into becoming the leader of his own military squadron after the destruction of his hometown when the antagonists, known as the Empire, invade the country of Gallia, a neutral country that is rich in an important resource known as Ragnite. What follows is a tale of love, loss, those doing what they can to protect their homes and some very unsubtle commentary on racism.
While the story is enjoyable and carries quite an amount of emotional weight, it does have some questionable moral elements and doesn’t do as much as it could with its situations. Gunther is a Boy Scout throughout the entire story and always treats his ideals as correct. The story would have benefitted from some questioning of the gray morality that can carry in wartime. Still, the story has enough heart that sticking with is not a hard feat at all.
For a game from 2013, the visuals hold up surprisingly well. The sketchbook watercolor aesthetic complements the anime art style excellently. Most of the menus are carried out in a storybook like format. Things like Weaponry, Personnel and each chapter are framed like a storybook and are rather easy to navigate. Cutscenes are carried out in either square frames, where the heads of each character moves and talks, or are fully animated. The animations of each character feel well made and fitting, never looking too out of place.
The voice acting is also done rather well. Each actor conveys the feeling of the scene with no problems, and it helps that some big names in voice acting are involved with this game. The Switch version runs at 30 frames per second, a downgrade from the 60 fps that the PC and PS4 versions boasted. Not only that, but the frame rate drops every now and then. It’s a shame that this is the case for a five-year-old game running on current hardware, but it’s nothing too distracting, especially if you’re familiar with the PS3 version. The music consists of beautifully orchestrated pieces that capture the mood of each scene flawlessly.
The gameplay of Valkyria Chronicles also shines. During combat missions, the game plays like a third-person shooter/strategy game hybrid. Each turn, the player is given a set number of CP or Command Points. Each unit takes up one CP, while your tank takes two. You can also issue orders to your squad to give them temporary buffs. These orders cost a varying amount of CP depending of the strength of the order. You can spend CP on the same unit multiple times, but each time you move a unit, they can move shorter and shorter distances. Units come in a variety of classes ranging from Scouts, who can move the farthest but have a small amount of bullets, to Lancers, who are slower, can’t move very far and only have one shot, but can withstand more damage and can damage tanks. There are also Shocktroopers, Engineers and Snipers who all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Using this array of different units, it’s up to you to figure out how to effectively deal with the enemy dotting each map. Enemies also have CP and the same kinds of units you do, which makes it feel like a battle of outsmarting each other.
There are some maps that do stack the odd against you, however, and it feels even more satisfying to overcome them. Controlling each unit works well enough, but there is some input lag that make precise positioning a bit difficult, which can lead to some accidental deaths. Units that die can be recovered, so its not as unforgiving as a game like XCOM or Fire Emblem, but if an enemy unit reaches your ally’s body before you do, then it will result in their permanent death.
The weight of your allies’ deaths will be felt, especially since your squad is full of so many unique characters. Each unit has their own personality and background that effects their usefulness in the field. These personality quirks are called Potentials, and they range from a metal allergy that makes them a unit with less accuracy around metal, to that unit fancying a particular gender and performing better around them in order to make a good impression. These Potentials not only give each unit a lot of character, but also put more strategy into who to bring into each map and pushes the player to make sure each unit makes it out alive.
Valkyria Chronicles still holds up from it’s days on the PS3. While the Switch port has a few hiccups that don’t feel like they should be there considering the game’s age, the gameplay, story and presentation hold up quite well and are still a joy to experience