Playing Critic: Latest 'Valkyria' sports new style, talks too much

Playing Critic: Latest 'Valkyria' sports new style, talks too much

As I am a fan of the original "Valkyria Chronicles," it feels difficult for me to fairly review the new "Valkyria Revolution."

The issue isn't that this new title stars new characters or that it's set in a different land in Europa, a fictional analogue for our Europe.

Rather, it's the extreme game-play makeover.

The original games uniquely blended elements from turn-based strategy and first-/third-person shooter games, putting a heavy emphasis on thinking tactically to efficiently achieve victory. In "Chronicles," you maneuvered your squad around the battlefield, member by member, establishing lines of fire and taking advantage of elevation. And although your squadron certainly had some key players, almost every member regularly came into play.

"Valkyria Revolution," however, ditches almost all of that. It's an active RPG, instead of turn-based, with an emphasis on button-mashing melee combat. Guns are relegated to use as secondary weapons. There are tanks (in actuality, they're mech suits) — but you don't get to control one. Strategic positioning can be done, but it's largely unimportant. You've got a big squadron, but you will hardly ever have to deploy more than the same four people.

Frankly, it's a very different experience.

And, honestly, my first reaction was, "SEGA, what the (expletive) have you done?!"

But when judged on its own merits, "Revolution" is really a good game. Not great, however, as there's too much emphasis on driving the plot forward through overlong cutscenes and not through hands-on game-play.

At its heart, "Revolution" is a treatise on war and leadership, told from the historical perspective of two scholars decades after the game's principal events. They're discussing the real story of five "traitors" who manipulated the kingdom of Jutland into war against the neighboring Ruzi Empire. (Long story short, Jutland is suffering heavily under an economic embargo orchestrated by Rus, even though the nations are technically allies. Jutland has been forced to choose between a war to retain its identity and capitulation, and some would have been all to happy to choose the latter.)

The principal character is Amleth Grönkjær, leader of the anti-Valkyria squad of Jutland's military — and one of the five "traitors." He and four others seek revenge against the leadership of Rus for reasons I won't get into.

The narrative is well-crafted and layered with subtlety and nuance. Yet it often feels like there is too much of it, and it's not integrated properly into the actual game-play. So instead of being captivating, it often feels cumbersome and distracting.

Actually getting to do something with the controller in your hands comes as a welcome relief.

There's a lot of depth hidden away here, such as crafting systems for your squad's gear, weapon upgrades, and customizable magic powers. You can even program the behaviors of every single member of your squad so they'll prioritize targets on their own and generally do exactly what you want them to do.

On missions, you directly control one character at a time, while any other teammates act on their own. You can, however, switch at will between them.

Most of time, you'll just be mashing buttons on the field of battle, with simple melee attacks your bread and butter, spiced up with magic abilities when necessary and gunplay to take out distant targets or trigger explosives. While you can use tactics, such as using a sniper to headshot a tank operator instead of challenging him in close combat, most of them you'll probably just run straight at the enemies and hack away.

And that can be fun, but this version of "Valkyria" isn't as much of a thinking man's game.

Just to sum up, because I think I should: "Valkyria Revolution" is a solid action role-playing game with a compelling storyline, but it fails to properly integrate that story into the actual game-play, so players end up spending more time than necessary in a passive role.

Joel Leizer is The News-Gazette's Playing Critic. Contact him at jleizer@news-gazette.com.

'Valkyria Revolution'

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita.
Price: $39.99.
ESRB rating: T for teen.

Topics (2):Internet, Technology