Valkyria Revolution Review
The Revolution is dead
As time goes on, it seems more and more likely that Valkyria Chronicles was a flash in the pan. Sega crafted a game that told an engrossing tale filled with wonderful characters, a beautiful artstyle and a form of action that masterfully blended genres. It was nearly a work of art, if you believe gaming can be as such.
Following up on that game was always going to be a monumental task, but Sega has basically failed at every turn. Valkyria Chronicles 2 hosted a dramatic shift in tone, along with being shunted to the PSP and the third game never even made it West. Both titles stepped further and further away from the magic that the original contained.
With Valkyria Revolution, it seems like Sega has given up on chasing the same magic they once had. While that could have led to something just as unique and charming as the first title, we’ve instead been given an awkward, badly paced, poorly executed and utterly confusing mess of a game. If you truly treasure the time you had with Valkyria Chronicles, don’t even bother with Revolution.
The main plot of Valkyria Revolution is framed around a series of flashbacks. A man in a fictional 1950’s setting is curious about why a group of people known as the “Five Traitors” were basically outcast from history due to their choices during the great Azure Revolution. He declares that the nation of Europa has wrongly accused them of crimes they didn’t commit and wants to get to the bottom of it.
Really, though, that plot thread doesn’t need to be here. It muddles up what is a story of revenge and really only distracts between the incessantly prolonged cutscenes. After every major story event, you’re then taken back to the “present” day to hear the narrator proclaim, “This is a true story.” This is similar to how Assassin’s Creed tried to frame all of its historical plotlines with modern day nonsense that eventually got dropped in later sequels.
Getting back to the main story, which takes place 100 years prior, you control a man named Amleth who is the leader of the Anti-Valkyria Squad. His motivation for being in the war is simple; he wants revenge on the nation of Ruz for destroying his childhood. He, being one of the “Five Traitors,” was an orphan whose life was ruined by a senseless act of violence. Using powers befitting each traitor, the group has combined their efforts to help the struggling nation of Jutland battle the domineering Ruz Empire under the guise of aiding the country.
Obviously that isn’t the case and the story follows the typical mold of revenge tales. You’ll get long, drawn out monologues about how their lives were taken from them, they are already dead inside, the world means nothing and so on. It’s pretty tired stuff. Thankfully the ending actually bucks convention by providing a resolution that doesn’t gimp out. Revenge definitely gets served. It would be better, though, if the game knew when to shut up and let its gameplay do the heavy lifting.
Before and after each battle, you’ll face a deluge of cutscenes that go into excessive detail on pointless things. For every moment that sets the plot in motion, there is an accompanying five that are filled to the brim with exposition. Some cutscenes even load in between exposition dumps, further lengthening what is already a long game.
The presentation of said cutscenes is also exceedingly odd. The Japanese voice overs are actually really solid and the music is beautiful, but you have character models that stand like mannequins and sound effects that are totally absent. It looks like a PS2 game, at times, with how motionless some of the characters are during intense moments, but then feels like a rushed indie game with how sloppy the scenes play out.
This could be forgivable if the gameplay picked up the slack, but Sega seems to have wanted Valkyria Revolution to appeal to everyone at once. Instead of changing the genre into a strictly action based affair, Revolution opts to include some of the mechanics from Chronicles while mixing them with Dynasty Warriors-esque action and simplified RPG elements.
Every battle, be it a main story quest or a side quest, plays out in a 3D battlefield. You can roam around at your leisure, save for some timed missions, but you’re basically playing a stripped back version of an action game. Your general movement isn’t restricted to a set distance like in Chronicles, but all of your actions require a cooldown from an action bar that can be sped up by successfully completing tasks in the heat of battle (such as stunning an enemy or capturing a base). Along with a basic attack (which has no combos or different weapons), you have "Ragnite" alchemy and secondary weapons like guns and grenades. These all require the same action bar to be filled before being used.
Ragnite comes in various forms with four elements; Wind, Earth, Water and Fire. Some enemies are supposed to be weaker to different elements, but you can basically use whatever you want to kill foes. You’ll acquire different Ragnite from battle and they each have ranks which determine their power. You can swap these out in between battles, but that doesn’t really matter. I had the same effectiveness with a rank five skill as I did with a rank 20.
Guns are almost entirely pointless, seeing as how every character you can control has access to magic attacks. Not every magic attack is range based, but since you’ll always have at least three other partners with you (save for one odd mission in the late game), you can equip different characters with ranged attacks and let them deal with distant fodder.
When you go to perform any magic or use weapons, the game will pause to allow you to select from a radial menu. You’ll then initiate the attack which happens while the rest of the game world is paused. I suppose this is to appease RPG fans and simulate turn based combat, but it mostly just slows down the pace of battles to a tremendous degree.
You can also command your allies to perform tasks, but for some reason the game doesn’t pause when you do this. I found it easier and more effective to actively switch to that ally and then perform whatever action I wanted, since that would then pause the game like normal and guarantee my attacks would land. It doesn’t help that the AI for everyone is rather numbskulled, often missing targets when you tell them to attack or running in circles at random.
The boss battles are truly the worst bit and just reek of lazy design. They are all bullet sponges and require nothing different in terms of approach. The encounter with the titular Valkyria threatens to be interesting, making more apparent the various elemental weaknesses the game exhibits, but it quickly devolves into the same pattern of mashing attack while watching the health bar painstakingly decrease.
This is never helped by the reuse of enemies and maps. I understand that a war might see you return to previous areas for reconnaissance or to reclaim territory, but it doesn’t make for a particularly exciting game. I think the game has a total of 10 different maps, but it mostly means you’ll be looking at the same maps and enemies over and over.
You’d think the side missions would involve something different, but they simply repeat the same setup as the story quests. You’ll enter a battle under the pretense of it being a Defensive or Offensive battle, yet it always boils down to smacking enemies with attacks until they die. The various optional objectives typically involve killing a stronger enemy variant so even that stumbles in providing variety.
The combat can be quite eclectic at times, often to the detriment of the framerate. When you jump into a group of enemies, the game can’t quite handle all of that action. When you use flashy Ragnite, the framerate will nearly cripple the experience. It doesn’t always impact the gameplay, but there are moments when you’ll be struggling to figure out what is happening due to multiple explosions and a hideous drop in controller response.
As for the RPG elements of this game, they basically boil down to leveling up. After each battle, you gain experience that increases some unseen stats on your character. Battles have different level suggestions, but you can safely enter a scenario that is a few levels above you. Unless you actively avoid taking on the various side-missions available to you (which I wouldn’t blame you for doing), you should always have a sufficient level and set of Ragnite to see you through each story encounter. Strategy never really comes into play, even when enemies have weaknesses to different elements or guns. Your basic slash is good enough for everyone.
So if the story lacks polish and the gameplay is a mess of genres that doesn’t blend well together, are there any redeeming qualities? Well, the various bits outside of gameplay and plot are almost redeemable in their execution.
You can travel to the promenade of Jutland and converse with the villagers and your squad to learn more about the world you’re in. Morale of the public will shift with the tide of the story and it nearly feels like your actions are contributing to the well-being of this nation. Dropping in on your squad at various moments can also teach you different tactics to deploy in battle, though those hardly come in useful.
Along with that, you can visit the local tavern and a cemetery, but these offer little in the way of interaction. These areas are, essentially, set dressing in an attempt to flesh out the world you inhabit. I’m not fond of the fixed camera angles for walking around these different areas, but the game feels livelier and more thought out when you’re not in battle.
There is also a factory you can visit for upgrading your equipment. While the secondary guns have the most basic of upgrade paths (you just throw money at it and the guns shoot better), your melee weapons have this rather complex skill tree that requires you to sacrifice ragnite to power up your attacks. If only your magic actually mattered in the slightest, because a mechanic that requires you to make tough choices outside of battle could mirror the difficult decisions you would be faced with in combat.
As for the art style of the game, I can’t say that I’m a fan. When I saw the initial trailer a year or so ago, I was shocked at how ridiculous the costumes were. While I understand this is a video game and we’re playing a fantasy, Valkyria Chronicles didn’t succumb to fanservice at every moment. It created a style that looked natural and coalesced into a beautiful parallel of our own world. Revolution looks like some punks got a hold of mom’s credit card and went on a Hot Topic spending spree.
To make matters worse, these outrageous designs don’t even fit into the time period the game is set in. They also don’t feel right stacked next to each other. Certain characters are wearing what amounts to lingerie in the middle of a battlefield next to another character that has a ballroom dress on. What is going on here? Who thought this was appropriate battle attire?
Summing it all up, Valkyria Revolution just makes me tired and aggravated. The game isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever played, but I can’t fathom ever wanting to return to it. The poorly executed story, haphazard gameplay and awkward art style make for a game that doesn’t really have an identity of its own. Trying to appease fans of Chronicles with strategy-lite elements has held the game back from being a more focused action oriented hank-n-slash.
The biggest tragedy, though, is that this game will likely ruin any chance of another Chronicles game ever getting made. I can appreciate when a developer wants to try something new, but you should make those elements work instead of throwing everything at the wall and hoping it sticks.