When I first opened Valkyria Chronicles I wasn’t sure what to think. The cinematic leading to the title screen is more like a trailer than an opener. It shows scenes from the game in a way that presents the game like a romance story set during a war, and maybe it is.
Valkyria Chronicles was released by Sega in 2008 originally only on the Playstation 3 but it would later come to PC. The game is listed as a tactical role-playing game which is as true as a description as you can get, but it has been a unique experience for me. The game is set on the fictional continent of Europa during a second continent-wide war. Your enemy, The Empire, is moving east conquering all the territory between your homeland and the sea. They’re quick to invade your small, neutral country. Enter protagonist Welkin Gunther.
Welkin Gunther is a college graduate who aspires to be a school teacher. After finding a tank in the barn behind his house, a relic from the first war left by his father, he joins in with the militia. He’s instantly promoted to lieutenant of Squad 7, where that falls in the fictional country of Gallia’s ranking system I am unsure. As far as I can tell he’s given this rank simply because he brought his own tank to war. Which was funny when it happened I’ll admit.
The main story is told through what the game calls “Book Mode” where scenes are laid out like pictures or illustrations in a book. As you progress these pictures go from hazy brown to full-color illustrations. Most of the pictures represent cut scenes. Valkyria Chronicles loves cut scenes to the point where at times it feels like there is little gameplay.
There are two major types of gameplay in Valkyria Chronicles. The first type you’ll spend very little doing, but I suspect it has significant sway over how smoothly the second type of gameplay will go. I’m talking about squad management.
You, as Welkin Gunther (Welkies to his friends), have complete control of the composition of Squad 7. Controlling Squad 7 means managing its members, equipment, and the big ol’ tank you done brought alone. Mostly this means spending the money and experience you’ve gained through battle on skills and upgrades. Early on you don’t have to make any major choices in these regards you just have to level up your equipment. After a while though, branches begin to appear. Then you’ll have to think about your choices a little more carefully or you might spread your capital too thin and while your tank is fully upgraded your scouts are basically throwing pebbles at the enemy.
When I first assembled my squad after the first couple of missions were completed, I mistakenly thought the game had some form of dating system. I was streaming at the time and announced loudly that I would not be doing any of the dating side quests. As it turned out, there are no dating side quests, to my later disappointment. I say disappointment because after a few minutes of building my squad I found Ted.
All of the squad members you pick up have attributes. Ted’s attributes caught me completely off guard. He has three. The third I cannot remember because the first two are Fancies Women and Fancies Men. Ted is bisexual. This revelation had me digging through the roster to find other queer folks. I quickly found Jann, a lighthouse of a man who’s an anti-armor specialist. From that point on started building my squad off of random romantic pairings. War may be hell, but in my playthrough of Valkyria Chronicles, it’s also hella gay.
You don’t have to make your squad the way I did. But for me at least it was nice to see some queer representation. Especially in a way that doesn’t weaken the characters. In the case of Ted, he’s a comedian who happens to be a scout who happens to be bisexual. In the case of Jann, he’s a gay man who happens to be a soldier. Which is to say the characters feel realistic. Their queerness is variable. They choose to present themselves differently. This affects not only their dialog in the squad management screens but also what best strategies to utilize with these characters in combat. Your soldiers fight better if you pair their situations with their personalities. Good pairing of unit personality to your current tactic is the key to successful combat.
The second type of gameplay is the actual combat. Combat is broken into two distinct parts. The first is positioning your troops. This phase is crucial if you want the highest possible scores. You need to be able to field the correct units in the correct positions to make your first couple of turns really count. The other part of combat is the battle phases.
You and the enemy will each take your phases in turn. On your phase, you’ll have some command points to direct units. When you direct a unit you literally take control of them and move them from a third-person perspective. Each unit can move and use an action per command point you spend on them. Spending subsequent command points on the same unit will cause them to become tired and they’ll have less available movement each time. When you’re out of command points the game moves to the enemy’s phase where they perform the same actions. This form of combat is more challenging than it appears. There have been several times where I’ve had to try a level a few times to figure out a starting position that works well or learn new strategies for keeping my team alive.
If it was not obvious from the setting. Valkyria Chronicles takes place during a fictionalized World War II. I want to stress that it is fictionalized, not necessarily idealized. The Empire is waging war across Europa, as they do they’re killing civilians and wiping out a group of people called the Darcsens. These people are obvious stand-ins for the Jewish people. At many times Valkyria Chronicles is not treating the genocide of the Jewish people with the respect it should. When some members of Squad 7 refer to Darcsen member derogatorily, Welkin, as their commanding officer, is more concerned about maintaining the unit’s cohesion rather than punishing the bad actors. Every time this has occurred it’s made me very uncomfortable. I supposed that is realistic. In life, we often strive for conflicts to just stop rather than shut them down completely. I wish the game took a firmer stance. For all I know, it may yet still.
I suspect I’ve only scratched the surface of Valkyria Chronicles. There is undoubtedly much more to come. I hope my reservations about the tone are resolved. There is so much more I could say about the game. I will have to write about it again after I complete it. Unlike a lot of other games I play, I will be completing this one. If you are a fan of Battalion Wars, Valkyria Chronicles will feel familiar to you. For me it has been an engaging and challenging experience, that is making me uncomfortable in what I hope are good ways for me as a person. If you’re curious, I suggest you check it out. Be warned though, it looks to be a long game.
Valkyria Chronicles is available on PC and Playstation 3. I don’t know what your chances of finding it at a used game store are, but it retails for $19.99 on Steam and at the time of publication, Valkyria Chronicles is available as part of the Xbox Game Pass.