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.
Trains, I love them. Not just any trains mind you, my love is reserved for steam engines. I’ve spent far too much time mindlessly driving the steam engines in two Red Dead Redemption games. I’ve built vast rail empires in Sid Mid Meier’s Railroads. Neither of those quite scratched the itch I have for what trains could be in games. I want to drive a train, sure. But I also want to do something beyond just making the train go “choo choo”. Enter Bounty Train.
Bounty Train tells you that it is very important that you do the campaign rather than just opening up free roam and driving your train about. The campaign is about the young intrepid protagonist, Walter Reed, attempting to buy fifty-one percent of a railway company. I’ll get back to the campaign in a bit since it doesn’t affect gameplay in any major way.
On the surface, Bounty Train plays like a commodity trading game. It immediately reminded me of the free version of Port Royale I found online in middle school, only transplanted to the eastern and midwestern United States. The best way to earn money seems to be ignoring the optional missions and playing the economy. Which would be fine, except your train’s measly engine can only pull one car at best. I should have seen this coming. Bounty Train’s marketing is focused on the train’s engine rather than the train as a whole. The phrase “Control true to original locomotives” is true, but only strictly so. Commodity prices are stable enough to make trading profitable. For the most part, you can make good money trading jewelry and steel. Both of these goods are resilient and aren’t highly flammable meaning they’re likely to survive bandit attacks.
Bandits are a complete annoyance in Bounty Train. I’ve found either the encounters to be easily handled or completely overwhelming. What I was led to think was tactical combat, consists of positioning your gunfighters so the one you want to be shot at the most is in front while the rest of your team lazily returns fire. Your crew can’t leave the train which means every shot that misses them is a shot you’ll have to pay to repair later. Plus your train carriages occasionally burst into flames. If an enemy has explosives, you best pray your fighters aren’t in a cargo carriage or the engine. Under the best of circumstances, your repair costs will be a significant portion of what the bandits were demanding in order for you to pass unmolested, plus a pile of time wasted.
Bounty Train is partially set during the American Civil War. This results in a few very problematic moments. The first of which is that the conflict is very whitewashed. Any reference to the war is devoid of any mention of the reasons for the war. Furthermore, there is a section of the main story where your character’s brother won’t let you progress unless you help him smuggle steel from the Union to the Confederate States. Of course, the game doesn’t bother pointing out this makes you both a war profiteer and a supporter of a regime that rose to power because of slavery.
I understand that given the era in which steam trains existed, any historical game will have to make do with the political realities of the time. But let’s not get caught up in the train romanticism that we literally participate in the support of slavery. This was the final straw for me.
Bounty Train is not fun. It’s boring and tedious. The UI is inconsistent, some screens show you the distance to your next stop, others time. I constantly found myself bouncing to the world map screen, which is a convenient loading screen away, to see if I could make the next stop in time rather than find the correct UI.
The game could have been better. The combat should have been closer to the combat of XCOM, trains should be allowed to have more than one fully laden carriage, and frankly, the game should have taken a more serious tone given the times it was dealing with.
Bounty Train retails on Steam for $34.99 which is laughably high for what you’re getting. I managed to get it 90% off during the winter holiday sale. I would pay anything to get the time I wasted playing it back.
Bad North bills itself as a real-time tactics rogue-lite. I’m not normally a fan of indie games that compare themselves in any way to Rogue. Usually, it seems rogue-like games make poor design the staring feature. Did the world generator give you a bad time with no possible path to survive? That’s apparently okay as long as we compare our game to Rogue. Bad North is not this.
Gameplay in Bad North consists of selecting islands on a world map to defend from an invading Viking horde. You’re given the island’s basic layout and some idea of the invading forces before you deploy your companies to the island. After a battle, deployed companies will be fatigued. You need to proceed from left to right across the map connecting islands to form a chain. Beware though, because behind you the inescapable flood of Viking based death comes.
Bad North is a beautiful game and a delightful experience. The first thing I noticed was the simplicity of its tutorial. It told you exactly what you needed to discover how the game works and nothing more. The user interface is delightfully minimal and the controls are completely intuitive. This makes the game’s challenges, regardless of their difficulty, feel fair.
Where most tactical games allow you to pause, Bad North gives no quarter. When you select a company to move time slows greatly, but doesn’t stop. You’re quickly trained into a mindset of making snap decisions and making the best of the consequences. Unlike pure rogue-likes, there is some respite.
About and after an hour nail-biting battle I stumbled upon a checkpoint. At the moment it came I was relieved. For the purists out there this feature can be deactivated, but I am not a tactical genius so I’ll take every advantage I can.
As I said at the beginning, this sort of game isn’t my usual. I don’t know how well it stacks up against similar games. I have managed to play a few hours in as many days and I’ve enjoyed myself. Which is, ultimately, the point.
Bad North: Jotunn Edition is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, iOS, and Android. There is a free demo on Steam. At the time of publication, Bad North is available as part of the Xbox Game Pass.
Hello internet. The goal of this website is to be an outlet for my creative side. I’m an engineer who likes to be a Rottweiler on the internet. I play a lot of TTRPGs and Video games. I’m an author, but my only paid credit is under my IRL handle, so I won’t be posting about it here. My goal is to get some writing credits under my furry fandom handle. I will be sure to keep this space updated as that happens.
I am an adult. As such some of the things I post here will be of an adult nature. This blog is an outlet for me therefore its content will be well rounded. NSFW posts will be tagged as such and I’ll keep any explicit discussion after the break.
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