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 Post Posted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 3:00 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:25 pm
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(Full disclosure: Purchased for PS4. Yay free soundtrack!)

It has been roughly nine years since Valkyria Chronicles came out for the PS3 in 2008. A remastered re-release in 2016 brought the game to a new generation, though why Sega abandoned consoles after Chronicles' release for two sequels on the PSP left an audience without one to wonder what they did to deserve such ire. Valkyria Chronicles III didn't even make it out of Japan. But now, a Valkyria game has finally come back to consoles -- and the PS Vita -- with Valkyria Revolution.

Valkyria Revolution's story takes place on an alternate version of Earth with countries written as mid-19th century analogs. Great Britain is "Brenland", Russia is "Ruz", and so on with other general changes to make it unique. The biggest difference is the existence of a miracle mineral called Ragnite which gave this version of Earth an early industrial revolution allowing it to build everything from monorails to giant, walking tanks while still bearing 19th century trappings.

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Ragnite has also allowed the use of "magic" via "alchemists" who are those with a Ragnite aptitude allowing them to wield a variety of powers on the battlefield. The gift isn't commonplace and only those with the best aptitude for it can walk around throwing fire and thunder at enemies, but you get the idea. Ragnite has changed this world in dramatic ways.

Narrated as a "secret history" revealing the truth behind the Circle of Five, or the Five Traitors, who are blamed for having led Jutland to war a hundred years earlier in the mid 19th century, vignettes both during gameplay and outside of it do an admirable job fleshing out its characters and the world they live in. Much of the story revolves around Jutland and the oppression crushing it by its "ally", the Ruz Empire.

In a conspiracy orchestrated from the shadows by the Five, it embarks on a war of liberation to free itself once and for all from Ruz's grip. In the end, Jutland succeeds, but what was the price paid? And who were the Five Traitors, really? It's an amazing trip with a solidly satisfying ending. The problem is that the gameplay getting there made me question whether it would really be worth it.

And where are the Darcsen? In the first game, key parts of its fiction revolved around getting to know the Darcsen and the persecution they faced day after day for the role history says they played in Europa's nigh destruction thousands of years ago before the coming of the Valkyrur. They're entirely absent in Revolution for whatever reason. Given its underpinnings as a "secret history" of the land exploring the truth, and coming straight to that after Chronicles, fans are going to pick it out as a remarkable omission in an otherwise compelling narrative.

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The story is definitely one of those times where I felt that only the most devoted fans might even want to give this a shot. On the downside, it can at times feel as if there might be "too much" story in between the main missions complete with additional load times and opportunities to save because there's a lot more story after a previous interlude. Sega had even released a wave of free DLC providing even more fiction to go through, small vignettes focused on getting to know the characters better. In my case, though, I ate it up and the story provided one of the few reasons to keep playing.

Visually, the game still retains some of that "painterly" look that gave Valkyria Chronicles a unique aesthetic, but at the same time, it's not as convincing with clashing 3D effects with some canned animations (or lack thereof) that can be awkward to watch. And if you liked how Welkin's tank "RRRRRRRRR"ed its way into your iron heart or how machine guns "RATTTA"'ed their way across the battlefield, none of those neat touches are back, unfortunately. For your ears, the soundtrack matches the story, beat for beat, with a stirring set of pieces ranging from its epic intro to the Valkyria's lethal dirge.

Revolution was created as a different take on the series' gameplay -- and different can be great! Especially if it works out. Unfortunately, in Revolution's case, there are issues and I'm not sure if they're because the game is also on the PS Vita as opposed to being a dedicated console release.

For those that loved the tactical, timed turn-based aspect of the series (especially if you only got to play Valkyria Chronicles because you didn't have a PSP), this is not that kind of game. Instead, it flips certain traits derived from that formula into a squad-based, pseudo real-time action game with mixed results. Some elements make it back -- like certain "potentials" that can affect characters with buffs or debuffs in combat -- but the machinery linking it all together feels unfinished.

On one hand, this approach won't satisfy players that really want a tactical, turn-based experience like the original game. On the other, it's not a great squad game especially if you've have exposure to other titles in that category ranging from Gearbox's Brothers in Arms series, that squad based stab at X-Com, The Bureau, or even Mass Effect: Andromeda. Each of these games were built from the ground up to make controlling and commanding your squad as easy, and as fun, as possible. In Revolution's case, it's as if a more action oriented formula was shoehorned on top of the series' traditional roots and failed to fit in very well.

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You head into battle with a squad of four and clear out missions that take place on a number of maps (often recycled). Players can pick between "free" missions to grind up experience and Ragnite or "Story" missions that move things forward. Another type of optional battle is where the armies of Jutland are engaged with the enemy and participating may be the only way to keep territory. Losing territory can affect things back home in Jutland which is represented on the Promenade in the capital. Do well in the war and the city is splashed with vibrant colors and an upbeat soundtrack plays in the backdrop. Lose territory and a grey pall hangs over a worried citizenry and fewer things are available for purchase, like rare materials for crafting.

Switching between party members is easy. Getting them to do more than just stand around while you do all of the important work, that's a completely different story.

Combat, at least early on, consists of slashing or shooting things and then waiting for your action bar to fill back up again. I immediately switched over to a character with a much faster action bar to make at least the slashing portion feel interesting because it just feels clunky running circles around an enemy while waiting for your action bar to give you the green light to swing your weapon again.

Revolution's funky AI provides its own challenges for both sides. Team members, when they try to keep up with you, may sometimes fall behind (the game just teleports them to you if you are far away enough) or get hung up on obstacles. Its even worse when fighting certain, king-sized bosses or even the walking tanks that are common enemies in later missions -- witnessing team members sometimes running in place as they try to run through the legs or sandbags in their way as opposed to just getting around it and then sometimes dying when they fail to run from an attack.

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Enemies, for their part, are even worse off. Once you know how to use smoke grenades, getting masses of them to panic and then using special Ragnite abilities to annihilate them (panic and other negative status effects act as huge debuffs making them especially vulnerable to certain attacks; same with your squaddies) becomes painfully routine with the only "challenge" coming from a few of the bosses. I played Revolution on Normal and can only imagine what Easy might be like.

The walking tanks of the Empire were also pretty non-threatening. Most of the time, all I had to do was throw down some smoke, buff my squad up with attack power, and mash melee attacks. Rinse and repeat. Repetitively. For over fifty hours.

Characters can also die if you don't run over to pick them back up before time runs out. And death can be permanent, at least until you decide to reload. At the same time, everyone in the game didn't have a hard time staying alive until the last few bosses tested their AI limitations.

Some of the mental shortfalls within your squad can be mitigated by special "potentials" that you can plug into their statistics like a laundry list of things to do ranging from attacking enemies to conserving RP (Ragnite points which are needed to use 'magic'). But even with a string of automated commands, the AI can continue to be as dense as armor plate especially in the end game.

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And when that isn't enough, these plug-in potentials are only unlocked when certain conditions are met in the campaign or by participating in "circles", special social events taking place between members of your squad discussing everything from weapons maintenance to what they find attractive in the opposite sex. As story bits, they're neat, but as a mechanic locking away something as vital as potentials that can at least give your AI controlled teammates an edge, it's pretty harsh.

Every character ability is tied to an action bar which is a general cooldown on doing anything from swinging your sword to using a Ragnite ability. Leveling up via experience tallied at the end of every mission increases HP for the most part. Stats affecting a character's magical or fighting ability are improved via an onerous upgrade system.

"Spoils" often consist of Ragnite found after every battle. Ragnite falls into four categories -- fire, earth, wind, and water -- and special abilities are derived from each with certain enemies, like bosses, often weak to specific ones. That said, your squad mates each have their own specialties. Some are super good with earth, others with water, some with both, and so on. You can plug these abilities into their "Battle Palette", a combat menu that stops that action so you can choose between items, weapons, or abilities.

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All upgrades are handled by feeding Ragnite found in battle (or bought in the Promenade shopping area) into each character's weapons with varying point costs. As expected, higher grade Ragnite will yield the best return. If you want to cast higher level Wind Ragnite abilities, improving the wind attribute would be the way to go for a character with a good specialization in it.

This is also an incredibly tedious process thanks to a terrible inventory system. If you scroll down a list of Ragnite that you have and feed a piece into your weapon, you'll need to scroll all the way down to that point again if there's another stone you want to use. It's an unavoidable fact of grinding for the length of the game and if I were playing late at night, it was a good way to put me to sleep.

One reason was that I kept a lot of Ragnite on hand in case I wanted to change up the battle palette for characters in order to make use of new strategies. Unfortunately, the game's handling of excessive inventory is the stuff of nightmares. There isn't even a way to automatically organize things alphabetically or by "newest" first. Instead, you have to hunt around for that "new" label on stones you may have acquired hiding among the ones you want to keep. It's pretty bad for a system that is especially key to managing your characters.

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However, as I found out after I finished the game, a lot of those stones are pretty worthless in the end. Likewise, equipment that you can make from ingredients found in the Promenade is almost as useless. After I had crafted gear that gave me a massive defensive boost, I didn't bother making anything else for the rest of this journey.

The only reason I would even suggest Revolution to any fan of the first game is its story which is a fitting tribute to the promise the series started with. But the grinding nature of its gameplay buries what it does right beneath a system that feels as if it doesn't know what it wants to be, where brave heroes get stuck running in place on objects in the battlefield leaving them open to deadly one-shots by bosses or raging foes, and the repetition of its battles prove to be a greater threat to the continued existence of this world than the Valkyria.

Pros:
- Vast, epic story with interesting characters
- Absolutely fantastic soundtrack
- Dual audio voice tracks! English or Japanese for everyone

Cons:
- Those interesting characters are sadly crippled by weak gameplay systems
- Upgrade system is a solution to insomnia
- Holy extreme repetition, Batman

Final Squad Evaluation: Five Squadmates out of Nine survived the war


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