I excitedly gush to people about this game every time this subject comes up. I happily purchase this game for someone for Christmas almost every year. I let anyone near me borrow it just to experience this wondrous game. Yet…none of my friends have played it yet. I am at an absurdly long-standing wall of disconnection about my favorite JRPG in ages because I have no one to talk to about it. Therefore, I’m turning to the constantly shifting populous of the anonymous users of the internet and hoping that this blog will reach someone who has played it, or will play it as a result of reading this. Valkyria Chronicles is criminally overlooked and deserves time in any RPG player’s lifestyle.
There have been quite a few games that have released since Final Fantasy X that could have been in this same position. It took a test of time to reveal the fact that I didn’t realize until years after first playing Valkyria Chronicles; there isn’t another JRPG like it. Ni no Kuni swept me away with it’s whimsical charm and gorgeous aesthetics. Dark Cloud 2 remains one of my most cherished memories on the PS2 thanks to it’s industrial-exploration setting and it’s unique blend of gameplay types. Pokemon always finds a way to steal months of my life at at time. And Persona continues to appeal to me no matter how long it’s been. Over all of this, however, comes Valkyria Chronicles. A game with terrific and engaging gameplay for sure, but entwined with an equally important story full of heart and drama. It’s this story that I’m here to talk about today.
You could consider this my review for Valkyria Chronicles, but also keep in my mind there’s more to it than that. The game isn’t being “judged” by me for writing this, it’s being “honored.” If you want the review, I’ll write one for you very quickly.
I turned it on and then beat it.
Go buy it.
Reviewed by it’s biggest fan.
Now let me get back into reflecting on why I love it, and not just praising and contrasting it’s good and bad qualities.
Valkyria’s core is in the story, at least to me, because that’s what spoke strongest to me. More and more Japanese RPG’s, heck RPG’s from all corners of the world, are losing their spark. The once involved and intricate storytelling is being eclipsed by the blockbusters like Last of Us, Bioshock, Metal Gear and more. Now I love all of these games, primarily because of their amazing story, but if RPG’s are being surpassed by other genres in their original defining trait of having an immersive story, than clearly there’s some work to be done.
Thank you Valkyria, then, for being one of the few holding your genre together. The story told in this game isn’t anything complex like the time and space twists of Bioshock, but it is a story that takes on a lot more than games normally do with great portrayals of characters dealing with war, racism, and finding one’s purpose in life. It is also a brilliant underdog story. Granted, almost every RPG could be considered an underdog story because you start weaker than everyone else and end up the victor, but Valkyria is different, your character doesn’t become stronger through stats. The victory comes realistically through missions that always make you feel overwhelmed. It’s through sheer tactics you use through it’s gameplay, as well as brilliant writing that you conquer this game without feeling stronger than the enemy. Hardly any games do that these days.
Meet Squad 7. The heroes who endure an entire war together.
The story is stronger than just having a character rooted by realistic strengths and weaknesses and tackling themes. Many games “tackle themes” but fail to convey the emotions associated with them. The first theme is war. This is a story about an underdog general taking a team that doesn’t believe in him, and throwing them headfirst against a smart and fierce enemy nation. The story opens with characters reluctantly thrown into the war. There isn’t a thirst for battle or for victory, it’s a last ditch effort for protecting their nation. War is in direct opposition with peace, and Valkyria paints that with amazing expression. They don’t coexist without battling with each other, and this story shows that both sides of the war can have peace and harmony as well as disruption and anger.
The main character must face many trauma’s of war, and while the game isn’t gritty or violent by any means, it still effectively shows the true sacrifice that goes into waging a large scale conflict. This goes into the next theme of finding one’s purpose in life. This game is just as much about the main cast of characters as well as the war they are in. Each character, to some extent, has something they want to do with their life, and the war introduces things that conflict with each of them. Welkin wants to study animals to learn why they live together more peacefully than humans, but is staring at a brick wall in the form of a million humans fighting each other for resources. Rosie wants to sing, but is unable to express herself because of the confusion of her past memories causing an unfounded racism that she can’t get over. Each character overcomes their dilemma through amazing character development that intertwines the story with characters that you grow up with.
The story becomes beautifully intense. It never loses it’s charm even amidst it’s darkest moments.
The aforementioned racism is another big hallmark to the maturity of the story of this game. Final Fantasy X also has a smart approach to the same subject with Wakka and Rikku’s relationship. It literally took seeing Rikku’s home destroyed for him to get the message. In Valkyria chronicles, it takes something almost as drastic, but much more personally effective. This next one is a spoiler so move on to the next paragraph. One of the hardest scenes to watch in Valkyria is when one character finally gives a girl a chance to be her friend, a girl that she used to discriminate, just to have her shot dead as she reaches out her hand. It’s probably one of the three top moments where everything the game contains works in harmony to express pure emotion. The fact that it doesn’t matter how successful you are in a war, it’s chaotic force that will take anyone in the blink of an eye. It really makes you despise the war as a player, and that is the most effective thing you can do to sympathize with the rest of the characters.
This leads into another great theme this game portrays, that no matter how horrible moments get, the most important thing is to forgive and understand all sides of the war. There are moments where the enemies will encounter each other, but instead of a battle of rage and dominance, it turns into an incredibly touching scene of mutual respect and compassion. This is taken even further when you learn about my personal favorite character in the game, Selvaria. She is an enemy general, but fills the role of being the confused, internally tortured character who is numb to all love except the cruel man who saved her. It really shows that through the chaos of war, anyone can look like a villain when doing something out of unrequited love. It’s an amazing dynamic to sympathize for one of the strongest soldiers on the enemy side.
Selvaria Bles, one of my favorite game characters of all time.
All of this points to the final, incredibly strong theme of love. Through all of this hardship, I’d be pretty depressed if no one started getting googly eyes for someone else. The romance is handled very realistically in this game. The relationship between the two main characters slowly develops and continues behind the scenes, and never at the forefront of the war. It’s not until the final climactic moments of the game, where lives are inches from death, that the love fully blossoms. Flowers of war grow the strongest, and this particular romance kicks in so perfectly that it is easily my favorite moment in the game. It’s rather sad to see the extent the characters have to go through to realize this love, but that’s what makes the game so beautiful.
All of these moments work together to create something incredibly memorable that I found myself loving years after I finished the game. I shouldn’t even have to mention the other aspects of the game such as it’s gameplay and graphics, but I’ll humor you for a paragraph at the very least. The game is an incredible blend of tactics and a unique shooting style that will take getting used to. However, once you do, you get the payoff that all strategy games offer, your victories only exist because of your intelligence and skillful usage of the resources at your disposal. Several missions seem unbeatable, but if you persevere, you eventually find little strategies that go a long way. This is the story of an underdog after all.
The graphics and music ultimately turn this amazing story into a visual and auditory feast. The art style oozes with life and crisp character designs while effectively painting a world at war while the music is an incredible, fully orchestrated score that makes everything from the opening and closing scenes, to the menu options feel more immersive.
I’ll never forget commanding these soldiers.
Now, for those of you tempted to try this game but discovered there is an anime version of this game, stay the bloody hell away from it. It would be the greatest disservice to this game to experience the completely immature version of this same majestic story. It’s robbed of all it’s strong themes that I go at length about here.
At the end of the day, Valkyria Chronicles can remain the hidden gem it is. A JRPG buried underneath the plethora of other more popular alternatives such as Final Fantasy XIII, the Tales of series, Eternal Sonata, Disgaea, and more. The truth is, all of those games should be played if you’re a fan of the genre. They all do a commendable job of keeping the RPG heart beating in Japan. Valkyria Chronicles exists, and that’s all that matters. If I hadn’t experienced this game, then my opinion of the JRPG genre would be less inspired than what I have now. I would still be waiting for the next Final Fantasy X to come along after over a decade of waiting. So as long as this game is simply out there, then slowly but surely, more people will finally play this game and add to it’s ranks of die hard fans.
Appreciation exists out there for it. IGN named it in their recently published top ten JRPG stories of all time, and Gametrailers had the courage to display it in their incredibly exhaustive Timeline teaser trailer hinting that this story does resonate with more than I initially thought. If you haven’t played it, you owe it to yourself to give this game a try, and maybe it could revitalize some of your faith in this genre, should any of it have been lost recently. If you have played it, then please comment below to start a discussion I’ve been wanting to have since this game came out.